Detroit Travel Guide
Thankfully Detroit does have a fascinating history and this has become the basis for much of the tourist industry’s rejuvenation. As you would expect the history of the motorcar is fairly high on the list and if you visit Detroit you simply have to go to the Henry Ford Museum. Established in 1929 this 12acre site features collections of major engineering and scientific innovations and applications from transport to industry, entertainment to domesticity. There is also an impressive collection of home arts, furniture glass and ceramics. The adjacent Greenfield Village covers 81 acres and is even more fascinating. It comprises of 80 completely renovated historic dwellings, workplaces and community buildings from various times and places around the USA.
At 2648 West Grand Boulevard stand two adjacent (and connected) buildings that during the sixties changed the sound of popular music forever. This is Hitsville USA, the original Motown recording studio. The label moved on nearly two decades ago and relocated in LA, but the buildings remain as a permanent reminder of those heady days when soul music was emerging as a force to be recognised. Hitsville USA is now a permanent museum. You can step into the legendary Studio A where Smokey Robinson first lived up to his name and the Supremes set the standard by which all subsequent all girl groups would be judged. Much of the equipment used to record those early hits is still there including the original 3-track and its replacement 8-track that was actually built in situ. There is also a collection of memorabilia including one of Stevie Wonder’s gloves, the Supremes sequinned dresses, photographs and gold and platinum discs of hits recorded there. Anyone who loves soul music will love this place.
Much of Detroit’s rejuvenation has focused on creating a more cultural and artistic environment and nowhere has it succeeded more than with theatre and music. The Fox on Woodward Street is the biggest movie palace in the USA with over 5000 seats. Instantly recognisable for its elaborate neo-Byzantine architecture and ten storey multi coloured neon. Today the flicker of the silver screen has more or less been replaced by Broadway shows, musicals and big name concerts with occasional screenings of epic movies. Inspired by a Mayan temple the art deco Fisher Theatre opened in 1928 as a vaudeville house, spent a few years as a cinema then in the 60s became an general entertainment venue before becoming one of Detroit’s principle theatres. Today it plays host to top mainstream names from the world of show biz and attracts a predominantly well-healed crowd. The elegant 80 year Old Orchestra Hall serves mainly as the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra although it does plays host to the annual Paradise Jazz Series and which in recent years has presented the likes of Count Basie, Ramsey Lewis and Tito Puente. The Detroit Opera House reopened in the late 90s fully refurbished and became in instant success, it now sells out regularly. Over the years it has staged performances by Cleo Laine, Camillia Johnson and Pavarotti.
Detroit’s love affair with popular music is reflected in the abundant music bars and live music venues scattered throughout the City. At Blind Pig you can catch the trendy rock stars of tomorrow; fledgling bands Pearl Jam and Nirvana both played there. At Memphis Smoke you get to hear some cool and authentic Blues music or you can head back to the 40s with the new cigar and martini crowd at the Velvet Lounge. For some down right dirty hard edge rock and heavy metal I-Rock Night Club is the place to burst those eardrums. Dance freaks are spoilt for choice but a real treat is Clutch Cargo’s techno dance hall housed in an awe inspiring 4 storey church.
Most visitors head straight to Downtown Detroit where the skyline is dominated by the Renaissance Centre, a gleaming hotel/office/retail complex that offers spectacular views of both the City and Ontario from its 73-storey observation deck. Downtown is also where you’ll find Greektown a spot that has become increasingly popular with tourists. Famous for its great shopping and superb restaurants it has a certain charm, which is a odds with Detroit’s industrialised urban sprawl. Trappers Alley, a former trapper’s warehouse and processing plant is fast becoming the place to go since it was converted to a retail and entertainment establishment.
So Detroit isn’t top of everyone’s US destination list, and with its unenviable reputation it’s hardly surprising. But it is a City that is striving hard to redress the balance and get back into public favour. Each year the major calendar events get better and draw more people, the Grand Prix on Belle Isle, the hydroplane races, the international Jazz Festival and the Festival of Freedom with its spectacular firework display. After years of economic and social decay it looks like Detroit can finally see some light shining through the dark clouds and, as time will surely tell, things can be changed for the better.
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