It may be a long road back to recovery for the Motor City, but if bike lanes, food trucks, pop-up retailers, hipster coffee houses and designer watches made downtown are any indication of the health and vitality of people living and working and moving back to Detroit, then take heart. Take pride.
Better yet, take a tour.
If self-guided is not your thing, there are there are plenty of choices: bike tours, brew tours, photo tours, Segway tours, boat tours, history tours, D:hive tours and, of course, Jewish tours. A specialist in tours with “a Jewish Twist,” Linda Yellin, Founder of Feet on the Street Tours, recently offered a day-long jaunt in the city. The tour was presented in partnership with the Chabad House of Greater Downtown Detroit (ChabaD, for those in the know) and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue with proceeds donated to the two organizations.
On the bus with Linda, who served as host and narrator on the multi-stop tour, the group comprised about twenty women, most of whom boarded the bus uptown in Farmington Hills. “There’s something about being a tourist in your own town that frees you to see things anew,” observed Michelle Passon, a resident of Commerce Township.
“Wherever you go, there’s always something you don’t know about the city,” said Harriet Berg. A dance historian of legendary status in Detroit — at 89, Harriet is limber and vivacious as ever. Loving city life in her home at the Park Shelton, she retired just two years ago after teaching dance for 50 years at the JCC of Metropolitan Detroit.
First stop: Chabad House
The location at 278 Mack Avenue in historic Brush Park couldn’t be better. Here is Detroit Midtown at its most vibrant and bustling state of transformation. The neighborhood includes Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center, Whole Foods, and soon to open, the new DMC Heart Hospital. More newcomers to the block will be the M-1 Rail Line and the Detroit Red Wings Entertainment District, two of the highest-profile projects in Detroit.
At 6-foot-3, Rabbi Yisrael Pinson cheerfully towers over the group, as he explains: “Brush Park is where it all started. This neighborhood was the Bloomfield Hills of Detroit back in the day. Within blocks were the shops of Hastings Street (now I-75) and major synagogues – Temple Beth El (now the Bonstelle Theatre) and Shaarey Zedek.”
Formerly a doctor’s office, the Chabad House was built in 1908, and is one of 22 historic buildings still standing in neighborhood. The Rabbi’s goal is to move his family and live in the top two floors of the house within the next two years. In the meantime, Rabbi Pinson along with his wife Devorah and House Manager, Erik Wodowski, have opened the house and run it as a Jewish hub and learning center for the community.
Next stop: Lincoln Street Art Park turning urban blight to art
The signs read RECYCLE HERE! as the bus turns on to 1331 Holden Street to an urban space utterly reimagined. This is home to Green Living Science (GLS) and the Lincoln Street Art Park, two nonprofit organizations that have grown out of the recycling movement in Detroit.
“Recycling is a new infrastructure for the city of Detroit,” explains Rachel Klegon, GLS Executive Director. “Up until 2007, we were the largest city in the country without a municipal recycling program. Since its startup in 2005, Recycle Here has evolved into a fully-funded, drop-off recycling city program. We’re now working with the city and the school district to offer residents curbside recycling by the end of the year.”
In partnership with Recycle Here!, Green Living Science began working with Detroit Public Schools in 2007 and has since reached out to more than 40,000 students to influence family behavior and to encourage the “Three R’s”- reduce, recycle, reuse.
Originally an illegal dumping area, the Lincoln Street Art Park began as a private initiative to clean up and open up the space in 2011. More than 70 painted murals and art pieces have been installed there to create a fascinating public venue.
Grabbing a Quick Kosher Bite at Gold ‘n’ Greens
Currently, the only kosher restaurant in downtown Detroit, Gold ‘n’ Greens, a residence dining hall at Wayne State University, is as bright and cheery as the name implies. The fare is self-serve, all-you-can-eat, vegetarian and strictly kosher – all well-suited to serving the diversity of students on campus.
At lunch, we chat about life in Detroit. “There’s such a sense of community here in Detroit,” says Joanne McNary who lives in the Book Cadillac condos. “Everyone talks to everyone else. And once you start going to the retail establishments and restaurants around town, everybody wants to know who you are and where you live. And everywhere you go, you have a Detroit experience.”
A new look at Detroit Eastern Market: loft apartments and resident artists
On the itinerary for the afternoon, there’s a stop at Detroit Eastern Market, cookies from Milano Bakery, a drive-by to oogle the new ice cream parlor called Mootown and a preview of the FD Lofts now open in the old fire station at the corner of Russell and Erskine. Living downtown has never looked more appealing. With many oohs and ahhs among the group, we tour a model suite with managing broker Brian Giles. Next door, we drop into The Detroit Mercantile Company, a trendy little shop offering “Provisions for the Urban Pioneer.”
The final stop on the Market leg of the tour is Signal-Return Press, a storefront gallery, working letterpress studio and learning center at 1345 Division Street. There we meet resident artist, Lynne Avadenka, who describes how the old-style printshop was conceived in 2011 as a community space “to connect and inspire visiting and local artists, designers and writers.” There’s temptation to take home a poster or to sign up for a workshop, but the visit is short and the group moves on to the final venues on the tour – a stop at Capital Park, a visit to the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue with Director Anna Kohn and finally, a drive around Campus Martius ParK, the heart of Downtown Detroit.
Spots missed on the tour are too many to mention. But here’s a shortlist of Detroit faves, many of which have a Jewish connection:
- Avalon International Breads, 422 W. Willis
- D:hive , 1253 Woodward Avenue
- Shinola Store, 441 W. Canfield Street
- Dabl’s African Bead Gallery / MBAD Museum
- Motown Historical Museum, Hitsville Still Lives!
- Detroit Institute of Bagels, Corktown
- Dangerously Delicious Pies at Third Street Bar, 3rd Street & Cass
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