Detroit (Essay excerpt)

In 1805, Detroit’s progress was nearly nullified in a city-wide fire. The loss of property quickly spurred a rebuilding campaign that included a plan for the city by Justice Augustus B. Woodward, a friend of Thomas Jefferson deployed to the region to serve as a judge.

Continue reading “Detroit (Essay excerpt)”


Marshall, Michigan

What a difference a day makes when it comes to Michigan weather. Today’s highway stop for a diaper change quickly escalated into a lengthy architectural detour. The fresh snowfall and crisp winter sun had me in a trance – inching along with my hazard lights on and DSLR held out in the cold, clicking away.

Marshall speaks for itself.

Braving an Ypsi snowstorm

Every time I visit the architectural treasure trove of Ypsilanti, Michigan, I’m met with atrocious weather. Once when I came to visit Eastern Michigan University as a high school senior, EMU had a snow day. I was relegated to a pool hall for the day until my mom could pick me up hours later. Of course, I wasn’t sold on the school, having not seen much other than the empty student center and a strangely proportioned water tower, and yet I’m left with the feeling that I might have enjoyed calling Ypsi home for four years (queue the Iggy Pop).

Today’s weather was no different, but we couldn’t hunker down without some tourism first. Ypsi’s architecture captures an age of seemingly prolonged prosperity spanning from the Civil War to WWII, and includes impressive collections of Classical, Georgian, Romanesque, Italianate, Victorian, Shingle Style, and Arts & Crafts revival and period architecture. Even through the snowstorm, Ypsi read as one of the most complete and coherent historical cities in Michigan.

Although Ypsilanti represents a living collection of historical neighborhoods rivaling Michigan preservation towns like Grand Rapids, Marshall, and Mackinac Island, a figurative soot lingers on the City’s surfaces to remind the tourist of his whereabouts. Ypsi is a small, blue-collar college town in the shadows of Ann Arbor and Detroit – Michigan’s Cambridge and Gotham, respectively. It’s as if all of the City’s pristine Victorian Painted Ladies, complete with their tracery, fretwork, and poly-chrome mannerism, are obliged to disclose that they are also reasonably haunted.

But while some baseline menace may be measurable, one should rest easy. In the case of Yspilanti, darkness and romance pair beautifully. This town smokes Marlboro Reds and has Y-P-S-I carved into it’s knuckles, but it’s also a lovely travel stop for friendly company, lively conversation, endless historical cataloging, and a Coney Dog.

Buchanan, Michigan (Pt. I)

Buchanan's ghost town feel has fostered a renaissance for Chicago antiquiarians rivaling the Michigan hideouts Three Oaks and Saugatuck/Douglas.
Buchanan’s ghost town feel has fostered a renaissance for Chicago antiquarians rivaling the Michigan hideouts of Three Oaks and Saugatuck/Douglas.

Notre Dame’s location in South Bend, Indiana may seem banal at times, especially for enthusiasts of architecture and urbanism. We missed our well-preserved and lively hometown of Holland, Michigan before we even left. However, I’m pleased to report that some very early exploration has provided a more complete and optimistic view. There are things to do around here and more importantly, places to visit (with a 6-month old, you don’t really do anything). One happy discovery came today on a Sunday drive: The sleepy hollow of Buchanan, Michigan.

Buchanan features a unique combination of characteristics, which add to one’s perception of distance from South Bend, even though it’s a 20-25 minute drive. For starters, the city proper is nestled in a topographical bowl. Subtle valley ridges provide a compressed backdrop in every direction, as often encountered in the Ohio River Valley, rather than Southern Michigan’s Fruit Belt. What’s more, the main commercial district, called Front Street, is free of trees (save for a few young transplants), which allows the 19th-century Italianate facades to form stark, ivory canyon walls on either side of the street. The bareness of the facades recalls a ghost town of the American West. An apparition of the town’s namesake, President James Buchanan, might fit right in. A few earth-tone modern buildings, like the Buchanan District Library accompany the antique masonry, but the dialogue between genres feels uncomfortable, rather than intriguing.

Local economic conditions (or for that matter, the current state of nearby Niles, Michigan) don’t loom favorably for Buchanan. However, this one-light town lies within the radius of the Chicago weekender. This fact has helped lead to above-average antique shopping, dining and arts. Merchants like Alan Robandt, Brimfield, and Rustica exude a convincing cosmopolitan moxie, which if sustainable, can boost a town’s appetite for culture and enliven its sidewalks.

Oddly, some towns within the reach of Chicago tourists become cultural travel-stops, while others seem to attract more casual sensibilities, or no tourism at all. There exists a broad range of examples which dot the Lake’s southern shores. The Michigan villages of Three Oaks and Saugatuck/Douglas are geared to sell art and wine, while in contrast the beach towns of South Haven and New Buffalo are more casual. A lesser fate belongs to Niles, which seems to linger in fly-over status.

Meanwhile, there lies Buchanan, the lazy Sunday haunt, where mystery, patina, and design intelligence win the day. This autumn should be a good one.

Photo credit:

Bean counting

Within the scope of Memento, one blog-worthy topic I’d like to explore is Sustainability through frugality and creativity. In a nutshell, this comprises the tips, tricks and miscues related to our financial survival over the course of our three year stay at Notre Dame. Our survival, or sustainability will indeed require creativity, just as jumping out of a perfectly good airplane with an under-sized parachute might require some brainstorming prior to impact.

Creative solutions for self-funding and spending reduction can range in size and reach. Ambitious cost reductions may involve the exploration and utilization of Obamacare or the down-sizing to one vehicle. Smaller improvement examples might deal with our diaper, grocery or coffee consumption habits.

For us, the coffee example is low-hanging fruit (beans). When we lived on W. 9th St. in the Historic District of Holland, Michigan, we enjoyed a walkable proximity to a true artisan coffee shop called Lemonjello’s (

Continue reading “Bean counting”