Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tom's Tavern - Detroit

Tom's Tavern 
Detroit, Michigan

A favorite watering hole for students and
alumni of nearby University of Detroit Mercy.

Prohibition was in full effect and W. Seven Mile Rd. in Detroit was a dirt road when founder Tom Lucas bought this little frame building and opened his "house bar" in 1928.

During its more than 80 years of existence, Tom's still stands, still thrives, despite a seemingly never-ending series of problems. Over the last dozen years it has endured and overcome deterioration from age and weather, fire, break-ins, cut water and gas lines, vandalism by scrap metal scavengers, and most recently an automobile crashing into the front wall that fataly injured a woman on the sidewalk. Its miraculous, yet always tenuous, survival is largely due to the steadfast loyalty of its customers. Whenever the place's existence has been threatened, they have come to its aid providing funds, materials, labor, or whatever was needed. The fragile frame has been repaired and rebuilt so many times that there isn't anything plumb, square or level in the place.

During the 1950s all the neighboring businesses on Seven Mile Rd.called it an eyesore and wanted it demolished. Today, they're all gone, and Tom's has outlive them all. One of the most popular times of year at the bar is the annual celebration of Babe Ruth's birthday. On other - more quiet and less auspicious - days, current owner Ron Gurdjian, who bought the bar from Lucas in 2001, is fond of retelling stories he heard from Lucas about prohibition, like how the infamous Purple Gang would supply its booze in a black limousine.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bronx Bar - Detroit: Just the Basics

The Bronx Bar
Detroit, Michigan

Best guesses estimate that the Bronx Bar dates from the late 1930s, possibly 1937. That's the only uncertain thing, though, about this Second Ave. mainstay of the Wayne State University / Cass Corridor area. You can be certain of everything else about the completely unpretentious Bronx Bar. 

You can be certain to find:

No designer decor. Just an unassuming and mismatched assortment of stained glass hanging lights, fringe, and table lamps on the wooden bar along with other odd items collected through the years.

No dress code. They only require that you be clothed, even if it's only pajamas.

Nothing special at all.
  No special event nights
  No karioke
  No drink or food specials
  No happy hour
  No dancing
  No television
  No entertainment, save for one small pool table and one juke box.

No big prices. Beer starts at $2.00 and drinks run $3.50 to $5.50. If you want wine, it's served in a highball glass. Martini glasses? Forget about it!

Reasonably good bar food staples like burgers, fries, onion rings and sandwiches reasonably priced from $3.50 to $7.00 with reasonably sized portions.

Friendly people on both sides of the bar.

The best shot / beer / burger joint in the area. 

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kowalski Kowality

Kowalski Headquarters
Hamtramck, Michigan

In 1920, Agnes and Zygmund Kowalski, who emigrated from Poland to pursue the American Dream, opened a small grocery store on Chene St. in Detroit. They wanted to bring their favorite Polish keilbasa and other sausages from the old country so a smokehouse was added to the store. Demand grew and new plant was built on Holbrook Street in Hamtramck.

The business has grown as it has passed to each succeeding generation. Adhering to Kowalski tradition, their secret family recipes and hardwood smoking process have not changed. Today, ninety years later, the company employs more than 100 people and Kowalski products can be found not only in the Detroit area, but as far as Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Vintage Kowalski Sign
on the closed Nortown Bakery & Deli building in Hamtramck.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012



A detail study of the Detroit River Tunnel Co. railroad crane. 
This photo is part of a new series entitled "Iron, Steel, & Steam."

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Maschinen No. 1


Maschinen No. 1

A detail study of the Detroit River Tunnel Co. railroad crane. This crane has no power of its own, but can be run by steam or compressed air from an external source. This photo is part of a new series entitled "Iron, Steel, & Steam.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scarab Club Photo Exhibition

Maschinen No. 2
Detail of the Detroit River Tunnel Co. railroad crane.

This crane has no power of its own, but can be run by steam or compressed air from an external source. This is part of a new series entitled "Iron, Steel, & Steam."

This photo will be shown in the Scarab Club Photography Exhibition, 
October 17 - November 18, 2012. 

Artists reception is 6-9 pm,  Friday Ootober 19.

(Directly behind the Detroit Institute of Arts)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Elias Bros. Big Boy Drive-In

Big Boy Drive-In
Livonia, Michigan

Curb service at the Big Boy on Plymouth and Farmington Rds. was "curbed" long ago, but this sign remains as a dim, flickering reminder of the days of hot rods and car hops. This little-noticed sign at the Farmington Rd. entrance is probably the last Elias Bros. sign in existence. 

In 1936, Bob Wian sold his prized DeSoto Roadster to purchase a small hamburger stand in Glendale, California which he named Bob's Pantry. One night one of his regular customers asked for something different. Bob went to work and created the first double-decker hamburger.

Customers couldn't get enough of Bob's burgers. One fan in particular was a chubby six-year-old boy in droopy overalls, little Richard Woodruff (1936–1986), also of Glendale. One day as Wian was trying to cook up a name for his new sensation, in walked Richard. Always happy to see him, Wian said, "Hello, big boy!" and the name stuck. Another frequent customer was Warner Bros. animation artist Ben Washam who sketched Richard's caricature on a napkin which became the Big Boy mascot.

Wian sold his very successful brand and chain to Marriott Corp. in 1967. By 1979 there were more than a thousand Big Boy restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, and about 20 franchisees. Shoney's, Elias Brothers and Frisch's—charter franchisees—controlled the vast majority.

Detroit's Elias brothers, Fred Sr., Louis, and John, who became the first Big Boy Restaurant franchisees in 1952, bought the chain from Mariott in 1987 and moved the headquarters to Warren, Michigan. They were exclusive worldwide franchisers of the Big Boy Restaurant system, which operated 925 Big Boys in the United States, Canada and Japan until declaring bankruptcy in 2000.

After bankruptcy, investor Robert Leggett, Jr. bought the chain and became CEO.  Immediately after the purchase, Liggett Restaurant Enterprises, dba Big Boy Restaurants International, negotiated an agreement with the other large franchise operator, Frisch's Restaurants, which granted Frisch's exclusive, perpetual ownership of Big Boy marks in Kentucky, Indiana, and most of Ohio and Tennessee. All other Frisch's territories transferred to Liggett. Big Boy International and Frisch's now are co-registrants of the Big Boy name and trademark. Thus, Frisch's is no longer a franchisee but essentially an equal owner with Liggett. Frisch's is the owner or franchisor of 118 Big Boy restaurants in the United States.

Still headquartered in Warren, Big Boy Restaurants International is franchisor for 126 Big Boy restaurants - including Bob's Big Boy - in the United States.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sanders - Ice Cream, Candy, Bakery

Sanders Ice Cream, Candy, Bakery

Ghost sign on a long-closed Sanders store in Detroit.
Sanders candy has been a Detroit favorite since its founding in 1875.

Fred Sanders was a child when his family immigrated to the United States, but returned to Germany as as a young adult to learn the confectionery trade. He later settled in Illinois and started his first business in Chicago. After the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed his business - and most of the city - he moved to Detroit.

 On June 17, 1875 he opened Sanders Candy on Woodward Avenue. The business grew to be one of Detroit's largest companies, and Fred Sanders became one of the city's most prominent businessmen by the turn of the 20th century. Eventually, there were more than 57 stores and soda fountains in the Great Lakes states selling their candy, fudge toppings, and baked goods, as well as light lunches. Sanders soon became the leading confectioner in the region and started selling directly to national supermarket chains, as well as to other retailers in the area. 

In 2002 Morley Candy Makers, Inc. purchased the company. They continue to make Sanders candy, ice cream and baked goods using the Sanders recipes and operate several Sanders stores and soda fountains.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Vernor's - Deliciously Different

Vernor's ghost sign
Westland, Michigan

The 2006 demolition of a building adjacent to what was then Westland Hardware on Joy Rd. at Inkster Rd. revealed this long-forgotten, but well preserved Vernor's sign. The J&M Market telephone number (GArfield-2) and the fact that the Vernor's name still had an apostrophe, date this sign to the mid-1950s. (The apostrophe was gone from Vernor's products by the end of that decade.)

The Founder
Born in Albany, New York in 1843, James Vernor moved to Detroit as a small child with his parents. In 1858 he got a job at Higby & Stern's drug store where he learned the business, became a pharmacist. Vernor experimented with various flavored waters and drinks to serve at the soda fountain in the store. One particular concoction was stored in a keg in the basement just before he enlisted in the 4th Michigan Cavalry as a Union hospital steward in 1862. 

He was promoted to 2nd Lt. and served to the end of the Civil War. His unit, the 4th Michigan Cavalry, was in several battles and is credited with capturing Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he attempted to escape. Vernor was discharged from the Army in 1865 and returned to Detroit and the pharmacy business. In 1866 he opened his own pharmacy on Woodward at Clifford in downtown Detroit. He also opened the keg that had been stored for four years. Vernor declared it to be "deliciously different" and ginger ale was born. For years, the fountain at James Vernor's pharmacy was the only place one could buy a Vernors. But demand for the drink continued to grow and soon soda fountains throughout the city began selling cold, carbonated Vernors.

The Family
In 1873 he married Emily Walker Smith. Their son James II, who was born in 1877, joined his father in the operation of the company. Demand for Vernor's ginger ale grew at such a rate that in 1896 they closed the drug store to produce ginger ale full time. James Vernor Sr. was one of the original members of the Michigan Board of Pharmacy, formed in 1887, and was very proud of holding License #1 throughout his life.

The Fame
As Vernor's Ginger Ale became wildly popular throughout Michigan and as far as Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo and Niagara Falls, James the younger's marketing genius made tremendous profits for the company, especially during prohibition. When other soft drink concerns went bankrupt during the great depression, Vernor's made millions of dollars.

Eventually the Vernors Company would open a bottling plant on Woodward south of Jefferson Avenue to handle its expanding demand. This riverfront landmark became a favorite stop for locals and tourists alike in the 1940s. Here one could sip a fresh Vernors for only a nickel and watch as it was being produced.

 James Sr., James II, & James III
 James Sr. served on the Detroit City Council for 25 years and on several civic and philanthropic organizations. He remained president of the Vernor Company until his death at age 84 from pneumonia and influenza on October 29, 1927 when his son succeeded him. James II led the firm through World War II and served as president until his death at age 77 on April 11, 1954.

James Vernor III, attended Cranbrook School and Culver Military Academy. After graduating 2nd in his class from Culver he enrolled at Michigan State University. When World War II broke out he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves and assigned to the Coast Artillery. He served in the Aleutians until September 1945 and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He joined Vernor's as Vice President but did not long survive his father and died on April 9, 1957. James Vernor Davis, James Jr.'s nephew became president of Vernor's.

In 1966, the Vernor family sold the company to an outside investment group. Subsequently, the company was acquired by American Consumer Products and, later, by United Brands. Vernors returned to the ownership of a soft drink company when A&W Beverages, Inc. purchased The Vernors Company in 1987.

Today, Vernors is part of Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group, an integrated refreshment beverage business marketing more than 50 beverage brands throughout North America.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Faygo - a Detroit Original

 A building abutting a liquor store in Detroit was burned or otherwise destroyed recently and revealed this Faygo sign from the 1950s or possibly the 1940s. According to the Faygo web site, this logo style dates to the 1930s and was used into the 1950s.

Russian bakers Ben and Perry Feigenson founded Faygo in 1907. The original Faygo pop flavors were based on their own cake frosting recipes.

Here's the building before it was destroyed.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11

This first-hand account is required reading for me every year.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Car Wash Cafe

Car Wash Cafe
Detroit, Michigan

Part of a mural on E. Jefferson Ave.advertising
the neighboring Car Wash Cafe at Meldrum St.

This quirky enterprise was home to a car wash, an ice cream parlor & cafe, a junk museum and, often hosted music from DJs or bands, and owned by Larry Meeks, whose Harbortown Garage was nearby. Unfortunately, on April 29, 2010 Mr. Meeks suffered a fatal heart attack leaving his faithful fans of funk shocked and dismayed. The place sat vacant until early in 2012 when all vestiges of the cafe were removed. The mural above has since been unceremoneously and insultingly painted Rust-Oleum Red.

Below is how it looked to the Google Street View driver in July, 2009. 

View Larger Map

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Michigan Theatre

Michigan Theatre
Ann Arbor

It took nearly three decades to remove the many "improvements" imposed upon the building during the 1950s, and '60s. Now Ann Arbor's beloved 1928 theatre has been restored to its original glory, complete with a this new marquee which is somewhat larger, but very similar to the original.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Goodrich De Luxe

De Luxe Truck Tires
Detroit, Michgian

Goodrich ghost sign in downtown Detroit.
The bottom line used to say "Best In The Long Run".

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Monday, September 3, 2012

J. L. Hudson Co. - World's Largest Flag

World's Largest Flag
J. L. Hudson Co. - Detroit
Flag Day,  ca. 1956

On Armistice Day 1923, Hudson's unveiled an enormous American flag on the Woodward Avenue side of the store. It measured 90 ft. high x 230 ft. long with eight-foot wide stripes and five and half-foot stars.

Along with its regular Flag Day, 4th of July and Armistice (later Veterans') Day duty in Detroit, the flag was hung on the west facade of the U.S. Capitol Building in 1929, and displayed at the 1939 New York World's Fair before it was retired in 1949.

A larger flag debuted in 1950. Measuring 104 ft. x 235 ft., the new flag weighed 1,600 pounds, used 2,038 yards of wool, covered seven stories of the Hudson building and required 55 men to hang it.

In 1960, to mark the statehood of Alaska and Hawaii the previous year, six seamstresses were required to construct the new 50-star field. Each star was 6 feet high, the stripes were 8 feet wide, and mile of rope held the flag in place. The huge flag was last displayed in 1976 to commemorate the nation's bicentennial. It was then retired and donated to the Smithsonian Institution, which gave it to the American Flag Foundation.

I have just received further information about the fate of the Hudson's flag from Michael Hauser:

The American Flag Foundation received permission from Target Corporation (then owner of Hudson's, Dayton's and Marshall Field's) to destroy the flag.  It had deteriorated badly.

The Smithsonian kept the flag in storage, but never publicly displayed it, as it was simply too large.

In 2003, Target Corporation commissioned a new American flag to be displayed at Marshall Field's State Street flagship store in Chicago.  It is 5,000 square feet and measures 50 feet by 100 feet.  It was flown in the north wing of the State Street store and pretty much hung from the 11th floor down to the tops of the fragrance showcases on the 1st floor.

Mr. Hauser is co-author of these fine books:

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Cas Bar

 Cas Bar
Detroit, Michgian

Vintage neon sign on Michigan Ave., Detroit.

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Saturday, September 1, 2012


Jimi's Ice Cream Pallis
Royal Oak, Michigan

Unfortunately the "Pallis" is closed so the sign, which seems to be in great shape, isn't illuminated any more. The owner said he might reopen it next summer.

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