Made in Detroit

There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the much-photographed Detroit “ruins.” The abandoned, empty, decaying buildings, collecting dust, getting transformed into “beauty” for the camera. Amid the talk has been also controversy. Some feel that these “beautiful” photographs of the “ugly” shed a bad light on Detroit, as photographers travel from afar to walk among the ruins. Whether you’re a fan of this type of photography or not, there are two newer books that feature some spectacular architecture of the city’s past. It’s a timeline of the old infrastructure, the bones of Detroit. Abandoned factories, schools and libraries that were closed.

Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City’s Majestic Ruins highlights twelve historic landmarks and tells the stories behind them: The Vanity Ballroom, Cass Technical High School, Michigan Central Station, to name a few. What’s nice about this book is that it features photos of then and now, so you can see how the buildings have changed over time as you read about it.

Detroit Disassembled is 96% photographs, which makes for a nice coffee table book to let your eyes wander through. The large images contain sharpness, texture and depth amidst the apocalyptic landscapes.

Gatsby House Demolished

F. Scott Fitzgerald who immortalized the decade long era known as the roaring 1920s with his book The Great Gatsby has been hit with sad news. The renowned white mansion commonly known as Land's End which inspired the posh residence of Daisy Buchanan is being demolished.

At the height of its glory during the 1920s and 1930s, the mansion was host to lavish parties and was known to be frequented by Fitzgerald himself, along with Winston Churchill, The Marx Brothers, and Ethel Barrymore. It was twenty-four thousand square feet and was located near a bird sanctuary. The mansion was staffed by twenty people, maintained a tennis court, a seventy-foot swimming pool, and two sandy beaches on the premises.

Located in Long Island the great white mansion had fallen into such disrepair that there was no other choice but to demolish the famed residence. In its place a cluster of new homes will go up bringing close to another iconic feature of the roaring 1920s.

Earth Day Event: Master Designer Michael Klement Of Architectural Resource, LLC Discusses Creating a Green Home

Are you interested in Green home design for your next new house, remodel or addition? Learn valuable information, insights and inspirations that you can immediately apply to your next building project! This fun-filled event is packed with information providing a glimpse into the opportunities to make a change "at home."

Architectural Resource, LLC is a full-service, award winning, Ann Arbor based architectural design firm headed by Michael Klement who will be leading this discussion. The firm emphasizes Green and sustainable design for residential projects.

If you have ever wondered what you can do personally with your own built environment to make a difference, whether existing or yet to be built, you cannot afford to miss this event!

Wednesday April 20, 2011: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Malletts Creek Branch: Program Room AB

Tiny Houses

Tiny houses are making a big name these days as there is more focus on sustainable living and ecologically sound living spaces. But these houses are more than just little boxes. The book Tiny Houses by Mimi Zeiger takes a look at small spaces designed by architects all over the world - all of them around 1,000 square feet. I marveled at the interesting designs, from beautiful tree-top homes and hobbit holes to space age mini desert dwellings. The house locations in the book range from tightly packed in a city block to straight off the grid on a mountain side. Amazing!

The basic philosophy for many tiny house enthusiasts is leaving less of an environmental footprint and making a commitment to live more simply. Also, think compact appliances and electronics, eco-toilets - or perhaps little to no appliances at all. As I’ve learned however, just because the house is smaller, this does not mean less expensive! According to an article on wikihow, small houses usually cost more per square foot than “normal” houses because designs are so complex. But they're just so cute. And don’t so many of us dream about simplifying our lives? Check out this list for further tiny house reading.

An Intimate look inside one of the oldest estates in Barton Hills


Jean Spero, granddaughter of former Detroit Edison president, Alex Dow (1862-1942), recently sent us several photographs of her childhood home in Ann Arbor. Known as "Brushwood," this country estate was one of the first homes to be built on the rolling slopes above Barton Dam, which eventually became Barton Hills. Local historian Grace Shackman covers the origins of this area in her article, "The Buried History of Barton Hills."

Spero's childhood memories color her personal tour of Brushwood. For example, here's one about the Brushwood Library, her grandfather's favorite hideaway:

"There were two walls filled with books, a special radio, a fireplace, two desks, one his and one for the secretaries who often came out for a week or so to work with him....they were very sweet and two became especially good friends of mine. As a teen when Grandfather wasn't there I would use that room to 'entertain' my friends by listening to the radio in front of a roaring fire...wonderful atmosphere. As a little one I read all I could get my hands on, including the Encyclopedia Britannica which was thoughtfully put on a lower shelf! The collection was very diverse, lots of folklore, philosophy or religious tomes of every sort of religion, history, plus, of course, current novels, etc. I have two of the books, Willa Cather's My Antonia and a huge coffee table-sized book on Scottish tartans...." (J. Spero)

Accessibility to the Arts in Ann Arbor

Recent studies have been done on the subject of participation by people with disabilities in arts and culture within Ann Arbor. The upcoming program Community Discussion: Participation by People with Disabilities in Arts and Culture on Wed., Oct. 13, 3-5 pm in the Downtown Library Multi-Purpose Room will explain some of the issues brought up by these studies regarding accessibility to fine arts and culture venues in Ann Arbor. The presenters will discuss the wide range of findings from four focus groups recently held on this important topic.

Back to Schools

Fourth Ward SchoolFourth Ward School

If you're wondering what going back to school looked like around here decades ago, here's the original Ann Arbor High School, circa 1894; its ruins (from a fire), 1904; and the "new" Ann Arbor High School, rebuilt in 1907.

There's also the old Fourth Ward School, built in 1867 on Division St, which was replaced by the building that eventually became Community High School. And here are the students at the Fifth Ward school, c. 1880.

There's also the old University School of Music from 1894...and the Di Gregorio Driving School in 1974.

The Not So Big Life

Not So Big Life

It is my fervent hope that you'll discover that the house of your dreams is actually hiding right where you live today. ~Sarah Susanka, Not So Big Remodeling

In 1998, architect Sarah Susanka’s book The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live took the publishing world by storm with her (at the time) new concept that a bigger McMansion is not better than a smaller, quality-built home with personal spaces which enhance the important things in life. Her initial success spawned a series of other books expanding on this design philosophy, of a house as home and not as a starter castle to impress the neighbors. From the house to the garden: Susanka’s latest is Outside the Not So Big House: Creating the Landscape of Home.

But her real triumph is in taking the concept of a small, quality-filled home and enhancing it to include the possibility of building and planning the life that you want around that home: scaling back the demands and wants to live in the moment. The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters is a book which guides the process of examining how we inhabit our lives and how we make choices about doing it well.

Note that ‘not so big’ decorating does not always equal ‘not so cheap’. For another view of living well in very small spaces creatively and economically take a look at this hot website called Apartment Therapy and the new, companion book The Big Book of Small, Cool Spaces.

"Back Page: A Super Colossal Production" from the Ann Arbor News

In 1936, the Ann Arbor News produced this 16-mm silent film titled "Back Page: A Super Colossal Production." Inspired by The Front Page (1931), this tongue-in-cheek feature chronicles a day in the life of the Display Advertising Department staff as they go about securing an ad from a local business in time for the paper's daily run. 1936 marks the year the Ann Arbor News acquired its new printing press and completed the News building at 340 E. Huron--both of which feature prominently in the film. You'll even catch a glimpse of the Bell Tower under construction and also completed that year.

You may have read that the Library received the Ann Arbor News archive after the News closed last year. Although we have a lot of work to do before this material becomes available, we couldn't resist sharing this film with you right away. You can view the film above or download it here.

Sustainability Safari


On July 8 at 6:45pm, this 1.5 mile walking tour of sustainable techniques in Ann Arbor, led by the Ann Arbor Chapter of Wild Ones will include a look at the sustainable elements of Malletts Creek Branch, The Buhr Park Children’s Wet Meadow, and Mary Beth Doyle Park, among others. This event is held in conjunction with the Library’s summer reading program, Local Motion - which encourages the use of local neighborhoods, organizations gyms, recreational facilities and outdoor areas to move and get fit.

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