Monday, October 01, 2007

A Little Bit of Ironwood Architecture

A few weekends ago, I visited Ironwood with my roommate and suitemates. It was the first time I've been to that part of the state, and I can assure you, it's absolutely beautiful. On the way there, the fall colors were at their peak (though they have not gotten there yet here in Marquette) and the trees were simply gorgeous. The main reason I wanted to go to Ironwood was to photograph the historic Ironwood Theatre -- the very last Michigan theater left for me to see! There were other architectural treats to be seen, as well.

Luther L. Wright High School

The Luther L. Wright High School, built in 1924.

Luther L. Wright High School

The high school has some fantastic exterior details surrounding its front door and windows! Of course, my friends thought I was an über-geek, photographing the building, but... Really, if my high school had looked this awesome, it would have made the experience that much better.

Luther L. Wright High School

A detail on the terra cotta embellishments that surround the school's main entrance.

Now, moving on to Ironwood's beautiful main-street cinema:

Ironwood Theatre -- FINALLY DONE!

Here's the Ironwood Theatre, the last on my list of historic movie theaters to photograph! It was well worth the wait, the 3.5-hour drive, and the pouring rain along the way. I couldn't get inside the theater, unfortunately, but I hear it carries a classical theme with murals that depict gryphons and other mythical creatures.

According to, the Ironwood Theatre was built in 1928, designed as a silent movie and vaudeville palace. The architect was Albert Nelson, and the cost of the building was $160,000.

Ironwood Theatre detail

Gryphons atop a side door on the Ironwood Theatre.

Ironwood Theatre Griffon

Gryphons adorn the theater's marquee, as well.

Ironwood Theatre Marquee

Lastly, the Ironwood Theatre's marquee, lit up for a night performance! It was wonderful to see the neon and the light bulbs flashing.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Huron Mountain Club: Ives Lake

The Huron Mountain Club, northwest of Big Bay in the Upper Peninsula's Marquette County, has been the subject of much local lore and speculation for the last century. It's a place that only a select amount of people get to see, let alone visit; the lucky few are either the long-time residents whose families have been club members for generations, or scientists who receive grants to study the local fauna. The area is rich in history and wildlife, and while the Club can be quite secretive, it always welcomes researchers. I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit and stay at the club many times over the years, as my father, at the time, was studying the native insect species. Whenever we stayed, my family would be hosted at the Stone House on Ives Lake, perhaps the most beautiful area on the Huron Mountain Club's property.

Stone House

The Stone House sits right at the edge of Ives Lake, a glacial lake that is very deep and cold, carved out of the granite bedrock tens of thousands of years ago. The water laps at the stone walls of the cabin, and a porch encircles three of the structure's four sides. It is constructed from large logs hewn from the nearby hillsides, and granite taken from the area. The downstairs portion of the Stone House consists of a large kitchen and small dining area -- all quite rustic -- as well as a spacious area for researchers to work, a bathroom that once functioned as a darkroom, and a large living room. The fireplace in the living room, which is no longer used, has an inscription on the mantle that reads There is no defeat in truth, save from within; unless you're beaten there, you're bound to win. Bedrooms and bathrooms fill the second floor of the Stone House. Some rooms overlook Ives Lake; those are the very best to be in. I remember some mornings, where I'd wake up at dawn, and the gray of the sky matched the gray of the lake; the only sound would be the singing of the loons. The Stone House also has a basement and an attic.

Red House

The Red House sits next to the Stone House. Both were built in the early 1900s (the exact date escapes me at this time), although at this time, the Red House is not being used. Club members are, however, working to get the Red House restored so that researchers can use it (the Stone House, believe it or not, does get very crowded in the summer months). The building is structurally sound and looks relatively untouched since its last use -- a time that I'd venture to be the 1970s. Unlike the Stone House, the Red House features a more Shingle Style -type of appearance. Next to the Red House is the caretaker's house, and beyond that is the Barn, which, after being threatened for some time, is very much safe and is in the very best interest of the Huron Mountain Club.

Architectural Element

When we visited the Club in late August of this year, there were several changes to be seen. The structure adjoining the two silos had been demolished and the Oldsmobile inside was gone; the new caretaker had also cleaned up around the Stone House, improving the garden and moving two very curious architectural elements to decorate the pathway. He explained that he'd been in the field across from the barn when he'd found the two chunks of limestone (a stone not native to the area), decorated in the floral motifs of the Richardsonian Romanesque style. They had both most likely stood at the doorway of the barn that was once located where the field is today -- but where did they come from? Had Longyear purchased these elements in his travels and decided to bring them north? It's an interesting mystery.

One of these days, I would like to return to the Huron Mountain Club and continue a photographic survey of the area; the beautiful and rustic architecture is something that is very uncommon these days. The lack of paved roads and the banning of motor boats has kept the property peaceful and clean, and there seems to be a resurgence in interest among the younger generations of club members.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Last month, Preservation Wayne held their annual Detroit Theater Tour, which I attended for the first time. It was a very fun and informative day in downtown Detroit; our group, which was made up of about two dozen people, was led through the heart of the city, walking down Woodward Avenue to tour the Fox Theatre and State Theatre. We were taken inside the former Michigan Theatre, which now serves as a parking structure, as well as the Detroit Opera House (formerly the Capitol Theatre) and the Gem Theatre. An additional treat was getting the opportunity to see what was left of the Oriental Theatre which, until that afternoon, had not been visible to the general public.

I was so overloaded with information that when I got back home, I crashed and slept for a very, very long time!

Because this blog has generally always featured the exteriors of our state's architecture, I thought it might be good to break the mold and include some interior photographs from the tour. I took many pictures, some I was more happy with than others (next time, I am so bringing a tripod because, yes, there is time to use it during the tour). Most of my favorite photographs, however, were the lobbies of these various theaters.

State Theatre lobby

The State Theatre (now called The Fillmore)

Detroit Opera House

The Detroit Opera House, C. Howard Crane's first movie palace. The lobby was too small and it caused problems when the crowds were huge!

Fox Theatre Lobby

The lobby of the magnificent Fox Theatre.

It is amazing just how many theaters C. Howard Crane designed in the state of Michigan. What's even more impressive is the fact that each and every one is quite different from the next.

Watch for more frequent updates! I've started college at Northern Michigan University again, I've got more downtime, and I'm realizing that a lot of people read this blog.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Michigan Theaters Project

As some of my readers may know, for the past few years, I have been working on a project to photograph each and every one of Michigan's main street movie theaters. For the sake of being realistic, I've limited what I photograph down to only open venues and closed venues that are still recognizable as theaters. In other words, that empty lot on Woodward that used to be a theater but closed in 1925 and was demolished in 1980? No. Or that drug store that occupies a theater building, but the marquee is long-gone and the architectural details are covered up with synthetic stucco? No, not that, either. I'm sticking to photographing cinemas that anyone can still see along the main street of their hometown.

Just yesterday, I photographed the Harpos Concert Theatre in Detroit, a streamline moderne gem that was once called the Harper. Having visited this theater, I have about seven left in the state to photograph. They're scattered all over Michigan, as seen on this map:

A few of the locations will be easy to visit, but others -- such as Grand Rapids and Oscoda -- will be a little more tricky. I'm lucky that Marquette's Northern Michigan University is where I go to college, or else Ironwood would be virtually impossible for me to see!

So, what exactly am I doing with all these theater photographs that I've taken? Well, a book, at least, that's what I'd like to do. I'm starting off small, publishing maybe two copies first to see what looks good and what can be improved upon. Once I've gotten the word out about what I'm doing, I'd like to be able to publish a book in larger numbers. After all, there is a book out there about Michigan's theaters that's been authored by a Michigan State University professor, but, in my humble opinion, it's horrible. I'd like an improvement out there that's actually easy to read, with quality photographs.

Without further ado, Detroit's Harpos Concert Theatre, its exterior hardly changed since its heyday:

I'll keep you up-to-date as this project moves along. Since I won't be seeing the Ironwood Theatre until at least this fall, there's a chance I might put out one of those preliminary books, before this summer is over, without it. It's a bit of a sacrifice, but I'd like to have a hard copy of something that I can show to people and get their input on.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Marquette's Lesser-Known Buildings

You've probably seen a multitude of photographs that show Marquette's county courthouse, ore docks, clocktower, and cathedral -- but what about the architecture we never see? The buildings we overlook are often quite beautiful, or used to be in their heyday. They've got rich, gritty textures and surprising colors that just aren't seen on the structures of today.

This gutted, abandoned building faces Lake Superior and the ore dock. I don't know what its original purpose was, but I would guess it once played a role in the iron ore or fishing industry. Notice the scars of a staircase that was once attached to the outside of the building. The structure is made from blocks of local sandstone, the same rock that helped build the rest of the city.

If we move in closer, we can see the blocks of stone cut to form an arch over a basement-level window.

The back of this building is constructed from two kinds of brick and sandstone blocks, not to mention the wood where an extra window was added. All of the additions and changes tell a story of the building's history, most of which is probably forgotten.

The back of this yellow brick building is simple, yet beautiful.

This old warehouse faces Lake Superior, near the Picnic Rocks park. I don't know what was produced there, but the complex, though abandoned, seems to be kept up by the city.

Thill's Fish Market, though only a quonset hut, has just as much character as a building constructed a century ago.

I'll be leaving Marquette for the summer this Friday, as that is my last day of final exams at Northern Michigan University. Though it will be nice to return home to Ann Arbor, I will truly miss the Upper Peninsula, Marquette, and all of my friends here. I might do one more post about Marquette before leaving -- perhaps highlighting the ore docks here.

As a sidenote, I will finish the series about the U.P.'s old theaters.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The U.P.'s Theaters, Part One

I don't want to overrun this blog with imagery of Michigan's beautiful movie theaters, but I do feel that they are an important aspect of our state's architecture. Often overlooked are the theaters in the Upper Peninsula. Though they are much smaller and less ornate than the theaters in our state's south, those found here are quite beautiful.

The very historic Calumet Theatre was built in 1885 and is one of the oldest theaters in Michigan. Its architect was C. K. Shand. Constructed far before the invention of moving pictures, its original purpose was to show live productions. Its architecture has a classical flavor to it, showcasing Romanesque arches, a pediment, and even a clocktower.

Escanaba's former Delft Theatre is now being used as a dance club. Its architecture has a very ornate Dutch influence, with ornamented stepped gables and a steeply pitched roof.

Escanaba's other theater is the Michigan. Its simple façade showcases the skyscraper-styled Art Deco motif. Though until very recently the building served as a church, it is now being renovated and restored, to return to functioning as its proper purpose: a theater! Such happy endings aren't very common these days, so it's good to know that this theater will once again be showing movies.

The Crystal Theatre in downtown Crystal Falls is truly a gem. Built in 1927, it is a tiny and unassuming building, but the inside is surprisingly ornate. It was recently restored by the owners to its original Art Deco styling. It has one screen and even has its own, original organ.

The Vista Theatre in Negaunee is an unexpected sight in such a tiny town. It was opened in 1926 and today shows the odd live show every once in a while, its most notable production being the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Krappy Architecture

Well, the Ann Arbor Area Krappy Kamera Club is currently having a show at Gallery 4 in Ann Arbor's beautiful Nickels Arcade. To keep with the spirit of toy camera photography, I'll feature several architecturally-themed cheap shots, courtesy of the Holga and Diana.

Ann Arbor's doomed Anberay Apartments. I was lucky to catch this complex earlier this month -- I don't know how much longer they'll be lasting. A high-rise condominium will be replacing the apartments in the near future. In related news, demolition has begun on the Frieze Building.

The side entrance to the Marquette County Courthouse. This is the entrance in which you see the characters enter and exit the building in the film Anatomy of a Murder. This small portico, with its graceful ionic columns, carved from red sandstone, is quite different than the front entrance of the courthouse, which is guarded by gargantuan granite doric columns.

The Old Marquette City Hall -- still one of my favorite buildings in Marquette. It's amazing how the well the detailed carving in the sandstone came out, even though the photograph was taken through the plastic lens of a Holga.

A small architectural detail on what I think was a bank, in Kalamazoo.

How could I exclude Northern Michigan University's iconic Superior Dome (more commonly referred to as simply "The Dome")? This structure holds the title as the largest wooden dome in the world, just narrowly beating out a similar building in Japan.

A benefit of using toy cameras to photograph familiar architecture is that everything is seen through an entirely different lens. When I think of how many shots I've taken of the Old City Hall, the courthouse, and the Dome with the run-of-the-mill camera, I think I prefer the non-conventional ones taken with the toy cameras.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Human Form

First Methodist Church, Ann Arbor. The structure dates from the 1930s; this image of Christ is angular in form and is representative of the art deco style.

The figure of a goddess, in Kalamazoo. Represented in an Americanized classical form, she holds an hourglass and a scroll, and stands atop a book press.

Parducci relief, Lansing.

The caricature of Erastus Otis Haven, an early president of the University of Michigan. U of M Law Quad, Ann Arbor.

The Artisic Muse, as seen on the University of Michigan's Angell Hall in Ann Arbor. Note the Venus De Milo in the upper lefthand corner.

Montgomery Ward's Spirit of Progress, as seen on a former store in Three Rivers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Windows and Such

Masonic Hall, Homer

Second Empire-styled buildings in downtown Three Rivers

Simple case moldings, 1877, Three Rivers

Fancy case molding, Kalamazoo

Bud's Restaurant, 1873, Mendon

I apologize for the extended hiatus; life and college and such have been complicated for me for the past few months. Updates will probably be slow until I am out of school for the semester, but when spring comes, believe me, I will be out photographing everywhere.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Different Fates

Didn't explore the Law Quad this time, but there have been some recent developments in the way of Ann Arbor's threatened historic buildings.

St. Nicholas

Back of Greek Orthodox Church

Ann Arbor's old St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, long threatened to be torn down and developed for other uses, has been saved.


Frieze Building

Meanwhile, the Frieze Building still sits, sadly awaiting its demise. It is scheduled to be torn down this summer to make way for new University of Michigan dormitories. The design, however, incorporates a part of the Frieze Building's façade and the result is actually quite appealing.

Tonight I have read that the historic 1920s-era Anberay Apartments, located on East University, have been bought by a developer from Chicago. The company would demolish the once-protected apartment buildings to make way for a ten-story, $20 million apartment building. If this project is passed by the city, Ann Arbor will lose one of the last things that makes it truly unique.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Law Quad

The University of Michigan Law Quadrangle was built between 1924 and 1933. It is arguably the most beautiful set of buildings on the U of M campus.

Gargoyle VIII



Ivy and Windows

Gargoyle II

Law Quad Entrance

Gargoyle I

Crazy frills and ivy


Gargoyle IV


I hope to explore the inside of the Law Quad in the coming week, so check back for photographs of that adventure.