Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

-MI-Detroit Area

The Belt – Detroit MI (2015)

Public Alley behind the “Z” Parking Garage.

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This project definitely falls into the Creative Built Environment category. A public alley has been transformed into a public art gallery – while still functioning as a public alley. Bedrock Real Estate, in conjunction with the Library Street Collective in Detroit are behind this transformation. They have turned this into an inviting walkway with commissioned artwork installed along the way. Recently Shepard Fairey installed several installations while in town. One of his murals will become the background for a new open air bar that will be in an alcove along the alley. Unusual benches provide spaces to sit. Another thinking-outside-the-box project transforming downtown Detroit. I am looking forward to future additions.

Turkel House and Garden (1955)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

2760 West Seven Mile Road, Detroit MI 48221

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The current owners have rescued the Dorothy Turkel House from near disintegration and oblivion.

I toured the house when it was for sale several years ago and I wanted to cry. It had been abandoned with the heat turned off in the middle of a Michigan winter. The toilets literally were cracked in half due to the water inside freezing. The water covered the floor and froze…creating mini ice rinks in the bathrooms. There were large cracks in the exterior walls, some of the wood paneling had water damage…I have to stop – as the memory of that day is too painful. I know, a little melodramatic, but it truly was sad. It was hard to imagine that anyone could actually rescue this treasure. A miracle happened. The current owners have slowly, purposefully, creatively and passionately rescued and restored this house. In fact with their garden ( dare I say ) they have made it better than it has ever been.

Originally the narrow Cherokee red concrete terrace and steps lead down to a grass lawn. Now the lawn has been replaced with an extension of the Cherokee red terrace. Along one side is a narrow pool with three bubbling fountains. Surrounding this extended terrace are multiple garden compositions, each with a unique personality, yet all work together. Interspersed are glass sculptures, silver balls-on-a-stick (my favorite) and a sculpture court with large wire spheres.

Inside, the two-story Music Room has been beautifully restored. The wood paneling looks great, and the owner’s art collection accents the space perfectly. I am happy to report that the toilets have been replaced and the bathroom floors are no longer covered with ice ( even after the last winter we had here in Detroit).

This is one of the most amazing comeback stories I have experienced – in architecture anyway.



Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building (1962)

Minoru Yamasaki FAIA, Architect

One Woodward Avenue, Detroit MI 48226

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McGregor Memorial Conference Center (1958)

Minoru Yamasaki Architect

On the campus of Wayne State University Detroit MI

Visited September 20 , 2013 as part of the Detroit Design Festival

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One of Yamasaki’s early buildings ( and I think one of his best) is the McGregor Memorial Conference Center. It is located on the campus of Wayne State University, along with 3 other buildings by him designed and built later.

Click here for my photos from an architectural tour of the other Yamasaki buildings.

Guardian Building (1928)

Wirt C. Rowland, Architect

500 Griswold Detroit MI

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While on my road trips I have my cameras with me at all times to capture the buildings I have made the pilgrimage to experience. While home in Detroit, I go past some of America’s great architectural treasures nearly every day. I have been in each of them countless times over the years and almost take them for granted. I do take visitors through them to show them off, but rarely do I think to bring my own camera.

Yesterday I was downtown and walked into the Guardian Building to be inspired. Of course my “big” camera was back home, but I took out my phone and tried to capture the experience with the camera in my phone. Consider these as just snapshots of this amazing colorful “Art Deco Mayan Revival” space. Hopefully this will be enough to tempt you to experience this for yourself the next time you are in Detroit. It is well worth the trip.

Check back for my description and comments on the building, but in the mean time enjoy the photographs.

Click here to view the Guardian Building’s website

Dymaxion House (1945)

R. Buckminster Fuller,  Architect

On display within the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn MI

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Visited September 2, 2013

The Dymaxion House (from the words Dynamic Maximum Tension) uses a central mast set on a single foundation in the middle of the structure. The floor and wall system then is suspended from this mast with tension cables. This was to be Buckminster Fuller’s mass-produced affordable solution for the housing shortage after the war. What was brilliant about his solution was that the Dymaxion House uses aircraft like parts and assembly techniques. This was to keep the aircraft factories open and the skilled workers employed after most military aircraft production ended after the war.

Two prototypes of the “Dymaxion Dwelling Machine” were manufactured in Wichita, Kansas by the Beech Aircraft company before Fuller Houses Inc. went out of business due to disagreements among the associates (or so the story goes). Both prototypes (or the parts from them) were purchased by a family in Kansas, and were assembled as one Dymaxion structure as an addition to their existing house.

The family donated the Dymaxion House to Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, where the parts were cataloged, cleaned, and restored.  The house was ultimately assembled as a featured display in the Museum. Portions of the structure are visible in cut-a-way sections of the display so the unique structural design are visible. Visitors can walk through the house and see first hand the innovative bathroom, closet, kitchen and ventilation systems employed.

I wish it could have been assembled outdoors in the Village on a grass lawn with the original porches. Although I understand that is has to be in the museum so that it can be preserved, the ramps and fencing for the visitors que to enter and exit the display hug the building closely. You do not get the architect’s vision of this spaceage looking house hovering over the lawn supported only by the center mast.

Detroit Auto Show – The Displays – (2012)

The North American International Auto Show

Cobo Hall, Detroit MI

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Visited January 17, 2012

Not only do the auto companies invest in their product development, but they also have inspired designers creating dramatic auto show displays. These displays are elaborate concoctions – part architecture, part technology, and all temporary – constructed in a convention hall for a two week run. They are meant to reinforce the brand image, be a backdrop or pedestal for the cars, and above all draw people in. Here is a sample of the displays at this years North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Come next year!  There is a week long press-only preview, a Black-Tie Charity Preview on Friday night, and then it is open to the public Saturday morning through the following weekend. While in Detroit check out the other more permanent architectural treasures here. Click the “MI-Detroit” link in the column on the right and you will see some great options.

For more information, here is the official website.

Detroit Auto Show – The Cars – (2012)

The North American International Auto Show

Cobo Hall, Detroit, MI

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Taking a detour from strictly being an architectural tourist, design in Detroit also includes automobiles. I went to the Autoshow this week, as I do every year. In the Motor City, the North American International Auto Show is a highlight of the season. With the press preview, the new car introductions, the blacktie charity preview, and of course the public Autoshow where everyone gets to see the concept cars, productions cars, and great creative displays. The displays, which are actually high-tech architectural constructions, will be highlighted in my next post. Right now, it is time to feature some great automobile designs – both old and new. Enjoy, and look for the next post featuring the displays.

Smith House (1946)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

5045 Pon Valley Road, Bloomfield Hills, MI

Aerial View and Map

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Photos taken January 7, 2012

The Smith House is a great example of Wright’s Usonian Houses. It is a more refined version of the first Jacobs House in Madison. Situated in the upscale Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, this rather modest house is surrounded by huge mansions of the more traditional style.

The low, horizontal composition hugs the earth and extends across the site with the brick garden walls. The owner’s large scale sculpture collection still graces the grounds and provides a nice visual break from the otherwise austentatious bigger than big neighbors.

This house is visible from the street, with a complete view of the front and north side facades across the lawn. The Smith House gives you a clear view of a pristine example his Usonian House concept. Well worth the trip if you are in the area. It is just down the street from the Cranbrook Educational Community with it’s original Saarinen designed campus, and close by is Wright’s Affleck House.

Cranbrook Institute of Science Addition (1998)

Steven Holl, Architect

On the Campus of the Cranbrook Educational Community

39221 Woodward Avenue, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48303

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Photos taken January 7, 2012

Breaking News….The 2012 AIA Gold Medal Winner is……Steven Holl.

Upon hearing the news I decided to head up to the beautiful Cranbrook Educational Community Campus in Bloomfield Hills to visit Holl’s Institute of Science Addition. The unusually warm weather and fleeting sunshine helped out.

One main feature of the addition is that it creates a new public entrance for the facility (the original structure was designed by Eliel Saarinen). The tall entry box with the multitextured glass panel screen is meant to announce the new entry, as it is tucked back beyond the original entry and round planetarium. The building is clad in golden hued stone which is used generously in other buildings on the Cranbrook campus. The glass facade is arranged in a 3-dimensional framework with the glazing set in different planes. To add interest, Holl uses different glass types in each opening with wavy, ribbed and frosted finishes. In less talented hands this would come across as a glass sample showroom display, but here Holl manages a creative composition.

Architecturally, this corner is the most interesting facade and form on the exterior. There is a courtyard with a Science Garden, including a House of Ice and House of Vapor, and a reflecting pool. Even though we are exeriencing warmer than usual weather, the courtyard elements were closed until the spring. I will be happy to venture back and post some photos of the courtyard which promises to be worthy of its own post.

I have not seen any other works by Holl. Now with his Gold Medal recognition, I will have to investigate his work further.

Architect’s Web Site Project Profile Page

Cranbrook Institute of Science Webpage

Merry Christmas (2011)

Campus Martius Park

Detroit. MI

Aerial View and Map

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Photos taken Christmas Eve December 24, 2011

Campus Martius Park in Downtown Detroit not only has the Official City Christmas Tree perched ontop of the fountain, it also has an ice rink for skating fun all winter long. Each Chritsmas Eve there is a great crowd.  Campus Martius is an great urban space in the center of the city business district, and literally in the center of Woodward Avenue. It is perfectly situated to host this special night with all the lights, music, skating, and people in the holiday spirit. Surrounding the ice rink are warming stations with open fires, although I did not see any chestnuts roasting….but there are usually people making S’mores.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Noel Night (2011)

39th Annual Noel Night

Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center

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December 3, 2011

The annual Noel Night celebration in Midtown Detroit is one of my favorite holiday events. It is all set within and around some of Detroit’s greatest monumental buildings, all of which were open and free to all for this evening.

There is something for everyone. The precise Detroit All City High School Marching Band marched in sync around the area and performed holiday music in their bright red and blue “Motown” uniforms. The less percise, but equally entertaining Detroit Party Marching Band also showed up – wearing more individually inspired attire. They can best define themselves –  ” Assembling often, spontaneously & when you least expect it…”. Warming things up for the crowd were performances by The Detroit Fire Guild. In the Detroit Institute of Arts famed Rivera Court there was something more traditional, The Rhythm Society Orchestra. Of course, the evening ended with the Salvation Army Band.

This is just a sample of the many museums, churches, galleries, clubs, restaurants, shops and other great establishments which make this evening , and every evening in Detroit special and exciting.

Blog Readers may initially wonder why this event is featured in a blog dedicated to experiencing architecture. All of these performances exist in, around, infront of, through, inbetween and on the steps of some of Detroit’s greatest Architectural treasures. Noel Night is all about Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments, with a holiday theme. My sample shown here is from just two of the over 60 venues participating, you cannot possibly see all of them in one night – but you can try…..next year.

The photos in this post include these two buildings:

The Detroit Public Library (1921) Cass Gilbert, Architect

The Detroit Institute of Arts (1927) Paul Cret, Architect

Affleck House (1941)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

1925 Woodward Avenue, Bloomfield Hills, MI

Aerial View and Map

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Photos taken October 29, 2011

The Gregor and Elizabeth Affleck House is a great early example of Wright’s Usonian Houses. A model of the house was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York before it was constructed. It is in very good condition after several restoration projects undertaken by The Friends of the Affleck House and Lawrence Technological Univeristy’s School of Architecture which owns the structure.

I have been to the house many times since my college days. I was in the area late saturday afternoon and thought I would stop by and snap a few photos. The recent Chrysler commercial which features the house must have been in the back of my mind as I drove down Woodward Avenue.  If you respect the owner’s of the adjacent houses, you can easily view the house from all sides from the drive that loops the house. I will go back after all the leaves are off the trees to get some additional photos featuring the cantilevered living room and deck. The University does provide tours of the house (see attached links). I thought it was interesting that I found a 1948 Oldsmobile TV commercial online that featured the house as well (see attached link to view). Look for a post of the nearby Smith House by Frank Lloyd Wright in the coming days. I stopped there following my visit to the Affleck House.

1948 Futuramic Oldsmobile TV Advertisement featuring the Affleck House

LTU’s Web Page of House

Tour Brochure

Exhibit Catalog– which contains copies of some of Wright’s drawings for the house and early B&W photos of the house and interiors

Bagley Memorial Fountain (1887)

H.H. Richardson, Architect

Cadilliac Square at Bates Street

Detroit MI

Aerial View and Map (note aerial photo was taken before the fountain was installed in Cadilliac Square)

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Photos taken October 8, and October 22, 2011

The fountain was a gift bequeathed to the City of Detroit by John Bagley, a local businessman and former Governor of Michigan. The elaborate granite structure is actually a drinking fountain, with 4 lions heads spouting water. It was reported that Bagley’s will called for the design to provide “water cold and pure as the coldest mountain stream”. During hot summer months, two of the lions heads had their water chilled by blocks of ice dropped into the base of the fountain packed around the pipes. I do not see any indication of how this was accomplished, but will take the reports at face value. The fountain was actually moved several times, and perhaps the ice access was eliminated during one of the moves. Originally it was located at Woodward and Fort street, then was moved to Campus Martius in 1926. It was put in storage in 2000, and then reinstalled at the eastern end of Cadillac Square, just down from Campus Martius.

Appearing at first glance as just a stately monument, this beautifully restored fountain is one of Detroit’s historical treasures. It is Michigan’s only structure by H.H. Richardson, one of America’s most important architects of the 19th century (the only other structure in Michigan by Richardson was destroyed by fire in 1946). 

Bagley Pedestrian Bridge (2009)

inFORM studio, Architect

Bagley Street over I-75, Detroit MI

Aerial View and Directions

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Photos taken November 21, 2010 and November 28, 2010

This is a repost from last year showing the Bagley Pedestrian Bridge over I-75 in the Mexicantown area of Southwest Detroit. The concrete bridge supported by steel cables from a tilted off-centered mast forms a dynamic sculpture. It is unfortunatley crowded in a spaghetti bowl of bridges of the more standard type which largely blocks it’s full view while driving up I-75. (You should be keeping your eye on the road anyway!) These photos were taken at the surface street level early two Sunday mornings last November. Note that the aerial photo in the link was taken prior to the bridge’s construction.

After all that walking across the bridge, be sure to stop by the La Gloria Bakery at the foot of the bridge on the western end for caramel churros. If you do not have a sweet tooth, about 5 blocks east of the bridge on Bagley is the Honey Bee Market. Here you will find the best salsa in the world (in my opinion). Add a bag of their fresh tortilla chips and enjoy. If you are up for international travel, you are at the entrance to the Ambassador Bridge to Canada. You can be in a foreign country in 5 minutes, just bring your passport.

inFORM studio project profile

Bridge News Story

Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament (1915)

Henry A. Walsh, Architect; 1915

Gunnar Birkerts, Architect – renovations 1999-

9844 Woodward Avenue, Detroit 48202

Aerial View and Directions

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Photos taken October 17, 2011

Driving down Woodward Avenue this evening, the sunlight on the west facade of the Cathedral was just right for a photo, so I had to stop.

Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament is the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. Started in 1915 as a parish Church, it was not initially completed until it became the Diocesan Cathedral. The towers were finally completed in the early 1950’s, and more recently, Gunnar Birkerts designed a strikingly contemporary interior carefully inserted in the Neo-Gothic edifice. Most of Birkerts work is not evident from the exterior -with the exception of the plaza to the north, and the black granite slab sign. Next time I see there is an event at the Cathedral, and I am dressed appropriately, I may stop in and get some interior photos.

De Roy Auditorium (1964)

Minoru Yamasaki, Architect

Wayne State University Campus

5203 Cass Avenue, Detroit, MI

Aerial View and Map

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Photos from October 17, 2010

The Helen L. DeRoy Auditorium has been described as “A Decorated International Style Box” . It was designed and constructed with the adjacent  Prentis Building and is connected with an underground passage. This pavilion stands proudly in a shallow reflecting pool (which unfortunately  is usually “dry”). The doors and fixed glazing on the opposing short sides is the only façade fenestration. These entrances are linked to the campus with bridges over the moat surrounding the building. The simplicity and elegance of  the gothic form tracery pattern wraps the plain box, creating a pleasing pattern especially when the sunlight casts deep shadows. It’s simple rectangular form provides no indication of the buildings use- it could as easily be a jewel box, temple or mausoleum.

This is one of several buildings by Yamasaki on the Wayne State University Campus. The De Roy Auditorium is visible from Cass Ave. through the open arcade in the Prentis Building. The other Yamasaki Buildings are within easy walking distance. Do not miss the McGregor Memorial Conference Center, as it is one of his masterpieces.

If you build up an appetite after all that walking, consider stopping by the Midtown Shangri-la restaurant a few blocks down Cass at Forest. Although Yamasaki was born in Seattle, he was a second generation Japanese American. Shangri-la, although billed as a chinese restaurant, they also have excellent sushi to keep your Yamasaki tour on theme (try the shrimp tempura roll and the kanpyo roll made by Tony, the sushi chef. If you are thirsty, bartender Beaux makes the best Negroni cocktail in town).

Yamasaki Bio from the Detroit News

Comerica Park (2000)

HOK Sports, SmithGroup Architects, and the Rockwell Group

2100 Woodward Avenue

Detroit, MI 48201

Aerial View and Map

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The home ballpark of the Detroit Tigers, Comerica Park replaced the old Tiger Stadium in 2000. The ballpark grandstand is wrapped in a themed enclosure that fits within the downtown street grid. The Rockwell Group has added a themepark feel with supersized Tigers, and building elements constructed of oversized bats and balls. there are Pewabic Tile decorative panels and bands with dimensional baseballs. Even the light fixtures are illuminated baseballs…in the mouths of tiger head sculptures mounted at the top of each pilaster surrounding the otherwise fairly traditional brick facade.

Within the promenade surrounding the grandstands, the designers have integrated an entertainment focused experience with a ferris wheel (where the cars are baseballs) and a merry-go-round (with the animals being Tigers of course). To my taste, it all feels just a little “too themed”. Pewabic Tile is beautiful in it’s own right, and the old english “D” feels right with the handmade arts and crafts tiles and the long history of the Detroit Tigers Team. The half round ceramic baseballs, laces and all, in the borders just seem a little too much to me. But then again, I am no longer a kid, and Disney seems to be pretty successful with mouse ears integrated in all aspects of their developments.

The photos I took this weekend are a sample of the exterior of the ballpark. The Tigers are away in the playoffs, and the stadium is being readied for the home games in the series. Maybe next year I can post photos of the inside of the fan friendly stadium, but I am afraid this years playoff games are all long sold out – and I do not have any tickets.

One advantage to the ballpark being integrated into the downtown urban fabric is even without tickets you can still enjoy the energy of the live ballgame. Just across the street and Grand Circus Park, is Angelina Italian Bistro. The exterior glass walls open up during good weather, so even without tickets, you can sit in the shadow of the ballpark lights, hear the roar of the crowd live, while watching the game on TV. (and the beer is cheaper than in the ballpark!)

The Official Tigers Web Site

Rockwell Group – Comerica Park Page

Detroit, MI (est.1701)

The Motor City – Motown – The Arsenal of Democracy

The “D” –  The 313 – HockeyTown – Detroit Rock City

Detroit -the city that I live in, and have for over 20 years.

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This weekend the weather has been unusually great for October in the “D”, so I could not resist going downtown and snapping some photos to add to my archives – and have posted a sample of them here.

Much of what I have shared on this site in the past has been about architecture while on roadtrips away from home. Now with the weather changing and snow coming, my roadtrips will be less frequent.

I will post more of my favorite Detroit buildings from my archives over the winter months. Hopefully readers that have never been to Detroit will take a look, as well as locals who may find some surprises that they were not aware of. These are buildings and environments that I am privileged to be able to experience often, some daily.

Detroit has an impressive architectural, design, industrial, manufacturing, entertainment and sports heritage spanning it’s 310 year history. There are treasures here, many of which are not widely known to those outside Southeast Michigan. Detroit’s own Albert Kahn designed stately mansions, office buildings and shaped modern factory design all over the world. The Saarinen’s lived and worked in nearby Bloomfield Hills. Minoru Yamasaki’s office was in Troy and Gunnar Birkert’s in Birmingham. We have works in the City by Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, McKim Meade and White, Paul Cret, Daniel Burnham, Cass Gilbert, Philip Johnson and John Burgee, John Portman, and even a fountain by H.H. Richardson. Belle Isle, a thousand acre island city park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

We unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, also have our share of mediocre developments and bad ideas. I do not have time or space to post those…unless my occasional sarcastic side makes an appearance at the keyboard and I just have to share an “insightful” thought.

I hope you enjoy these future posts, learn of new spaces and places to visit, be inspired, and if you have never been to Detroit, what have you been waiting for?

Hamtramck Disneyland (1999)

Dmytro Szylak, Artist

12087 Klinger Street, Hamtramck MI 48211

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Down a rather ordinary residential street, lined with rather ordinary houses and flats, if you look between the closely spaced houses you can catch a glimpse of an extraordinary creation. Dwytro Szylak, a retired Ukranian immigrant, has collected, assembled, and constructed an amazing spectacle. The creation fills his backyard, covers his garage, and overflows into the alley. With a slight breeze, the windmills, pinwheels, daisys, and other assorted whirlygigs spin and make noise. Hamtramck Disneyland is a wonderfully odd mix of objects and elements including patroitic, Christmas and western themes, cartoon characters, airplanes, birds, fish and even Elvis.  This burst of creativity will make you smile, reminisce about things you remember growing up, and you will leave feeling good. If you are lucky, Dwytro will be in his back yard tinkering around. With a friendly smile he may say hello and with a thick accent ask where you are from, before he turns back to his yard and continues to tinker with things on the table beside his garage.

Temple Beth El (1922)

Albert Kahn, Architect

8801 North Woodward Avenue, Detroit MI

Aerial View

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From my Achive

This monumental neoclassical temple was the second building Kahn designed for his own Reformed Jewish Congregation. Kahn, also known for his industrial architecture ( see the Ohio Steel Foundry), here he shows his mastery of classical architectural forms.

Noel Night 2010

38th Annual Noel Night

Midtown Detroit’s University Cultural Center

Detroit, MI

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Belle Isle Conservatory, Detroit (1904)

Albert Kahn, Architect

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