“Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful.
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”
(Sammy Cahn, Jules Styne, 1945)
Today we celebrate the return of the Sun, that ancient ritual acknowledging that no matter how bleak and dismal it may seem, the darkness will always give way to the light. It is a good thing to remember, this; particularly during these dreadful times where all things mundane are concerned.
As if in repudiation of these annual days of shortest daylight, our world is blanketed with a thick coat of clean, white snow. A bit unusual, but its reflective quality a welcome banishment of the otherwise utter blackness of the long, unrelenting nights. All illumination comes with a price, however, and we awoke to more falling snow, falling temperatures and high winds that will push those temperatures into the danger zone. It is definitely a day to hole up, whether you are man or beast or bird.
Knowing that staying home was going to be a likely and very wise choice, we decided to take advantage of the lull between storms and go on a little drive last night. Recent changes at work have finally given me reason to go to our downtown Detroit offices and while driving there and back the juxtapositions of holiday lights and the combination of old and new architecture had caught my eye and so were penciled in on my little photography project list.
We simply headed down Woodward Avenue, one of the main arteries into the city and a thoroughfare of great historic and cultural significance; not the least of which is that its mile-long stretch between Six and Seven Mile Roads was the first road in the world to be paved with concrete almost 100 years ago. As in any big city, there are places where plywood and graffiti cover the decaying ruins of neglect and poverty like so many dirty bandages but there are now more places where tender claim has been laid and life breathed back. Particularly as one reaches the downtown proper.
Woodward Avenue ends at the riverfront, where you can look south and see our northern neighbors in Canada; and as you turn onto Jefferson Avenue you come face-to-face with what was once the hope and pride of the downtown’s revitalization. The wistfully-named Renaissance Center, conceived by Henry Ford II is now the headquarters of General Motors, and the 5.5 million square foot complex still boasts the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western hemisphere, the 73-story Marriott.
We turned around and headed back north again on Woodward, this time with the intention of shooting. Most of the road had been admirably cleared of Friday’s heavy snowfall, but a few places remained just nasty. The steam grates lent a properly urban atmosphere, though shooting through the windshield isn’t exactly the best way to go.
The picture I’d had in mind was best shot taken just south of Comerica Park so we pulled in there. This rather overwhelming ballpark that tries to give nod to both the old and modern eras of baseball sadly replaced the much-beloved and historic Tiger Stadium in 2000 though, ironically, Comerica paid for 30-years of naming rights then moved its headquarters to Dallas, Texas shortly thereafter. The enormous tiger sculptures are wonderful and whimsical (note the Carhart jacket on the main one); what tickles me most of all are the decorative lights – glowing baseballs held in the mouths of fierce tiger heads mounted along the exterior walls.
Directly across the street is the Fox Theater, originally built in 1928 and one of the first movie palaces to feature live sound. It is now Detroit’s main venue for Broadway productions.
But it was St. John’s Episcopal Church that was my reason for this cold little adventure. The oldest church still standing along Woodward Avenue, it was dedicated in 1858 and this marvelous example of Victorian Gothic construction of rubble limestone, trimmed with Kelly Island sandstone, has survived both expansion (the original chapel was too small from the start and so immediately reconstructed in 1861; the chancel was enlarged in 1892 to accommodate the organ console and choir and the original chapel taken down and moved 10 feet east) and relocation (the entire church was moved 60 feet backwards when Woodward Avenue was expanded in 1936). It is a tiny, almost surreal breathing space of peaceful beauty and historic grace amidst the commercial frenzy.
I think it was well worth braving the cold darkness.