Detroit architect honored in new book

By STEVEN MAIER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Admirers of architect Wirt Rowland finally have the biography they were looking for. It was a long time coming.

Rowland was arguably the premier skyscraper architect of the early 20th century. He designed prominent buildings around the country for years. Yet his name is hardly known outside of architectural circles, and no one had bothered to write a book about the man.

That’s what struck Michael G. Smith of Bloomfield Hills and led him to write the just-released, “Designing Detroit: Wirt Rowland and the Rise of Modern American Architecture” (Wayne State University Press, $44.99).

The tome is comprehensive and meticulously detailed as Smith explores the rise of Rowland through the ranks of the architectural world and his work in Detroit. Despite his lack of training, Rowland earned a position in the city as an apprentice draftsman in 1901. Four years later, he was the lead designer for the two largest construction projects in Michigan. He went on to work for some of the most prominent architectural firms in the city, designing five of Detroit’s 16 prominent skyscrapers Continue reading

Another legal lap ahead in horse pulling doping dispute?

By BEN MUIR

Capital News Service

LANSING — It has taken five years, four judges and three rounds in a lawsuit to decide a doping scandal between a state horse pulling association and one of its members.

And it’s still not over. A fourth round is possible.

Many thought it was over after a three-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel ruled in favor of a Chippewa County man accused of breaking competition rules.

The case started in 2012 when a horse owned by David Esslin of Goetzville, then a member of the Bear Lake-based Michigan Horse Pulling Association, tested positive for an illegal substance. Esslin was fined and suspended from the association.

Esslin fought the drugging allegations by suing the association, successfully, for thousands of dollars.

The association banned Esslin after the lawsuit. Esslin wanted back in, so he took the group to court, where a Clare County Circuit Court judge ordered his reinstatement. The group appealed the reinstatement but lost that battle as well, according to court documents. Continue reading

‘Saving Arcadia’ tells conservation success story

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — For Michiganders, going “Up North” is a common answer to questions about upcoming vacation plans – and for good reason.

That region holds Michigan’s dunes—landforms integral to the state’s history and tourism. They also hold stories of grassroots advocates and volunteers who successfully preserve these pristine landscapes.

Heather Shumaker, the author of “Saving Arcadia: A Story of Conservation and Community in the Great Lakes” (Wayne State University Press, $22.99), explores the near 40-year battle between Arcadia Dune conservationists and CMS Energy, the holding company of Consumers Energy, a natural gas and electric public utility.

Located along Lake Michigan’s coastline and almost directly across from Wisconsin’s Green Bay, the Arcadia Dunes’ conservation story begins in 1969. Elaine Putney, an orchard farmer, received a knock on her door from a sharply dressed man. The man, Gerald Derks, was offering to buy land from Benzie County residents on behalf of Viking Land Co., which — as it would later turn out — represented Consumers Power Co. Continue reading

Book reveals history of Detroit’s forgotten streetcars

By IAN WENDROW

Capital News Service

LANSING — Detroit once was home to the world’s largest municipally owned streetcar enterprise, an industry with a history stretching from the city’s early founding through the 1950s.

Now a new book, “The Thirty-Year War: The History of Detroit Streetcars, 1892-1922” by Neil Lehto, provides an in-depth look at the origins and development of that public transportation system.

Lehto is an attorney representing Michigan townships and villages in cases involving public utilities, with a focus on telecommunications. Before he was a lawyer, Lehto cut his teeth working for a Royal Oak newspaper while attending Wayne State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

The combination of municipal law and journalism fueled his desire to write the book.

“I had the occasion to write an article about the renewal of the Detroit Edison franchise in the city of Berkeley,” said Lehto, who lives there. “And I became curious about public utility franchises and their regulation because it seems to be kind of peculiar.” Continue reading

Poet researched Great Lakes’ wrecks for new collection

By KATE HABREL

Capital News Service

LANSING — A 200-pound ship’s radiator interrupted a funeral in 1922 when it plunged from the sky and into the Falk Undertaking Parlors on Military Street in Port Huron.

It came from the Omar D. Conger, a ship blown to pieces when its boiler exploded while docked at Port Huron.

“That part is accurate! It happened! And that’s just bizarre!” said poet Cindy Hunter Morgan, an assistant professor of creative writing at Michigan State University. “When I read that, I thought, I’ve got to build a poem around that.”

And she did. From that poem: Continue reading

Course for 5K goes over and under airport runway

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Runners, lace up. In October, you’ll get the chance to race on an actual airport runway, and maybe duck under a 747.

Talk about creative land use. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport recently announced plans for a 5K race on Saturday, Oct. 7.

“It’s a bucket list-type thing,” said Tara Hernandez, the director of marketing and communications at the airport.

Post-9/11, people probably didn’t think they’d have opportunities to do stuff like that, she said. Continue reading

Childhood interest in Great Lakes freighters grew into book

By NATASHA BLAKELY

Capital News Service

LANSING — Power is clear in every curve and edge of the freighters that cut through the blue-gray waters of the Great Lakes.

It’s a familiar sight to those living within view of the shipping industry that plays such a key role in the region’s economy.

And it’s one that fascinated Frank Boles, who grew up in Lincoln Park and fed his interest in large cargo ships during childhood trips to Bishop Park on the Detroit River.

“I realized early on that I did not have the stomach to be a good sailor,” Boles said. “Roller coasters persuaded me of that. I admired them from afar.” Continue reading

New book paddles through history on canoe

 

Courting on Grand Canal in Belle Isle Park in the Detroit River, with Detroit, Michigan, on one side and Windsor, Ontario, on the other, c. 1900. Note the Victrola mounted in the canoe in the foreground. Image: Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Courting on Grand Canal in Belle Isle Park in the Detroit River, with Detroit, Michigan, on one side and Windsor, Ontario, on the other, c. 1900. Note the Victrola mounted in the canoe in the foreground. Image: Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

By MARIE ORTTENBURGER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Before everyone had a car, young lovers made out in canoes.

In the early 20th century, Michigan’s Belle Isle Park on the Detroit River was one of a few hot spots for the “canoedling” fad. Couples could rent or buy canoes especially designed for courting. The front seats in these canoes faced the rear, so the couple could look at each other while paddling. A Belle Isle suitor could outfit his canoe with a Victrola record player, rugs for the floor, backrests and pillows to keep his lady comfortable. Continue reading

Old bikes get recycled into burgeoning rental programs

By ALEXANDER SMITH

Capital News Service

LANSING — As the number of abandoned bikes grows on college campuses, bike rental programs flourish.

In New York, abandoned bikes are recycled or trashed. In Denver, they are auctioned and the proceeds go to the city’s general fund. Elsewhere they are donated to charities.

In Michigan, some colleges are recycling them into bike rental programs.

The University of Michigan and Western Michigan University have programs stocked with brand new bikes. Some universities such as Grand Valley State and Michigan State University save money by reusing bikes left behind by students.

Abandoned bikes are an excellent resource to get a bike rental program started, said Tim Potter, sustainable transportation manager at Michigan State.

“It’s a very cost-effective, environmentally-friendly way to start up a bike program and perhaps grow it into a full-on bike center,” Potter said. “People really start to get behind it when you can show some activity.” Continue reading

State groups dispute how downtowns spend special millages

By BRIDGET BUSH

LANSING– A dispute between the state groups representing counties and downtowns has erupted over the way tax money is spent.

Michigan Association of County officials say some special millage tax dollars that could be spent on senior citizens, veterans and other causes get diverted into a popular tax strategy for helping downtowns.

A five-bill package was recently introduced in the House of Representatives to improve the oversight and transparency of groups capturing this tax revenue. Cosponsors are Reps. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering; Lana Theis,R- Brighton; Amanda Price; R-Park Township; Pat Somerville R-New Boston; and David Mature, R- Vicksburg.

The issue is over Tax Increment Financing, called TIF for short.

“Downtowns support the bulk of economic development, so this is a powerful tool to provide a way for the county as a whole to give back to downtowns that sustain their communities,” said Kent Wood, director of government relations for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. “And there’s not a lot of tools we’ve got left in the toolbox.” Continue reading