Friday, July 10, 2009

Here's to Detroit

There are things I miss about Detroit: The Magic Stick, Detroit Tigers, People's Records, The Metro Times, WDET (especially Ed Love's Destination Jazz), The Lagerhourse ... the list goes on. I definitely don't miss the roads.

While I wasn't born and bred in the Motor City, I spent much of my youth seeing countless bands and show in and around Detroit. My Mom was born in the 'burbs of Detroit. My maternal grandparents and their siblings all made a living in Detroit during the 1950s and 1960s. My grandpa is also a proud graduate of the University of Detroit's dental school, class of 1957. My hubby also founded the popular Detroit music blog, Motor City Rocks, in 2003 -- big props to my friend and fellow MSU alum, Big Wave Dave aka Dr. Detroit for keeping it going.

And today, as GM emerges from bankruptcy after 40 days, I wanna give a shout out to my old rock'n'roll stomping grounds. Here are some interesting facts you should know about the D. [Thanks eLove This City]

1. First City to Pave a Concrete Road
In 1909, Wayne County built the first mile of concrete highway in the world on Woodward Avenue between Six and Seven Mile roads. Until then, a surfaced road was gravel, and often a horse was employed to pull a car out of the muddy muck. Road builders from near and afar came to see how concrete stood up under the heavy traffic of that period. It cost $13,537, including $1,000 in state aid.

The success of this experiment led to other transportation-firsts. In 1919 the nation’s first 4-way three color traffic light was installed on the corner of Woodward and Michigan Avenues in Detroit 1. In 1930 the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel was completed making it the first traffic tunnel between two nations. By 1942, the world’s first urban freeway opened to the public, the Davison Freeway.

2. Home to the Ice Cream Soda
Long before A&W introduced their root-beer float the ice-cream soda was being served to thirsty Detroiters along Boston Boulevard. Many historians claim Detroit’s own Fred Sanders, a confectioner and owner of The Pavilion of Sweets first served the drink to two customers in 1876. A popular drink at the time was the sweet cream soda. One day when the ice delivery truck failed to show Sander’s day-old cream went sour. Improvising, he instead mixed ice cream with the carbonated beverage and hence the drink was born.

By the 1880s the most popular combination for this drink was Ginger Ale with ice cream aka the Boston Cooler; specifically Vernor’s Ginger Ale & Sander’s ice cream. The beverage was named after the Boulevard and not the Massachusetts city. James Vernor’s drugstore located a short distance away made the unique combination seem very natural. Vernor’s produced an intense golden ginger ale, unlike most modern dry ginger ales. Until the 1920s ginger ale was the nation’s most popular choice of carbonated beverage, and Vernor’s happens to be our nation’s oldest soda. Soda connoisseurs still advocate to this day that if you want to taste ginger ale the way it was meant to taste locate a Vernors.
** Oh how I miss you, Vernors!

3. Supplied 75% of liquor during Prohibition
In January 1920, the era of Prohibition began in the U.S. The Detroit River, barely one mile across in some places, was a smuggler’s dream. Enterprising smugglers carried cargo beneath boats, rigged mechanical cables across the river and utilized old underground tunnels to transport their illegal bounty. During cold winter months, the river became a highway, as daring smugglers in automobiles made their way across the ice from Canada to the United States.

A number of government agencies, including the U.S. Customs Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Michigan State Police and the Detroit Police Department combined forces to patrol the waterways in an effort to stop the smuggling. Despite their efforts, it’s estimated that more than 75% of illegal liquor supplied to the U.S. during prohibition entered the country by way of the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River.
** My Croatian great-grandmother had her hand in this ... so much that they got caught and my great-grandfather had to go to prison in her place for a year, leaving her alone with eight children.

4. First Ever News Radio Broadcast
Going on air in August 20, 1920, 8MK, later renamed WWJ, is believed to be the first station to broadcast regular news reports. Financed by The Detroit News, 8MK was initially licensed to Michael DeLisle Lyons. He assembled the station in the Detroit News Building. As was common practice in the early days of radio, the Scripps family asked Lyons to register the station in his name in case this rather new technology was only a fad.

Newspaper owners at the time were worried radio might replace newspapers and put them out of business. Almost 100 years later and we’re happy to report both The Detroit News and WWJ Radio still operate today.

5. Only Floating Post Office in the U.S.
The J. W. Westcott II docks just South of The Ambassador Bridge along the western shore of the Detroit River. She is America’s only floating ZIP Code [48222]. Delivering over 100 years of “mail-by-the-pail”, the J.W. Westcott Company was originally formed in 1874 by Captain J.W. Westcott to inform passing vessels of changes in orders.

Today the 45-foot vessel’s duties include U.S. mail delivery; freight delivery, storage, forwarding; message service; passenger service to and from vessels and pilot boat services for the Port of Detroit. The Westcott also sells nautical charts, postcards, books, and has been known to deliver the occasional mid-river pizza.

Check out eLove This City to learn more facts about Detroit, including trivia behind Belle Isle, the birthplace of Techno and more!

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