This Friday night, the New Jersey Devils will play the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. It will be Military Appreciation Night, probably because it's the Wings' last home game before Veterans' Day.
Since 1995, the Wings have won 4 Stanley Cups, the Devils 3. The Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have 2. All the other teams have 1 or none -- including the big squadoosh carried since 1994 by the New York Rangers.
Detroit calls itself "Hockeytown." Maybe in America -- and, being right across the river from Canada, they do get a lot of Canadians coming through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and over the Ambassador Bridge -- but Montreal and Toronto probably think of the term as a joke.
By American standards, no other city comes close. Not New York. Not Boston. Not Chicago. Not the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Disclaimer: While I have been to Detroit, I have not seen a hockey game at The Joe. I would love to, but I haven't.
Before You Go. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press (or "Freep") websites should be consulted before you decide whether to go. While the game will be indoors, you will be spending some time outdoors. Friday afternoon is forecast to be in the low 40s, and Friday night in the low 30s. Most likely, you'll be staying overnight if you go, so let me add that Saturday's weather is set to be about the same, with the likely addition of rain. But since this will be early November, Detroit's placement in the Midwest snowbelt probably will not be a problem.
Since the July 1967 race riot, Detroit has become known as a city of poverty, crime, decay, and poor city services, the kind of place where even Batman would fear to tread. The legendary comedian Red Skelton once said, "In Detroit, you can go 10 miles and never leave the scene of the crime." It's no wonder the RoboCop film series was set there.
There was a Nike commercial a few years back, in which young basketball players were seated, yoga-style, in front of a TV screen, on which their "master," a fat black man with a turban and sunglasses who looked nothing like an athlete, was dispensing wisdom. At the end, after the Swoosh logo was shown, the camera went back to one of the students, who asked, "But, Master, what if we behave badly?" And the Master lowered his shades, looked over them, and said, "You go to Detroit." This was in the early 1990s, when the Pistons had begun to fall from their 1989-90 "Bad Boys" championship teams, and going to Detroit was not a good option in any sport -- indeed, the only Detroit team doing well at the time was, strangely, the Lions, who were then a perennial Playoff team thanks largely to Barry Sanders.
I once saw a T-shirt that read, "I'm so bad, I vacation in Detroit." As I mentioned, I have. (I'm not saying I'm "bad," or a "hard man," just that I went.) Newark had a race riot 2 weeks before Detroit's. In May 1999, I saw Detroit, and I realized just how far back Newark had come, by seeing how far Detroit had not.
In the 1950 Census, Detroit was the 4th-largest city in America, after New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, with over 2 million people just within the city limits. "White flight" after the '67 riot has led to the Detroit metropolitan area having roughly the same number of people it had then, about 5.3 million, but within the city limits the number has dropped from over 2 million to just 680,000. The suburbs are beautiful, but the city itself is a hole, and good men (and a few bad ones) have busted their humps trying to get it back on its feet.
One of the good men who's tried is Mike Ilitch, probably the most famous American of Macedonian descent, who runs Little Caesar's Pizza, and owns the Tigers and Red Wings. He rebuilt the city's historic Fox Theater, put Little Caesar's headquarters in the building above it, and had Comerica Park built across the street. He, and many others, including Pistons Hall-of-Famer turned major area businessman Dave Bing, who served a term as Mayor, are trying, they really are. But Governor Rick Snyder, a Tea Party Republican, has ordered a State takeover of Detroit's finances. Apparently, he didn't learn the lesson of Hugh Carey, New York's Governor in 1975, who found another way to get New York City's finances back on their feet. In Detroit's case, as in every other place in which it's tried, austerity hasn't worked.
As for you, the potential visitor, the fear of crime should not keep you away. As with Yankee Stadium during the depth of New York's crime wave from the late 1970s to the early '90s, the ballpark is probably the safest, best-protected place in town.
I should also note that Detroit is a border city. The Detroit River, connecting Lakes Huron and Erie, is one of the few places where you can cross from north to south and go from America to Canada. Windsor, Ontario -- the closest thing to a "South Detroit," making that line in the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" problematic -- is considerably safer, and, like Detroit itself, has a gambling casino. If you want to visit, you'll need to bring your passport. You can use either the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel or the Ambassador Bridge.
Tickets. In spite of Detroit's reputation for crime and poverty, and the team's reputation for ineptitude, the Red Wings averaged 22,149 fans per game last season -- more than a sellout of one of the NHL's largest arenas. Getting tickets will be difficult, and you may have to go to a ticket exchange.
The Wings can afford to have tickets that are not nearly as expensive as some other big clubs charge. Seats in the lower level, the 100 sections, are $138 between the goals, $119 behind the east goal and $108 behind the west goal. In the upper level, the 200 sections, seats go from $56 to $106 between the goals, $45 to $106 behind the east goal, and $35 to $106 behind the west goal.
Getting There. Detroit is 616 land miles from New York, and it's 603 miles from the Prudential Center in Newark to the Joe Louis Arena. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.
Except... Wayne County Metropolitan Airport is 22 miles southwest of downtown. A taxi to downtown will set you back a bundle. There is a bus, SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) bus Number 125, that goes directly from the airport to downtown, but it will take an hour and 20 minutes.
Also, do you remember the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza had a girlfriend, played by a pre-Will & Grace Megan Mullaly (using her real voice, you'd never recognize her as W&G's Karen), and he had to accompany her to a funeral in her hometown of Detroit? "It's kind of an expensive flight," George said. This was not just George being his usual cheap self: At the time, over 20 years ago (wow, it's been that long), it was expensive, more expensive from New York to Detroit than it was to the further-away Chicago.
It's actually cheaper now, but not by much: A check of airline websites shows that, while flights can by had for under $700 round-trip, most will be more like $1,300 -- and you'll have to change planes in Chicago. That's right, you'll have to overshoot Detroit to go to Detroit.
Too rich for your blood? The news gets worse: There is no good way to get to Detroit, and that's got nothing to do with the city's reputation. Forget the train. The only Amtrak route in and out of Detroit is to and from Chicago, which in the opposite direction.
To make matters worse, you'll have to go to New York's Penn Station instead of Newark's. The most direct route is the Lake Shore Limited, formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station. It leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:40 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Terminal in Toledo at 5:55 every morning. From there, you have to wait until 6:30 to get on a bus to Detroit's Amtrak station, arriving at 7:35. The station is at 11 W. Baltimore Avenue, at Woodward Avenue, 2 1/2 miles north of Comerica, so walking there is not a good option; the number 16 or 53 bus would take you down Woodward. In reverse, the bus leaves Detroit at 9:45 PM, arrives in Toledo at 10:50, and then you have to hang around there until the Lake Shore Limited comes back at 3:20 AM, arriving back in New York at 6:23 PM. Total cost: $199. A lot cheaper than flying, but a tremendous inflammation in the posterior.
Compared to most of Detroit, the bus terminal, at 1001 Howard Street, is relatively new and quite clean. It was just about within walking distance of Tiger Stadium, which really helped me in 1999. It's also not a long walk to Ford Field, but I wouldn't recommend this. Better to take a cab, especially if you're getting a hotel. Round-trip fare: $150 if you make an advanced purchase, $209 if you're buying at Port Authority. So Greyhound is also far cheaper than flying, possibly cheaper (and definitely not much more expensive) than Amtrak, and less of a pain than Amtrak.
If you decide to drive, the directions are rather simple, down to (literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. I point this out merely to help you avoid confusion, not because I-90 will become important -- though it is for "How to Be a Yankee Fan in Chicago" and some other cities.
In Ohio, you'll take I-80's Exit 64, and get onto Interstate 75 North, known as the Fisher Freeway in Detroit. This will take you into Michigan. Take Exit 47 for Clark Avenue. Make a right on Clark, and, almost immediately, a left on Fort Street. Follow Fort Street past the Ambassador Bridge into downtown, finally making a right on Rosa Parks Blvd., which will make a left-hand curve into Jefferson Avenue. The JLA/Cobo complex will be ahead, with the Wings' arena on your right, and a parking deck is to the left.
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 3 hours in Ohio and an hour in Michigan. That’s 10 hours and 15 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and in the Cleveland suburbs, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Detroit, it should be about 12 hours.
I strongly recommend finding a hotel with a good, secure parking garage, even if you're only staying for 1 game.
Once In the City. The city, and its river, were founded in 1701 as Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit du Lac Erie (Day-TWAH, strait of Lake Erie), by Antonie de La Mothe Cadillac, for whom the downtown Cadillac Square and the brand of car was named.
Detroit's centerpoint, in culture and in terms of address numbers, is the Woodward Fountain, where Woodward, Michigan and Gratiot Avenues come together, with Cadillac Square just off to the east. Woodward is the East-West divider.
The suburbs are nearly all-white; the city itself, nearly all-black. If there is another city on the planet that is so segregated, I'm not aware of it. The sales tax in the State of Michigan is 6 percent, and does not go up in either the County of Wayne or the City of Detroit.
Detroit is a weird city in some ways. It often seems like a cross between a past that was once glorious but now impossible to reach, and a future that never quite happened. (That observation was once made about the remaining structures from New York’s 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Astrodome in Houston.) Art Deco structures of the 1920s and ‘30s, such as the Penobscot Building (the tallest building outside New York and Chicago when it opened in 1928, the tallest in Michigan until 1977) stand alongside abandoned, boarded-up or chained-up stores.
But alongside or across from them, there are glassy, modern structures such as the Renaissance Center, shown in the photo above: A 5-tower complex that includes, at its center, the 750-foot tallest building in Michigan (the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere), and, in one of its 4 outer towers, the headquarters of General Motors (although the RenCen was originally financed by Ford).
Downtown also has the Detroit People Mover, a monorail system that is part of the suggestion of Detroit trying to get from 1928 to 2028 while jumping over the difficult years in between. Like the Washington and Montreal Metro (subway) systems, the company running it prides itself on the artwork in its stations. It has a stop called Times Square, but it won’t look anything like the one in New York. It has a stop called Bricktown, but it won’t look anything like Brick Township, the sprawling Jersey Shore suburb off Exits 88 to 91 on the Garden State Parkway. The Grand Circus Park and Broadway Street stations are both 3 blocks from Comerica Park. It’s cheap, only 75 cents, and it still uses tokens, although it also accepts cash. Be advised, though, that it stops running at midnight, except on Fridays and Saturdays, when it runs until 2:00 AM. Bus fare is $1.50.
Going In. Parking at the main deck is comparatively cheap, starting at $8.00. This is a far cry from parking at Tiger Stadium, which usually had people boxed in, resulting in tremendous traffic jams both before and after the game (and, every bit as much as the crime and the condition of the stadium, was why the Lions wanted to get out and built the Silverdome). It also involved local kids being willing to "Watch your car, Mister?" for a small fee. Translation: "If you pay me $5.00, I'll make sure nobody damages your car. If you don't pay me, I'll make sure somebody, namely myself, does."
The address of Joe Louis Arena, until recently, was 600 Civic Center Drive. It was recently changed to 19 Steve Yzerman Drive. Joe Louis Arena has its own stop on the People Mover. So, based on that, and on references I found to traffic around the arena on game nights being nightmarish, leads me to suggest parking your car at your hotel and using the People Mover.
A "cheat" recommended by a Detroit sports blogger: Park for free at the Greektown Casino, play the cheapest slot machine you can find (so they know you gambled, and didn't just use them for parking), and then take the People Mover to The Joe.
The arena's West Entrance was recently renamed the Gordie Howe Entrance, with a statue of "Mr. Hockey" outside. The East Entrance retains its original name. Many people complain that the stairs at these entrances are very steep, and at certain areas on the outside of the arena, are breaking apart.
To make matters worse, it's the same model as the Meadowlands Arena and the Nassau Coliseum: One level of concourse for two levels of seats. There's also not enough bathrooms, resulting in very long lines, and a drop in atmosphere at the starts of the 2nd and 3rd periods, as many fans haven't made it back in time. So get to the arena early and use the bathroom before puck-drop.
The rink is laid out east-to-west, with the south side bordering the Detroit River. The Wings attack twice toward the east goal -- hence, the more expensive tickets on that side.
"The Joe" is also, even more so that Boston's TD Garden with its Beanpot Tournament, the capital of American college hockey. Every year since it opened in 1979 -- the Olympia did so from 1965 to 1978 -- in the week between Christmas and New Year's, it hosts the Great Lakes Invitational, with the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Upper Peninsula-based Michigan Tech participating every season. The 4-team selection has been rounded out by nearby schools such as Western Michigan, Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State; Midwestern powers like Wisconsin and North Dakota (but never, as yet, Minnesota); and even New Jersey's Princeton. Michigan has won it 15 times, Michigan State 12, and Michigan Tech 10. Ferris State University, of Big Rapids, Michigan, will be this season's 4th participant.
The Joe also hosted the 1980 Republican Convention, which nominated Ronald Reagan for President. Think about it: An arena named for a black heavyweight champion who knocked out a symbol (however unwillingly) of fascism, in a mostly-black city, with heavy union presence in the metropolitan area (it was, after all the hometown of the United Auto Workers and Jimmy Hoffa), hosting the Republican Convention. Then again, the Democrats held their last Convention in Jesse Helms' North Carolina...
Food. When I visited Tiger Stadium in its final season, 1999, it had great food, including the very best ballpark hot dog I've ever had. Since they're owned by Little Caesars mogul Ilitch, and before that were owned by Domino's Pizza boss Tom Monaghan, food is taken very seriously by the club. This is, after all, Big Ten Country, where college football tailgate parties are practically a sacrament. One would hope that the same would be true of the Red Wings.
Unfortunately, as with entrances and bathrooms, there aren't enough concession stands. To make matters worse, the Wings' website stinks, and so does the one for Olympia Entertainment, which owns The Joe and other venues.
Fortunately, I've seen recommendations from a local sports blogger. Since Ilitch owns the team, there's a Little Caesar’s stand. The blogger says, "One suggestion: Do not place it on your lap while eating in the seats. You will sweat while eating, no joke. Eat at one of the standing, circular counters in the concourse. You cannot miss them. Besides typical stadium food (hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, etc.), there’s also a Buffalo Wild Wings (Section 126) and Hockeytown Grill (126), where chicken sandwiches and burgers are served."
This blogger also recommends Mike's Inside Scoop (named for Ilitch, perhaps?) at Section 112, and sub-recommends cherry-dipped, soft-serve vanilla ice cream cones and banana splits.
Team History Displays. The Red Wings display more banners than any other NHL team. While the Montreal Canadiens (24) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (13) only display their Stanley Cup banners, the Wings also display Conference and Divisional Championships and President's Trophy wins:
Stanley Cup, 11: 1936, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008.
Campbell/Western Conference, 6: 1995, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008 and 2009. (Their Finals appearances prior to the Cup's semifinal round being renamed the Conference Finals in 1982 aren't counted as such, and they have not yet won their Conference since being moved to the Eastern.)
Division, 19 (either finishing 1st overall in the NHL regular season or 1st in the Divisional Play era), 19: 1934, 1936, 1937, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.
President's Trophy (for best record in the NHL regular season), 6: 1995, 1996, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.
The Cup banners are white with red lettering, while the others are red with white lettering.
Officially, the Wings have retired 7 uniform numbers. From their 1950s Cups, they retired the Number 1 of goaltender Terry Sawchuck, and the numbers of all 3 members of "The Production Line": Right wing Gordie Howe, 9 (who, as I said, has a statue outside the west entrance); left wing Ted Lindsay, 7; and center Sid Abel, 12. When Abel retired in 1952, their main center became Alex Delvecchio, and this new member of the Production Line eventually had his Number 10 retired. From their 1990s-2000s Cups, they've retired the Number 19 of center Steve Yzerman and the Number 5 of defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. These banners are red with white lettering. Yzerman's Number 19 banner has a Captain's C on it.
Not officially retired is the Number 6 of 1930s right wing Larry Aurie, supposedly officially retired when he hung up his skates in 1939. The current argument is that it's because he's not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Well, then explain why Number 4 hasn't been retired for 1950s defenseman Red Kelly, the 1st-ever winner of the Norris Trophy for best defenseman, in 1954. Or Number 2, worn by 1940s defenseman Jack Stewart and 1990s defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov. Or Number 3, worn by 1950s defenseman Marcel Pronovost (a former Devils scout). Or Number 8, 1930s center Syd Howe (no relation to Gordie). Or Number 14, for our old pal Brendan Shanahan.
Also not officially retired is the Number 16 of Vladimir Konstantinov, who was paralyzed in a car crash in the aftermath of the 1997 Stanley Cup win. Neither 6 (with 1 exception, for Aurie's cousin Cumming "Cummy" Burton) or 16 has ever been given out to another Wings player.
Stuff. Not enough entrances/exits, not enough bathrooms, not enough concession stands... The Joe doesn't have much in the way of souvenir stands, either. You may be better off going to a suburban mall.
One item sold at The Joe that may be of interest is a funny hat: The Wingnut, a foam red wingnut, with its "tails" marked "left wing" and "right wing." Not as cute as the Green Bay Packers' Cheeseheads, but every bit as manly as those Giants and Jets hard hats.
DVD collections for the 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008 Cup wins are available, as is Detroit Red Wings: A Celebration of Champions -- NHL Original Six Series. As yet, though, no "Greatest Games" series for them.
Dr. John Finley and Wings legend Gordie Howe wrote Hockeytown Doc: A Half-Century of Red Wings Stories from Howe to Yzerman. Specifically about their 1950s team that won 4 Cups in 6 seasons, New York's own "Hockey Maven," Stan Fischler, wrote Motor City Muscle: Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk and the Championship Detroit Red Wings -- published in 1995, after the Devils beat the Wings in the Finals, leaving Wings fans with what one of them called "The 40-Year Itch." About the 1995-2009 Wings Dynasty, Darren McCarthy just published My Last Fight: The True Story of a Hockey Rock Star.
Charles C. Avison wrote Detroit: City of Champions, telling of how the city produced champion after champion in the Great Depression and World War II: The Tigers winning Pennants in 1934, '35, '40 and '45; the Lions debuting in 1934 and winning the NFL Championship in 1935; the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup in 1936, '37 and '43; and Alabama-born, Detroit-trained Joe Louis winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1937 and keeping it until his first retirement in 1948. Back then, Detroit was a city where anything was possible.
During the Game. The Red Wings have nasty rivalries with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche, but you do not have to worry about wearing Devils gear in Joe Louis Arena. Wings fans may have long memories, but they're over 1995.
When the visiting team's players are announced, Wings fans will shout, "Who cares?" When I first heard this on TV before Game 1 of the Finals, I thought they were, instead of booing and/or hissing, shouting, "Boo, hiss!" I chuckled. My respect for them went way down when I found out it was the far less witty, "Who cares?" Still, though, it beats following a player's name with, " ...sucks!"
Karen Newman sings the National Anthem. The Wings' goal song is "Hey Hey Hockey Town" by Michigan native Robert "Kid Rock" Ritchie.
During Playoff games only, hanging from the roof is a big purple balloon shaped like an octopus, named Al the Octopus, after Al Sobotka, The Joe's building operations manager, who drives the Zamboni, and whose job it is to pick up any octopi that fans throw onto the ice, a reflection of a tradition that began in 1952, since there were then only 2 Playoff rounds, 8 wins to win the Cup, 8 legs on an octopus. Since it now takes 16 wins, there are 2 Als hanging from the rafters. Although, officially, you can be thrown out of the arena for doing it, if the Wings are winning late, Sobotka will pick the octopus up off the ice by hand, and swing it around by the legs over his head, driving the crowd wild.
After the Game. With Detroit's rough reputation, I would recommend not hanging around downtown after a night game. If you want a postgame drink or meal, you're better off sticking to your hotel.
Nevertheless, there are some recommendations from local fan websites. The Anchor Bar on Fort Street (not to be confused with the Buffalo bar of the same name, which invented Buffalo wings 50 years ago this week), and Cobo Joe's and Post Bar on Congress Street.
The only bar I was able to find catering to New Yorkers that is within 25 miles of downtown Detroit, and that one just barely, was a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in suburban Roseville. It's also been known to serve as the local headquarters for expatriate Giants and Jets fans. However, I have another source that says that locals who root for the Giants gather at the Town Pump Tavern, 100 W. Montcalm Street at Park Avenue, 2 blocks from Comerica Park. So that might be a good place for Yankee Fans.
Sidelights. For all its problems, Detroit is a great city, not just a great baseball city or even a great sports city. Check out the following – but do it in daylight:
* Site of Tiger Stadium. The first ballpark on the site was called Bennett Park, after Charlie Bennett, a catcher for the NL’s Detroit Wolverines, who didn’t play there. Bennett Park opened in 1896, for the Detroit team in the Western League, which became the American League in 1901. However, the team we know as the Tigers (so named because the orange stripes on their socks evoked not just tigers but the teams at New Jersey’s Princeton University, also called the Tigers) are officially dated from 1901.
After the 1911 season, the wooden Bennett Park was demolished, and replaced with a concrete and steel structure, opening on April 20, 1912 (the same day as Fenway Park in Boston) and named Navin Field, after Tiger owner Frank Navin. He died in 1935, and his co-owner, Walter Briggs, expanded the place to its more familiar configuration in 1938, renaming it Briggs Stadium. In 1961, new owner John Fetzer renamed it Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers played there from 1912 to 1999, and the NFL’s Lions did so from 1938 to 1974. The Tigers won the World Series while playing there in 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984; the Lions won the NFL Championship while playing there in 1952, 1953 and 1957. (The ’52 Championship Game was played in Cleveland against the Browns; the ’53 and ’57 editions, also against the Browns, at Tiger Stadum.) Northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Street, 1 mile west of Cadillac Square down Michigan Avenue (U.S. Route 12). Number 29 bus from downtown.
* Comerica Park and Ford Field. Home to the Tigers since 2000, the team has seen the good (Pennants in 2006 and '12), the bad (a nosedive that cost them the American League Central Division title in 2008), and the ugly (losing an AL record 119 games in 2003) at Comerica Park. The official address is 2100 Woodward Avenue, but Woodward does not border the park; Witherell, Montcalm and Brush Streets, and Adams Avenue, do. The Lions have mostly been terrible at Ford Field, whose address is 2000 Bursh Street.
The area around Comerica Park (named for a Midwest-based bank) and Ford Field (named for the automaker), at the northern edge of downtown Detroit, is called Foxtown, after the Fox Theater, which, as I said, Tigers/Wings/Little Caesars owner Mike Ilitch had restored.
Ford Field hosted Super Bowl XL in 2006, won by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final game of Detroit native Jerome Bettis; and the 2009 NCAA Final Four, the only one ever held in the State of Michigan, won by North Carolina, overcoming a "home-court advantage" for Michigan State in the Final. Appropriately, for a city on the U.S.-Canadian border, it hosted a match between the U.S. and Canada soccer teams on June 7, 2011. The U.S. won.
* Site of Olympia Stadium. From the outside, it looked more like a big brick movie theater, complete with the Art Deco marquee out front. But “The Old Red Barn” was home to the Red Wings from 1927 to 1979, during which time they won the Stanley Cup in 1936, ’37, ’43, ’50, ’52, ’54 and ’55. In 1950, they hosted Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Pete Babando’s overtime winner defeated the Rangers. In ’54, they had another overtime Game 7 winner, as “Tough Tony” Leswick hit a shot that deflected off Doug Harvey, the great defenseman of the Montreal Canadiens. (In hockey, the shooter is still credited; in soccer, this would have been officially listed as an “own goal” on Harvey.)
The Olympia was also home to the Pistons from 1957 to 1961, and the site of some great prizefights, including Jake LaMotta’s 1942 win over Sugar Ray Robinson – the only fight Robinson would lose in his career until 1952, and the only one of the 6 fights he had with LaMotta that LaMotta won.
Elvis Presley did 2 shows there early in his career, an afternoon and an evening show on March 31, 1957. (If you think that's a lot for one day, he did 3 shows at the Fox Theater on May 25, 1956.) He returned to the Olympia on September 11, 1970; April 6, 1972; September 29 and October 4, 1974; and April 22, 1977. The Beatles played there on September 6, 1964 and August 13, 1966. (However, it was in the Detroit area -- specifically, on the University of Michigan's radio station in Ann Arbor -- that a disc jockey started the 1969 rumor that Paul McCartney was dead. In a 1989 interview, Paul said, "'Paul is dead'? I didn't believe that one for a minute.")
It was the neighborhood, not the building, that was falling apart: Lincoln Cavalieri, its general manager in its last years, once said, "If an atom bomb landed, I'd want to be in Olympia." It was not a nuclear attack, but an ordinary demolition crew, that took it down in 1987. The Olympia Armory, home of the Michigan National Guard, is now on the site. 5920 Grand River Avenue, corner of McGraw Street, on the Northwest Side. Number 21 bus. If you’re a hockey fan, by all means, visit – but do it in daylight.
* University of Detroit Stadium. Also known as Titan Stadium, this was the Lions' first home, from 1934 to 1937, until what became Tiger Stadium was double-decked. The Lions played and won the 1935 NFL Championship Game there, beating the Giants.
The previous NFL team in the city, the Detroit Wolverines, play there in their lone season, 1928. Built in 1922 and seating 25,000, the University's suspension of its football program in 1964 doomed it, and it was demolished in 1971. The school, now known as the University of Detroit Mercy (it's a Catholic school), has since put a new, multipurpose, artificial turf field on the site. 3801 McNichols Road at Birchcrest Drive. 016 Bus.
* Silverdome. Originally Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, this stadium was home to the Lions from 1975 to 2001 (after which they moved back downtown to Ford Field), and very nearly became home to the Tigers as well, before owner John Fetzer decided to commit himself to Tiger Stadium. Heisman-winning running backs Billy Sims and Barry Sanders ran wild for the Lions here, but the closest they got to a Super Bowl was reaching the NFC Championship Game in January 1992 – unless you count hosting Super Bowl XVI, 10 years earlier, the beginning of the San Francisco 49er dynasty led by Bill Walsh and Joe Montana.
The Pistons, playing here from 1978 to 1988, had a little more luck, reaching the NBA Finals in their last year there. It seated 80,000 for football, set an NBA attendance record (since broken) of 61,983 between the Pistons and Boston Celtics in 1988, and 93,682 for a Mass by Pope John Paul II in 1987.
In 1994, it hosted 4 World Cup matches, including 1 by the U.S. and 1 by eventual winner Brazil. It hosted 2 games by the U.S. national soccer team, in 1992 win over Russia and the 1994 World Cup draw against Switzerland. Elvis had his biggest crowd ever at the Silverdome, 60,500, on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1975.
Without the Lions and Pistons, its future is unclear. It hosted a Don King-promoted boxing card in January 2011, and in August 2010 hosted a friendly between Italian soccer giant A.C. Milan and leading Greek club Panathinaikos – appropriate, considering the area’s ethnic makeup.
In 2013, the roof was deflated as an energy-saving measure; if a new tenant is found, a new roof will be put in as part of renovations. A current rumor is that a group trying to get an MLS expansion franchise for Detroit will use it, or demolish it and build a new facility on the site. But in March of this year, the owners announced that they would be auctioning off the contents of the facility, including seats and fixtures -- suggesting that they're not optimistic that anything new will be coming anytime soon.
1200 Featherstone Road, Pontiac. Getting there by public transportation is a pain: The Number 465 bus takes an hour and 25 minutes, and then you gotta walk a mile down Featherstone from Oakland Community College. So if you didn't drive in (or rent a car at the airport), unless you have to see everything on this list, or if you're a Lions fan living in New York who has to see it one more time, or if you're a soccer nut on a pilgrimage to all World Cup sites, I'd suggest skipping it.
* The Palace. Home to the Pistons since 1988, they won the 1989, 1990 and 2004 NBA Championships here, and almost won another in 2005. The Detroit Shock won 3 WNBA Championships here, and, as a result, every time a title is won, the address changes: Currently, it’s “Six Championship Drive, Auburn Hills, MI 48326.” However, the Shock moved to Tulsa in 2010, so unless the NBA tries again with a new WNBA team, only the Pistons (theoretically) will be able to change the address to "Seven Championship Drive."
Unfortunately, the 22,000-seat building’s best-known event isn’t a Pistons title or a rock concert, but the November 19, 2004 fight between the Pistons and the Indiana Pacers that spilled into the stands, becoming known as "the Malice at the Palace." Even the WNBA had a rare brawl there, between the Shock and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008. Lapeer Road and Harmon Road, Auburn Hills, off I-75. Don’t even think about trying to reach it by public transportation: You’d need 2 buses and then a half-hour walk.
* Motown Historical Museum. As always, I’m going to include some non-sports items. Detroit is generally known for 3 good things: Sports, music and cars. The Motown Historical Museum is the former Motown Records studio, which company founder Berry Gordy Jr. labeled “Hitsville, U.S.A.” His sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, now runs it, and it features records and costumes of performers such as the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops. 2648 W. Grand Blvd., on the North Side. Number 16 bus.
* Henry Ford Museum. The centerpiece of the nation’s foremost automotive-themed museum is a replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Henry Ford himself established the museum: “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used... When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition.”
It contains the fascinating, including early cars and bicycles, Henry Ford’s first car (his 1896 "Quadricycle"), Igor Sikorsky’s prototype for the helicopter, the bus Rosa Parks was riding in when she refused to give up her seat to start the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and a Buckminster Fuller “Dymaxion house.” It also contains the macabre, with the chair Abraham Lincoln was supposedly sitting in when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington (the theater owner was no relation to Henry); and the chair, and the rest of the car as well, that John F. Kennedy was definitely sitting in when he was assassinated, the back seat of in the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible limousine he was riding in through downtown Dallas.
Next door to the museum is Greenfield Village, which Ford imagined as a kind of historical park, a more modern version of Colonial Williamsburg – that is, celebrating what was, in 1929 when it opened, considered modern American life, including a reconstruction of the Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory of his good friend Thomas Edison. Ford and Edison were both friends of rubber magnate Henry Firestone (whose tires certainly made Ford’s cars easier to make), and Firestone’s family farm is reconstructed on the site.
Please note that I am not excusing Henry Ford’s control-freak attitude toward his employees' private lives, nor his despicable anti-Semitism, nor his failed union-busting in the 1930s. To be fair, he did give his black auto workers the same pay and benefits as his white ones. But I am recommending the museum. It's a tribute to the role of technology, including the automobile, in American life, not to the man himself. Oakwood Blvd. and Village Road. Number 200 bus to Michigan Avenue and Oakwood Blvd., then a short walk down Oakwood.
* Greektown Historic District. Although Detroit is famed for its Irish (Corktown, including the site of Tiger Stadium) and Italian communities, and has the largest Arab-American community of any major city, its best-known ethnic neighborhoods are Greektown and the Polish community of Hamtramck. New York’s Astoria, Queens has nothing on Detroit’s Greektown, which not only has some of the country’s finest Greek restaurants, but also the Greektown Casino, which is at 555 E. Lafayette Street, at Beaubien Street. Greektown Station on the People Mover.
* Hamtramck. Pronounced “Ham-TRAM-ick,” this city is actually completely surrounded by Detroit. When the Dodge Brothers (who later sold the car company bearing their name to Chrysler) opened an auto plant there in 1914, it became a hub for Polish immigration. However, the Polish population of the city has dropped from 90 percent in 1970 to 22 percent today. And Arabs and South Asians have moved in, making it Michigan’s most internationally diverse city. Nevertheless, if you want the best kielbasa, kapusta, golumpkis and paczkis this side of the Oder, this is the place to go. Hamtramck Town Shopping Center, Joseph Campau Street and Hewitt Street. Number 10 or 34 bus.
* Mariners’ Church. On my 1999 visit to Detroit, I discovered this church by accident, walking past it without realizing it was there until I saw the historical marker. Every March, it holds a Blessing of the Fleet for every person and ship going to sea. Every November, it holds a Great Lakes Memorial Service for those who have lost their lives at sea within the past year.
The most famous of these ceremonies was for the 29 men lost on the iron ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. Built and homeported in Detroit, the Big Fitz was commemorated by Gordon Lightfoot, whose 1976 song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” mistakenly, but poetically, called the church “The Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.” (Edmund Fitzgerald himself was the president of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, which invested in the ship's construction, because it was heavily invested in the ore industry.)
170 E. Jefferson Avenue, at Randolph Street, across from the Renaissance Center. If you're going to visit the church, be careful, because Randolph Street empties into the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.
* Spirit of Detroit. In front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, the city hall named for the 1974-93 Mayor, stands a marble monument with a bronze statue of a kneeling man, the seals of the City of Detroit and Wayne County, and a Biblical inscription, from 2nd Corinthians 3:17: "Now the Lord is that spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." In his left hand, the 26-foot-high kneeling figure holds a gilt bronze sphere emanating rays, to symbolize God. The people in the figure's right hand are a family group. The statue was dedicated in 1958, 4 years after the Municipal Center opened. In recent years, a large jersey has been placed over it when the Tigers, Pistons or Wings have been in their sport's finals. (As yet, this has never been done for the Lions, who haven't been to an NFL Championship Game since 1957, 9 seasons before they started calling it the Super Bowl.) 2 Woodward Avenue at Jefferson Avenue.
* Monument to Joe Louis. Erected in 1986, on a traffic island at the intersection of Woodward & Jefferson, it is a 24-foot-long arm with a fisted hand suspended by a 24-foot-high pyramidal framework. Since it is a monument to Louis, the great black heavyweight champion, the arm and fist are black bronze.
* Colleges. The University of Michigan is 44 miles west of downtown Detroit, in Ann Arbor. It is possible to reach it from Detroit by bus, but it will take 2 hours: You can take the 851 bus to the airport, and transfer there to the 787.
Gerald Ford was President from August 9, 1974 to January 20, 1977, and was a graduate of (and an All-American football player at) Michigan in the 1930s. His Presidential Library, and a School of Public Policy named for him, are on the Ann Arbor campus, at 1000 Beal Avenue. However, he is the only President whose Library and Museum are separated, and his Presidential Museum is in his hometown of Grand Rapids, at 303 Pearl Street NW, 158 miles northwest of Detroit. You'll need Greyhound if you want to visit Grand Rapids.
Michigan Stadium is at 1201 S. Main Street at Stadium Blvd. "The Big House" has hosted UM football since 1927. Its peak attendance is 115,109 for Michigan's 2013 win over Notre Dame. This past year, it set new records for highest U.S. attendance for soccer (109,318 for Manchester United beating Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup), and for highest attendance anywhere on the planet for hockey (105,491 for the NHL Winter Classic, the Toronto Maple Leafs beating the Detroit Red Wings).
Adjacent is Crisler Arena, named for Herbert "Fritz" Crisler, the UM football coach from 1938 to 1947, who, in another connection between Princeton University sports and the State of Michigan, had previously coached Princeton's Tigers, and brought his "winged" helmet design with him, making Michigan's "maize and blue" helmets among the most famous in college football. Elvis sang at Crisler Arena on April 24, 1977. The other sports facilities, including Yost Arena (hockey) and Fisher Stadium (named for Ray Fisher, who pitched for the Yankees in the 1910s before they got good and then coached at Michigan, including Charlie Gehringer), are adjacent.
Michigan State University is 88 miles northwest of Detroit, in East Lansing, adjacent to Lansing, the State capital. Greyhound runs 4 buses a day from Detroit to East Lansing, at 8:00 AM, 12:10 PM, 2:20 PM and 7:40 PM, and it takes about 2 hours. Two buses go back to Detroit, at 3:40 and 5:55 PM. $38 round-trip.
Spartan Stadium, formerly Macklin Field, is at 325 W. Shaw Lane at Red Cedar Road, which is named for the river that bisects the MSU campus. Jenison Field House (the old basketball arena, where Magic Johnson starred on their 1979 National Champions), Breslin Events Center (their new arena), and Munn Arena (hockey) are a short walk away, at Kalamazoo Street & Birch Road.
UPDATE: According to an October 3, 2014 article in The New York Times, UM has a decided, though not overwhelming, advantage in fans in the Detroit area. Only around the State capital of Lansing do you get an edge for MSU.
* Home Improvement. The 1991-99 ABC sitcom is easily the best-known TV show to have been set in Detroit, with Tool Time's studio being in the city and the Taylors' house in the suburbs, possibly in Bloomfield Hills. But, as far as I know, there were no location shots, not even in the episode in which the Taylors got to see the Lions' annual Thanksgiving game from a Silverdome skybox. So if you're looking for the Taylors' house, you're not going to find it -- if there was ever a house, not just a studio set, it was likely in or around Los Angeles. Other shows set in or around Detroit have included Martin, Freaks and Geeks, Sister, Sister, and 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.
Several films have been set, but not necessarily filmed, in Detroit. Axel Foley, Eddie Murphy's character in the Beverly Hills Cop films, was a Detroit police detective, but most of the film, including the Detroit scenes, was shot in Los Angeles. While RoboCop was set in Detroit, it was filmed in Dallas. (And you thought "Dallas sucks" was just a sports chant.)
Billy Crystal's movie about the 1961 home run record chase, 61*, used Tiger Stadium as a stand-in (with computer-generated help) for the original Yankee Stadium (since the 1973-76 renovation left it looking very little like it did in 1961). Other recent movies set in Detroit include Eminem's Roman à clef, 8 Mile; and Clint Eastwood's retired autoworker vs. gangs film Gran Torino.
* Windsor. Across the Detroit River is Windsor, Ontario. Most Americans know it for Caesar's Windsor, one of 4 casinos in the area. Like its namesakes in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, it has a Roman theme. It may be only 2 miles from downtown Detroit, but because it's in Canada, where they have things like sensible gun laws and national health care, it may feel like the other side of the world (if not Rome itself). And, because it's in Canada, you'll need a passport.
377 Riverside Drive East. There is bus service available -- less for Michiganders wanting to gamble, more for Windsorites wanting to go to Red Wings games and concerts -- and you can contact Transit Windsor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wings' first home was actually in Windsor: They played their first season, 1926-27, at the Border Cities Arena, which still stands, and is now named Windsor Arena. Like a lot of old arenas (this one was built in 1924), it looks like a barn, and so is nicknamed The Barn. It seats only 4,400 people in its current configuration, but it still hosts the University of Windsor hockey team. Its longest-term tenant, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, now play elsewhere. 334 Wyandotte Street East, at McDougall Street.
A visit to Detroit does not have to be a scary experience. These people love hockey. And, while they don't necessarily like the Yankees, they don't have a problem with Devils fans. They love hockey more than most Americans do, and their city should be able to show you a good time.