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Courtesy Kalamazoo Valley Museum

Kalamazoo, Michigan

getaway-chicago logo From his cluttered memory bank, Neil recalled the slogan “a Kalamazoo direct to you”. He thought it referred to furniture shipped directly from a factory, only to learn it was all about stoves (Kalamazoo Stove Company, 1902-1952). Kalamazoo is a mid size city in south central Michigan which the Guys visited in April 2011. Predictable, Alan had been to Kalamazoo previously and Neil was in the dark (expecting to furniture factories).

Another in a long list of cities and towns to emerge from the wilderness of the Northwest Territory after the removal of its Native American inhabitants in the early 19th century and following the completion of the Erie Canal (1825), today Kalamazoo is Michigan’s 16th largest city. A phenomenon not unusual, the completion of the canal opened vast, new territory for white settlers eager to start anew. The resolution of the Indian question over land rights made the Northwest Territory an attractive alternative to east coast crowding too.

kalamazoo1About three hours from downtown Chicago, architecturally (preservation and otherwise) downtown Kalamazoo has had a recent renaissance, albeit perhaps stalled due to the present recession. Attractive rehabilitated buildings now seem to be only partially occupied and at mid-day on a Friday traffic was light. Nevertheless, after a visit with the friendly and helpful folks in the Visitors Center, the Guys got their bearings straight and they were on their way to some pretty interesting stuff. kalamazoo2First visited, was the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in the heart of downtown, which the Getaway Guys would characterize it as being a “one size fits all” institution. Along with historic artifacts and ephemera tracing Kalamazoo’s roots and growth, this all encompassing museum also houses a wide variety of interactive science and technology exhibits. An overgrown kid with an innate science curiosity (he subscribed to Science Illustrated), Alan was enchanted. Neil, the science illiterate, thought it was “interesting”. But, both learned that Checker cabs were once produced in Kalamazoo (who over 40 hasn’t ridden in a Checker cab?) and the Gibson Guitar Company had its roots in Kalamazoo. Even the musically untalented Neil recognized the Gibson name in guitar history.

Next was Bronson Park (just west of the city center), an adjacent historic residential district along South Street and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts nearby. The Park is spacious, well maintained and guarded on all sides by a remarkable collection of well persevered period churches of almost every denomination imaginable. Kalamazoo folks must pray a lot and like their houses of worship in every architectural style imaginable. The South Street residential district is lined with period houses reflecting changing tastes. kalamazoo3kalamazoo4From Victorian to Queen Anne, Colonial Revival to Tudor (all in good condition), South Street is what one might expect in a Midwest metropolis once on the make. The “best” people probably lived here and may continue to do so. The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts was a big surprise. Architecturally, the building isn’t a WOW, but Neil and Alan were impressed with its permanent collection. Some pretty good stuff. The collection contains a number of works (paintings and sculptures) by first rate artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Among those are Edmonia Lewis, Paul Manship William Zorach, Thomas Eakins, Joseph Stella, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn and Franz Kline. kalamazoo5kalamazoo6While Alan was drawn to the paintings in particular, Neil was intrigued by the Edmonia Lewis sculpture. A somewhat obscure 19th century artist, Miss Lewis is known to Neil because he once moved her large, marble Death of Cleopatra from Chicago (where it had been discovered in a dump many years ago) to the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. Part Native-American, part African-American, Lewis (1845-1907) enjoyed a distinguished and profitable career in the U.S. and Rome, Italy, but died in poverty and obscurity.

During an earlier Kalamazoo visit Alan had heard of Parkwyn Village, a suburban development designed by Frank Lloyd Wright not far from the Western Michigan University campus on the west side of townkalamazoo7. For better or worse its location is somewhat elusive and mysterious, but the traveling duo finally found it and oh boy what a bonanza! In winding and undulating terrain, four houses are original FLW designs from the late 1940’s and several later examples are by Taliesin Associates. Modest in size, these middle class dwellings represent Wright’s later ideas about good design on an affordable scale. Unlike his early Oak Park, Illinois residences or, for example, his famous Falling Water in Pennsylvania, Parkwyn Village houses are modest but true to Wright’s theories. kalamazoo8They are well maintained and faithful to their original design almost 70 years afterward. For FLW aficionados or just the curious this is something to see. Both Guys have seen enough of FLW to last a life time, but they were very impressed.

Getting late, Neil was ready to pack it in, but Barney (former pilot and aviation geek) wanted to see Air Zoo on the south edge of town. Not another airplane museum! With a name like Air Zoo, who would want to? Reluctantly Neil agreed to tag along. A relatively new museum sort of buried in corn fields, Air Zoo contains an excellent collection of restored, vintage aircraft. World War II fighters and bombers, Cold War supersonics and craft of other vintage and design are displayed. But, Mr. Aviation and his side kick (who served on an aircraft carrier) were stopped dead by an XR-70 Blackbird. Of larger than expected dimensions and capable of crossing the U.S. in less than an hour, this high altitude piece of spy apparatus was a wowie-zowie experience and just scary to gaze upon.

With more time, the Guys could get tanked up for free (free being a Barney favorite) on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, which highlights a dozen wineries according to wine bibber Alan. The previous fall, he and family tasted their way through the Contessa, Domaine Berien, Lemon Creek, St. Julian and Tabor Hill wineries (no doubt sober). For Neil, an occasional flute of Processo is adequate. Comparing the essence one grape against another (they all look the same) is a waste of time. As he recalls, a couple shots of whiskey produces the same affect in less than half the time. At any rate, a wine tasting tour before or after a Kalamazoo visit for those interested could be a plus. September-October 2011


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