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A Room with a View

I had an occasion this past weekend to see Detroit from a different perspective: 11 stories above the street.

And the view was spectacular.

I've visited other big cities: Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C. Their skylines are regal. But there is something about Detroit that pleases my eye. It is a combination of things: the familiarity, the balance of buildings and architectural styles -- all outlined against the Detroit River.

From my room with a view, you could see the mighty Renaissance Center, Art Deco skyscrapers, church spires, tiny water towers. I stood by the window for several quiet minutes. The woman standing next to me finally offered this comment: “Despite what people think, Detroit is a real city.” Amen, sister.

Paul Hitz

The above pix is by Royal Oak photographer Paul Hitz, who has shot the Detroit skyline many, many times. In fact, nearly every photographer I talked to for this post says it is one of the favorite backdrops, especially for automotive shoots.

"When I look at the Detroit skyline I can see its rich history and culture, its people and their success and struggle, most of all I see hope and determination in its diversity and I know that Detroit is a great place," Hitz said.

Photog John F. Martin added: "Whether it's from across the river or from the Fisher building, you can always see the variety of styles that went into building the Motor City."

Other views are just as grand, especially those at night. Some argue the best views are from Belle Isle, atop the Cobo Center roof or from across the River via our Canadian neighbors in Windsor. There, you can see it all: the Guardian, Penobscot, One Detroit Center, the David Stott Building, the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel.

“It's sad that the true beauty of Detroit can't be seen from Detroit, it can't even be seen from the United States. You have to go to Canada to see it,” notes local photographer Fred Levine.

We've always had great bones as a city. Some history via the brilliant Pat Zacharias of The Detroit News:

After the end of the First World War, Detroit's skyline underwent a dramatic facelift. The huge 1920s building program attracted the attention of architects throughout the country. Detroit ranked third in the nation, after New York and Chicago, in the number of major buildings erected during the Roaring Twenties. The boom proved dramatic and lasting.

The Penobscot Building, begun in 1928, the tallest in the city for nearly 50 years, highlighted the downtown skyline along with the new Buhl Building in 1925. The Book brothers transformed Washington Boulevard into a replica of New York's Fifth Avenue. The Book Cadillac Hotel at Michigan and Washington became the showstopper of the fashionably chic district. In 1928, the beautiful Fisher Building, across the street from the General Motors Building, complemented its business partner. The Masonic Temple, also completed that year, added ambiance to the bustling area.

Oddly, we don't get a lot of credit for our skyline. A simple Google search came up with a few comments here and there from people saying, “I don't even remember what Detroit's looks like. I wouldn't put it in my top 10.” I would.

Another quotable scribe (and I won't name names) chimed in: “The RenCen is the only skyline that flips the bird to the whole world. I stole that line from a magazine I read years ago but it's still accurate as hell.”

Rather than leave you on that note, I'll add this song lyric from Superchunk:

There was no architect designed this view
He could not have known about you
Mouse homes, catacombs
Detroit has a skyline, too
Detroit has a skyline, too

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