At Times, Nostalgia Can Spur Progress

Letter From the Editor


When someone starts waxing poetic about “the good old days,” it’s usually time to tune out. Who wants to hear rose-colored rhetoric of idyllic conditions, or worse, endure hard-times hyperbole: “You have it easy. We walked to school … uphill … in freezing rain.”

But nostalgia and progress aren’t always mutually exclusive. In March, metro Detroit native and fashion icon John Varvatos opened his store in the Wright Kay building. Quicken Loans’ Dan Gilbert and Nate Forbes, managing partner of The Forbes Company, which owns the Somerset Collection, were also on hand. Like so many locals of a certain age, they spoke of wishing and hoping and praying for Woodward’s return to the shopping glory days of Hudson’s, Kern’s, etc. 

Of course, these folks aren’t totally altruistic. They stand to gain from the redevelopment of Detroit. And every new investment raises the “gentrification” question. It’s not off the wall to wonder who will pony up for $100 T-shirts when so many metro Detroit residents can barely afford Sally’s on 4th (Royal Oak’s “not-so-thrifty” Salvation Army store). But it’s hard to argue with the increased foot traffic and energy now seen on the Woodward corridor.

Which brings us to another topic that may initially sound nostalgic. Joe Lapointe takes a look at the state takeover of Belle Isle, including the perspective of a 90-year-old nun who lived there in her youth. While some might decry the politics of the takeover, it’s hard to argue with clean, functioning restrooms, cleared-out canals, and a reopened aquarium. 

We also have a “They don’t build them like they used to” story. But in the case of the Great Lakes Boat Building School in Cedarville, they actually do. Paul Vachon reports.

Then we consider the days you don’t ever wish for a return to. Mention of the Rouge River used to bring to mind an industrial wasteland. But the massive watershed also runs through some polar opposites — from the well-to-do’s playground of Oakland Hills Country Club to Detroit’s beleaguered Brightmoor neighborhood. As Kurt Kuban reports, thanks in part to a group of dedicated volunteers, today’s Rouge, while far from perfect, is showing a lot of signs of life. 

You won’t catch me getting nostalgic for fewer beer choices. While I never stooped to “lite” anything, it took me a while to appreciate the wonders of craft beer. My first taste of too many choices was at Tommy’s Joynt — San Francisco’s cafeteria-style eatery and self-proclaimed “Original Hof-Brau.” Grab a tray and select a bowl of buffalo stew or whatever. But behind the food line a massive cooler filled with beer choices extended the length of the building — including the legendary Anchor Steam.

But Tommy’s can’t hold a candle to the local “tap wars” going on, from the Rochester Tap Room’s 60 draft selections to the mind-blowing “I need a few more minutes to decide, please” of 130 taps at HopCat Detroit.

In honor of the 70th anniversary of V-E day, we also visit the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum, see how to preserve memories in a Life Chest, and look further back at some ancient grains and seeds making a return. Anyone for a chia smoothie or a malted amaranth beer?

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