On November 19, 1928, the Detroit Historical Society opened the Detroit Historical Museum in a one-room suite on the 23rd floor of the Barlum Tower, earning it the nickname of highest museum in the world. These days, Detroit?s Cultural Center accommodates the museum in an 80,000-square-foot space, where interactive exhibits preserve more than 300 years of city history. Frontiers to Factories traces Detroit's transformation from French-frontier outpost to industrial city, while America's Motor City celebrates its automotive dominance with a changing display of classic vehicles and a 1903 Model T that guests can sit in. Streets of Old Detroit brings the 19th century to life with recreated cobblestone streets that wind past stores of the era such as a five-and-dime, a soda shop, and a barbershop for powdered wigs.
Thanks to recent renovations, the society has expanded its chronicle of Detroit with three new permanent exhibitions. Detroit: The Arsenal of Democracy covers the ways the city's industrial infrastructure adapted to demands of World War II, and The Gallery of Innovation includes videos about renowned innovators and hands-on activities involving trial and error. As The Allesee Gallery of Culture examines the city's cultural history, its Kid Rock Music Lab lets visitors create and share their own music using interactive displays. Outside, the Detroit Legends Plaza honors the city's sports, entertainment, and media legends with cemented handprints and signatures from stars such as Lily Tomlin and Martha Reeves.
Standing in the shadow of Hitsville USA—the original home of Motown Records and the studio that launched the careers of Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson—Motown Museum preserves the legacy of soul’s most successful label. Immersive exhibits trace the roots and eventual impact of Motown on popular culture, demonstrating how Gordy achieved the signature sound or how James Jamerson challenged and beat the devil in a bass-playing contest. Visitors get a chance to sing into the innovative Echo Chamber—a hole cut into the ceiling that created the reverb sound synonymous with hit recordings such as "Dancing in the Street." A steady stream of photographs and other rhythm-and-blues memorabilia leads amblers into “Studio A,” which contains the original instruments and equipment used to record The Jackson Five and Gladys Knight during Motown’s Detroit era. Crowds gather around Michael Jackson’s signature glove-and-hat ensemble, which he himself donated to the museum.
For an art museum, the flat, cracked facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) is shockingly stark, yet there's beauty in its realness. The walls that once framed an abandoned car dealership now host Barry McGee's "Untitled" mural of writ-large graffiti on the building's exterior, greeting people with an uncompromising sense of honesty that permeates through to the art collection within. MOCAD's informal approach to art exhibition shares a kindred spirit with few other museums, with exhibits that swap museum-imposed artifice for relatable, raw beauty. That didn't go unnoticed by The New York Times, who hailed the collection for "seeing the seediness, and celebrating it."
Never straying from a mission to present contemporary works that reflect the current culture, inspire dialogue, and engage the community, MOCAD's stunning exhibitions narrate the history and future of the Motor City. Public programs such as lectures, literary readings, live music performances, films, and children's educational activities further engage visitors, and the MOCAD store offers exclusive t-shirts, magazines, kid's toys, and jewelry.
The Henry Ford celebrates the people and ideas that shaped American history, from its earliest days to its present. The sprawling 12-acre museum complex covers both indoor and outdoor spaces?Henry Ford Museum and Ford Rouge Factory as well as 80-acre Greenfield Village?where visitors explore famous homes, ride in historic vehicles, and browse slices of Americana.
As the sun rises and sets on the shore of Lake St. Clair, it illuminates a historic mansion surrounded by 87 acres of gardens, meadows, and lagoons. The light catches the elm and sugar maple trees, blue lilacs, and other local florae, treating guests to the same idyllic views that Edsel Ford—the only son of Henry Ford—used to enjoy with his wife, Eleanor Clay Ford, and their children. Built in 1929 and now open to the general public, this historic house and its surrounding grounds give visitors a glimpse into the everyday lives of one of America's most prominent families.
Edsel and Eleanor Ford were renowned for their progressive design tastes and support of the arts, and these forward-thinking sensibilities are readily apparent throughout their Gaukler Point home. Detroit architect Albert Kahn chose to characterize it as a cozy escape from city life by recreating the aesthetic of a Cotswold village cottage, complete with stone roofs, vine-covered walls, and lead-paned windows. But the Ford's decidedly modern style is still visible—for every antique and stuffed and mounted Model T, guests can also spot the sleek, custom-made furnishings and leather-paneled walls recommended by interior designer Walter Teague. The acres outside those walls were shaped with equal care by renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen, who chose to accentuate the area's natural beauty without giving any indication of manmade interference.
Of course, the Ford House would be incomplete without the invention that made the Ford name—the automobile. Reflecting that legacy and Edsel's own passion for designing vehicles, the garage houses a 1934 Brewster Town Car, a 1938 Lincoln K Brunn Brougham, and a 1941 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet, each of which was customized to Edsel's specifications. The crown jewel of the exhibited collection—when it is not being displayed at car shows and museums across the country—is Edsel's treasured 1934 Model 40 Special Speedster, a vehicle that he personally spent years conceptualizing and then refining into a sleek, aluminum-bodied roadster.
Cranbrook Art Museum opened its current Eliel Saarinen-designed building in 1942. Today, its collection features original exhibitions and educational programming on modern and contemporary architecture, art, crafts, and design. A recent $22 million renovation added a Collections Wing, making their rich collection accessible to all visitors.
Permanent mainstay: Tours of the museum's Collections Wing, with more than 6,000 items by artists such as Eames, Knoll, and Saarinen, are all housed in a vault designed to make the collection visible and accessible.
Don't miss: The curator's talks give more in-depth detail about current exhibitions.
Hands-on experiments: In the outdoor sculpture treasure hunt, families seek up to 18 sculptures on the grounds, while learning more about the artists, other works, and which pieces make the best nesting areas for birds.
Future exhibitions: Laura Kalman: Coveted Objects; Theater of the Mind; The Cranbrook Hall of Wonders: Artworks, Objects, and Natural Curiosities; Iris Eichenberg: Bend; MR. MDWST - A REAL GOOD TIME by BEVERLY FRESH; and Alloyed Visions: The Jewelry of Harry Bertoia
The building: a meticulously restored structure designed in 1942 by Eliel Saarinen
While you?re in the neighborhood: Nearby on the Cranbrook campus is Saarinen House, the art deco masterwork of renowned architect Eliel Saarinen. The house served as his residence as Cranbrook Academy of Art's first president and has been restored with its original furnishings.
Foster the next generation of artists: at monthly Drop-In Art Sundays, where children explore the kids' gallery and create their own masterpiece inspired by featured artists