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.
Nestled within the historic Hitsville USA quarters of Motown Record Corporation, the Motown Museum dazzles the optic nerves of audiophiles with retina-regaling displays that flash back to the golden age of music. Foray into the historic duplex that enshrines the restored apartment of Berry Gordy Jr. before tiptoeing through Studio A to reverberate ripened rumors fresh from a grapevine within its iconic echo chamber. As they follow the trajectory of rhythm-and-blues history, visiting duos can pore over a comprehensive collection of photographs, memorabilia, and invisible air molecules once inhaled by famous recording artists. Bask in the soulful warmth of the Marvin Gaye exhibition or burst into synchronized moonwalks while ogling Michael Jackson’s signature glove-and-hat ensemble.
The Detroit Science Center lets aspiring engineers and scientists get their tiny hands on more than 200 exhibits that explore space, biology, and physical science. Glimpse the mysteries of space travel or learn the fundamentals of electricity and magnetism that fuel online dating logarithms. A virtual universe of swirling stars and planets awaits inside the Dassault Systèmes Planetarium, where live presenters lead you on an intergalactic adventure followed by earthbound questions and answers. The Chrysler IMAX Dome theatre brings state-of-the-art technology and cinematronics to the 67-foot wide, four-story tall screen. The theatre immerses visitors in a rotating schedule of shows; currently, guests can explore Arabia, visit the Hubble, or allow the adrenalin-pumping excitement of NASCAR in digital surround to vroom off the screen and into unlicensed eyeballs.
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.
Located in Detroit's Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is one of the world's largest institutions dedicated to the African-American experience. Covering 120,000 square feet, the museum houses five rotating exhibitions, including Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment, and five permanent exhibitions, such as the 22,000-square-foot core exhibit And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture. Also at the museum are the Louise Lovett Wright Library & Archives and the Ford Rotunda, which boasts a 55-foot-high glass dome that dumps artificial snow when shaken by giants.
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.