The approach is spectacular. A short walk from Cass Avenue via leafy
Prentis St. to Second Avenue reveals details in slow motion of an
early-20th century masterpiece. Sometimes even the most catastrophic
events happen for a reason, and this could be one of them. The Forest
Arms, which burned in early 2008, claiming one life, displacing
residents and businesses (including Amsterdam Espresso and Peoples
Records -- the latter relocated to 3161 Woodward Avenue) and devastating the Midtown neighborhood on the south end of
Wayne State University, now literally crawls with the colors of
regeneration: greens, reds, cool purples and hot pinks.
life greets you instantly upon entering an open courtyard, where a
Detroit party is breaking out. There's beer, wine, finger food and an
acoustic guitar virtuoso sweating out tunes in the early evening heat.
There is cause to celebrate. The Forest Arms rehab is progressing quite
nicely. The newly-cleaned red and white brick facade shows off
impressive design features that give it the regal look of an urban castle.
Sculptural neo-goth angels hang out on the arched entrance; an
ornamental crest four floors directly above invites your eyes to explore
the rooftop. When you do, you see people hanging out up there, above
the hanging vertical gardens. Someone is addressing the crowd with a beer and a
bullhorn. We hear the call and make our move upward.
scoot up to the top -- using a wide stairwell under reconstruction --
reveals even more extraordinary views in every direction. To the
southwest, the Michigan Central Station and Ambassador Bridge; directly
south, downtown skyscrapers gleam in the dusk; to the east, the Medical
Center looks as if it can be grabbed with your hand; and to the north,
the buildings on the WSU campus and in New Center also look within easy reach.
Underfoot, the roof is new. It's a beautiful thing, taking in the
sprawling Detroit panorama while being naturally high. Let's clarify
that: one half of a beer was consumed, courtesy of Traffic Jam &
That's most appropriate, considering that it is Scott
Lowell and Carolyn Howard of Traffic Jam that bought the 105-year-old
Forest Arms last year and are behind its rehab. The couple has already
redeveloped Midtown properties the Blackstone, the Aronda and the
Beethoven apartments. Completion of this project is expected in late
2011 or 2012. This continuing story would be good enough if it were only
But the exciting part of the Detroit future narrative is about collaborative and auxiliary projects. Somebody takes a
bold step, others jump in with some expert help, neighborhood and
community groups get involved. Then, along the way, we throw a few
parties and enjoy the fruits of the labor. It's all more than good.
This party -- and, more importantly, the hanging garden -- was the work of Team Detroit
an amalgam of creative problem solvers, advertising, marketing and
communications innovators. The idea for the Forest Arms redo was hatched
by TD Creative Director Toby Barlow and is administrated by Ryan
Schirmang, a Chicago transplant. He wasn't
entirely unfamiliar with the area. Schirmang went to the University of
Michigan, where he met Phillip Cooley, former fashion model, Slow's
Bar-BQ co-owner and Corktown and Midtown developer. Cooley helped out at
Forest Arms by lending the team a crane-like machine used to hang
flowers, each bunch coming with its own hydrating bag. The last time we
saw him, Cooley was playing cornhole in the courtyard, humbly declining
to take credit for his work. "I just hung a few flowers," he says.
Schirmang says the idea behind the project
was not merely to beautify the building during its rehabilitation but
to "capture the spirit of growth that we're all part of in Detroit.
There is a momentum here, lots of people with energy doing great things,
and we wanted to keep it going."
With the help of 75 volunteers, and important partnerships with the Greening of Detroit
and the University Cultural Center Association, flowers were installed
in May. They have been maintained all summer by green thumbed members of
The flowers will be removed in late September or early October. Similar
projects are in the planning stage for next spring, Schirmang says.
don't have any building picked out, but we want to do it again," he
says. "Whatever we do, it has to capture the soul of the city. Detroit
is wide open with possibilities and we just want to be a part of making
good things happen." Walter Wasacz is FilterD editor and loves the regenerative power of flowers.All photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here
Hanging flowers bring back to life the Forest Arms
From the rooftop of the Forest Arms
The party moves upward
Food by Brother Natures Produce
Reflecting the Forest Arms
Courtyard Living Room
Hanging Gardens from inside the Forest Arms