'I Do' in the D

Flip through the pages of a bridal magazine and you’ll quickly discover what most future brides want from their wedding day: something unique.

For Jessica Moore, that statement couldn’t ring more true.  “You walk away from so many weddings and don’t remember anything because they’re all the same…the same banquet halls with almost the same decorations,” Moore says. “When it came time to plan our own wedding, we didn’t want to do the same things everyone else had done. We really wanted to do something different.”

Moore’s not alone in her quest for a one-of-a-kind affair; along with calla lilies and cake served in plastic Chinese take-out boxes, finding a non-traditional place to say “I do” has become a major wedding trend.

 But with 25,000 marriages in Southeastern Michigan each year, many brides and grooms wonder if it’s even possible to throw a wedding that stands out.

It's not only possible — it’s relatively easy if you pack up the limos and head to Detroit.

For example, Moore chose the historic Masonic Temple in Midtown for her wedding later this year, and other brides pick places like the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle, the Gem Theatre downtown or the Scarab Club in Midtown.

With riverfront views, stunning architecture and photo-ops galore, Detroit venues have an inherent coolness, uniqueness, historic sensibility and edge to them. It’s a vibe you can’t capture just by picking the right centerpieces and color scheme, and an authentic feel you just can’t duplicate in a generic suburban rental hall.

Belle Isle's budget-friendly beauty

Like Moore, Elizabeth Hall also “didn’t want to have your normal traditional wedding.” Rather than be married in typical Southeastern Michigan fashion – at a banquet hall or country club decked-out to the nines – Hall, 27, used her background in interior design and the natural beauty of two of Belle Isle’s treasures to create a wedding celebration that was not only budget-friendly, but truly unique.

Married in a side-garden of the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Hall was delighted to find that the locale was well within her budget. “It cost just $150 to rent the space … and another $200 to bring in chairs for guests,” she says.

Hall didn’t depend on a montage of tulle or other fancy decorations for her ceremony. Instead, the she relied on the bountiful supply of plant life in the conservatory – palms, succulents, ferns, and one of the largest orchid displays in the U.S. – to enliven the space. Her only touch was white roses, which were individually tied to each chair.

“We didn’t do a lot, but it was so beautiful,” she says.

After their vows, the couple led guests to the Casino – a 1907 Beaux-Arts building designed by Van Leyen and Schilling – for an afternoon reception.

Here again, Hall kept the structure’s natural elements – coffered ceilings, marble and granite stonework, and her personal favorite, the domed skylight on the second floor – uncovered, and free to speak for themselves. She kept her own décor to a minimum with the exception of a few things like brightly-colored, homemade centerpieces which adorned the centers of the guests’ tables.

Hall says she wouldn’t change a thing about her Belle Isle wedding, and judging from the round of enthusiastic, positive feedback she got from guests, she doesn’t think they would either. “It was wonderful, … they all just kept complimenting us on the location and the décor.”

'Can't get it anywhere else'

The kudos don’t surprise Jessica Johnston, the photographer who captured Hall’s wedding last August. “There’s so much texture and environment there…and the history and architecture, you just can’t get it anywhere else,” she says.

Johnston, owner of Jessica Johnston Photography, has had the pleasure of shooting weddings all over Metro Detroit, including the Detroit Yacht Club, Belle Isle, the Detroit Athletic Club and the Roostertail in the city.

Though she enjoys all of Detroit’s unique locations, the James Scott Fountain on Belle Isle is the city monument that makes the top of her list.

“I really like the fountain … it’s such a great background, especially for a wedding,” she says.

Johnston’s not the only one that feels that way.

Christina Wallace admires it, too; so much so, the 27-year-old discarded her original plan of a marriage ceremony in Sterling Heights and plans to have the event in front of the white-marble masterpiece instead.

“There was something about the hall – it wasn’t personable enough…but once I saw it (the Scott Fountain), I knew that was where I wanted to have it,” Wallace says.

Though her reception will be held in the ‘burbs , the Warren-resident says she and her husband-to-be won’t head north without visiting some of their favorite Detroit spots – particularly the Spirit of Detroit and the Woodward Fountain at Campus Martius Park – for plenty of photos first. “There are so many cool places in Detroit for photos. I can’t wait,” she says.

According to Jessica Yeager, a photographer with Mod4, the city’s large collection of unique spots is a huge draw for many couples. And something that suits her just fine.

“We enjoy taking photos everywhere, but I have to admit that it’s so refreshing to take people somewhere besides a park…and Detroit is fun and different,” she says.

Hart Plaza is Yeager’s spot of choice – she likes its spaciousness and that it has half a dozen different backdrops in one convenient location. She’s also shot photos at the DIA, the Detroit Yacht Club and all over Belle Isle. Yeager’s even photographed a couple inside Comerica Park during a game. “Never underestimate the power of a wedding dress,” she says.

Rooms with a view

In Laura Petersen’s opinion, the sky’s the limit for weddings in Detroit – literally.

Petersen, owner of Laura Petersen Wedding Planning and Floral Design, has helped couples kick-off married life all over the Detroit area, but her favorite spots are the Guardian and David Whitney buildings – two of the city’s skyscrapers.

 “Holding a wedding in a place like that definitely helps in making a memorable experience for guests,” she says.

Although Peterson admits that the cost to rent some city-spaces is more expensive than traditional halls, she contends that the final tab often evens out because places like the Guardian – an Art Deco wonder filled with cathedral ceilings, colorful tile and a three-story glass mural – don’t require much dress-up.

“The space in the promenade (of the Guardian) is so beautiful that you don’t have to do a lot of decorating,” she says.

Newlywed Clare Nelson, who enlisted Petersen’s help in planning a dessert and dancing reception in the promenade’s Rowland Café, agrees. “We loved it,” Nelson says. “The space itself is really remarkable…it’s gorgeous, grand and very unique.”

Where to Wed

Here’s the lowdown on a few more cool places in Detroit to have a wedding. Far from a generic hall, city wedding spots often have inherent beauty, stunning views and posh surrounds, and can be more affordable.

Belle Isle: The nation’s largest city-owned island park offers sweeping views of the East Riverfront, Windsor and the Ambassador Bridge at a bevy of locations throughout the isle. While outdoor locations like the Scott Fountain and Nancy Brown Peace Carillion require that couples provide guest seating and hire off-site caterers, renting a spot on the 983-acre island is an economical alternative to pricier venues and just as unique. Contact Belle Isle’s administration office, also known as the “white house”, at 313.852.4075 for more information.

Detroit Athletic Club: The private club on Madison Avenue in downtown Detroit offers a formal dining room, meeting rooms, exquisite cuisine and a sophisticated, old-world feel. While it's a private club, non-member couples set on having their weddings within the DAC’s distinguished, historic environment may do so with a member’s sponsorship. Contact the club at 313.963.9200 or go to http://www.thedac.com for more information.

Detroit Yacht Club: The club on Belle Isle offers a formal dining room, a grand ballroom, spectacular river views and gourmet catering. Like the Detroit Athletic Club, the Detroit Yacht Club is private, but many members are willing to sponsor non-members intent on saying I do at North America’s largest yacht club. Call Julia Doherty at 313.824.2887 or go to http://www.dyc.com for more information.

Ford Field: Downtown Detroit’s newest stadium offers an assortment of reception sites including banquet rooms overlooking the playing field, a seven-story glass-enclosed atrium, the visiting team’s NFL locker room and the playing field itself. While Lions games and other public events take first priority, couples insistent on wedding at this unique spot will find the fabulous skyline views and gourmet catering worth the wait. Contact Susan Zevelkink at 313.262-2245 or click here for more information.

Fox Theatre: The Howard Crane-designed theatre offers a lavish indoor backdrop, sophisticated fare and a convenient location in the heart of downtown Detroit’s entertainment district. Though private events must be scheduled around the venue’s theatre and concert engagements, couples willing to wait 3 to 6 months before their big day to book have the best shot at securing the grand space. For more information, contact Molly Briggs at 313.471.3206 or click here.
New Detroit Science Center: This modern activity center in Midtown offers both on- and off-site catering and can accommodate 2,000 for a strolling buffet or 500 for a sit-down meal. Along with dinner and dancing, receptions can be enhanced with IMAX Dome Theatre films and science demonstrations. For more information, contact Angela Zini at 313.577.8400, extension 412 or click here.

Roostertail: This third-generation restaurant along the East Riverfront has three banquet rooms and an outdoor deck, stunning river views and various cuisine options. The restaurant offers a $79 all-inclusive Fairytale Package on Saturdays, as well as other price incentives. For more information, call Shawna at 313.822.1234 extension 133 or click here.

Scarab Club: The historic art gallery in the heart of Detroit’s Cultural Center offers an open and airy first-floor gallery, an intimate second-floor lounge, and an outdoor, walled, English garden along with sumptuous dishes prepared by its exclusive-caterer, Union Street. Though only club members may serve alcohol at private functions, interested non-members may do so by joining the club for a nominal fee. Contact Christine Renner at 313.831.1250 or visit http://www.scarabclub.org for more information.  

The Infinity and the Ovation: Infinity Yacht Charters offers all-inclusive, three- and four-hour cruise packages aboard its two private yachts. The two-level Infinity holds up to 150 guests, while the new tri-level Ovation holds 325. Both yachts take passengers on trips through the Detroit River and onto Lake St. Clair. Click here or call 586.778.7030 for more information.

The Whitney: Midtown’s historic mansion-turned-restaurant features superb cuisine and outstanding staff in a classic fairy-tale atmosphere. Parties of 20 to 620 can enjoy the restaurant’s magnificent surroundings, including Tiffany stained-glass panels, intricately-carved woodwork and the building’s grand staircase. Ceremony and outdoor reception areas are both available. Contact Suzanne Gormely or at 313.832.5700 or click here for more information.

Jaime Halaas also writes for her blog, Girl in the D.


Hart Plaza Wedding, Copyright Jessica Yeager

Hart Plaza Wedding, Copyright Jessica Yeager

Elizabeth Hall's Wedding at the Scripps Conservatory on Belle Isle, Copyright Jessica Johnston

Hart Plaza Wedding, Copyright Jessica Yeager

Claire Nelson's Wedding Cake at the Rowland Cafe in the Guardian Building, Copyright Laura Peterson

Downtown Rooftop
Wedding, Copyright Jessica Yeager

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