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  • Once-controversial Diego Rivera murals now national landmark

    Oh, the irony — initially criticized as Marxist propaganda when Mexican muralist Diego Rivera painted them for the Detroit Institute of Arts in the early 1930s, Detroit Industry has now been designated as a a national landmark. The announcement was made Wednesday, according to the Detroit News by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis as part of National Park Week. The designation does not change the ownership status of the murals or grant any new protections or rights, leaving its place among the rest of the DIA’s art in possible bankruptcy negotiations in question. The work is considered the best of Rivera’s work in the United States (another mural Rivera had done in New York was destroyed by orders of Nelson Rockefeller). Rivera himself regarded Detroit Industries paintings as his finest work. In the midst of the McCarthy era, the DIA posted this sign outside the court: Rivera’s politics and his publicity seeking are detestable. But let’s get the record straight on what he did here. He came from Mexico to Detroit, thought our mass production industries and our technology wonderful and very exciting, painted them as one of the great achievements of the twentieth century. This came […]

    The post Once-controversial Diego Rivera murals now national landmark appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Detroit area code 313 may be phased out

    Hey, everybody from the 313, start thinking of new numbers to rally around– the longstanding Detroit area code may be phased out. Our friends over at the Detroit News report that pending a revised estimate next week, the North American Numbering Plan Administration will stop handing out 313 telephone prefixes on new phone numbers. Detroiters with existing cell phone lines would be able to keep their current area codes, while those with land lines would change. via Detroit News: The venerable 313 will ultimately become overtaxed. Even as Detroit’s population has fallen, cellphone usage has accelerated like one of those smoldering SRT Vipers that Dodge has been bolting together at Conner Avenue Assembly — which is, of course, comfortably within the confines of 313. … When the first five dozen area codes were assigned nearly 70 years ago, says NANPA’s Tom Foley, “that was expected basically to last forever.” Instead, somebody invented fax machines, and then somebody else came up with cellphones, and lots of somebody elses decided to give them to 10-year-olds, and meantime the population grew to 300 million. Now every telephone carrier is required to submit twice-yearly forecasts of its needs in each area code, factoring in […]

    The post Detroit area code 313 may be phased out appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Final members selected for Red Wings arena Neighborhood Advisory Council

    Unfortunately, we were unable to attend last night’s Neighborhood Advisory Council, which, in case you were unaware, is a 16-member board established to weigh in on the new Red Wings arena near downtown. About three dozen residents and property owners cast ballots by the 8 p.m. deadline on Wednesday inside the Block at Cass Park, The Detroit News reports. It’s the culmination of a handful of community meetings which began weeks ago. Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda Lopez facilitated the meetings, but emphasized at previous meetings that it’s up to the community to conduct business. According to the News, the 12 candidates selected include: Michael Boettcher, Richard Etue, Jason Gapa, Francis Grunow, Steve Guether, Paul Hughes, Ray Litt, Warner Doyle McBryde, Karen McLeod, Delphia Simmons, Melissa Thomas and Anthony Zander. Joel Landy, a land owner in the area, lost his bid. The City Council appointed four candidates last month. As we reported in this week’s issue, the Neighborhood Advisory Committee was negotiated after Olympia Development of Michigan, Detroit Red Wing’s owner Mike Ilitch’s real estate arm, balked on a proposed community benefits agreement.  The committee is charged with the task of offering input on the arena’s design, parking security and more.

    The post Final members selected for Red Wings arena Neighborhood Advisory Council appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • James McMurtry and The Bottle Rockets coming to the Magic Bag

    The Magic Bag in Ferndale will host James McMurtry and The Bottle Rockets on Thursday, May 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. A press release reads, “James McMurtry recently signed with the bourgeoning Los Angeles record label Complicated Game. The legendary songwriter will enter the studio later this month to start working on his first album in six years. “I’ve got a new batch of songs, organic and with no added sulfites, aged in oak for several years,” he says. “Francois Moret at Complicated Game seems to like these songs and (producer) C.C. Adcock thinks he can turn them into a record. Good times fixing to roll.” Label head Moret agrees. “In March 2013, when C.C. Adcock told me we were going to see James McMurtry at the Continental Club in Austin, I expected to see a good show,” he says, “but what I saw left me mesmerized! I immediately knew I wanted to sign him. As a European, it is an amazing opportunity to work with one of the most talented American singer-songwriters.” Evidence: McMurtry’s Just Us Kids (2008) and Childish Things (2005). The former earned his highest Billboard 200 chart position in nearly two decades and notched […]

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  • City Slang: Dead Kennedys to have a holiday in Detroit

    The Dead Kennedys, still with local boy Klaus Flouride in the ranks, will play St. Andrew’s Hall on Tuesday, June 24. Alongside Flouride and fellow original members East Bay Ray and DH Peligro, the current lineup includes singer Ron “Skip” Greer, taking the place of Jello Biafra. Downtown Brown will open that show, which starts at 7 p.m., with tickets priced $20-$25. Give Klaus a hero’s hometown welcome. Just over a week before that, strangely enough, Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine will play at the Magic Stick. It’s a weird coincidence, but one that DK fans should be happy to embrace. That show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $17-$19. Local hardcore vets Negative Approach play before Jello, with the Crashdollz opening the show. Follow @City_Slang

    The post City Slang: Dead Kennedys to have a holiday in Detroit appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Planet Ant presents A Steady Rain

    The Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck will present a police drama called A Steady Rain May 2 through 24. Planet Ant veterans Ryan Carlson and York Griffith will star in the play, written by House of Cards and Mad Men co-writer Keith Huff. Tickets ($10-$20) are on sale now at According to the press release, “A Steady Rain by Keith Huff focuses on Joey and Denny, best friends since kindergarten and partners on the police force whose loyalty to each other is tested by domestic affairs, violence and the rough streets of Chicago. Joey helps Denny with his family and Denny helps Joey stay off the bottle. But when a routine disturbance call takes a turn for the worse their loyalty is put to the ultimate test.First produced at Chicago Dramatists, A Steady Rain appeared on Broadway featuring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig. The Planet Ant production of A Steady Rain is directed by York Griffith featuring Ryan Carlson and Andy Huff. This marks the return of two of Planet Ant’s founding members. Carlson and Griffith. Griffith has served as the theatre’s Artistic Director where he directed the critically-acclaimed productions The Adding Machine and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? […]

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Banner year

Virginia Spencer lived to see 106 birthdays, a milestone that didn't go unnoticed

Photo: Photo: Detroitblogger John, License: N/A

Photo: Detroitblogger John

Dorothy Ziegler (left) and Betty Seay with a photo of Mama.

The family hung the banner again this year, but this time it was different.

When Virginia Spencer's relatives started doing it six years ago, it was to celebrate the noteworthy milestone of the family matriarch's century on earth.

They strung it along the second-floor iron balcony of their east side duplex, announcing to the drivers heading downtown on East Warren that Mama, as everyone called her, had made it to her 100th birthday.

That first year, Mama wasn't happy about it. "She said, 'I don't like the idea very well,' but anyway we put it up and everybody thought it was just grand," says Dorothy Ziegler, Spencer's 78-year-old daughter.

A "Happy Birthday" banner went up every summer after that for another six years, each one noting how old she was, each one signaling a further triumph over age, illness and time. This April though, Spencer was admitted to the emergency room and never discharged, and she passed away in a hospital bed, several miles from home, in an unfamiliar room.

"She just went on away in peace," says Betty Seay, the 54-year-old neighbor who wound up being Spencer's caregiver in her final years. "It was like she was just sleeping. She had on her powder blue and stuff. She was just peaceful."

As the family gathered to mourn Spencer's death, a cousin came up with the idea of one more banner, to let all of Mama's friends and well-wishers know that there wouldn't be another birthday celebration this summer. When the printer they'd used heard she died, he came to work on Sunday, his day off, just to make the final banner for the family.

It read, "Thank you for 106 years Granny. We will miss you."

Once it was strung up a few days after her death, friends and neighbors and strangers saw it and came by to offer their condolences. A truck from the nearby fire station pulled up and blared its siren, and the firemen, who knew Mama from taking her to the hospital over the years, got out to pay their respects.

Something about the banner drew people to her in her last years. "People would come from all over and they'd be talking about the banner," Ziegler explains, "and my cousin said, 'It's only fair to put something up, let the people know, 'cause they have been looking for it every year. You owe that to them.'"

The banner
became somewhat of a local cultural phenomenon over the years. People from the east side and the west side, people from the Grosse Pointes, people from as far away as Flint would make the journey to see if the banner made it up another year, thus showing that Mama had cheated the odds once again. Neighbors would stop by on her birthday with presents, passers-by would pull up and take pictures of the house, strangers would knock on the door and introduce themselves.

"You would be surprised," Ziegler says. "They would come by and say, 'We had to get our courage up to come up,' and I said, 'Oh you're welcome,' and my mother would talk to them." They'd bring birthday cards and food platters, and bring their little children into the house to meet her, to show that there is hope of having more time than most people are granted.

She got congratulatory letters and plaques from Detroit mayors, from council members, from the governor herself one year.

Word spread. Ziegler once went to an appointment with her doctor, and when the receptionist heard she was from the east side, she told Ziegler that she should check out this one house on the corner of East Warren and Holcomb, where a banner hangs to celebrate the city's reportedly oldest grandmother.

"She said, 'Ms. Ziegler, you should see it. It is awesome.' And she said, 'Every year I look for it. People far and near know about it.' And I said, 'That's my mother!'"

Virginia Spencer
was born in 1904 in Seneca, S.C., made stops in Atlanta and Washington D.C., and wound up in Detroit in the mid-'60s. She was working at a dry cleaner at 14 years old when the fingers on her right hand got caught in a machine used to press sheets, and the bones were crushed.

Some hack doctor wrapped the fingers too tight — it was the Deep South after all, and a little black girl's injuries likely didn't merit much care — and when the bandages came off the fingers and the hand had become infected. Her arm had to be amputated up to the elbow.

Still, she learned how to drive, how to wring out a wet quilt, how to change diapers with one hand, because she refused to wear an artificial arm. She eventually got herself a truck that she used to collect bundles of paper and stacks of old cardboard and sell them for pennies to eke out a living.

"She refused any welfare help," Ziegler says. "Mama was a very independent woman and there were times I wish she was on the welfare. Everybody else was on the welfare around us, but I understood, and she ingrained into us that dignity."

A couple of years ago she'd developed dementia and lost nearly all her sight, and grew irritable. But even after she turned 100 she'd bake cornbread for the family, or barbecue pork chops on a grill out back, or pass the time watching Jerry Springer, her favorite show.

"My son and her would be up here, and she'd say, 'Eric, it's time for Jerry,'" Ziegler says. When Eric died of the flu a couple of years ago, Spencer used her fading mind as an excuse to tune out the world, her family believes.

"That took a lot out of her, but she kept it in," Ziegler says of her son's death. "I thought maybe she didn't understand he was dead, but I found out she did because she would talk about him to Betty when I wasn't around, but she said very little about him when I was there."

Spencer and Seay the caretaker grew very fond of each other in their time together. "The night before she passed she said, 'Betty take me home.' I thought she was talking about here home, but she was really letting us know that she was ready to go," Seay remembers. "I think she knew then, 'cause she was just nice and peaceful."

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