Ann Arbor Warms Up After Big Chill

When film director Lawrence Kasdan chose the title "The Big Chill" for his 1983 movie about the reunion of old pals from the 1960s, he must have been thinking about the frigid winters he spent here, as a student on the University of Michigan campus.

Fortunately, the Big Chill does not last forever . . . except on the silver screen.

Once the summer weather arrives, Ann Arbor emerges from its winter doldrums and blossoms into a warm, wonderful, walkable city with lively outdoor cafes, pleasant tree-shaded parks and a pseudo-Ivy League atmosphere.

Although it is only 45 miles west of Detroit along I-94, Ann Arbor prides itself on maintaining a totally separate identity.

The 165-year-old city is an intellectual never-never land, where the pizza delivery drivers have Ph.D.s and even the residential street corners, notably Nixon-Bluett, have political overtones.

But politics, along with everything else, took a back seat last week as the city and campus community celebrated en masse Michigan's first-ever NCAA basketball championship, an 80-79 overtime victory over Seton Hall Monday night in Seattle.

True, the action on central campus slows down considerably once the university's nearly 36,000 students pack up their PCs, LPs and CDs and head for home.

But year-round residents (called "townies") view the break from the Go Blue! hoopla of the students (called "gownies") as a welcome change.

For visitors, the pause provides a perfect opportunity to enjoy Ann Arbor at its very best, the one time in the whole year when it is possible to find a vacant parking lot.

Anyone who is visiting Ann Arbor for the first time should plan to spend at least a morning, if not an entire day, strolling around central campus. Maps are available at the information desk in the Michigan Union at the corner of State and South University, and at bookstores.

However, it's easy to find your way around if you keep in mind that the core of central campus is a block-square area called the Diagonal (or Diag, for short), which is bounded by State, North University, East University and South University. Everything else more or less revolves around it.

In the halcyon days of student protests, the Diag was often the stage for Vietnam protests and Black Action Movement rallies. But nowadays during summer break, students are more likely to be hurling Frisbees than diatribes.

Colorful Figures

If you time it right you may even catch Dr. Diag, one of the many colorful figures on campus, delivering an impromptu soliloquy on some obscure subject from his stone bench podium.

In keeping with its reputation as the "Harvard of the Midwest," the university has several interesting museums that are open to visitors.

The Alexander G. Ruthven Exhibit Museums complex is guaranteed to be a hit with kids, who will enjoy seeing the 15-foot allosaurus (dinosaur) skeleton on the second floor and the twinkling constellation show in the planetarium.

The Kelsey Museum is best remembered for its display of Egyptian mummies, and the Museum of Art is notable for its compact but fairly eclectic collection of paintings and sculpture.

Several landmarks may be of interest to visitors. A bronze plaque on the Michigan Union denotes the historic moment in 1960 when then-President John F. Kennedy stood on the front steps and announced the formation of the Peace Corps.

The intersection of South and East University is also noteworthy. It is known as McDivitt-White corner, honoring two American astronauts, James A. McDivitt and Edward White, who were Michigan graduates.

Be sure to walk through the Engine Arch of the old Engineering College building on the northwest corner of the intersection. In bygone days when the university enforced a 10 p.m. curfew, it was said to be the goal of every co-ed to kiss her sweetheart under the Engine Arch at the stroke of midnight . . . without getting caught sneaking back into her dorm.

If your feet get hot you can always stop for a pizza and beer, served out of a Kerr jar, at Dominick's, a popular outdoor cafe across the street from the Law Quadrangle.

The Law Quad, built between 1923 and 1933, lends an Ivy League atmosphere to the campus, with its Gothic spires and leaded-glass windows. Its shaded inner courtyard is straight out of "Love Story."

Drake's Sandwich Shop, with its familiar red-and-white-striped awning, is another throwback to the 1920s. Inside you'll find an old-fashioned soda fountain that serves Boston coolers, along with rows and rows of glass candy jars.

Ironically, Ann Arbor's newest and fastest-growing attraction, Domino's Farms, has no connection with the university.

The $250-million complex, northeast of the city on a 300-acre site off Plymouth Road, serves as the world headquarters for Domino's Pizza Inc., and as a showcase for millionaire owner Thomas S. Monaghan's treasured collections.

Monaghan, an avid admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, has selected Wright's early Prairie style architecture for his corporate buildings, and has established a Frank Lloyd Wright Museum to house the world's largest collection of Wright's works, valued at more than $30 million.

Also in the exhibition building is the Domino's Pizza Classic Car Museum, where visitors can stroll among 100 of the classiest antique cars assembled under one roof. The prize in the collection is the Bugatti Royale, which is only one of six made and was the personal car of Ettore Bugatti. Monaghan shelled out $8.1 million for it--the highest price ever paid for an automobile.

Throughout the summer Domino's hosts a series of arts and crafts festivals, kite-flying competitions and other family-oriented events.

Nothing can compare, however, with the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, which has been a traditional rite of summer for several decades.

What started in 1960 as a few artists displaying their wares between roped-off parking meters on South University, has grown into a four-day extravaganza that literally engulfs the entire city. This year the fair will be held July 19-22.

It is really three art fairs wrapped up in one; the unending expanse of hand-thrown pots, abstract oil paintings, blown-glass vases and woven wall hangings extends from central campus all the way downtown to Main Street.

The Ann Arbor Summer Festival, scheduled for June 24 to July 16 this year, features performances by theater groups, musicians and vocalists.

The best thing about Ann Arbor, however, is that when you get tired of it you can simply pack up a picnic and head for a nearby lake or river. Gallup Park offers paddle boat, canoe and bike rentals for an enjoyable afternoon on the Huron River. The city sponsors a Huron River Day (July 9), with lots of family activities.

The Arboretum (known as "the Arb"), which grows more than 50 species of plants, is a favorite place for hiking and communing with nature.

When the sun sets, Ann Arbor once again becomes the center of action. During the summer months, restaurants such as the Full Moon Cafe, Gratzi and the Real Seafood Company serve food and spirits at outdoor tables on Main Street, a la Rome's Via Veneto.

On a sunny day you may even see the legendary Shakey Jake, Ann Arbor's prince of street people, passing by decked out in his Panama hat, white suit and two-toned shoes.

Bygone Era

One of Ann Arbor's most famous restaurants is the Gandy Dancer, which occupies the city's historic old railroad station. Lanterns, photos of old steam engines and an antique wrought-iron sign recreate the nostalgia of a bygone era when trains were king of the road.

If you want something funky in food, stop in at the Fleetwood Diner, which is housed in an old trailer, or the Del Rio, which has a long oak bar and stained-window accents.

For a few more lire you can enjoy an Italian dinner at the Bella Ciao, a cozy trattoria , or a French meal at Escoffier, which has a more formal Parisian air.

After dinner you'll find cool jazz at the Bird of Paradise Jazz Club, down-home country and bluegrass music at the Ark, classical strains at the Kerrytown Concert House, vintage movies at the Michigan Theater and live comedy at the Mainstreet Comedy Showcase.

Watering holes such as the Old Town Bar have also been an integral part of the city since 1872, when it was duly noted that Ann Arbor had eight hotels, five druggists, five billiards halls . . . and 49 saloons.

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Where to stay:

Ann Arbor Inn, 100 South 4th Ave., Ann Arbor, Mich. 48104, (313) 769-9500. Rate: $82 a night, double occupancy.

Bell Tower Hotel, 300 S. Thayer St., Ann Arbor 48104, (313) 769-3010. Rate: $85 a night, double occupancy.

Best Western Wolverine Inn, 3505 S. State Road, Ann Arbor 48108, (313) 665-3500. Rate: $42 a night, double occupancy.

Hampton Inn North, 2300 Green Road, Ann Arbor 48105, (313) 996-4444. Rate: $54 a night, double occupancy.

Wood's Inn Bed & Breakfast, 2887 Newport Road, Ann Arbor 48103, (313) 665-8394. Rate: $45 a night, double occupancy.

Where to eat:

Bella Ciao Trattoria, 118 W. Liberty St., (313) 995-2107. Dinners: $8.50-$14.50.

Full Moon Cafe, 207 S. Main St., (313) 665-8484. Dinners: $3.95-$7.95.

Gratzi, 326 S. Main St., (313) 663-5555. Dinners: $6.25-$15.75

Gandy Dancer, 401 Depot St., (313) 769-0592. Dinners: $14-$22.

For more information contact the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 211 E. Huron, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48104, (313) 995-7281.

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