The Old Opera House

(For more local history, buy VANISHING ANN ARBOR at your local bookstore or online!)

Old time Ann Arborites always entertained themselves. Theater troupes visited, orators came to speak, circuses traveled to us–we even had a debating society! But true society entered the town when Whitney’s Opera House opened in 1908.


Previously, Hill’s Opera House operated at the southwest corner of Main and Ann. It ran with success until Hill, experiencing some financial problems, sold the building to a succession of absentee landlords.

City Alderman Herman Pipp decided to revive the building and sought financial backing from Bert Whitney, who owned theaters in Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto. Whitney bought the building in 1906 and it was subsequently renovated by the Koch Brothers (I sincerely hope/presume that they are no relation to those other Koch Brothers we hear so much about these days).

The theater seated 1,500 in the main floor, balcony, high gallery, and private suites. The high gallery featured hard bench seats–the “cheap seats”–which could not be reserved. To get them, patrons had to line up on Ann Street the day of the performance, climb a fire escape, and buy tickets from a special second floor window.


The lobby’s panels were a deep red, the floor made of “mild” color tiles, all backed by dark oak finishes. The overall color scheme was described by the Argus as “gold, sky blue, light green, and pale yellow.” The carpet in the theater was also a dark red, as were the curtains and seats. The lighting sounds phenomenal–three French chandeliers lit up the lobby and almost 600 candle power lamps lit the stage. That stage boasted nine different sets, including a fancy parlor, a cottage, a prison, a garden, and streetscapes. This was unheard of for a “small town” theater at the time.

The opulence and reputation of the Whitney put it on the “A list” booking circuit, welcoming the biggest stars of the day (think: Barrymores, Lillian Russell). The Whitney also presented UM productions, some of which went on to play in New York and Chicago.

The theater closed during the Depression and was reopened as a movie house in 1934. It was torn down in 1955.

whit torn

Vanishing Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor has always been on the move, with things changing at various speeds throughout its decades of existence. When Rumsey & Allen founded this town in 1824, they placed newspaper ads looking for butchers, tanners, coopers, blacksmiths. We had entire businesses built around making and fixing wagon wheels. If your horse threw a shoe, the smithy was there to fix it. People used cisterns and wells for drinking water.

Then those things vanished. Folks began driving cars, started using tires made of rubber, and we created public works systems that provided water to homes.

It’s not for me to say whether the “vanished” things were for good or ill (although personally, I like my water cold and coming out of a faucet). It is for me to record some of those long gone businesses and places. You can read all about them in my and Britain’s book, VANISHING ANN ARBOR! The book talks of old pastimes (people really liked bowling back in the day), bookstores from 1888 through 2018, restaurants enjoyed by locals and visitors from afar, retail businesses from Mack & Co to Fiegel’s to Fingerle.

We hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane and as we say in the introduction, if we didn’t mention your favorite place well, we’ll just have to do a sequel!

Vanishing Ann Arbor will be available in bookstores (if they don’t have, please request it flashmob style!), from The History Press website, or from the authors. 

Easter in Old Ann Arbor

Regardless of whether you celebrate the religious holiday (I do not), there is plenty of awesome to be found in modern Easter. Chocolate bunnies? Sure! Jelly bean eggs? As long as they aren’t the black ones (those go to my dad), then fine! Daffodils and flowers blooming? Not really affiliated with Easter so yes, yes, of course.

Our friends in old timey Ann Arbor were mostly Christian. Some of the Tribe was here  but we were then (as now) the minority religion. Here are some things going on back in the day at good ol’ Eastertime:

  • St. Andrews Church (which is still in use!!) had evening lectures in the week leading up to Easter in 1846. They ranged in topic from how the religion of Christ has been adapted to the wants of man to the humanity of Christ
  • In 1897, the churches all had something afoot from a “particularly bright and pleasing” choral concert at St. Andrews to an orchestra and choir performance at St. Thomas (also still in operation!)
  • 1895 saw the Ann Arbor Commandary No. 13 Knights’ Templar threw its annual Easter party on Tuesday beginning with a grand march and ending with a waltz. Room were decorated with bunting, flowers, plants, and pictures. E.V. Hangsterfer provided the catering and the details were hammered out such “that nothing but a successful social event could result.”
  • St. Andrews was still cranking out the Easter celebrations in 1940 with an Easter Ball! Here is the “chairman” (I understand that it is a term of its time but I loathe when “chairman” is used for a female. My sexist political science professor said something like “well it’s applied to both genders” to which I said “okay then let’s use chairwoman and apply it both genders”. That asshole never gave me about a B+ in any of his classes, by the by).
  • This about sums up many Easters in Michigan–an Easter snowperson. Can you spot the typo in the caption??
  • Our friends at Mack & Schmid were advertising their Easter wares in 1891, including Easter black lace scarves (which I didn’t realize was a thing) as well as some “Very English” jackets.
  • You bet your bunny tail that the folks at Sugar Bowl had some Easter candy specials!
  • And Wahr & Miller simply told us to GET YOUR EASTER SHOES at their store on Main Street, circa 1894.

And let’s be honest…getting Easter shoes is much better than sitting on the lap of this thing:

scary bunny

Summertime Tours On Their Way!

50 more school days until Summer Break 2019! And things are already brewing for me! I will have four–count ’em–FIVE chances to rap with you about history, beer, food, books, Ann Arbor or all of the above!

  1. Rec & Ed Classes continue this summer! The first local history walk sold out in less than a day but a second class was added! Find out more here!
  2. The nice folks at Rec & Ed invited me to tag along on a Bike Ride Through History! Find out more about that here!
  3. History & Hops will be hoppening–oops, my bad, happening again in May! Stay tuned here for announcements once dates are confirmed!
  4. I’m delighted to be teaming up with By the Sidewalk Tours to offer a history/culinary tour of Ann Arbor’s finest food destinations! Tours will be happening monthly–more info will be posted here!
  5. Grown Folks Reading continues! It is always a good time to cram into a bookstore in pajamas drinking beer and wine and reading kids books to grown folks! June 20th will be the next date so save it!

Until then, please read along here, here, here! One day I will update my “writing” tab…probably will have time in about, oh, 50 school days!

Thanks to my many friends who have made all of the above happen!


#sudsnotsexism #maltnotmisogyny

I’m not so good at coming up with hashtags OBVIOUSLY but I am a good judge of character.

A terrible, awful, sexist, icky (not to mention poorly written) article dropped on a beer website last night. I am linking you to the petition to STOP the bad guy because I don’t want to give more clicks to the actual bad guy.

I doubt there is much more I can say about this but I do have some advice for folks in general. So here are some tips from Dr. TeacherPatti (I really do have a doctorate):

  1. If it isn’t about you, offer support and be an ally. If the next article from this guy featured him in blackface ranting about how (insert any oppressed group here) takes away his joy of beer, I would need to remember that I am not the targeted group. So I should NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES make it about me! I should, however, share my outrage at the racism and offer my support.
    1. In the present situation, it is not okay to say “well gosh I’ve never witnessed sexism!” when you are a white guy. It’s not about you and what you’ve witnessed. Instead consider saying something like, “well, gosh I’ve never witnessed it but why would I? I’m a dude!” Maybe add “and I will check my male friends if I hear it/see it.”
    2. Yes, yes, not all men, I know. But it’s not about that. It’s like if we are talking about how glioblastoma winds its way around your brain and just keeps growing and you bust in “MY SKIN CANCER DOESN’T DO THAT! NOT ALL CANCERS!” Yes, we know. We are talking about a specific thing that does not involve you.
    3. If you need to insert yourself, then offer your support as an ally and/or offer ideas on how you will use your privilege and your voice to shut this shit down.
  2. If you want to go the “free speech” route, you absolutely can! But–
    1. Freedom of speech, as the term is commonly used, applies to a governmental agency suppressing your right to say something. So if I say how much #45 sucks, and one of his doofy kids busts in here *on behalf of the government* and throws my ass in jail, well, they are trampling on my freedom of speech. If the doofus is just butt hurt that I insulted his father and wants to try to fight me, he will very quickly find himself flat on the floor but he will not be encroaching upon my freedom of speech as the term is meant.
    2. Freedom to say what you want to does not mean freedom from consequence. See above. Lil’ #45 wants to fight me and maybe gets a punch in (hahahahhahahaha I can barely even type that without laughing) but he’s still not legally suppressing me so long as he’s acting as an individual.
  3. Maybe just don’t say anything. Sometimes it’s better to just to say nothing. We don’t need to know how you think this guy is getting a raw deal or the WIMMIN R BITCHEZ or whatever. You might not get the support you think you will get.

All of this being said, I want to express my extreme gratitude to the brewers, the advertisers, the drinkers who have said “this shit stops here.” A few years ago, a beer person posted something on their FB page about how “I like my beer like I like my violence–domestic.” The few of us who expressed horror were quickly shouted down by men and a few women. (Remember ladies, there is NO SUCH THING AS THE COOL GIRL! Telling other women that rape jokes/abuse jokes are okay will not save you in the end.) I feel like a tide has shifted and this pleases me. A delicious, malty, stouty, foamy tide. Thank you for standing up.

Election Season

In old timey Society they had the Season which was boring balls and shit you had to dress up for. In the really old timey days the courts had the Season where they had stupid balls you had to dress up for. Here in Ann Arbor, our Season is Election Season–you don’t have to dress up and it’s rarely boring.

Most Augusts and every November we have people running for something. I find it delightful, humbling, and completely awesome when I get invited to election parties and I always try to at least stop by.

Whether you will be making the party circuit or not, please vote. When I first voted in 1992 they said it was the most! important! election! and to save Roe v. Wade we had to vote in Clinton. We did. Same in 1996–the Repubs had taken over and we had to clap back. Then 2000 and that whole shitshow that we somehow survived. In 2004 it was much the same–the most! important! election! but we lost and made it through. Of course 2008 was super important and BOOM, baby! Ditto for 2012. I heard that 2016 was also the most! important! election!…and we all know how that turned out.

But this time I think it really is the most important election. I feel like this is our last shot to try to bring sanity back to our country. We will have another chance in 2020–I don’t believe the hype that there will be troops goose stepping down Main Street or that there won’t be elections–but two years is a long time. I hope we get it right.

I have a fiction book coming out!

The book starts like this:

I’m driving away. I’m driving away as fast and as far as I can. I’m never going back. I’m going to drive until I get so far up north that no one will ever find me. I’m going to— Except that I’m not. I can’t leave home now. Not with my best friend in a coma, not with my parents tripped out, not with all that’s going on. Not with bipolar disorder and anxiety and everything else. I’m still driving away, mind you, but I’ll have to go back. As soon as the rain lets up, I’ll turn around and head back to US-23. It’s really pouring though, and I don’t like driving in the rain, so I might have to find a hotel and stay the night. I’ll have to call my parents, except I don’t have a phone anymore, and with Rick in the hospital, it all means—

It means that I have no way to call anyone when my car hits the tree.


Questions! What happens when her car hits the tree??? Did she do it on purpose?! Is she really never going back? Who is Rick and why is he in the hospital? WHO IS THIS PERSON TALKING TO ME?!?

Gotta wait until November 14th to find out!! #sorrynotsorry

Pre-order now!

Newsletter for 7.22.18

Hola amigos! It’s been a minute since I’ve updated but I’ve been busy. I love summer.

Our first History & Hops tour made a resounding splash in the world of beer! Join us on August 1st for our next event! Your ticket gets you beer tastings and history ravings!

It’s not too early to get your ticket for the fourth HERsay at Pointless! Join us on August 22 for the best in women performers! I hear something about singing and possibly embarrassing diary reading. Tickets have already started to sell!

What’s up in Beer?

  • Pileated ~ Sour fermented Belgian cherry ale released!
  • HOMES ~ New food special (which I totally misread as a beer special and was like “oh okay that’s different”): Chiraga Allium Kimchi Ramen-
    Smoked pig head/trotter jamon iberico and newsom’s country ham broth, head cheese, pickled shiitake, month old Allium Kimchi, chive, chive flowers, chive oil, green coriander, coriander flowers, fried shallots, togarashi pork rinds, chili threads
  • Grizzly Peak/Old German ~ Support canine search and rescue at a fundraiser at Grizzly Peak!  Per the event page: “A portion of your Food and Beverage purchases made during this event will raise money for GPS tracking systems for the dogs, as well as updated handheld GPS units for the team. MISAR provides, as a public service, trained search and rescue canines, handlers, and support personnel for search and rescue of lost or missing persons.” Event is on July 26! WOOF WOOF
  • Calabaza Blanca with Blood Oranges and Cranberries is on tap at Jolly Pumpkin
  • ABC’s 23rd Anniversary Party is coming up on August 4th!
  • Join Pointless Giving at Pointless Brewery & Theater! On July 27, a portion of all ticket sales will benefit The Cancer Support Community of Ann Arbor.
  • Townies continues to have awesome food trucks…have you been yet? I keep meaning to get myself there!
  • And oh yeah…that little beer fest is happening this weekend!

On this day(ish) in Ann Arbor history….

  • Signal of Liberty, July 22, 1844 – Maynards just received a large stock of drugs, medicine. I keep singing the “save big money at Menards” theme song as I read. They sell as low as any other drugstore and “perhaps a little cheaper.” The 😉 is implied.
    • I didn’t realize that we had a women’s seminary here in Ann Arbor but we did. I don’t think it meant seminary in the way we would think of it but rather as a school to educate the ladies. Teachers instructed in math, the classics, music, and French. You could also take classes in Latin, drawing and painting and something called “fancy work.” They taught some good stuff according to the their book list–logic, botany, legal classics, geography of the heavens, rhetoric, chemistry, algebra, philosophy. It makes me happy that the young women of that era had access to this even though it wasn’t quite free…there were fees for the courses but it’s better than nothing in an era when we couldn’t even fucking vote.
    • Or say fucking loudly and casually in pubs.
  • Michigan Argus, July 27, 1860 ~ Whoa now! A reprint of an article from the Syracuse News warns that girls who wear hats with bells hanging from them will go cross eyed within three months. A subscriber helpfully shared with his local newspaper that he has seen “malformation in the eye” of girls wearing such things. HORROR
  • Ann Arbor Argus July 20, 1888 ~ Helen Hamilton of Ypsi was sent to the Pontiac insane asylum. I wonder what sin she committed? Wanting to vote, enjoying sex a little too much (or at all), voicing an opinion, suffering from PMS…oh the mind wonders!
    • A woman in Manchester sued a saloon owner for selling liquor to her husband; she won $225. I wonder what the story behind that one was….
    • There…apparently was a “national colored convention” held in Indianapolis and several of “our colored citizens” were invited to attend
    • Smugmugging fever started up again! The symptoms are the desire to be relieved of the “hiresute (sic) appendage” to the upper lip. Four men formed a smugmugging party so…I guess it’s a big old mustache shave off party in Ann Arbor!!!!

Beer/History Newsletter for July 1, 2018


Before we even begin I must share the good news that I am a new mom! Pugsley Argus Anderson-Smith came into our lives this past Tuesday!


Look at the gooddog! He is a puggle (pug/beagle), about age three. He came from the Friends of Michigan Animal Rescue in Belleville and is an amazing dog. He met our friends’ cat last night and as you can see he was completely unbothered–even when kitty ate one of the precious duck treats.

His dad picked out the first name, and the Argus of course is a nod to our historical newspapers! We hyphenated Ken’s last name first so that he can always sit at the front of the class. His street name is Pugs and the dogs already know there is a new pimp in town.

Other stuff ~

My second article dropped. I am really proud of this–please check it out!

The main character of my forthcoming book (HEAD OVER FEET) had something to say on the publisher’s blog.

Beer History Tour! My friend Tammy, of the famous Tammy’s Tastings, and I will be doing a beer history tour on July 11th and August 1st!

On this day….

  • Michigan Argus, July 4, 1862 – reminds us of our patriotic duty in honor of our national anniversary: “Remember that traitors banded together to rupture our government, tear in pieces the Constitution, nullify the work of our glorious fore(parents), and destroy the significance of the name United States of America.” The paper reminded us all that “treason must be put down, traitors punished.…”

Beer/History Newsletter for June 24, 2018

Here we are again, friends!
For your enjoyment:

  • Beer Tour!
  • Beer News
  • History, including FEAST OF DOUGHNUTS

Let’s get it started!

Beer History Tour! My friend Tammy, of the famous Tammy’s Tastings, and I will be doing a beer history tour on July 11th! ONLY TWO TICKETS REMAIN SO BUY NOW!

…but if you can’t, we will be doing another tour in August 🙂

What’s happening in local beer?

  • Blom Meadworks –  Yoga every Sunday at 11am! On July 1st at 12:30pm there will be a free Barre Class at Blom! From the website: this FREE “Power Up” TBC class will be held on site at Blom Meadworks! Get TWO stamps for your #StrengthPowerFuel2018 Challenge and enter to win prizes!
  • Arbor Brewing/Corner Brewery –  Summer beer tasting and food pairing on Thursday at 6:30pm! Enjoy five courses of beer and food–tickets here!
  • Pileated Brewing –  SUMMER HOURS!! I’ve been waiting for this! Starting this Wednesday, Pileated will be open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday 4pm-10pm and Sat and Sun 4pm-12am!
  • Pointless Brewery & Theater – Lots of cool shows as always! Shadow League, Summer Games and tons of local improv groups. And beer.
  • Wolverine State Brewing Company –  Double dark chocolate lager hit the taps this week. Might have to check that one out!
  • Blue Front – As always, these nice folks have free tastings a poppin. Tuesday at 5pm offers Ballast Point and Friday at 5pm features Revolution Brewing.
  • Townies Brewery – I’m hearing good things about this brewpub! They have live music, food trucks, and just release a saison, yum!
  • Ypsi Ale House – A New England IPA is being released on Thursday!
  • 734 Brewing – REOPENS this week! Grand Opening will be on June 30!
  • Ann Arbor Distilling Company –  Straight Up Pop Up is happening on Wednesday at 7pm. AADC says, “We’re very excited to present this traveling art series in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, where we will be featuring the work of local artists, live DJ performances, and free art-making workshops lead by artists and teachers.” Ellen Sherman is the first artist! This sounds cool!

On this day….

  • Signal of Liberty, June 23, 1841: Ann Arbor decided it was going to celebrate it some American Independence. And since we don’t do anything half assed around here, the town bigwigs sat down to discuss what to do. Our own founder John Allen even showed up! I love how enthusiastic he was about our town. I like to think he peeks in on me from time to time and marvels at my enthusiasm and also is rather impressed at a woman wearing pants and having advanced degrees and all.
    • The celebration would be held on July 3rd and the program was as follows: the city band to play the song Voluntary, scripture and prayer reading, orchestra performance, reading of the Declaration of Independence by Levi Townson, Esq., more orchestra music, address given by F. Sawyer, Esq., music by the juvenile choir, remarks to schools by some reverend guy, Doxology by the choirs, benediction.
    • I am an esquire and kinda wish we got to do cool things like this!
  • Michigan Argus, June 28, 1861 – Every now and again an article will just jump out at me and demand I read it. This week I was captivated by this headline, for obvious reasons: THE FEAST OF DOUGHNUTS. The only sad things is that it didn’t happen in Ann Arbor but rather in Augusta, Maine. The ladies of Augusta gave away 50 bushels of donuts to servicemen. I did not realize that donuts could be measured in bushels and I am ecstatic to consider this.