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Ann Arbor Warms Up After Big Chill

April 09, 1989|CLAUDIA CAPOS | Capos , a '73 Michigan graduate, is a free-lance writer living in Ann Arbor. and

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — 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.

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