Category Archives: Miscellanea

“Athens of the Midwest”

The idea of Ann Arbor as the “Athens of the Midwest” emerged at least as early as the 1850s, if not earlier, with the move of the University from Detroit in 1837.

Henry P. Tappan, Professor of Philosophy and first President of the University of Michigan (1852-1863), envisioned a great university that would make Ann Arbor “a new Athens.” He was very important to the University of Michigan in its early years as he was determined to create a university where professors did original research, used lectures to teach, and trained graduate students (Marwil 1991: 28). He was a very authoritative figure and instilled a new purpose into the institution, its faculty, and students. In his inaugural address he stated that “there is no question of the classics” and that a new Athens shall arise with its schools of Philosophy and Art, and its Acropolis crowned with another Parthenon, more glorious than that of old” (

He may have been influenced by descriptions, first of Philadelphia (1790s-1800s) and later of Boston (1820s-40s), as the “Athens of America.” He must have been certainly influenced by the well-known association of the University since its creation (1817) with Greek wisdom and learning.

In 1852, the year President Tappan delivered his inaugural address which concluded with the impassioned call for “a new Athens,” he also published a study which discussed various European countries in a search for the ideal city. His view of Athens further explains why he wanted to model Ann Arbor on the ancient city: “If we are to gather ideas from any, let us rather go back to democratic Athens, where the spirit of a free people breathed through forms of art so cheerful and beautiful that even now, when we gaze upon the ruins, we gain inspirations that make our free hearts leap within us” (Tappan A 1852a: 59). Tappan believed in the value of an classical education and sought to re-create an educational environment similar to Classical Athens, where many great intellectuals lived and spread their teachings to those who would listen. Additionally, by creating a new and improved Parthenon he wanted to make the University of Michigan a school that was the best of the best and model for others to follow:

“The city of Athens—the city itself was the home of every Athenian. The city was his pride and glory. And why was it? Because, there was the Acropolis with its temples, and the whole city was adorned by the hands of its artists. There was the grove of Academus. There was its theatre—not like our theatres, places for the exhibition of buffooneries and farces, but a vast place, open to the heavens, where the whole population assembled to hear the compositions of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. There was the Areopagus. There were the assemblies of the people where Aeschines and Demosthenes reasoned and thundered—in no barbaric vulgar style—but in pure classic Greek, with cultivated oratory, before a people who were competent judges of eloquence and grace. Athens had commerce and arms, merchants and heroes; but it was philosophy, poetry, eloquence and art which so polished and enriched it, and invested it with such splendid attractions and dear associations, that it was the only home in the wide world that an Athenian could find” (Tappan A 1852a: 209).

Randolph Rogers

Randolph Rogers (1825-1892) was born in Seneca, New York and was eight years old when his family moved to Michigan (his family’s home still stands at the corner of N. Division and E. Ann), where he spent 10 years working various jobs ( He worked at a bakery, flour mill, and made several advertisements for the Ann Arbor newspaper called the Argus ( Later, he was hired at a dry goods store in New York where he worked from 1842 to 1848. During his years there his incredible talent was noticed by the store owners and to his good, they fortune funded his expenses to go to Florence ( After studying at the fine arts academy there, he went on to work in Rome where he became a very successful sculptor ( He remained in Rome for the rest of his adult life except when he visited the U.S. for business ( He was commissioned in several different states, including work on the doors of the capital building in D.C ( After his stroke in 1882 he donated all of his papers and casts from his studio in Rome to the University of Michigan . Currently, Nydia, the blind girl is on display at the University of Michigan Art Museum (four other works are in storage). The rest of his donated worked were lost due the high humidity in basement storages beneath university hall (see the First University Library) (

Since he was an eminent 19th century artist, he made many copies of his sculptures and for example, on the first floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, near other 19th century American works if note, there is a Randolph Rogers Nydia like the one at the UMMA.

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Mongolian Grill

From high to low examples of Greek architecture Greek designs can manifest themselves in many ways. They can also appear in unsuspecting places, such as at the common restaurant chain, Mongolian Grill. Upon closer examination of the building’s exterior there are two orders of yellow Greek meanders. The Greek meander is an art and architectural pattern that appeared in Greece in the Geometric period (900-700 BCE). When patterns and symbols are ingrained in everyday life such as in the designs of public spaces, logos, brand names, and elsewhere it is easy to forget their origins and significance, as well as prevalence.

Thano’s Lamplighter Restaurant


Thano’s Lamplighter Restaurant. Source:

Opened in 1967, Thano’s Lamplighter, owned and run by Thanos Masters, served Greek food, pizza, sandwiches, salads, and, soups to a consistent customer base of local businessmen, University of Michigan athletes, Ann Arbor police officers, local Greeks and few film stars ( Even the Philadelphia Orchestra, when in town would always make a visit to the restaurant ( Some of the most notable customers were ABC news anchor Ted Koppel, actor Jimmy Stewart and the University of Michigan’s basketball coach Steve Fischer (

Closed in 2006, the loss of the Lamplighter was felt by many in Ann Arbor and was recorded by the Ann Arbor News and the Ann Arbor Observer. In fact, when I was very young I remember eating there myself and felt as if I was experiencing authentic Greek cuisine in a very Greek atmosphere. I will always remember the flaming saganaki I had that day. Even after the closing and auctioning off of memorabilia from the restaurant Masters still persists that he will not retire ( and plans to opening a catering business in the future.

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M Den at the Briarwood Mall


M Den storefront in Briarwood Mall

The M Den at the Briarwood Mall sells University of Michigan themed apparel, accessories, and other goods. Intriguingly, the store also has a Greek temple styled facade that is complete with a simple pediment, thin entablature, and fluted Doric columns. In this architectural setting, it is interesting to note that a store would choose to display itself using Greek architectural forms. In public architecture these forms are more commonly associated with banks, museums, courthouses, and university buildings where it is important that their buildings reflect simple boldness, solidity, security and permanence. However, one can also ask why wouldn’t any store owner want that?

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Ancient Greece/Mythology Camp

Ancient Greece/Mythology Camp. Source:

“Study ancient secrets of the Greeks and become an architect as campers design and build their own Greek Temple. Create exciting hands on projects including a Trojan horse, fresco mural, amphora pottery and actor’s masks. Campers write & perform a short Greek style play and enjoy all things sports as they participate in camp Olympic Games where they’re crowned Demi-gods! Don’t miss this classic opportunity to bring the past to life” (

It is interesting to see that Rec & Ed, which was for over 50 years funded by the Ann Arbor Public School system and the City of Ann Arbor and still is tied to them, promotes a summer camp, catered toward grades K-8, that teaches and reenacts Greek history including the subjects of architecture, art, drama, sports, and mythology.

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