Traverse City Record-Eagle

Reflections

October 25, 2009

Leaf-peepers have plenty of choices

Grand Traverse Bay may overshadow its smaller sister to the north in size. But when it comes to color, Little Traverse Bay has an allure all its own.

Whether it's the deep sapphire blue of its waters, the blazing reds and yellows of its foliage or the colorful character of its small cities and villages, the coastline offers plenty to see during a fall driving tour.

Charlevoix's charms

To start, take U.S. 31 to the city of Charlevoix and the site of some of the most unique homes anywhere.

Often called "mushroom'' or "hobbit'' houses after the distinctive shape of their cedar shake rooftops, the homes were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright contemporary Earl Young, who lived most of his life in Charlevoix.

Young studied architecture at the University of Michigan for a year, then returned to the area to take up insurance sales and real estate development. But it wasn't until the 1930s, when he designed his first fairy-tale homes in waterfront "Boulder Park,'' that he left his mark on the city. Built mostly of native materials, the houses feature irregular shapes, undulating rooflines, mullioned windows and trademark stonework -- from massive fireplaces to fences and gateposts.

Visitors can view 28 of the homes and businesses, including the most photographed at 301 Clinton, with a self-guided walking or driving tour map.

"That's one of the most asked-for items in our office,'' said Lauren Brumley, executive director of the Charlevoix Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, where visitors can also pick up a "Park Street Prowl'' map showcasing the city's original main street. "It's a nice way to get out of downtown and see more of the area.''

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