Drive over one of the expressways to a University of Michigan football game and you rarely see a road sign pointing to Ann Arbor. The signs merely read EXIT TO STADIUM. The stadium was built in 1927, and more than 12 million spectators have since watched football games there, but so secluded, closely knit and community-minded was the little town of Ann Arbor that many of the visitors scarcely glanced in its direction. And the indifference was mutual: people in Ann Arbor scarcely glanced at the crowds. The university has been so famous for so long as a powerhouse of intercollegiate sport—the home of Fielding Yost's merciless point-a-minute teams, the creator of an intramural sports program without parallel anywhere, and right now, with an indifferent football season, gaining another reputation with some extremely interesting and artful basketball—that Ann Arbor as a college town was certain of only one fate. It was going to be overlooked.
Not so any longer.
Ann Arbor these days appears to have reacted to President Johnson's beautification program with almost alarming zeal. Instant beauty is being added to Main Street, just six blocks from the University of Michigan campus, in the form of a mall and promenade, with restful benches, decorative shrubs, shaded walks and 44 tall linden trees and honey locusts, costing $200 each. Traffic will be confined to the middle of Main Street hereafter. The community effort to make Main Street beautiful was made possible by the will of Miss Elizabeth Russell Dean, who died in 1964 at the age of 79 and left her fortune to be used to plant and maintain trees on city property. The fortune totaled $1,940,368—an impressive gift to come from a quiet, small-town lady.
A visitor gets the impression that most people in Ann Arbor are concerned, as was Miss Dean, with preserving the small-town atmosphere of the place. They want to keep it despite the fact that the University of Michigan has 31,261 students and crowds of a hundred thousand take over the town for football games.
According to the late Professor Orlando Stephenson's excellent history of Ann Arbor, a promoter named John Allen selected a site "of indescribable beauty 10 miles west of Ypsilanti." That was in 1824. The Huron River curved along the edge of the valley and through the low hills, in a rich but somehow sturdy-looking midwestern landscape, and the indescribable beauty of the place has been almost an article of faith among the townspeople. The University of Michigan was located in Ann Arbor in 1837 after promoters of a land company gave 40 acres for a campus, expecting to clean up on the sale of land around it. Ever since, people have been aware of the university, not of Ann Arbor.
Everywhere you look, it seems, students are running and jumping beyond the next grove of trees, or hurrying to the Matt Mann Pool or to the Sports Building beside it, the country's first intramural sports center, built with the proceeds from the vast crowds at Michigan football games in the '20s. There are at least 250 intramural-league basketball teams, 80 in the division made up of social fraternities, 16 teams in the faculty league, eight teams in the foreign students' league and so on. At least 2,000 students play in the league games of touch football and Softball. Nobody knows the totals involved in intramural track, swimming, golf, tennis, handball, wrestling, boxing, water polo, table tennis and the like. Then there is co-recreation. Every Friday night men and women students play in mixed teams—swimming, gymnastics and the like. Officiating at games is a sizable student business at Michigan, officials collecting $1.50 per game, paid by the university. And then there are the sport clubs—a lacrosse club, soccer club, judo club, boxing club and especially a ski club. The nearest ski resort is, surprisingly, only 17 miles from Ann Arbor, but the trains usually take crowds farther, and the crowds are growing. Restaurants in Ann Arbor have place-mat maps showing 83 ski areas.
Town and gown
Other colleges have the same sort of activity, perhaps, but in Ann Arbor there seems to be more of it. Most of Michigan's total enrollment is concentrated near the original 40 acres of its first campus. There are some 8,000 students in the residence halls, about 3,000 in the fraternity and sorority houses, plus 11,000 in homes and apartments.
The townspeople, of course, know the university's sports history. They know Michigan's first intercollegiate football game was in 1879, that Fielding Yost's men won the first Rose Bowl game in 1902 and that in the '20s and early '30s Michigan won the Big Ten championship eight times in 12 years. Great names from the past, like Fritz Crisler and Benny Oosterbaan, are not likely to impress the townspeople, not because of a lack of interest in sport but because they are not impressed by any great names. The May Festival, one of the great musical events in the country, has been held annually for 72 years, and if you grew up in Ann Arbor you might have met Paderewski at the home of Charles Sink, the president of the University Musical Society; or Louise Homer, Artur Rubinstein or Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The traditional restaurant family of Ann Arbor was the Metzger family—the city had a large German colony before the Civil War—and the Metzgers, when they prospered, did not move on to new fields. There are now Metzger's German Restaurant, which carries this arresting sign on Washington Street just east of Main, GUT TRINKEN UND ESSEN TU NICHT VERGESSEN, and Metzger's Old German Restaurant, just west of Main on Washington, which boasts its old-fashioned hasenpfeffer, kasseler Rippchen and other rugged delicacies which have pleased generations of undergraduates.