Since the beginning of the 20th century the number of architects who have worked in Grosse Pointe has been vast. Many of the talented designers who received commissions here have gained endless acclaim becoming household names, while, often, others slip through the net and don’t receive the accolades and attention they deserve.
One such designer who could be described as fitting into the latter category is Alvin E. Harley.
Born in Canada in 1884, Alvin Harley began his architectural career drafting in the office of Herbert Matthews in London, Ontario, where he would stay for three years. Following his apprenticeship, Harley had a desire to work as an architect in a big city. He headed for America and the booming city of Detroit, where he would eventually become part of the ‘golden generation’ of architects who would forever transform the architectural scene of not only Detroit, but also arguably the United States.
Having arrived in Detroit, Harley was 19 when he joined Albert Kahn’s firm in 1903. He worked for Kahn as an apprentice and draftsman for two years – during the latter part of his career Harley was quoted “The two years I spent with Mr. Kahn were probably my most inspirational”. Source: http://history.harleyellisdevereaux.com
Having left his position with Kahn in 1905, Harley went to work for Detroit’s other leading architect, George D. Mason. Based on research on http://history.harleyellisdevereaux.com Mason believed Harley was too focused on industrial design, and so ‘sent him to special art and architectural classes in order to introduce him to different architectural and design style’s’.
In 1908, after three years of working for Mason’s firm, Harley, along with Norman Swain Atcheson (a co-worker form Masons firm) launched their own firm together – their partnership would last for five years – during an era of severe economic downturn. They created several buildings in Detroit before going on to have successful careers of their own.
From 1913 onwards Alvin E. Harley had his own practice. Having received a commission to design a large home for the then president of the Chalmers Motor Company, Hugh Chalmers, Harley’s residential projects took off and he never looked back. He designed at least eight homes in the elite neighborhood of Palmer Woods, which were quickly followed by several noted commissions in Bloomfield Hills, and Grosse Pointe Park.
By 1920 Harley’s reputation had grown quickly, so much so, that in 1921 he served as the president of the Michigan Society of Architects.
Here is Grosse Pointe, over a period of three years; Harley designed at least seven homes, all of which are located in Grosse Pointe Park. He was a fan of the Tudor approach, which is reflected in several of the homes he created here.
The first, built in 1924, is located at 1328 Berkshire. This classic Tudor design features superb brickwork and exquisite detailing throughout.
1925 was a busy year in Grosse Pointe for Harley, the following residences were all completed during this year.
Continuing with his projects on Berkshire, Harley completed number 1370. Also designed in the Tudor revival style, the design features a dominant triangular section on the front elevation.
His design of 1005 Three Mile is particular striking; this elegant home was built for Edward Evans. At the time of completion the 4,800 sq ft residence was located on a 50,000 sq ft ‘park like’ lot.
From our research, based on info from 1972, we understand the garden is superb. Contained within the substantial 50,000 sq ft lot is a 10’ x 20’ fishpond, flower gardens, two rock gardens, vegetable garden, an arbor walk, fruit trees, and a large area, which we believe, was formerly a tennis court. The grounds also include a sizable 33’ x 18’ two section greenhouse with full basement, along with a separate 13’ x 8’ potting shed. You can read the full story of 1005 Three Mile by clicking here.
The next home Harley completed in 1925 is located at 1321 Buckingham. It is clear he had transitioned from his Tudor style to a more classic Colonial approach. This is evident in the symmetrical design, the central entrance, and the clapboard on the second floor, which was extremely popular in Grosse Pointe during this era.
Also design in the colonial style is the impressive 4,643 sq ft home located at 1168 Three Mile Drive. This is one of Harley’s larger homes in Grosse Pointe.
Located on Edgemont Park is number 895. Harley opted for a Tudor approach for this large 4,407 sq ft home with its striking brick chimney on the front elevation. The house features a grand foyer (26’ x 7’) and 6 bedrooms. You can read more about the pretty street of Edgemont by clicking here.
Harley’s final project in Grosse Pointe came in 1926, and is located at 1150 Berkshire. It is a significant departure in style from his previous homes, displaying the classic traits of a Mediterranean approach. It is a style that is fairly different from many homes on Berkshire, but was popular in the 1920’s throughout the Grosse Pointe communities.
During his career Alvin Harley moved in prestigious circles with the crème-de-la-crème of architectural talent. Should he receive more accolades and attention, absolutely – thankfully the quality of his work certainly speaks for itself and provides him with the visual accolades he thoroughly deserves.
The firm started by Alvin Harley in 1908 still exists today, and is now known as Haley Ellis Devereaux.
Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2017 Higbie Maxon Agney & Katie Doelle
If you have a home, building or street you would like us to profile please contact Darby Moran – Darby@higbiemaxon.com – we will try and feature the property.
(For more historical information on Grosse Pointe, visit Grosse Pointe Historical Society).