Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Gardens of William Pitkin Jr.

Last week we explored several homes on the elegant street of Lothrop, Grosse Pointe Farms. One of the homes we profiled, 99 Lothrop, was designed by Charles A. Platt. Mr. Platt was not only a talented architect, but was also considered to be one of America’s more influential landscape designers.

Platt designed at least four homes (that we know of) in the Grosse Pointe communities. Despite his natural talents in landscape design Platt was happy to hire leading landscape architects to work alongside him on his project(s). His propensity to hire nationally recognized landscape designers was based on his desire to create a natural synergy between the house and its surroundings, and one designer who was particularly skilled in this area was William Pitkin Jr.

Mr. Pitkin worked on at least three prominent gardens in Grosse Pointe, all of which were located on the grand estates of Lakeshore. Each of these estates were created by nationally noted architects – Charles A. Platt (241 Lakeshore, 1913), the New York City firm of Trowbridge and Ackerman (123 Lakeshore, 1914), and the talented duo of Chittenden and Kotting (415 Lakeshore, 1914). Together these talented architects, and Mr. Pitkin, would form a formidable partnership

Gardens at 415 Lakeshore – courtesy of Architecture, Number 1, 1915

241 Lakeshore, the home to Mrs. Henry Stephens, is a great example of the integral relationship between architect and landscape designer. Charles Platt hired William Pitkin Jr. to design the estates extensive grounds. Early on in the process Pitkin submitted a report to Platt explaining how the layout and plan of the house should be influenced somewhat by the landscape features. Based on research from a copy of American Architect and Architecture, Volume 109, it appears Pitkin recommended the following – ‘the garden, with its central grass panel is literally an extension of the hall, and as such must be considered an integral part of the floor plan, while the main entrance is placed at the end of the house’.

The garden included many fine specimens’, selected by Pitkin, to enhance, frame, and compliment the home. Some of the trees on display included mugho pines, dogwoods, ash, American elms, red cedar, English yew, horse chestnut, oaks, rhododendrons and poplars. Flower panels created stunning formal gardens at the rear of the home, and many were arranged to give one simple floral effect at a time – as depicted by the planting plan below.

241 Lakeshore Planting Plan – courtesy of American Architect and Architecture, Volume 109

241 Lakeshore Planting Plan – courtesy of American Architect and Architecture, Volume 109

241 Lakeshore Planting Plan – courtesy of American Architect and Architecture, Volume 109

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Lothrop, an elegant street

Last week we explored the superb lost estate of 15440 Windmill Pointe, the former home to real estate mogul Herbert V. Book, and later Charles Helin, the fishing lure entrepreneur.

This week we head to Grosse Pointe Farms, and to one of the communities most elegant streets – Lothrop. Running from Grosse Pointe Blvd the street meanders through Grosse Pointe Farms, ending at the top of Moran Rd, close to Mack Avenue.

We will be focusing on several homes on the first block, built within a period of 20 years – between 1928 and 1948. Despite being constructed across three different decades each of these homes has a wonderful individual elegance to them.

Lets start with number 99, created by distinguished architect Charles A. Platt. He was a self-trained architect, and is considered one of America’s more influential landscape designers. Allen F. Edwards commissioned 99 Lothrop, and it was Edwards second project with Platt. It is reported the project cost roughly $2m (roughly $29m today) when the project was completed in 1928.

99 Lothrop

It is a stately manor home, in the colonial style, constructed of brick with a slate roof. The 8,000-sqft residence features a large living room (21ft x 36ft), dining room (21ft x 19ft), kitchen (12ft x 21ft) and a library (19ft x 17ft) on the first floor. There are 9 bedrooms in total, 7 on the second floor (which included 2 bedrooms for the maids) and 2 further bedrooms on the third floor. Platt brought in renowned landscape designer Ellen Shipman – known for her formal gardens and lush planting style – to create the garden. Shipman was a familiar face in Grosse Pointe having previously worked on the gardens at Rose Terrace (in 1926), and ‘Lake Terrace’ – the John S Newberry House (in 1911).

Prior to his work at Lothrop, Charles Platt had created several prestigious homes in the community, including: –17315 East Jefferson (for Mrs. Arthur McGraw House, 1927), 241 Lake Shore (for Henry Stephen’s, 1913) and 32 Lake Shore (Alger House, now the Grosse Pointe War memorial in 1910).

Number 75 is a 4,714 sq ft home built in 1937 by the partnership of Derrick and Gamber. Robert O. Derrick was one of Grosse Pointes most well known and prolific architects with over 25 buildings to his name across the Grosse Pointe communities. Having previously held the position of Vice President at the Detroit firm of Brown, Derrick and Preston, he embarked on several solo projects before teaming up with Branson V. Gamber.

75 Lothrop

Born in 1893 Gamber was educated at the Drexel Institute of Art and Science in Philadelphia. It is unclear when he relocated to Detroit, but it is believed he joined the firm of Robert O. Derrick in the early 1930’s. Together they received several prestigious commissions across the Detroit Metropolitan area. Arguably their most noted project came from Henry Ford I, who hired the duo to create an exact copy of Independence Hall (in Philadelphia) at Greenfield Village, in Dearborn. Source: A History of Detroit’s Palmer Park, by Gregory C. Piazza. A further project of note was the art deco inspired Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse (231 W. Lafayette Blvd, opened in 1934). You can read the full story about Robert O. Derrick by clicking here.

Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse – courtesy of historicdetroit.org

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Estate of 15440 Windmill Pointe

Having recently covered the many lost estates on Lakeshore, this week we turn our attention to Windmill Pointe and to another grand estate that has been lost over time.

Welcome to 15440 Windmill Pointe, designed by Louis Kamper for Herbert V. Book in 1921. This grand French Châteaux was a spectacular residence on the shores of Lake St. Clair located on a lot that was approximately two acres. 

The architect, Louis Kamper, could be described as one of the most impactful designers to have ever graced Detroit. His style, influence and work were on par with Albert Kahn, and George D Mason in terms of the architectural legacy that many of his projects have left on the city, and the United States.

Born in Bavaria, Germany in 1861 Kamper emigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1880. Having arrived in Detroit in 1888 he quickly established himself on the architectural scene, joining the firm of Scott & Scott, becoming partner within a year.

Louis Kamper – courtesy of Wikipedia

His list of wealthy clientele grew quickly and he soon established a relationship with several prominent families within Metro Detroit – including the Book family, becoming their chief architect. During this era he received many commissions from the family, two of his most recognizable projects are the Book Building (1917) – an Italian Renaissance-style building, and the striking Book Tower (1926). Another key project was transforming Washington Boulevard into the most opulent, and successful retail destination in Detroit. By 1923 Herbert Vivian Brook, and his brothers James Burgess, and Frank Palms, had already cornered much of the real estate on the blvd. The brothers then set upon creating their very own hotel, hiring Kamper to design what would become the most extravagant hotel in the city. When it was completed, in 1923, the 33-story Book-Cadillac Hotel was the tallest hotel in the world at the time. Source: Historic Detroit.org

Book Tower. Courtesy of Historicdetroit.org. Originally from the Detroit Free Press Archives.

The Book-Cadillac Hotel in the 1920s. Courtesy of historicdetroit.org. Originally from The Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

During the early stages of his career Kamper, had travelled extensively in Europe studying the architectural monuments of the past. This level of research clearly had an influence on much of his work, including the Neo-Renaissance Book-Cadillac hotel, which incorporated a variety of architectural elements from Europe, and the grand home he created for Herbert Brook at 15440 Windmill Pointe.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Estates – 123 Lakeshore

This week we conclude our exploration of the lost estates of Lakeshore. Over the past few weeks we have reviewed some wonderful homes that have been lost over time, including: 431 Lakeshore, 111 Lakeshore, 415 Lakeshore, The Ford homes by Albert H. Spahr, and 525 Lakeshore.

The final home we would like to review is 123 Lakeshore, known as ‘Drybrook’. Built in 1914 for Truman H. Newberry, this superb home was designed by the noted New York City firm of Trowbridge and Ackerman.

In an edition of Country Life, 1916, 123 Lakeshore was listed No. 8 on Henry Saylor’s ‘Twelve Best Country Houses in America’.

The home was built on the site of the former Newberry home – an expansive lot that was 300 feet wide, and more than a mile in depth – located within a picturesque setting under the branches of many elm trees that had graced the property for years. To mirror the eloquent surroundings the house was designed in the Georgian architectural style, and was truly an elegant home.

It was constructed of brick and limestone. The palatial entrance featured a dominant central motif, along with a grand portico leading into a grand two-storied hall, which was the focal point of the house – inside and out.

Front Entrance – Courtesy of Architecture, 1915, Google Books

First Floor Plan – Courtesy of Architecture, 1915, Google Books

The interior was just as gracious. Many of the downstairs rooms were created in the Georgian style, apart from the music room, which had more of an Italian Renaissance feel to it – in terms of moldings, carvings and painted ornaments. It is believed this created an environment that was more appropriate in which to enjoy music. Source: Architecture, 1915.

Many of the rooms on the first floor were paneled in an assortment of wood – butternut graced the music room, stair hall, two-story hall and dining room. The loggia was Italian walnut; the library was mahogany, and the office featured California red wood. Teak, laid in planks eight inches wide, covered the majority of the floors on the first floor, while the floors on the second floor were enamel.

Entrance Hall – Courtesy of Architecture, 1915, Google Books

Great Hall – Courtesy of Architecture, 1915, Google Books

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Estates – 525 Lakeshore

This week we continue with our review of the lost estates of Lakeshore with our penultimate post about these wonderful homes.

Last week we reviewed the lost Ford estates, designed by Pittsburgh architect Albert H. Spahr. This week we focus on 525 Lakeshore – one of the largest estates to have ever graced Grosse Pointe – Deeplands, set on a colossal 80 acres. To give you a rough idea on the size of this estate, once the home was demolished and the land sub divided more than 80 homes (of varying sizes) were built on the area. Source: Grosse Pointe 1880-1930 by Madeleine Socia and Suzy Berschback.

Deeplands was built in 1911 for Henry D. Sheldon, and his wife Caroline. They were married in 1887 and had three children. Mr. Sheldon was born in Portville, N.Y in 1862. He attended Yale College in 1886 where he studied law, and was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1887. Between 1887 and 1890 he was involved in the wholesale dry goods business, after which he divided his attention between various corporate boards. He passed away in 1941. Mrs. Caroline Sheldon was a Detroit society leader. She was born in 1865 to General Russell A. Alger, the former Govenor of Michigan and Secretary of War in President McKinley’s cabinet. She was a member of many prominent societies in and around Detroit including the Society of Arts and Crafts, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Detroit Museum of Arts Founders Society. She passed away in 1935. Source: http://portvillehistory.org


The Sheldon’s new home was an opulent mansion in the style of an Italian Villa. The exterior walls were faced with grayish-yellow bricks, while the roof tiles were green. The entrance, approached by a driveway, was at the rear of the house, nestled within an abundance of trees and shrubs. The front of the home faced Lakeshore, and had 1,100 feet of frontage on Lake St. Clair with a portion extending inland by 3,000 feet. Source: Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

Courtesy of: The Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

Courtesy of: The Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

The property also included three smaller buildings – a four-car garage, stables and a house for the gardener. Based on research by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society the house was named ‘Deeplands’ because the property extended back into the country.

Courtesy of: The Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

Courtesy of: The Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Ford Estates – Designed by Albert H. Spahr

This week lets continue with our exploration of the lost estates of Lakeshore. So many of these wonderful homes have been lost over time with many of the properties being subdivided and sold for new projects.

Last week we featured 415 Lakeshore, the former home of Lieutenant Colonel J. Brooks Nichols, demolished in the late 1950’s. Now lets turn our attention to the work of Pittsburgh based architect Albert H. Spahr and the three homes, all of which are now gone, he created for the Ford siblings Mrs. Hetty Ford Speck, Mr. Emory L. Ford, and Mrs. Stellar Ford Schlotman.

The siblings, along with a third sister, Mrs. Nell Ford Torrey, were the grandchildren of John B. Ford, an American industrialist and founder of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company.

The Ford siblings all resided in imposing estates on Lakeshore, within a stones throw of each other (485 Lakeshore, 500 Lakeshore; 575 Lakeshore and 585 Lakeshore).

Interestingly three of the four siblings used the same architect for their homes, a Pittsburgh based designer by the name of Albert H. Spahr. He was commissioned to work on the homes of Mrs. Joesph B. Schlotman (500 Lakeshore), Elmer D. Speck (585 Lakeshore) along with the home for Emory L. Ford (485 Lakeshore).

Mr. Spahr, born in 1873 Dillsburg, PA, began work in the office of Harry W. Jones of Minneapolis in 1889. After spending five years with the firm Mr. Spahr left to study architecture (for two years) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston. Upon graduating, in 1896, he spent the summer in England and France before returning to Boston, where he would work as a draftsman for two further years. In 1901 he moved to Pittsburgh, and formed a partnership with C. D MacClure. Together, the firm became one of the more successful firms in Pittsburgh, working on public and private projects. Mr. MacClure died in 1912 and so Albert H. Spahr continued to work on his own.

His first project in Grosse Pointe for the Ford Siblings was for Mrs. Hetty Ford Speck. This beautiful half-timbered Tudor inspired mansion, named ‘Fairholme’, (located at 585 Lakeshore) was completed in 1914. Images are courtesy of Detroityes.com (originally from 1916 Issue of The Architectural Record).

It was demolished in 1959.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Estates – 415 Lakeshore

This week we continue with our review of the lost estates of Lakeshore. We have featured some wonderful homes, all of which have been lost overtime. Most recently we featured ‘Cherryhurst’ the home of Paul H. Deming located at 111 Lakeshore.

What makes the homes on Lakeshore so interesting, and also so difficult to research is how many of the house numbers have changed in Grosse Pointe Farms. The new numbers were issued in the late 1930’s. This is the case with many of the lost mansions we featured, including –

447 – 457 (Roy D. Chapin)

421 – 431 (William P. Stevens

273 – 259 (Frank P. Chesbrough)

429 – 437 (Richard H. Webber)

415– 421 (J. Brooks Nichols)

*red text denotes the house number we referenced.

We now turn our attention to 415 Lakeshore. Unlike so many of the ‘lost mansions’ (whose street numbers have also been lost over time), this number still exists, although the mansion that now occupies the plot is vastly different from the original home.

415 Lakeshore was built in 1914 for Lieutenant Colonel J. Brooks Nichols. The immense 20,000 sq ft home, was situated on a large 1,200 x 300 sq ft plot that stretched all the way back to Kercheval. The estate included beautiful gardens, a cottage, and stables. The classically styled colonial home featured a large center hall, drawing room, music room, library, a ballroom and servants quarters. Source: Grosse Pointe Historical Society. Very few images of this home exist, however we were able to find these images online. Source: http://www.beyondthegildedage.com/

Renowned New York landscape architect William Pitkin, Jr. designed the garden. Pitkin had already completed several projects in Grosse Pointe, including the garden at the home of Truman H. Newberry (1914) along with the magnificent garden at the Mrs. Henry Stephens estate, located at 241 Lakeshore (1913) – you can read the full story of this home by clicking here.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Estates – 111 Lakeshore

Lets continue with our review of the lost estates of Lakeshore. Over the past few weeks we have featured some stunning homes, most recently the William P. Stevens estate – 431 Lakeshore.

The number of mansions that have been razed over the years is astonishing. According to an article in the Detroit News (1997) ‘of the 43 estates listed in a 1956 article about mansions in the Pointes, only 13 still exist’, and since 1997, more have fallen.

This week we turn our attention to 111 Lakeshore, also known as ‘Cherryhurst’ – home of engineer, and financier Paul Harvey Deming.

111 Lakeshore was built in 1907. It was one of the first year round residences to be built in Grosse Pointe Farms. French farmers first inhabited the two-acre site along Lakeshore in the 1700’s. It was also the site of Grosse Pointe Farms’ first summer cottages, built for two wealthy Detroiters in the late 1800’s. Source: web.archive.org – mcgi.state.mi.us

The lot, as depicted by the plan below, was a long and narrow property, measuring 130 feet wide and 614 feet deep. It was reached by a private drive off of Lakeshore Road

Created in the Tudor Revival architectural style this exquisite home was a colossal 15,000 square ft three story residence built in the shape of a U. Source: www.revolvy.com. It features many of the defining characteristics found in Tudor revival homes such as decorative half timbering, a steeply pitched roof, long rows of casement windows, stucco on the exterior along with half timbering on the exterior of the second floor.

Cherryhurst – Courtesy of web.archive.org – mcgi.state.mi.us

The interior also reflects this popular architectural style with detailed woodwork, paneling and archways present in many of the rooms. The property featured 10 fireplaces, many of which were carved limestone. The spectacular 29’ x 23’ sq ft entrance hall is paneled with beech (as depicted in the photo below).

Cherryhurst Interior – Courtesy of web.archive.org – mcgi.state.mi.us

There were several grand rooms on the first floor, including the 20’ x 35’ sq ft living room, the 24’ x 18’ sq ft dining room, a large 22’ x 18’ sq ft kitchen, along with an extravagant 43’ x 25’ sq ft ballroom.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Estates – 431 Lakeshore

Over the past few weeks we have been delving into the history of several lost estates on Lakeshore. These have included the bygone properties of T. P Hall, Scott Whitcomb, Roy Chapin, William P. Stevens, and Richard Webber.

This week we return to the William P. Stevens estate – 431 Lakeshore – for a more in-depth review of this grand home.

Built in 1914 the home was reportedly designed by leading Detroit architectural firm Smith Hinchman and Grylls. Located back from the road, and originally accessible from Kercheval, it was a magnificent Georgian Revival brick home – an architectural approach that was extremely popular during this era, particularly in the larger estates that were being built in Grosse Pointe Farms.

431 Lakeshore – 1954

When the house was first built it featured a symmetrical center portion with prominent entry features on both the lakeside as well as the driveway side. Georgian Revival homes typically feature a prominent entrance, accompanied by Doric fluted columns. Once through the main door the floor plan is typically dominated by a long center hall/foyer that extends through the house. In the case of 431 Lakeshore (as depicted in the floor plan below –from 1977) the impressive 14’ x 34’ sq ft foyer is the central feature of the home, along with a grand stairway. From the foyer three large rooms have a magnificent view of the lake – the grand 21’ x 35’ sq ft living room, the 18’ x 26’ sq ft library, and the 18’ x 23’ sq ft dining room.

431 Lakeshore – 1st Floor

Based on a document from the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, the interior décor was extremely modest. However, the house did boast all the modern conveniences available in 1914, including ample bathrooms and storage areas.

The floor plan below (from 1977) presents the second floor, featuring five large bedrooms, a sun deck, a large 18’ x 19’ sq ft sitting room (complete with bar), and a 12’ x 15’ sq ft drawing room. The main landing of the stairway, on the second floor, incorporated a large Palladian style window, centrally located over the driveway side entrance. Source: Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

The third floor included an additional three bedrooms (for maids), along with an 18’ x 19’ sq ft hobby room, and a large 23’ x 23’ play room.

431 Lakeshore – 2nd Floor

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Estates – Part 3

Having recently featured the Whitcomb Estate, we continue with our series of the lost estates of Lakeshore. Last week we explored several large estate(s) close to the former Whitcomb residence – the bygone Roy Chapin, William P. Stevens, and Richard Webber properties. All of which have been razed over time, and have been replaced in one-way shape or form.

This week we continue along Lakeshore to an area between Harbor Hill and Kerby. Prior to 1950 this particular area of Lakeshore featured several magnificent residences including those of Frank P. Chesborough, Henry B. Joy, and David C. Whitney.

Starting in the early 1950’s these three residences were demolished within 10 years of each other – The Whitney Residence was one of the first of the grand mansions on Lakeshore to go, demolished in 1954. The Joy residence came down shortly after (in 1959), followed by the Chesbrough Estate (in the 1960’s).

Given the demise of these mansions happened within 10 years of each other, it is interesting to note that they were also built within 10 years of each other, during a time of grandeur, opulence, and a time when Lakeshore was becoming a popular destination.

Lets begin with the David C. Whitney summer residence – Ridgemont – built in 1902, located at 237 Lakeshore. Designed by accomplished Detroit architect Walter MacFarlane, this was a beautiful residence created in a classical Georgian style featuring, columns, pilasters and the central triangular pediment above the entrance.

Whitney Residence – Courtesy of the Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library

David C. Whitney’s new home was one of several white clapboard Colonial Revival homes that were being built in Grosse Pointe at that time. Along with the William C. McMillan house (designed by Mason and Rice) it was described as being ‘one of the most formal and stylistically pure of these homes’. The formal emphasis of Walter MacFarlane’s creation undoubtedly came from the White House in Washington. The home featured a two-storied portico (often found in the South), which was extremely popular at the turn of the century, and sunrooms at either end of the home. Source: Tonnancour, Volume 1.

David C. Whitney (son of David Whitney Jr, famous lumber baron, and owner of the house on Woodward, now known as The Whitney) was a banker, and real estate developer.

The Home was razed in 1954, and the estate subdivided.

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