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It is always fun to profile an architect who not only created large, beautifully detailed structures, but could also turn his hand to designing elegant residences on a vastly smaller scale. For many architects who worked in Detroit during the first 30 years of the twentieth century many of them were capable of adapting to this variation in scale – including Albert Kahn, Louis Kamper and George D. Mason to name but a few.
This week we profile the work of Charles Nobel – born 1890, died in 1955. This versatile architect was very productive in the city of Detroit during the 1920’s, creating several iconic buildings.
Possibly his most famous creation was the Lee Plaza Hotel on West Grand Boulevard. Having received the commission from by Ralph T. Lee – referred to by the Detroit Free Press in 1940 as “Detroit’s most spectacular real estate operator during the 1920s” – he made more than $1 million in 10 years’ (around $15m today): Source historicdetroit.org
Nobel began working on the Lee Plaza Hotel in 1927. It was a stunning Art Deco inspired 17-story masterpiece. Its steeply sloped roof of red Spanish tile made a dramatic impact on the Detroit skyline. It featured an abundance of beautiful decorative elements inside and out, including Italian marble in the lobby, ornamental ceilings and elaborate plasterwork.
At the time it was one of Detroit’s most elaborate apartment hotels. When the Lee Plaza Hotel opened it contained 220 luxury class apartments ranging from one to four rooms. It cost $2.5 million to build – around $35 million today: Source historicdetroit.org.
In 1931 Charles Nobel created another Iconic Art Deco building – the Kean Apartments. 16 stories high with four apartments per floor, it was one of the last of the large residential apartments built on Jefferson for many years. Nobel’s attention to detail on the buildings exterior was superb, and the intricate details second to none, as displayed by the photo below.
Once upon a time, many years ago there was a very successful auto baron by the name of John Dodge. The Dodge family moved to Detroit in 1886, where the two young brothers John and Horace took jobs at a boiler maker plant.
In 1900 John and Horace set up their own machine shop in Detroit. During their first year in business together the brothers’ were making parts for the automobile industry. Success came very quickly. Having won a contract to build transmissions for the Olds Motor Vehicle company in 1902 they were then contracted to build engines for Henry Ford, a deal that also included a share position in the new Ford Motor Company.
By 1910 they had built a plant in Hamtramck, and John was vice president at Ford. In 1913 John left Ford and joined forces again with his brother to form ‘Dodge Brother’s’, where they developed their own line of automobiles. By October 1917 they had produced their first commercial car.
Having become extremely rich very quickly the Dodge brothers were known to live rather extravagantly. In 1906 John commissioned a large home in Arden Park (off Woodward), which was designed by Smith, Hinchman and Grylls. In 1907, shortly after marrying his third wife Matilda, he purchased 320 wooded acres near Rochester, Michigan – the first of nine farms he would buy in the area.
In 1918, in order to be closer to his brother Horrace, John Francis Dodge purchased a large plot of land on Lake Shore, Grosse Pointe Farms. He once again hired the prestigious firm of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls to design what was intended to be the largest home in the Detroit area – 110 rooms, and 24 baths. According to research from the book Tonnancour he added a three-acre peninsula to the property (jutting out into Lake St Clair), in order to dock his new 104-foot power cruiser.
After attending an auto show with his brother in New York, 1920 John tragically died of pneumonia. Matilda was understandably devastated and apparently could not decide whether she wanted to finish the vast stone house on Lake Shore. In 1925, after remarrying, Matilda and her new husband moved to the Rochester property that John had purchased in 1907. Research from the Grosse Pointe Historical Society states the new Rochester home ‘incorporated many details (windows, stonework etc) from the unfinished home on Lake Shore’. This left the home as an empty shell, with the local children having great fun playing in an around it for many years. It was finally dismantled in 1940.
Shortly after the demolition, the land was sold and the plot subdivided into what is now known as Harbor Hill. During the early 1950’s this area was developed with around 20 homes.
The majority of the homes were built between 1950 – 1954 in a variety of architectural styles that included colonial, early American, English, and ranch. Noted architects including John L. Pottle and Omer C. Bouschor designed several homes.
Last week we covered the Tudor work of Omer C. Bouschor. During his career, this Detroit based architect created well over 29 homes in the community – more than many other architects.
The architectural style(s) that influenced Omer C. Bouschor’s homes in Grosse Pointe could be described as be defined by two very distinctive approaches. From the residences we have presented there is a distinct shift from his Tudor Revival homes of the 1930’s, through to the modern colonial homes he created between 1935 and 1954.
This week we explore the 15 modern colonial homes he created across the Grosse Pointe communities. Given that Bouschor’s 14 Tudor inspired homes (during the 1930’s) are clearly the work of a man who was adept at one particular architectural style, it is incredible to think he could so seamlessly transition into designing handsome colonial homes.
Having worked primarily in Grosse Pointe Park during the 1930’s Bouschor, in the 1940’s, began to work in the Farms and the Shores. From the list below you will see just how many superb homes he created during this period.
This is one of the earlier homes to display a change in style to his modern colonial approach. Constructed from brick, with a clapboard front on the second floor, this 3,500 sq ft home is poles apart from the Tudor homes he was predominantly creating during the 1930’s, and was possibly his first project in Grosse Pointe Farms.
15127 Windmill Pointe Drive
Recently we heard about the potential plan for Grosse Pointe’s first hotel to be located in the Village. However, as many long-term Grosse Pointe’s can attest this has been an on-going discussion for a many years.
While researching this week’s blog – the work of William F. Goodrich – we discovered, in 1914, there were also plans for a hotel to be constructed in Grosse Pointe Shores – a massive summer residence with 800 rooms. To put this into perspective the Grand Hotel on Mackinac has 390 rooms. An article from Electrical World, Volume LXIII (January 3 to June 27) reports ‘plans were being prepared by architect William F. Goodrich for the construction of the summer residence, which required a power plant to be constructed in connection with the hotel’.
Many years have obviously passed since then, and while a hotel is still a possibility lets investigate what else William F. Goodrich was creating in the early twentieth century.
In 1919 William F. Goodrich created several homes in Grosse Pointe Farms. This included two residences on Lewiston – numbers 87 and 115, that were constructed for the Alexander Lewis Realty Company. 87 Lewiston – see the photo below – was featured in an article in the Detroit Free Press. The article describes the home as having ‘following simple, yet artistic lines’, with ‘the interior of the house designed to facilitate efficiency in housekeeping’.
Designed in the classic Regency style with a flat roof, the 4,600 sq ft brick home features some stunning details, including 9 ½ ft ceilings, a large 24’ x 16’ sq ft living room, a sizable dining room 18’ x 16’ sq ft along with four bedrooms and a nicely size 10’ x 16 sq ft sun room.
Below is a photo of house number 115 Lewiston. As you can see it is built in the same style and similar spec to its close neighbor.
Kay Agney, broker/owner of Higbie Maxon Agney (HMA), recently attended the Who’s Who in Luxury Real Estate annual fall conference in Aspen, Colorado for members of the prestigious network. HMA is the only regents member from Grosse Pointe Farms.
The annual conference brings together a global collection of the finest luxury real estate brokers in the world to share their knowledge and connect with fellow luxury professionals.
A highlight of this year’s event was the expert panel discussions led by prominent members of the Who’s Who in Luxury Real Estate network. Kay was invited to be part of the panel comprised of ‘Industry Legends’ – realtors who have 30+ years experience in real estate. Members of the panel were asked to participate in a video offering an insight to their hugely successful careers by sharing – the key to their staying power, their leadership philosophy, inspiration, and what high or low point has taught them the most during their career.
Kay was honored to speak as an industry legend. Not only did she enjoy sharing what she has learned throughout her career, but also she always welcomes the opportunity to connect with the next generation of real estate innovators and fellow luxury professionals.
Who’s Who in Luxury Real Estate – known in the industry since 1986 as the Who’s Who in Luxury Real Estate network, a global collection of the finest luxury real estate brokers in the world, this group of more than 130,000 professionals with properties in more than 70 countries, collectively sells in excess of $190 billion of real estate annually.
Members are selected by Chairman/Publisher John Brian Losh, one of REALTOR Magazine’s 25 Most Influential People in Real Estate and broker of fine properties through his Seattle-based brokerage firm, Ewing & Clark, Inc.
Having recently featured Mr. Kotting’s work at 43 McKinley we wanted to continue with our exploration of this architect by profiling some of the other homes he created in Grosse Pointe.
Charles Kotting, born in the Holland in 1865, worked on both commercial buildings and residential projects throughout Metro Detroit. Having completed his architectural studies in Amsterdam, Kotting moved to Detroit at the age of 24. He joined the prestigious firm of Mason and Rice, where he stayed for thirteen years. In 1903 he team up with fellow architect Alphus Chittenden. During their 13 years together they created several ‘landmark’ buildings in Detroit including the Detroit Boat Club’s building on Belle Isle, the office building at the Detroit Stove Works plant, along with some very prestigious homes in Grosse Pointe.
After parting with Chittended in 1916, Mr. Kotting worked alone. It is believed during his career working in the city, having gained the reputation as an incredibly skilled designer, Charles Kotting created over 100 structures in Metro Detroit. From the book ‘The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Volume 3’ (by Clarence Monroe Burton, William Stocking, and Gordon K. Miller), Charles Kotting is ‘recognized as an architect of pronounced skill and ability, one whose designs combine in most attractive form, utility, convenience and beauty’.
Here in Grosse Pointe Charles Kotting created several stunning homes, which include (amongst others) the following –
Projects with Alphus Chittenden:
43 McKinley – built in 1905 (for Dr. Ernest T. Tappey)
This classic English style residence is constructed from brick, and features a heavy slate roof with copper gutters and downspouts, Built in 1905, the 8,500 sq ft residence was possibly one of the larger homes constructed in the Farms during this era. You can read the full story of this home by clicking here.
35 McKinley – built in 1909 (for David Gray)
The 7,000 sq ft residence is constructed from double brick walls, and finished with stucco. It has many superb features and characteristics from two designers who were accustomed to creating elegant homes. You can read more about this home by clicking here.
16900 East Jefferson – built in 1913 (for Frank W. Hubbard).
Arguably one of the most recognizable homes in Grosse Pointe Farms is 43 McKinley Place. For many years the house, situated on the corner of Grosse Pointe Blvd and McKinley Place, has only been visible through the ivy that covered the front and side elevations.
For those of you who regularly pass this residence you may have noticed the ivy has now gone and the home has been revealed – it is time to share the tale of this most recognizable property.
43 McKinley was designed by Alphus Chittenden and Charles Kotting for Dr. Ernest T. Tappey in 1905.
The Detroit based firm of Chittenden and Kotting was founded in1903. During their 13 years together Chittenden and Kotting created several ‘landmark’ buildings in Detroit including the Detroit Boat Club’s building on Belle Isle, and the office building of the Detroit Stove Works plant. They worked predominantly in Detroit’s elite neighborhoods’ such as Indian Village and Grosse Pointe, creating many splendid homes.
The house Chittenden and Kotting created for Dr. Tappey, a resident of Detroit for over 50 years, is a classic English style residence constructed from brick, featuring a heavy slate roof with copper gutters and downspouts, Built in 1905, the 8,500 sq ft residence was possibly one of the larger homes constructed in the Farms during this era.
Those of you who are familiar with Grosse Pointe Farms know that throughout the community there are many dead end streets. We recently covered one such street – 30 Preston Place, the elegant former residence of Louise Webber and Edward P. Frohlich.
We would now like to turn our attention to another dead end street, Meadow Lane, and the 4 homes that were created by architect Talmadge C. Hughes on this road.
Mr. Hughes was born in Alabama in 1887. Having completed his studies and travelling extensively he arrived in Detroit (the year of his arrival is not known) and worked for several prestigious firms in the city, including Smith, Hinchman and Grylls and Albert Kahn Associates.
It appears he had a varied career, from research in the book ‘A History of Detroit’s Palmer Park’ by Gregory C. Piazza, we understand Hughes designed several theatres in Metro Detroit, including the Emsee Theatre, Mount Clemens, while two of his designs won the Best of Year Awards – the Ryan Theatre (1949) in Warren, and the Rapids Theater (1950), in Eaton rapids Michigan.
In 1937 Hughes designed 999 Whitmore, a stunning Art Deco building which he considered to be his masterpiece. It is believed to have been one of the first cast-concrete residential structures in Detroit.
We also understand from Piazza’s research, when Hughes wasn’t designing, he spent a substantial part of his career serving (for many years) as secretary for the American Institute of Architects. Hughes, along with many other noted Detroit architects, was also a member of the Michigan Society of Architects and he was part of a committee tasked in creating the first edition of the Michigan Society of Architects’ handbook.
Nestled in the corner of Grosse Pointe Farms is a small dead end street – Preston Place.
Preston Place was originally part of Kercheval, however over the years the land was sub-divided, with the separate plots of land creating the Preston Place subdivision.
The home was the recent location for the Grosse Pointe Historical Society’s Pop-Up tour, and we would like to thank the Historical Society for contributing a large amount of their research to us for this blog post.
So lets travel back in time to 1920 – Ms. Louise Webber, niece of J.L.Hudson (of Hudson’s Department store), is living with her husband Roscoe Jackson, president of the Hudson Motor Car Company, in an Arts and Crafts style home (designed by Leonard B. Willeke) in Indian Village.
Looking to reside next to the lake in Grosse Pointe Farms, we believe, based on research from the Historical Society, Louise Webber commissioned the home during the early 1920’s.
New York architect Duncan Candler was hired to design the house. Mr. Candler was a prominent architect in Maine. He designed many large prestigious residences, including a summer residence in Seal Harbor, Maine for the Rockefellers, along with creating Skylands, the Edsel Ford estate that is now owned by Martha Stewart. He is also credited with designing the Grace Dodge Hotel in Washington D.C, opening in 1921.
It is not known, however, when Chandler completed the design for the home and it was nearly ten years later before it was actually built. Prior to its completion Louise Webber lost her husband, Mr. Jackson, when he died unexpectedly while on a trip to Europe in 1929. They believe this tragic event, coupled with the dramatic downturn in the economy; courtesy of the Great Depression resulted in the delay to the home being built until 1932 when 486 Kercheval (now known as 30 Preston Place) was finally completed.
The Grosse Pointe Historical Society (GPHS) believes Ms. Webber used the residence primarily as a springtime home, spending the rest of the year in Palm Beach, Florida and Bay Harbor, Maine.
It is a lavish property, set on 10 acres of land, in a wooded area with a view of the lake.