Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to Middlesex, the most interesting street in Grosse Pointe?

When it comes to finding the most interesting street in Grosse Pointe there are several that lay claim to the prize. There is the historic district of Beverly Road, the architectural gems on Kenwood and Cloverly with homes designed by some of the most prominent architects to work in Grosse Pointe. The historical homes on Lakeshore, the homes on Windmill Pointe Drive with the interesting stories to tell and then there is Middlesex.

Middlesex, located in Grosse Pointe Park, is certainly a serious contender to the prize. The road has it all, noted families; homes by prominent architects, a house constructed from a rare award winning method, and the setting for a Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

Take a walk down the quiet tree lined suburban road and you will find many of the homes have an interesting story to tell. The road runs from Windmill Pointe Drive, to Essex Avenue in Grosse Pointe Park. Half way up is house number 701, which is where we will begin.

701 Middlesex:

Built in 1951, the house was built for a reputed Mafia enforcer as an alleged ‘party house’ for the mob.*

The 7,481 sqft Georgian Colonial style home originally featured 7 bedrooms, 4 baths, 3 fireplaces along with 3 bars, two game rooms, a wine cellar, spa and card room. Along with a three-car garage, and a driveway with enough space for a half-dozen more cars.

701 Middlesex.

No expense was spared in decorating the home. Italian marble is used extensively in the foyer, and many rooms feature a striking use of tile including a working Pewabic tile fountain. Some of the rooms are wood paneled and there is even a leather-upholstered bar in the basement which contains a large initial ‘C’ above the hearth.

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It is reported that all the door frames are steel reinforced; the entrance door is inches thick and contains a peephole sized to accommodate a gun barrel.

It is also suspected there is a ‘secret room’ in the middle of the home and it is thought a tunnel once led from the basement to the house across the street – 702 Middlesex – which was home to ‘the boss’.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect – Alden B. Dow.

We couldn’t cover the modern homes of Grosse Pointe without featuring the work of Michigan’s most prominent modernist architect Alden B. Dow. He designed more than 70 residences, along with dozens of churches, schools, civic centers, and commercial buildings.

His home in Midland made the 2014 list of “The Top 25 Best Historic Homes in America” (In Traditional Home Magazine), and Grosse Pointe is lucky enough to have three prime examples of his work. He was a prolific designer throughout the state and his contribution to modern homes of that era is second to none.

alden_dow_1960sAlden Dow was born in 1904 in Midland, Michigan, son of Herbert Henry Dow, the chemical industrialist and founder of the Dow Chemical Company. After graduating from high school, Alden Dow was expected to join his father’s company and studied engineering at the University of Michigan. After three years, he decided on a different path and transferred to Columbia University in New York City to study architecture.

After graduating (in 1931), and having spent a year and a half with architectural firm Frantz and Spence in Saginaw, Dow and his wife relocated to Spring Green, Wisconsin to become an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright in the Taliesin Studio.

Having completed his apprenticeship Dow returned to Midland, Michigan (in 1934) and opened his own architectural practice, specializing (like Wright) in the principles of organic architecture.

Dow described his organic design philosophy as:

“Gardens never end and buildings never begin”

Between 1934 and 1941 Dow designed his own home and studio in Midland on a 23-acre property. The house was constructed using of Dow’s patented “Unit Blocks” which were molded masonry units designed to allow strong vertical and horizontal lines, thereby eliminating the zigzag joints in standard cinder blocks which he said were disturbing to the eye*.


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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – the Louis and Anita Rossetti House, 1145 Balfour, Grosse Pointe Park

Grosse Pointe contains only a handful of truly modernist homes. What we lack in volume we more than make up in quality. Most of the surviving homes are jewels created by noted masters.

What makes this all the more special is that several of these masters chose to create their personal residence here. One excellent example is the Louis and Anita Rossetti House.

1145 Balfour

Louis Rossetti may not be a house hold name, but his work is some of the most recognizable in Metro Detroit, including Cobo Hall, Jeffersonian Apartments, the Federal Mogul Staff Office Building (Southfield) and the Sisters of Mercy Roman Catholic Novitiate Chapel (Farmington).

cobo hall


Jeffersonian Apartments


Federal Mogul Staff office building



It is here, however, in Grosse Pointe Park that Rossetti chose to build his home at 1145 Balfour. With its timeless styling and architectural detailing, the contemporary design stands out as a rare find amongst the Tudor and Colonial Revival-style residences. Despite its vastly different styling, the Rossetti house does not look out of place in the neighborhood and sits comfortably within its surroundings.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 15520 Windmill Pointe, Grosse Pointe Park

Everyone loves a good story, and the house located at 15520 Windmill Pointe certainly fits the bill.

John B. Ford, grandson of Captain John Baptiste Ford commissioned Alpheus W. Chittenden to build a Georgian Revival Mansion on the riverside of East Jefferson Ave. Indian Village in 1903, where it would remain until 1928. Ford was the grandson of entrepreneur Captain John Baptiste Ford who founded the Pittsburg Plate Glass Company in 1883 along and the Michigan Alkali Company in Wyandotte in 1893.*

Chittenden was one of the first architects in Detroit to embrace the Georgian style at the turn of the century. Having trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and also in Germany, his flawless attention to architectural detail was second to none.

He was known for his grand city mansions, country estates, and Georgian revival residences – a style that was prevalent in the early twentieth Century. In late 1903 Chittenden formed a partnership with Charles Kotting, a Dutch born architect and together they designed many grand homes in the Grosse Pointes and Metro Detroit.**
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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect – Marcus Burrowes

MBurrowesLet us introduce you to Detroit architect Marcus Burrowes. Burrowes was a versatile artist, designing residential, public and municipal buildings in and near Detroit. During the 1920’s and 1930’s Burrowes was widely known throughout southeast Michigan for his English Revival Style buildings, a style he also brought to the Grosse Pointe communities as part of the eight buildings (that we know of) he designed here.

Marcus R. Burrowes was born in Tonawanda, N.Y near Buffalo in 1874. He attended the Denver Art Academy, studying with architects of note as well as serving an apprenticeship to a prominent architectural firm in Denver.

In 1892 Burrowes moved to Ottawa, Canada to work in the chief architects office, specializing in post office buildings. During his time there he also created several public buildings in Sarnia. It wasn’t long before, Burrowes ambitions prompted him move across the river to Detroit, which at the time was where some of the best architectural talent in Michigan could be found.

Around 1905 Burrowes got the opportunity to work in the offices of Albert Kahn. In 1907 he joined noted architectural firm Stratton and Baldwin (already prominent designers in Grosse Pointe) where he stayed for two years. During his time with the firm he would meet many leading figures in the Arts and Crafts movement in Detroit, including Kahn, William B Stratton, Frank C. Baldwin and George Booth. Through his relationship with Stratton, Burrowes also made an important connection with Mary Chase Stratton of Pewabic Pottery – his launching pad into the Detroit Architectural Scene was complete.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect Leonard B. Willeke and his work in Grosse Pointe Park – Part 2.

Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect Leonard B. Willeke and his work in Grosse Pointe Park – Part 2.

Last week we profiled one of the unsung hero’s of architecture in Grosse Pointe, Leonard B. Willeke – part 1. This week we continue his story and profile more of his work in Grosse Pointe Park.

Along with building his own home at 1100 Berkshire, Grosse Pointe Park saw several other Willeke residences designed in 1922. The first was located across the road from his home at 1103 Berkshire; the second was located at 938 Balfour (which features a stunning band of iridescent Pewabic tile along the front and sides – the house was sold in 1923 for $52,000), while a further commission was for a new home at 1030 Balfour. Read more

Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect Leonard B. Willeke and his work in Grosse Pointe Park – Part 1.

Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect Leonard B. Willeke and his work in Grosse Pointe Park – Part 1.

One of the unsung hero’s of architecture in Grosse Pointe is Leonard B. Willeke

WillekeLeonard B. Willeke was one of the most adaptable and prolific architects to work in the Detroit area. He was an extremely versatile designer, capable of creating a house, a piece of furniture, a car or a layout/plan for an entire community; he was an incredibly gifted individual. One might say, an unrecognized champion in his contribution in providing Grosse Pointe with some of its more uniquely designed homes.

Willeke was born in Cincinnati in 1889. He began his architectural career at the age of seventeen as an apprentice with a local firm. In 1905 Willeke moved to New York to work for the prestigious of Trowbridge and Livingston as a designer. His talent was quickly rewarded for in 1906 he was asked to relocate to San Francisco to work on a new contract that had just been awarded to the firm. When work on the new hotel was completed (in late 1907) Willeke stayed on the west coast and joined the California State Engineers office to design earthquake resistant buildings.

1908 saw Willeke move to Paris to continue his education at the famed Paris École des Beaux-Arts. During his two-year stay he traveled extensively through Europe, North Africa and England, making sketches and banking many ideas that he would use throughout his career.

On his return to the United States, Willeke went home to Cincinnati working for two years at a firm specializing in fine residential design. This was followed by a stint as chief architect for a firm specializing in large commercial buildings and expensive residential work in Ohio and concluding with a move to Detroit as an associate architect for Detroit firm Elmore R. Dunlap in 1914. Read more