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 Pre 1911 Homes on Lake Shore, Grosse Pointe Shores

Having featured the superb historic homes of 980 and 976 Lake Shore last week, we were curious to find out how many other homes on Lake Shore, Grosse Pointe Shores were constructed around the beginning of the 20th Century.

There is an abundance of homes from this era on St Clair Avenue, Grosse Pointe City, but what about the Shores?

In 2011 the Village of Grosse Pointe Shores celebrated its centennial year. Based on research by Arthur M. Woodford in his book The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores we learnt that as part of this centennial celebration the Village honored the homes built before 1911 – there are at least a dozen.

Mr. Woodfood revealed four of these homes, and we have been able to find six others – to present 10 of these historic residences.

The majority of these homes still exist today, however throughout the course of history, several of these properties have undergone significant alterations, and so it is extremely difficult to find photo’s of the original properties. Nonetheless these homes are prized finds and play a huge part in the early development of our historic community.

Grosse Pointe Shores in 1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1911 the Village of Grosse Pointe Shores was a vastly different community to what we see today. Lake Shore Road was unpaved, and the only way to reach downtown Detroit was by horse and buggy, by boat, the interurban railway (the Detroit, Lake Shore, and Mount Clemens Railway), or if you were wealthy enough, by motorcar. Year round homes were few and far between, and much of the community consisted of rural ribbon farms and a few summer cottages. Source: The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores by Arthur M. Woodford.

Lake Shore 1880 – 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

1911 also witnessed the election of the first president of the newly established Village, George Osius. During this era, and under Mr. Osius’s guidance, the village quickly began to change. The once rural farming community became a haven for wealthy families who began to build expansive homes on the shores of Lake St. Clair.

The majority of the following pre 1911 homes still exist today. The oldest home in the community is 980 Lake Shore. Part of the home dates back to 1849, which makes it possibly the oldest clapboard house in Grosse Pointe to be still on its original foundation. You can read the full story by clicking here. 

971 Lake Shore: – completed in 1890

971 Lake Shore. Image courtesy of Arthur M. Woodford, The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores.

860 Lake Shore: The original home was completed in 1898 (the photo below, from 1972), is of the original Victoria style home. The architectural approach of the property was similar to many of the wonderful mid Victorian style homes found on St. Clair Avenue, and was extremely popular during this era. We believe it was razed around 1990, and a new home built on the lot.

860 Lake Shore

858 Lake Shore: – completed in 1900.

858 Lake Shore

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to 980 and 976 Lake Shore

Having focused the last couple of blog posts on nationally recognized architects – Bloodgood Tuttle and Harrie T. Lindeberg – and their rare projects in Grosse Pointe, we now turn our attention to one of the oldest homes in the community 980 Lake Shore.

The origins of this property can be traced back as far as 1808. According to research by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society the patent title for the property was given to the French “Habitant” family of Julien Forton at the beginning of the 19th century.

The original property was a large farm bordered by Lake St. Clair, Mack Avenue and the Macomb County (Milk River) line. It is believed the landowner; Mr. Forton then deeded part of property to his daughter Monique and her husband. Several years later, in 1848, the couple sold a potion of the land to Pauline Van Antwerp, who, in 1849, built a permanent property on the land. Source: Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

In 1910 parts of the land, from the large farm, were sold. The new owner, Frank Biscoe, built an Arts & Crafts inspired motor garage and apartment on the property. In 1914 the property was sold again, the new owners, William and Lois Mertz, would reside there until 1953, when they decided to the divide the property. The Mertz’s sold the main house (980 Lake Shore) and moved into the original Biscoe home – the “Carriage House”, now recognized as 976 Lake Shore.

Fast forward to 2018, and part of the original home, from 1849, still exists on the lot. The remaining part of the structure, we understand, makes up the middle section of the existing structure – 980 Lake Shore. This would possibly make this home the oldest clapboard house in Grosse Pointe to be still on its original foundation. Understandable throughout the course of history the original construction has undergone significant changes, as has the immense 3.76-acre lot on the shore of Lake St. Clair that surrounds both buildings.

980 Lake Shore

The main building, 980 Lake Shore, has witnessed some major changes, and has been sold a number of times. Extensive renovations, took place in 1953 and 1973. The floor plans below provide us with a visual explanation as to how the home has changed over the course of around 20 years. The first floor plan (of both the first and second floors), shows the layout in 1972, while the second is from 1979 – after the extensive alterations were completed. The center of the home, believed to be the original middle section from 1849 remains the same configuration with the large (14’ x 19.7’ sq ft) dining room and staircase. However there are significant changes on the first floor. The porch was removed, and replaced by a nicely sized breakfast room (12’ x 20’ sq ft), while a substantial garden room (22’ x 28’ sq ft) was added to the rear elevation. Both ends of the home were remodeled, which included the installation of a large (19’ x 24’ sq ft) living room on the right hand side of the home.

980 Lake Shore Floor Plan – 1972

980 Lake Shore Floor Plan – 1st Floor – 1979

980 Lake Shore Floor Plan – 2nd Floor – 1979

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Hidden Homes on Lake Shore – Part 2

Last week we introduced you to some of the hidden homes on the lake in Grosse Pointe Shores. Many of these homes, constructed between 1900 and 1918, are concealed from the road, and their elegance remains hidden. The construction of these homes spans many years, and we would like to continue with our exploration with the introduction of several more superb properties constructed between 1923 and 1934.

Grosse Pointe Shores has undergone a number of transitions over the years, in terms of growth, population, and being recognized as a community in its own right. By the 1920’s Grosse Pointe Shores was establishing itself as a haven for some of Detroit’s wealthiest families. The area had witnessed the construction of numerous grand homes, with many having been designed by nationally renowned architects, including the Ford Estate by Albert Kahn. Located on the site known as Gaukler Pointe (where the Milk River flowers into Lake St. Clair.) the Ford Estate was completed in 1927, and was the pinnacle of exquisite design and fine landscaping.

The 1920’s was the era of large lots and grand residences in the Grosse Pointe communities, none more so than in Grosse Pointe Shores, reflected in the following estates:

725 Lake Shore: Situated on a 12-acre estate – completed in 1934 – designed by Robert O’Derrick in association with Ralph Adams Cram.
This magnificent estate built for Standish Backus was as grand as they come. Aside from being a prime example of a Tudor mansion, this property was also noted for its exquisite gardens, designed by nationally recognized landscape designer Fletcher Steele.

725 Lake Shore – Courtesy of Grosse Pointe Historical Society

No expense was spared in creating the 40-room residence; the house was finished with beautiful wood paneling, fine mantels and friezes. The home also featured an 8-car garage with electric doors, a telephone system to connect all the rooms, and a walk-in vault to protect the families silver service. The house was demolished in 1966. You can read the full story about this home by clicking here.

735 Lake Shore: Size unknown – completed in 1930 – designed by Albert Kahn.
In 1930, Alvan Macauley, president of Packard, commissioned Kahn to create a grand home on Lake Shore. Kahn incorporated many traits of the traditional English Cotswold style, and combined it with the recognized traits of the distinctive Tudor manor homes, which were now extremely popular around Grosse Pointe. The house was demolished in 1973. You can read the full story about this home by clicking here.

735 Lake Shore

735 Lake Shore – 1st floor

735 Lake Shore – 2nd floor

890 Lake Shore: 5,215 sq ft – completed in 1934 – built by Hilary Micou.
Micou was a prolific builder of homes in Grosse Pointe with over 30 homes to his name. Many of his properties span several decades – from the late 1920’s through to the late 1950’s, and embrace numerous architectural styles.

890 Lake Shore

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Hidden Homes on Lake Shore

Over the past couple of weeks we have focused on the grand Lake Shore estates’, exploring the home of Mrs. Henry Stephens, and the five superb buildings constructed in Grosse Pointe Shores by legendary architect Albert Kahn.

This week we stay in Grosse Pointe Shores to bring you some of the hidden homes on the Lake.

As you drive along Jefferson and approach the Ford house you will have noticed the long driveways, and possibly caught a glimpse of the superb homes that line this part of the lake. The construction of these homes spans many years, yet many of these homes remain a mystery, concealed by the beautiful landscaped gardens that hide their full glory.

The smallest of the Grosse Pointe communities, Grosse Pointe Shores has developed rapidly throughout its history. Arthur M. Woodford, in the book, The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores, explains the residents of the community, in 1911 under the leadership of Detroit Businessman George Osius, voted to establish a more manageable form of local government, the Village of Grosse Pointe Shores.

Grosse Pointe Shores in 1915 – courtesy of the Library of Congress

It is this particular era we focus on, as we highlight several magnificent homes that were constructed on the lake between 1900 and 1918. All of these homes still exist today, enjoying a secluded existence along the lake. Lets begin with number 844.

844 Lake Shore: 3,150 sq ft – completed in 1909 – designed by John C. Stahl

844 Lake Shore

John C. Stahl designed this house, one of only a few residences in Grosse Pointe by this architect. Stahl, a German American, was born in Detroit, 1874. After graduating from Central High School (Wayne State University) in 1903 he worked in architectural offices during the day and studied building and design at night school. Stahl had a very successful career, he established the firm of Stahl and Kinsey, and designed several churches in Detroit – during his career he was acknowledged as one of the most skilled church and school architects in the state. He was also known to be an admirer of fine woods and incorporated exquisite detailing into many of his homes, including several he created in the Indian Village Historic District between 1912 and 1916.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Albert Kahn Projects in Grosse Pointe Shores

Last week we profiled the magnificent Mrs. Henry Stephens Estate – formerly located at 241 Lake Shore. Completed in 1913 by nationally recognized architect Charles Platt, it was one of the grand homes that helped transform the face of Lake Shore – from seasonal summer cottages to magnificent properties for some of Detroit’s wealthiest families.

We continue with the ‘grand homes on Lake Shore’ theme this week with an exploration of five superb buildings constructed in Grosse Pointe Shores by legendary architect Albert Kahn.

Kahn’s first project in Grosse Pointe Shores was in 1910 at 880 Lake Shore – the Italian Renaissance inspired 8,403 sq ft residence for C. Goodloe Edgar, president of Edgar Sugar House, dealers in sugar and molasses. W. Hawkins Ferry, in The Buildings of Detroit, highlights the Italian Renaissance influences in the home to that of Charles Platt’s design for Alger House, (now the Grosse Pointe War Memorial) also completed in 1910.

According to W. Hawkins Ferry ‘Albert Kahn was a great admirer of the work of Charles Platt, and it is believed Kahn recommended Platt to the Alger family as the architect to create their Italian Inspired residence on the lake’. So it would come as no surprise if Platt’s work proved to be a source of inspiration for Kahn’s own project at 880 Lake Shore.

It is a striking home. As the photo below demonstrates the rear elevation is filled with an abundance of windows, archways and terraces, providing a perfect view of the lake – with just a hint of the Grosse Pointe War Memorial about it. The Italian Renaissance style was a popular architectural approach in the community during this era.

C. Goodloe Edgar Home – Courtesy of the The Legacy of Albert Kahn, by Albert Kahn

C. Goodloe Edgar Home – Courtesy of the book – The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores, By Arthur M. Woodford and Albert Kahn Associates

Kahn, also in 1910, completed the striking home for Howard E. Coffin. Born in 1873 Mr. Coffin was an automobile engineer and industrialist. Along with Roy Chapin, he was one of the founders of the Hudson Car Company, and designed many of the company’s early models. He was also known, in automotive circles, as the ‘Father of Standardization’, a result of his initiative to standardize material and design specifications, and for arranging automobile manufacturers to share their patents. Source Wikipedia.

Coffin was a millionaire by the age of 30. The house he commissioned Kahn to design for him on Lake Shore is superb testament to Kahn’s skill in creating a myriad of architectural styles. Given the home he created for C. Goodloe Edgar (that same year), was in an Italian Renaissance style approach, the home he designed for Coffin was one of his more traditional residential masterpieces.

Howard E. Coffin Home – Courtesy of the book – The Village of Grosse Pointe Shores, By Arthur M. Woodford and Albert Kahn Associates

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to 781 Lake Shore

In amongst the many historic homes on Lake Shore there are a few mid century modern residences.

During the 1950’s/1960’s – a period when the popularity of mid century modern architecture was arguably at its peak – Lake Shore welcomed several new homes in this distinctive architectural style. We recently covered 906 Lake Shore – built in 1954 this home was one of the earlier mid century modern homes to be constructed in the area, and it is a superb example of this design approach. You can read the full story by clicking here.

Ten years later, in 1964, a new addition to the modern collection was completed – 874 Lake Shore. William Hawkins Ferry, a key figure in bringing modernist art and architecture to the attention of people in Detroit and the U.S, commissioned fellow Modernist architect William Kessler to build an international style villa, to reflect his love of modernism. It was a unique collaboration between two very influential men. You can read the full story by clicking here.

That same year another contemporary home was added to the collection – 781 Lake Shore. This unique 3,090 sq ft home displays all the key features that make this style so distinctive – an understated look, melding clean lines, gentle organic curves, along with the coming together of numerous, and sometimes contrasting materials.

781 Lake Shore, unlike its mid century modern neighbors, is slightly different in its approach. Where as the previous two homes were quite box like in their appearance the predominantly rectangular front elevation of this residence is broken up with a dominant triangular section to create a rather individual architectural statement to the entrance.

Based on our records from 1980 we can introduce you to many stunning interior features that are part of this one of a kind quad-level home. It was custom designed and built for the original owner. The entrance hall features a white Italian marble floor and a cathedral ceiling. Possibly one of the most unique additions to this home is the sunken fishpond with Hawaiian volcanic rock and cascading waterfall that is also present in the area.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Many Faces of Albert Kahn

Several of the architects who created residential work in Grosse Pointe also worked in commercial, industrial and municipal architecture. Albert Kahn was not only capable of working in all these different disciplines, but he was indeed world renowned for some of his innovations.

There are numerous other architects who were as equally diverse, however what makes Kahn almost unique in the world is that he had a separate design language for each type of building – he created modern/ground breaking industrial designs, was open to following the latest trends for his commercial projects, and developed very traditional residences. In a limited group of architects who possessed these skills this makes him quite remarkable.

Kahn’s early career was dominated by residential projects. He then ventured into commercial buildings, added factories to his repertoire, whilst continuing to work on many grand homes throughout Metro Detroit, albeit in a more limited capacity.

In 1894, whilst working as a draftsman for Mason and Rice, Kahn was part of the team who were asked to create the new offices for Hiram Walker and Sons in Windsor, Ontario. One year later, in 1895, at the age of 26, he founded the architectural firm of Albert Kahn Associates. In 1901 he had completed his first industrial project – the Boyer Machine Company in Detroit is the first industrial building attributed to Kahn. Source: The Legacy of Albert Kahn by W. Hawkins Ferry.

In 1903 Kahn was hired to build a new automotive plant for the Packard Motor Company. A contemporary magazine at the time praised Kahn’s design as a new style of factory, bright, clean and cheerful.

The first nine buildings of the plant were of conventional mill construction. Kahn, realized the system could be a fire hazard, and so for the design of building number 10 (in 1905) he switched to the system of reinforced concrete that his brother had perfected – the first of its kind in Detroit. ‘The “Kahn” system soon became established and popular throughout the country’. Source: The Legacy of Albert Kahn by W. Hawkins Ferry.

Packard Plant’s building number 10 during expansion circa 1911 – courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over the next few years Kahn threw himself into industrial design, creating numerous factories for the ever-expanding automobile companies – including the Ford Motor Company Highland Park Plant. This left him with a limited about of time for residential projects which he reserved for a few select clients.

By 1910, his work fell into several defined styles – his industrial work was innovative and groundbreaking, his commercial work was commanding attention for its ‘simplicity and excellence’, while his residential projects were grand traditional masterpieces.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 906 Lake Shore

Many houses on Lake Shore are somewhat of an enigma, grand homes, hidden by a shield of trees and located away from the road – it takes a vivid imagination to envision what they are like.

There is a wonderful blend of the old and the new – the grand mansions built at the beginning of the 20th century, and the mid century modern homes that present us with a glimpse into a unique architectural style that remains popular in Grosse Pointe.

The Pointes feature a number of modern buildings, which are the work of many artists who lead the way in popularizing modern design, including: the Grosse Pointe Central Library (Marcel Breuer); 203 Cloverly (The Saarinen’s); the 3 residences by Alden Dow, along with the modern home created by William Kessler – located at 874 Lakeshore.

It is the modern style that we focus on today as we introduce you to 906 Lake Shore.

Built in 1954, this 3,692 sq ft house is located on the shores of Lake St. Clair. During a period when the popularity of mid century modern architecture was arguably at its peak, the design displays the key features that make this style so distinctive – an understated look, melding clean lines, gentle organic curves, the coming together of numerous, and sometimes contrasting materials.

The pure white clay brick of 906 Lake Shore enhances the unique appearance of this house. According to our files, this was the first house in Grosse Pointe to use this material, with each brick being hand chipped on all exposed surfaces.

The front curved terrace, expanded stair area and entrance planting area are all faced in brick and topped with Indiana limestone.

The interior of the house features high ceilings and incorporates several unusual finishes. The majority of the wood throughout the house is natural-finished mahogany, selected to give a tropical effect. Mahogany wood paneling is present on the living room and living terrace ceiling, along the hallways and in the study area.

The 12 Shoji doors and 5 windows were imported from Japan. The floor to ceiling windows on the rear elevation measure 11’ x 6’, weigh 800 lbs, and provide a magnificent abundance of natural light – always an integral component to this architectural style.

Floor to ceiling windows on the rear elevation – courtesy of Realtor.com

As is the case with so many mid century modern homes, the house is filled with many planned built-in storage areas – magazine shelves and storage drawers in the reception area, a hobby storage cabinet in the living room, built in music area, cabinets for shoes and clothes in the bedrooms, while the kitchen features an array of multi purpose cabinets and storage options to ensure clean lines and a minimalist feel can be maintained.

Intricate wooden detailing is present throughout – cane paneling in the living room, woven wood tapestry in the guest room, and custom made natural walnut wood shutters in the housekeeper’s room.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Old and the New: Sunningdale – Part 2

When you drive up a road in Grosse Pointe, frequently you cant help but stop and look at the houses on display. One day, having been driving around the Pointes, we found ourselves on Sunningdale Drive. Aside from the pristine gardens on display the diversity of the architecture captured our attention.

While it was obvious some homes are much older than others, it also quickly became apparent the newer houses on the street had been designed to respect their ‘elderly’ neighbors.

Assembling a collection of architectural styles is never easy – arguably homes constructed during the past 30 years do not resemble the homes from a by-gone era – namely the 1920’s and 1930’s. However, there are exceptions, which is evident in the modern constructions on this street.

Welcome to part two of our presentation on Sunningdale. Last week we covered the homes completed before 1940, this week we turn our attention to the later creations.

Lets start with number 717. This is the second home on the street by distinguished architect Marcus Burrows. Having completed number 942 in 1926, this 2,960 sq ft clapboard colonial house is a significant departure from Burrows typical brick built English Revival Style residences. It is a particularly striking house with the four dominant porticos on the front elevation and the delicate arches below the roofline. It not only demonstrates Burrows diversity as an architect but the streets evolving architectural style.

717 Sunningdale

Number 87 was completed in 1942 and is a pretty Cape Cod style home. The Cape Cod Style is present throughout the Pointes and became increasing popular during the 1940’s and onwards.

87 Sunningdale

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