Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Grosse Pointes Kit Homes – Part 2

Last week we told the story of the authenticated kit homes in Grosse Pointe. We already knew about the existence of a kit home in the community – 849 Notre Dame, and thanks to a superb blog ‘American Kit Homes’ we were alerted to an additional authenticated kit home – 1100 Bishop, along with several “probable” kit homes that exist in the Pointes.

We use the word “probable” because these homes have yet to be authenticated. Given that none of the traditional kit house companies are still in business, and because many of the kit home records were either lost or destroyed it can be extremely difficult to authenticate these homes.

It is these “probable” kit homes we now turn our attention to in parts 2 and 3 of the Kit Home series.

Identifying Kit Homes
The majority of the kit homes found in North America were constructed using large amounts of lumber. ‘Every separate piece of lumber was stamped (using numbers and letters), shipped, and cut to fit its particular place in the house.’ Source: Wikipedia. This eliminated the need for measuring and cutting the wood on site, thus reducing construction time.

The stamped lumber can be used as a potential source of authentication to identify many of the kit homes constructed prior to 1930. ‘It is most easily found in unfinished spaces like a basement or attic, framing members were stamped with a letter and a number. However, prior to 1916 many companies, such as Sears Modern Homes, did not stamp the lumber that was shipped Source: Wikipedia.

Another clue is matching the style of the houses to the product pages in the catalogues issued by the manufacturing companies. It is this method; based on research found on ‘American Kit Homes’, which also includes additional research by Ben Gravel, that allows us to share these potential Sears Modern Homes with you –

Sears Modern Homes
Sears Catalogue Homes (sold under the Sears Modern Homes name) were introduced in 1908 and sold through the company’s mail order catalogue until 1942. The Sears Catalogue, through which the homes could be purchased, offered 370 different models in various architectural styles.

Because Sear’s mail-order catalogs were sent to millions of homes, large numbers of potential homeowners were able to open a catalog, see numerous house designs, and visualize their very own ‘Modern Home’.

It is believed there are over 400 Sears Kit homes in Michigan, with the majority located in the Southeastern area of the state. Source: Kit House Hunters 

Image courtesy of: www.searshomes.org

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Grosse Pointes Kit Homes – Part 1

We recently explored 849 Notre Dame, believing it to be the only kit home in Grosse Pointe. Turns out it is the only Sears Robuck Kit Home’ in Grosse Pointe, but there are in fact other kit homes in the community.

849 Notre Dame

Thanks to a wonderful blog ‘American Kit Homes’, which also included additional research by Ben Gravel, we were alerted to several more possible kit homes in the community.

We would like to introduce you to these homes. This week we will tell the story of an authenticated kit home – 1100 Bishop, and next week we will explore the “probable” kit homes that exist in the Woods and the City.

Kit homes, also known as mail-order homes or catalogue homes, became popular in the United States and Canada in the first half of the 20th Century. Between 1908 and 1940 over 100,000 kit homes were built in the United States: Source Wikipedia. Several companies, (with many based in Michigan and Illinois, including major competitors – Sears Modern Homes, Aladdin and Sterling Homes), offered houses with an abundance of plans and styles. The designs ranged from simple bungalows to more complex colonials.

The majority of the materials, supplied at a fixed price, were delivered initially by railroad to the local area, and then by truck to the construction site.

A typical house would contain between 10,000 – 30,000 components. Brick, concrete, and/or masonry were not included in the price, neither was construction. Upon delivery the purchaser would then either build the house themselves of hire local contractors to construct the home.

Kit homes were typically advertised in magazines and newspapers, and sold through mail-order catalogues. The purchaser could opt to purchase a standard kit or upgrade the design to include additional options such as extra rooms and advanced technology, such as updated pluming and heating systems. Prices, in 1920, were in the vicinity of $1,500 – $3,000 (around $21,000 – $41,000 today).

Courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/daily-bungalow/

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect D. Allen Wright

It is always fun to come across an architect whose work crosses a broad spectrum of architectural styles and era’s. When one can only wonder how a designer can transition from creating a classically designed French Provincial style home in 1928 to designing a floor plan for an innovative post-war suburban home in 1943.

Welcome to the world of D. Allen Wright, a ‘widely known American architect’ but with very little information available about his career. Despite the lack of details we have been able to piece together a brief insight into the absorbing work of this versatile designer.

We know that Wright, a Detroit based architect, took a break from his architectural career to serve overseas for 17 months with the 107th Engineers, 32nd Division. On his return he took up his old position at the firm of renowned Detroit architect Alvin E. Harley.

We are not sure how long Wright spent working for Alvin Harley, but we certainly know Mr. Harley was an extremely accomplished architect; himself creating several superb homes in Grosse Pointe, including 1005 Three Mile Drive.

D. Allen Wright designed at least 15 houses (that we know of) in Grosse Pointe. Many of these residences are large French inspired homes, however as we investigate his projects further, it soon becomes apparent over a period of about 14 years his architectural style changed significantly.

Wright’s designs between 1926 and 1930 were based on French architectural styles, typically French Normandy and Provencal.

The French Normandy country house was the primary inspiration for the American Norman style. It began to become popular shortly after the First World War when French chateaus were a model of inspiration. Typical traits of this approach include a round stone tower toped by a conical cone-shaped roof, a steeply pitched roof, stone façade, an arched opening to the main entrance, tall narrow chimneys along with an asymmetrical configuration to the home.

The French Provencal style is slightly less imposing, and utterly charming. The key features tend to be symmetry and balance. Many of the exteriors are stone and feature long windows on the first floor, a steeply pitched roof, and tall slender chimney’s. Many of the doors and windows are arched and adorned by shutters.

French style architecture, particularly Provencal, was extremely popular in Grosse Pointe during the 1920’s through to the 1940’s. Wright’s homes provide us with an excellent example of this architectural approach. His homes in the style include –

79 Kenwood – Grosse Pointe Farms – 1926

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to Three Mile Drive – An Eclectic Mix: Part 2

Having explored several homes on Three Mile drive last week, we continue our journey with the review of eight further homes. The creation of these homes span several generations – from one of the earliest to appear on the street, number 805 (in 1917) to one of the newer homes to be constructed, number 1011 (in 1954).

Despite the obvious age gap, the architects that were responsible were prominent designers in their respective era’s. Given that the change in architectural style altered significantly from the early 20th century through to mid century, it is a testament to the skill of these men that none of these homes look out of place on a street that has such an eclectic mix of homes.

So lets begin with one of the older homes on Three Mile Drive, number 805, designed in 1917 by Charles Kotting. Born in Holland in 1865 Mr. Kotting worked on both commercial buildings and residential projects throughout Metro Detroit. He created several stunning large homes in Grosse Pointe between 1905 and 1930. This classically designed 4,710 sq ft Tudor Revival home has exquisite detailing on the front elevation, and has many superb characteristics associated with this architectural style including the half timbering, brick and white stucco finish, along with the smaller windows on the upper floor. It certainly makes an impressive statement at the beginning of the road.

805 Three Mile Dr.

George D. Mason. An architectural superstar, renowned Detroit historian Clarence M. Burton once wrote, quite simply George DeWitt Mason was “the dean of Detroit architects”. With a career spanning over 50 years George D. Mason created many historic buildings in and around the city, including several homes in Grosse Pointe, 9 of which (that we know of) are still standing. Here on Three Mile Mason created number 1175 for Frank E. Fisher in 1925. This substantial 8,166 sq ft house is designed in the English Cottage style, which was very popular in Grosse Pointe during this era.

Image courtesy of: www.detroit.lib.mi.us/featuredcollection/burton-historical-collection

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to Three Mile Drive – An Eclectic Mix: Part 1

Continuing with our series of blog posts profiling the homes on a specific street, this week we venture up Three Mile Drive and bring you the first of two blog posts on the eclectic mix of homes featuring everything from ballrooms to bomb shelters.

Arguably one of Grosse Pointes most prominent streets, Three-Mile Drive features a mix of large residences created by some of Detroit’s more accomplished architects. These designer’s contributed to creating a number of homes in Grosse Pointe at a time when the community was firmly establishing itself as one of the more prestigious neighborhoods in South Eastern Michigan.

The houses on Three Mile Drive are a mix of grand, unique and classically designed homes, encompassing Tudor, Spanish Villa, Georgian and Colonial architectural styles. Predominantly many of the homes were built during the 1920’s – a period when many of Detroit’s leading businessmen were selecting to build grand homes in Grosse Pointe.

The homes we are about to review represent a mere handful of special homes on this road. There are many more we would like to review, some of which will be covered in Part 2 of this blog post, while others we will review at a later date.

We begin our review of Three Mile Drive with a look at the work of Robert Calder, and his design of number 823, built in 1955. Calder designed many homes in Grosse Pointe primarily during the 1940’s and 1950’s, including one of the newer homes on Three Mile. This residence is a large 4,609 sq ft brick asymmetrical Colonial Home. In a listing from 1982 the home is believed to have a large 17’ x 27’ sq ft living room, four bedrooms, maids quarters, and a bomb shelter in the basement.

823 Three Mile Dr

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Top Producers of 2016!

Higbie Maxon Agney congratulates the Top Producers of 2016!

Jaime Rae Turnbull, Libby Follis, Dennis Andrus, Michelle Agosta, Darlene D’Amico and Heather Adragna Ulku!












Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – An Elegant Tudor Home – 1005 Three-Mile Drive

Having covered many of the superb Tudor homes in the community designed by some of the leading architects who were adept at creating the charm associated with this style – William B. Stratton and Richard H. Marr for example, we turn our attention to 1005 Three Mile Drive, designed by Alvin Earnest. Harley.

Located on one of Grosse Pointes most prominent streets Three-Mile Drive, this elegant home was built for Edward Evans in 1925.

At the time of completion the 4,800 sq ft residence was located on a 50,000 sq ft ‘park like’ lot. The rather impressive exterior is a combination of stone, brick and wood – common traits of the Tudor style.

On entering the property through the solid oak front door, the foyer features an ornate tile ceiling and stone floor with Pewabic tile inserts. Many of the ceilings on the first floor – reception hall, living room and the library – display sculptured bas-relief designs; the floors are solid oak plank, while the walls are textured plaster.

The grand main reception hall is 25’ x 16’ sq ft, the substantial living room is 26’ x 17’ sq ft and includes to bay windows at either end – another classic feature of the Tudor style.

Also on the first floor is a superb 16’ x 10’ sun porch, with a stone floor and Pewbic tile inserts, said to mirror the style of the inserts used in the foyer. The large kitchen (17’ x 13’) is fitted with black walnut cabinets. When the house was built a butler’s pantry (14’ x 7’) connected the kitchen to the dining room, this has since been converted to a sewing room/kitchen-office area. The image below shows the floor plan of the first floor.

Floor Plan – First Floor

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect Charles Noble

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

Lee Plaza Hotel – Courtesy of detroityes.com

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.

The Kean Apartments – Courtesy of Wikipedia

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Dodge Mansion and The Houses on Harbor Hill

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.

John Dodge – courtesy of Wikipedia

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.

Dodge Mansion – Courtesy of Tonnancour by Arthur Woodford

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.

Harbor Hill – Courtesy of Bing.com

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.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 849 Notre Dame – Grosse Pointe’s Rarest Home?

There are many homes in Grosse Pointe that are unique, special and individualistic, but there is potentially only one house in the community that can claim to be a one of a kind home with nothing else like it.

Welcome to 849 Notre Dame. Built in 1926, 849 Notre Dame is quite possible the only Sears Robuck Kit House in Grosse Pointe.


Sears Catalogue Homes (sold under the Sears Modern Homes name) were introduced in 1908 and sold through the company’s’ mail order catalogue until 1942. The kit houses (as they were known after 1916) offered many Americans the chance to afford their own home that they could select and assemble themselves.

Because Sear’s mail-order catalogs were sent to millions of homes, large numbers of potential homeowners were able to open a catalog, see numerous house designs, and visualize their very own ‘Modern Home’.


Courtesy of – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sears_Catalog_Home

The Sears Catalogue, through which the homes could be purchased, offered 370 different models in various architectural styles. Based on research from Wikipedia the kits were shipped by railroad boxcar, and then trucked to the homes location. Many of the kits arrived with approximately 25 tons of materials, with over 30,000 parts. Most of the Sears homeowners would either construct the home themselves or they could hire a contractor to put it all together. The base price of the house did not include plumbing, electrical fixtures or heating systems, however, these could be purchased for an additional cost, thereby allowing families to have a custom built home with many state of the art conveniences.

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