Posts

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Mrs. Henry Stephens Estate – 241 Lake Shore

Each week we ask for suggestions of homes, buildings and streets you would like us to profile. This week we focus on one of our recent requests – the grand estate of Mrs. Henry Stephens – 241 Lake Shore.

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century Grosse Pointe Farms was in the midst of a substantial transformation from a summer colony to a year-round residential community. The growing desire for many of Detroit’s wealthy residents to move out of the city to the suburbs was well underway. The area evolved quickly, the ribbon farms and summer cottages were replaced with grand estates and formal landscaped gardens – most visibly on Lake Shore.

One of the more notable arrivals was the estate for Mrs. Henry Stephens (wife of lumber baron Henry Stephens Jr. who passed in 1910).

Facing south on Lake St. Clair the former ribbon farm lot was long and narrow, measuring around 215ft by 1100ft. The map below, from 1915, shows the substantiation area this estate covered. Upon its completion the property included a 6,000 sq ft house (built in 1913), a large lawn on the lakeside, formal garden with garden house, tennis court, green house, garage and stables, a large vegetable garden, orchard, gardener’s cottage, and a carriage house.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Multi-talented designer Charles A. Platt created the house. It was a 25-room French Baroque style mansion – a significant, departure from his Italian inspired work at Alger House (now the Grosse Pointe War Memorial) completed in 1910.

Platt was a renowned artist, gardener, landscape designer and architect. With his array of artistic skills Platt was able to employ his talents across all aspects of his work and quickly became known for integrating stunning villas with beautiful gardens. He designed several buildings in the Detroit area, including at least 5 in Grosse Pointe. You can read his full story by clicking here.

The house Platt designed for Mrs. Henry Stephens employed all of his many talents. It was a magnificent brick home with exquisite detailing. Based on research from Tonnancour, we can provide the following description – ‘Keystones and stone panels are located beneath the large windows on the second floor, providing a perfect contrast to the brick, while the French doors are accompanied by graceful iron grille-work railings’. The driveway approach and entrance court were purposely positioned at the end of the house, so that the front of the home had an uninterrupted view of the lake. The rear of the house overlooked the formal gardens.

Courtesy of ‘Architecture in Michigan’ By Wayne Andrews

Courtesy of Architectural Record, Volume 47

Read more

Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect Charles A. Platt

Charles A. Platt, renowned artist, landscape gardener, landscape designer and architect. He designed several buildings in the Detroit area, including at least 5 in Grosse Pointe. While he may not have been the most prolific architect in the community, his work here proved to be of huge significance.

Charles A. PlattPlatt was born in New York City in 1861. He trained as a landscape painter, and as an etcher before attending the National Academy of Design and Art Students League in New York, followed by further training at the Académie Julian in Paris.

In 1885 he exhibited his paintings and etchings at the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, gaining him wide acclaim. Over the next five years he made hundreds of etchings of architecture and landscapes, receiving a bronze medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900.

On his return to North America Platt turned his attention to architectural projects, predominantly on the east coast of the United States. With his array of artistic skills Platt was able to employ his talents across all aspects of his work and quickly became known for integrating stunning villas with beautiful gardens. Most of his residential works were in the Italian renaissance style.

In 1907 Platt was commissioned to design a home in Indian Village for Allen F. Edwards, located at 776 Seminole Avenue. It would begin a long association with Edwards, Platt designed a second home for him in Grosse Pointe – located at 99 Lothrop – several Years later.

However, before we get to 99 Lothrop we have several stops to make along the way to explore Platt’s other projects in Grosse Pointe.

Alger House (32 Lake Shore) – 1910

In 1910 Platt received a commission to design a year round residence for the Alger Family. Platt’s growing reputation for creating large country estates, integrating the house within its setting and gardens was particular important to the success of this design. Alger’s new home resembled an Italian Renaissance Villa, set on 4.5 acres, the property fast became one the finest country estates on Lake Shore Drive, built on one of the highest priced plots along the lake.

GPWM_4

The house has two stories on the street side, and three stories facing the lake. The main section of the house is rectangular with symmetrical front and rear facades, with a low-pitched tile roof. Iron balconies and a set of French doors open out to a magnificent view of the lake, while the front facade boasts an exquisite doorway framed with stone and iron. The natural variation in ground levels proved to be the perfect canvas to create stunning landscape features that would accompany the house almost perfectly.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Alger resided in the house until his death in 1930. Between 1936 and 1948, the house was used by the Detroit Institute of Arts as a branch museum. In 1949 the Alger family donated the estate to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial to serve as a perpetual memorial to the 3,500 Grosse Pointers who served and the 126 who died in World War II.

Read more

Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Moorings

Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – ‘The Moorings’, also known as The War Memorial.

This week we take a look at one of Grosse Pointes most prominent buildings – The War Memorial, also known as the Russell A. Alger House and ‘The Moorings’.

Charles A. PlattIn 1910 nationally prominent New York architect Charles Adam Platt, completed ‘The Moorings’ for millionaire Russell A. Alger Jr – son of General Russell A. Alger, (a Civil War hero) – lumber baron and industrialist who co founded the Packard Motor Company.
 

During that era the Pointes were home to many summer cottages, but ‘The Moorings’ was to be a permanent, year round residence for the Alger family. Charles A. Platt, at the time, was renowned for his design of large country estates, integrating the house with its setting and gardens, and his work on the Alger estate did not disappoint.
 

Alger’s new home resembled an Italian Renaissance Villa, set on 4.5 acres, the property fast became one the finest country estates on Lake Shore Drive. The property was built on one of the highest pieces of land along Lake Shore, the natural variation in ground levels proved to be the perfect canvas to create stunning landscape features that would accompany the house almost perfectly.
 

The house itself has two stories on the street side, which then open to three stories facing the lake. The main section of the house is a rectangular block with symmetrically designed front and rear facades, completed with a low-pitched tile roof. Iron balconies and a set of French doors open out to a magnificent view of the lake, while the front facade boasts an exquisite doorway framed with stone and iron.

The Moorings   The Moorings_2

war memorial_1  GPWM

Alger resided in the house until his death in 1930. Between 1936 and 1948, the house was used by the Detroit Institute of Arts as a branch museum. In 1949 the Alger family donated the estate to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial to serve as a perpetual memorial to the 3,500 Grosse Pointers who served and the 126 who died in World War II.
 

The original building has since seen two additions; the Fries Auditorium and Crystal ballroom were added in 1962, while the Center for Arts and Communications was completed in 1993. Today the building is recognized and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a center for education and charitable activities for the Grosse Pointe Communities.
 

Platt housePlatt went onto design Henry Stephen’s House (241 Lake Shore) in 1913 along with many significant properties and mansions across the United States.

We will be profiling another piece of Grosse Pointe architectural history next week.

 

If you have a home or building you would like us to profile please contact Darby Moran – Darby@higbiemaxon.com – we will try and feature the property.

 

(For more historical information on Grosse Pointe, visit Grosse Pointe Historical Society).