Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe –Leonard B. Willeke – A Career of Highs and Lows – Part 1: Balfour

Leonard B. Willeke – architect, designer, landscape artist, product, and furniture designer. A genius of his time and yet a man who has only received the credit he deserves within the last 30 years.

The majority of the noted and prominent architects who worked in and around Metro Detroit from 1910 onwards have received endless plaudits and recognition. From both their peers, the architectural community and the real estate market in general, as people seek out to purchase the homes these designers created.

However there is one man who managed to slip through the net, and it is only recently that the work and architectural talent of Leonard B. Willeke is being re-discovered.

One of the unsung hero’s of architecture in Grosse Pointe Leonard B. Willeke was one of the most adaptable and prolific architects to work in the community. He was an extremely versatile designer, and one might say, an unrecognized champion in his contribution in providing Grosse Pointe with some exceptional homes.

WillekeWilleke was virtually a one-man band, and while he had a very successful career he also experienced several dramatic change in fortunes. Having experienced the ultimate high of working with clients such as Henry and Edsel B. Ford, Oscar Webber and William A. Petzold, building many prestigious homes in and around the community, Willeke also experience the ultimate low – financial devastation – courtesy of the Depression.

Part 1 of our story on the highs and lows of Leonard Willeke’s career profiles the fabulous homes he created during the 1920’s on one street in particular – Balfour.

The 1920’s were the golden years for Leonard Willeke. Having completed several large projects (residential and commercial) for Henry Ford, Willeke was commissioned by a number of rather prominent clientele to design homes in Grosse Pointe – including the Oscar Webber mansion – located at 22 Webber place – you can read the full story of this home here. And, amongst others, two rather striking homes on Three Mile Drive – you can read about his homes on Three mile by clicking here.

Balfour, in Grosse Pointe Park received a lot of attention from Willeke during the 1920’s. Between 1922 and 1929, he created 7 residences including 4 speculative homes.

The definition of a speculative home is – ‘a residence built without a particular buyer in mind or under contract, but design to appeal to the maximum market possible’.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to Stephens Road – home of the ranches

As you travel around Grosse Pointe it becomes apparent that not all roads are the same. Grosse Pointe may have once been a heavily wooded farming community, with primarily flat land, but on closer inspection there are exceptions to the rule.

In Grosse Pointe Farms a major change in the landscape occurs. From Lewiston to Vendome on the blocks between Ridge Road and Charlevoix the long flat streets give way to a significant gradient, and with it comes a notable change to the architectural style found in this part of community.

Many of the homes on these streets have been designed to reflect the change in the terrain, and it is understandable why many of the designers chose to work with the surroundings as opposed to fighting them. They created residences to blend seamlessly into the landscape – and clearly had fun doing so. One excellent example of this is the home Wallace Frost created, located at 242 Lewiston. Built in 1926, this 4,500 sq ft home is situated on a significant slope. It has many private patios and entrances to blend into the terrain; so much so, it is barely visible from the road.

Another road in the Farms that has several superb examples of homes working in tandem with the landscape is Stephens Road – the blocks between Ridge and Charlevoix. This picturesque block is home to several superb ranches, and was once a popular location for the auto industry to photograph new cars.


Image courtesy of


Stephens Road

Ranch homes became popular in the United States around 1950. The typical Californian Ranch style was first created during the Spanish Colonial period in the American Southwest in the 1830’s. Having evolved significantly over the years the style was revived by architects in the California Bay Region in the 1930’s, and then evolved once more with ‘contractor modern styles’ in the mid 1950’s.

Ranch homes are typically asymmetrical. The key characteristics of this style include: a single story close to the ground profile, long low-pitched roofs, low, wide chimneys, and large windows. Constructed from brick, the garage is typically integrated into the design, and frequently the homes are located on a large lot.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – there is no finer place to call home – a history of Grosse Pointe

In celebration of Independence Day yesterday, we wanted to take this opportunity to take you back in time and share with you a brief history of our prominent and much loved community.

We will start with a very brief history of Detroit and then explore Grosse Pointe a little further.

During the period of 1701 through to 1796 three flags were flown over Detroit, first came the French, then the British followed by the Americans in 1796.

Having been occupied primarily by the French, Detroit surrendered to the English in 1760. Under this new flag many of the French settlers left the city and moved to Grosse Pointe to join the large French contingent that had made the area their home, having arrived in the region around 1701.


French map of Detroit, c. 1701 Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public LIbrary

The majority of the French occupied much of the farmland that was so important to this area. During this era it is believed the area was heavily wooded and swampy, however it proved to be a great area for farming. Many of the early farms generally had around 300 feet of water frontage, ran a mile inland and were owned by some very now familiar names – Rivard, Venier, Renaud and Kerby.

It is believed the name Grosse Pointe was in place before Detroit became an American territory in 1796. Based on research from the Grosse Pointe Historical Society ‘the name Grosse Pointe undoubtedly referred to the broad, flat point, which culminated at the Windmill Pointe lighthouse. The French word “grosse” has a meaning that lies between grande and grasse, and seems well applied to this blunt point. Furthermore, all of the point lying east of Jefferson, the “river road,” was the Grand Marais (Great Swamp), and the names Grosse Pointe and Grand Marais were used interchangeably for many years’. Source: Grosse Pointe History Timeline, Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

Lakeshore, originally an early Indian trail, later became a well-traveled route along the lake. In 1851 the road became known as Jefferson Avenue.



Lake Shore – Courtesy of –

From 1850 to 1900 lumbermen cleared the woods and wealthy Detroit businessmen used the land to build large summer cottages for their families on the shores of Lake St. Clair. It was fast becoming a summer colony; the new residents gave their new residences names such as Maplehurst, Tonnancour, Summerside, Cloverleigh and the Poplars.


Summer Cottage – Courtesy of –


Summer Cottage – Courtesy of –


Summer Cottage – Courtesy of –


Summer Cottage – Courtesy of –

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Tudor Mansions of Grosse Pointe – Part 2: the Alvan Macauley Mansion

Following on from the story of the Standish Backus Estate located at 725 Lake Shore, we continue with the ‘Lost Tudor Mansions of Grosse Pointe’ and move onto 735 Lake Shore – the Alvan Macauley Mansion – demolished in 1975.

As one of the architectural masterpieces that were constructed on the shores of Lake St. Clair during the golden era of stately mansions, Albert Kahn designed this spectacular home for Alvan Macauley and his family in 1930.

Maccauley Mansion_1 2

Macauley Mansion – Courtesy of

Prior to the construction of the Backus Mansion (1934) and Rose Terrace (in 1934) the Macauley mansion was one of the ‘stand out’ estates on Lake Shore Drive. Similar in both construction and appearance to the Ford Estate, which had been completed two years earlier in 1929, Kahn applied the same Cotswold traits he had incorporated for Ford into the Macauley’s new home and combined it with the recognized styling’s of the large Tudor manor homes which were now familiar around Grosse Pointe.

The house
It is believed, from research in ‘Buildings of Detroit’ by W. Hawkins Ferry, the Macauley’s were particularly fond of the Tudor and Cotswold styles. Prior to the building of their new residence they had spent several weeks in Worcestershire, England, studying the local architecture, along with purchasing some fine English Antiques.


Albert Kahn’s design for the Macauley mansion was less grandiose than the Ford Estate and more secluded. The exterior of the home was constructed from stone, with the work being completed under the careful supervision of a foreman from the Cotswold region of England. The interior, also employed the same meticulous attention to detail with the Hayden Company of New York completing the skilled woodcarving. The paneling in the grand 45’ x 25’ sq ft living room, which occupies an entire wing, ‘combines a medieval linenfold motif with later Renaissance ornament’ – source: Buildings of Detroit, by W. Hawkins Ferry. Research on states that when the home was demolished the dining room was painstakingly removed and relocated to the Charley’s Crab restaurant in Troy (now owned by private dining company – Lakes) – see both images below.

Macauley Mansion_living room

Living room – Courtesy of


Living Room – Courtesy of

The 22’ x 22’ sq ft square dining room was sublime and constructed in the George I style. As the floor plan(s) below shows, the second floor featured 5 large bedrooms along with 4 smaller bedrooms (possible for servants) and a large 25’ x 18’ sitting room.



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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Tudor Mansions of Grosse Pointe – Part 1: the Standish Backus Estate

After the conclusion of World War 1 the number of mansions in Grosse Pointe grew exponentially. The construction of grand homes for wealthy occupants was visible throughout the community, non more so than on Lake Shore.

Wealthy Detroiter’s were choosing to utilize their prosperity and fortunes by commissioning the architectural crème de la crème to create a one of a kind grandiose mansions for their families.

Arguably some of the most famous homes constructed during this era were the Harley Higbie House (1926), the Roy D. Chapin home (1927), Rose Terrace (1934), the Alvan Macauley Home (1930), the Edsel B. Ford Estate (1929) and the Standish Backus Mansion (1934).


Mrs. Backus

While the majority of these homes have now gone, they are not forgotten. We have already covered several of these homes, and now its time to turn our attention to one of the lost Tudor Mansions – 725 Lakeshore – also known as the Standish Backus Mansion.

The Standish Backus residence was one of Grosse Pointe’s grandest homes. Commissioned by Standish Backus in 1934, Mr. Backus was a lawyer, engineer, general Counsel for General Motors (in 1911) and became President of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company in 1920. The home was situated on a 12-acre estate – once the property of Dudley Woodbridge, son of Michigan’s second governor.

This large estate 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. Research from the book Tonnancour describes the home accordingly – ‘to enter the Backus estate is to transport oneself back to sixteenth century England’.


Standish Backus Mansion – 725 Lakeshore – courtesy of GP Historical Society


The House

Ralph Adams Cram – courtesy of

Ralph Adams Cram (a friend of Standish Backus) designed the house in association with local architect Robert O. Derrick. Cram has been described as a ‘prolific and influential American architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings’. Born in New Hampshire in 1863, Cram spent most of his career in Boston. Early on in his career he partnered with Charles Wentworth, before being joined by Bertram Goodhue in 1892. They focused primarily on church commissions, working throughout the United States, Cram was best known for his Gothic Revival Style. Prior to designing the mansion for Mr. Backus it is believed Cram’s only other commission in the area was the Cathedral of St. Paul, Detroit, 1908.

Cram’s residential work, including the Backus home, was primarily in the Tudor style, and heavily influence by Gothic origins. The stone façade, prominent chimneys, mullioned Tudor windows and grand carved entrance are classic traits of an English Country Manor home. Based on research from the book ‘Fletcher Steele, Landscape Architect’ (By Robin S. Karson) Backus was a huge fan of early English architecture, and it was his desire the house was designed in this style. 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.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Grosse Pointe’s Best Kept Secret – Edgemont Park

Located between Ellair Place and Park Lane in Grosse Pointe Park is a small unassuming dead end street called Edgemont Park. The secluded road is lined with an abundance of trees, so much so that many of the homes are almost hidden from view. At the end of the street is a small lakefront park, it is believed each family has a key, providing residents with a place to call their own. Edgemont Park is quite beautiful.

The road is home to a handful of residences; there are some superb architectural examples on display created by a number of skilled designers.

The houses are somewhat unique to Edgemont Park. The styles range from French Colonial, English Tudor, through to several excellent examples of Italian Renaissance Revival design. Many of the homes were constructed during the 1920’s and were created by some prominent architects, including: Louis Kamper, Hugh T. Keyes, Clair W. Ditchy, and two homes by Marcus Burrowes,

The Homes:

820 Edgemont: designed by Hugh T. Keyes in 1927, this 9,204 sq ft house is a beautiful property on the shore of Lake St Clair. Keyes was a prolific designer of fine homes in the Grosse Pointes and was arguably one of the most diverse architects to ply his trade in the community.


Courtesy of Grosse Pointe Historical Society


835 Edgemont: A Colonial home designed in 1925. The architect is not known.


Courtesy of Grosse Pointe Historical Society

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Detroit’s Premier Architect– Louis Kamper

When we stop and consider which designers have had the greatest influence on the architectural scene in Detroit, it is quite possible there would be three reoccurring names – Albert Kahn, George Mason and Louis Kamper.

These three architectural masters worked during a golden era, creating residential and commercial structures that left not only a permanent mark but helped position Detroit as the home to some of the most remarkable buildings found in the United States.

All three of these special architects not only work in Detroit but also created homes in and around Grosse Pointe. Having previously featured the projects of Kahn and Mason lets now turn our attention to Louis Kamper.

Louis KamperKamper was born in Bavaria, Germany in 1861. He emigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1880. Having arrived in Detroit in 1888 he quickly established himself in the architectural scene, joining the firm of Scott & Scott, and becoming partner within a year.

His list of wealthy clientele grew quickly and he soon established a relationship with the Book family, becoming their chief architect. According to research on Kamper created several buildings for the Book Brothers. The first came in the form of the Book Building (1916) – an Italian Renaissance-style building. This led to further commissions from the family; a key project was transforming Washington Boulevard with the addition of a number of high-rise buildings, including the construction of the Book Tower (1926) on the southwest corner of Grand River Avenue and Washington.

Book Building

Book Building – courtesy of states – ‘J. Burgess Book Jr. found in Louis Kamper an architect who was entirely sympathetic to his ideas,’ William Hawkins Ferry wrote in his book The Buildings of Detroit – ‘Kamper, too, had journeyed about Europe studying the architectural monuments of the past. In America he saw the opportunity to impart to the new skyscraper the beauty of these masterpieces.’

In 1923 Kamper created the Book Cadillac Hotel. explains ‘the Neo-Renaissance hotel incorporates a variety of architectural elements from Europe’. When it opened ‘it was the largest and tallest hotel in the world and became a benchmark for all hotel designs that would come after it’.


Book Cadillac Hotel – courtesy of

Following the completion of the Book Cadillac Hotel Kamper was commissioned by hotelier Lew Tuller to design three hotels in Metro Detroit – all three were designed and built in 1924.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – the manor on the lake – 15366 Windmill Pointe Drive

Located on Windmill Pointe Drive house number 15366 was recently awarded a historic plaque by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society. I was honored to be asked to conduct the research of this residence, and give a presentation at the annual awards ceremony.

The Grosse Pointe Historical Society kindly gave Higbie Maxon permission to share the research (edited for this blog post) in order to present the story of this historic home along with some wonderful photo’s of the property – courtesy of Robin Maghielse.

This home is also the venue for the Historical Society’s ‘Moonlight at the Manor’ Gala Party – on June 9th – tickets are available- please click here for details.

The Architect – William Buck Stratton
It is believed William Buck Stratton first appeared in the Detroit City directory in 1889 while he was working as a draughtsman for the prestigious architectural firm of Mason & Rice.

strattonStratton was an innovative designer and has been described as having a vigorous creative imagination. He had a reputation for staying abreast of the latest trends in commercial and residential architecture; thus allowing him to create designs that were ahead of their time. Stratton was a huge advocate of the Art & Crafts movement in Detroit, along with several others prominent architects including Albert Kahn. As part of the dedication to this movement Stratton helped organize the first and second annual exhibitions of arts and crafts held at the Detroit Museum of Art in 1904 and 1905.

His work in Grosse Pointe demonstrates his diverse range and aptitude for switching between architectural styles. Stratton was very good at adapting his style to the desires of his clients.

During his career, he worked with several partners, creating a number of homes in Grosse Pointe that varied extensively in style. During the 1920’s he worked on numerous commissions in the community including 4 Woodland Place (1922), 365 University Place (1923), 15366 Windmill Pointe, 341 Lakeland (1927), and 938 Three Mile (1927 – Stratton’s own home).


365 University Place

341 Lakeland_a

341 Lakeland

938 Three Mile_a

938 Three Mile

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – a home fit for a realtor – 1006 Bedford Road

In 1919 one of Detroit’s most prominent realtors, John H. Tigchon, commissioned a home, fit for a realtor, to be built for his family on Bedford Road, Grosse Pointe Park.

The home was one of only a few homes in Grosse Pointe to be designed by the architectural firm of John C. Stahl and Donald L. Kinsey. Very little is known about Donald Kinsey, however John C. Stahl was recognized as one of the most skilled church and school architects in the state.

John C. StahlStahl, 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, before going on to design several churches in Detroit. One of his earliest commissions, and possibly the design he is best known for, is the Frederick Linsell House in1904. The Georgian style home, is located in the middle of Wayne State Campus.

He was known to be an admirer of fine woods and incorporated these into many of his homes, including several he created in the Indian Village Historic District between 1912 and 1916. He had a stellar reputation in Detroit as being ‘strictly ethical in every manner as an architect’. Along with being a member of the American Institute of Architects he was also a member of the Detroit Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and was honored by the Michigan Society of Architects’ – elected president for two terms.


Frederick Linsell House – courtesy of – Wayne State University, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In 1919 Stahl and Kinsey were hired by John H. Tigchon to design a new home on Bedford Road.

At the beginning of the 20th century Mr. Tigchon was one of Detroit’s best-known and successful realtors. Based on research from the book, the History of Wayne County and the City of Detroit (Burton, C. M. and M. Agnes Burton), John Tigchon began his real estate career in 1892. ‘One of his holdings was Windmill Land Company, a subdivision in Grosse Pointe Park. Mr. Tigchon owned from Alter Rd. to Three Mile Drive and from Mack Ave. to the river’. It is believed this subdivision was also created and developed by Tigchon.

His real estate career spanned nearly 30 years; in this time his contribution to ‘the cities growth, development and improvement’ during this era put him at the forefront of the business community, working with an array of high-class clientele. During his career John Tigchon was one of the organizers of the Detroit Real Estate Board, and played an active role in the organization, serving as its president in 1907.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to Vendome – Something Special – Part 2

After recently profiling the first block of Vendome – ‘something special: part one’ – we continue with our exploration of the stunning homes as we cross Kercheval and continue our journey up the next two blocks of this prestigious street in Grosse Pointe Farms.

The homes on display were created by some of the very best designers who came to work in Grosse Pointe Farms in the early 1920’s. During the first two decades of the 20th century and during the period after WW1 Grosse Pointe Farms had transformed itself from a rural, recreational community to an exclusive suburb in Southeast Michigan

For many cities in America the 1920’s proved to be a golden era of architectural significance. During this period the City of Grosse Pointe Farms underwent an architectural transformation, with many key businessmen from Detroit choosing to relocate to the area. One of the streets that drew some of the ‘big names’ is Vendome.

H.H. Micou – having already built two homes on the first block, Number 83 (1928), and Number 84 (1929), Hilary Herbert Micou built two further homes on Vendome during the same period, Number 162 (1928), and Number 176 (1929) – both are traditional Colonial homes.


162 Vendome

House Number 176 is constructed from clapboard, and is a superb example of Colonial design. The 6,536 sq ft home consists of a gracious central entrance foyer (22’ x 24’ sq ft), a large wood paneled living room (27’ x 18’ sq ft) which includes a natural fireplace, a substantial dining room (20’ x 18’ sq ft) along with a library (20’ x 17’ sq ft) which provides access to the adjoining Florida room (21’ x 22’ sq ft). The first floor also includes a service bar room along with a dining room for the servants.


176 Vendome_1

The second floor features 5 bedrooms, along with a servant’s wing that contains 3 further bedrooms and a rear service stairway. The impressive master bedroom (16’ x 26’) features a fireplace, and is adjoined by a dressing room and a morning sunroom. If you take a look at the roof you will notice this set of four perfectly proportioned arched dormer windows.



176 Vendome_3

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