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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Grosse Pointe Projects of Alexander Girard

Last week we covered the exceptional home, 232 Lothrop, created by the extremely talented artist Alexander Girard.

Described as one of the most important, prolific and influential textile designers of the twentieth century, Girard was also extremely skilled as an architect, interior, product, and graphic designer.

Alexander Girard (early 1950’s) – Courtesy of Vitra Design Museum

This week we focus on Girard’s other architectural projects in Grosse Pointe. Aside from designing the modern contemporary home located at 232 Lothrop (1951), Girard also created two further homes on Lothrop – number 222 (1948) and 234 (1949), along with 55 Vendome in 1951. All of his projects were created in his signature contemporary modern style, which was particularly prominent throughout the United States during this era.

Having re located in 1937, with his family, from New York to Detroit, Girard began the next phase of his career. In 1938 Girard designed the Junior League of Detroit’s Little Shop in Grosse Pointe. Shortly after, in partnership with H. Beard Adams, he opened his first store, located at 16906 Kercheval. The firm of Girard and Adam’s specialized in interior architecture, design and decoration.

Courtesy of – Alexander Girard, A Designer’s Universe.

In 1945 Girard utilized the former space he had held with Adams to open his own studio and store, to sell products, and stage small exhibitions of painting, sculpture and jewelry. In 1947 Girard relocated his shop to 379 Fisher Road. The new location provided Girard with a building to not only sell products, but also incorporate an office, and a space to showcase his irrepressible talent – offering, “complete architectural and design services for home, office and industrial fields”. Source: Alexander Girard, A Designer’s Universe.

379 Fisher – Courtesy of Alexander Girard, A Designer’s Universe.

379 Fisher Floor Plan – Courtesy of Alexander Girard, A Designer’s Universe.

Girard worked with many wealthy and celebrity clients in Metro Detroit, decorating and designing the interiors of their homes. This included several projects in Grosse Pointe:

222 Lothrop. Completed in 1948, this was Girard’s own home. It was located on a large lot close to the Pine Woods, a heavily wooded area in Grosse Pointe Farms. Based on research from the Vitra Design Museum we understand Girard created his new residence out of two old houses. Constructed from California redwood, the home featured innovative lighting solutions, plywood furniture designed by Girard as well as first samples of wall displays that would become a constant feature of his interiors. Source: Vitra Design Museum

As the floor plan below demonstrates the first floor was an open configuration, dominated by a large central living area – a typical feature of homes designed using this architectural approach. At some point in the homes history the house was raised – the floor plan and the photo below are from 1969.

The image below presents a superb representation of the interior of this home. Source: Atlas of Interiors

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 232 Lothrop – An Exceptional Home

This is the story of an exceptional home in Grosse Pointe Farms. Some of you might remember this work of art, while for others this will be an introduction to a modern contemporary masterpiece.

232 Lothrop was built in 1951, but was razed several years ago. This one of a kind home was commissioned by Dr. George Rieveschl, a research chemist, and was the product of two masters of modern architecture. Alexander Girard designed the original home, while William Kessler extensively remodeled the property in 1959 (at a reported cost of $250,000 – around $2million today).

Situated on a secluded wooded ridge of over one and a half acres the residence was located on the highest point of land in Grosse Pointe Farms on a magnificent pine shaded site. Each room had its own view of the woods and gardens, filled with over 360 trees – the majority were towering pines and hemlocks.

Front of the home

As with many contemporary residences, the design of the home was based on clean lines, and a substantial amount filing every room. In the case of 232 Lothrop, this was achieved via the large 12’ ft high Thermopane window walls, patios, and the five skylights that were located throughout the property.

Rear of the home

Atrium looking west

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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 – 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

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Welcome to the Detroit Towers – 8162 E Jefferson Ave, Detroit

Probably one of the most elegant and sought after residential buildings in the community is the Detroit Towers.

Constructed in 1925, the distinctive eighteen-story red brick and cast stone tower, overlooks the Detroit River – offering some of the best views in the city.

Built in the Roaring Twenties for luxurious living (at an estimated cost of $1.6 million – around $22m today) the 18-story building contains thirty-four large units, two per floor. Each unit contains 9 rooms including servant’s quarters, and is around 2,400-2,800 sq ft.

Chicago architect Walter W. Aschlager designed the structure. He had a stellar reputation, and was nationally known for his design of hotels, skyscrapers and motion picture palaces. Having established an office in Detroit at the beginning of the 1920’s Aschlager was arguably at the peak of his career when he designed the residence.

Given its prominence and luxurious apartments the new Tower on the river attracted many prominent and wealthy figures from the community, including –

  • Benjamin Gotfredson (Unit 5-B) – president of American Automobile Trimming Company of Detroit. He lived in the Towers for five years from 1925 until 1930.
  • Charles E. Sorensen (Unit 6-A) – vice president and general manager of the Ford Motor Car Company. He lived in the Towers from 1926 until 1945.
  • James Scripps Booth (Unit 15-A) – is the eldest son of George Gough Booth, the director and president of the Detroit News. In 1913, working alongside his uncle William E. Scripps, together they formed the Scripps-Booth Cyclecar Company, which subsequently became a division of Chevrolet in 1916. Booth continued to design automobiles until the mid 1930s, also serving as a trustee for the Cranbrook Foundation and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
  • Howard Crane (Unit 12-B) – a prominent architect throughout Metro Detroit, Crane is arguably the nation’s most accomplished theater designer; he designed over 50 in Detroit alone. He lived in the Towers from 1925 until 1934.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Very little has changed since its construction, and the Towers remain an extremely desirable address.

Unit 6-B is now for sale – the next owner of this superb apartment will have the opportunity to live in one of the most sought after residences in the City of Detroit. Please click here for full details, or to schedule a tour please call Higbie Maxon Agney: 313 886 3400

Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to the World of Isadore M. Lewis

It is always interesting to come across an architect who is less familiar, only to discover he was a prolific and prominent designer.

Welcome to the world of Isadore M. Lewis, a creative and productive architect who had a long and fruitful career spanning at least 40 years. During this time his creativity encompassed several architectural genres across a number of disciplines.

Isadore M. Lewis created an array of commercial, industrial and residential buildings, primarily for Jewish clients. He was born in 1888 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Having graduated from the University Pennsylvania in 1911 with a BS in architecture he moved to Detroit in 1916 to open his own architectural firm. Source: Wikipedia.

As a licensed architect in New York, Washington D.C, and Detroit, his career was fascinating. From the beginning of the 1920’s through to the 1950’s Lewis was heavily involved with designing apartment buildings, primarily in the city of Detroit. One of his earliest projects appears to be the superb Regent Court Apartments, built in 1921. Located at 2535 W.Grand Blvd the apartments are particularly striking, and it could be argued that they were certainly ahead of their time in terms of design and architectural appearance – as the photo below demonstrates.

Courtesy of flickr.com

In the early twenties it also appears Lewis’s work wasn’t restricted to the neighborhoods of Detroit. He was also receiving commissions from outside the state, which included a home, designed in a Neoclassical style, in the City of Niagara Falls, NY in 1920.

Courtesy of Zillow.com

In 1922 Lewis completed the historic Tushiyah United Hebrew School (later known as the Scott Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church) located at 609 East Kirby. Once again the design is impactful, in particular the brick and limestone detailing on the front elevation. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also in 1922 Lewis completed the Hadley Hall Apartments located at 665 West Warren, where he once again used brick to create an extraordinary building.

Tushiyah United Hebrew School – Courtesy of Curbed Detroit

Hadley Hall Apartments – Courtesy of apartments.com

Here in Grosse Pointe, we believe Isadore M. Lewis created two homes, both are located in Grosse Pointe Park. The first is located at 838 Whittier, built in 1923. It is an elegant Colonial style 2,816 sq ft brick home, which has superb detailing on the front elevation. Frederick A. Balch, the son of a prominent Detroit businessman, George W. Balch commissioned it.

In 1930 Lewis designed another elegant brick home in the Park – 860 Pemberton. The unusual design of the front elevation is quite unique, and the detailing is superb. The brick archways above the front door and several of the windows create a wonderful contrast to the dominant triangular shape on the front of the home, and the sharp angular configurations of the roof.

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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 – Welcome to 225 Touraine, a Cottage or a Castle?

Welcome to 225 Touraine – a charming gem, nestled in the midst of Grosse Pointe Farms. From the outside it has all the characteristics of an utterly charming little cottage, but on closer inspection this home expands to a large 4,214 sq ft residence, which begs the question…it is a cottage or a castle?

There are a limited number of homes in the Grosse Pointe communities that provide an illusion of size on this scale. Most homes over 4,000 sq ft present us with an instant impression of a large grand home. However, 225 Touraine doesn’t fit the mould – the quaint little country cottage exterior it is quite delightful, whilst the splendid interior is equally appealing.

Oscar C. Gottesleben & Walter A. Bernardi originally built the house for Industrialist D. H. Locke in 1927. We understand the home has remained in the family through four generations.

When we drove past 225 Touraine we were instantly captivated by its beauty and understated presence. The front elevation gives little away. The large-scale chimney with its intricate brickwork might be a dominating presence, but once you enter the limestone-framed front door, with its intricate woodcarving, there is so much more to explore.

The great room features a stunning slate floor, oak paneling, a large stone framed natural fireplace along with the main focal point of the room – a superb 96 pain window. Many of the doorways are set within large archways, which makes for a dramatic view down the long hallways that form many focal points to this home.

Courtesy of realcomp.com

Courtesy of realcomp.com

Courtesy of realcomp.com

Courtesy of realcomp.com

The modern kitchen still showcases the original working Chrysler/Koppin refrigerator – a multi paneled appliance, which was a popular addition to houses of this era.

Courtesy of realcomp.com

The impressive garden is extremely pretty. According to research by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society all four generations have contributed to its design and development. The landscaping includes a rock garden, a massive white oak, English style borders and a plunge pool. The home was included in a ‘Points of Interest’ tour in 2012.

Courtesy of realcomp.com

Courtesy of realcomp.com

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