Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 745 Balfour – a house full of stories

Nestled in the middle of Balfour, is house number 745, and like many homes in Grosse Pointe it has an interesting tale to tell. For behind the attractive, understated exterior is the interior of one of Metro Detroit’s most outstanding homes, and a house full of stories.

745_OldThe Beginning:

Ivan Dise  Clair DitchyThe story begins with its construction in 1927. 745 Balfour was one of the three collaborative projects in Grosse Pointe between Detroit architects J. Ivan Dise and Clair William Ditchy*. Both men, early on in their careers, had worked in the office of Albert Kahn for several years, leaving to form their own partnership that would last from 1921 to 1926.

Having completed the homes at 1003 Buckingham and 986 Lochmoor (in 1924) Dise and Ditchy started work on 745 Balfour in 1925. It was a home they would not complete, accomplished architect Leonard Willeke finished the project in 1927 for the first owner of the home Harry J. Stoops.**

The 4,245 sqft Colonial Style residence is constructed of pressed face brick over solid masonry and includes an attached two-car garage along with a separate two-story carriage house with basement.



The carriage house was built with living quarters on the second floor (for staff), a garage area on the first floor and workrooms in the basement. It comes complete with a utility elevator that runs from the basement to the second floor.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect – J. Ivan Dise

During the era of substantial growth in Grosse Pointe many of the residences that were constructed were designed by the leading architects of the time, including Albert Kahn, Robert O’Derrick, William B. Stratton, and Marcus Burrowes. Several of these designers remain household names within Metro Detroit.

However, what about the architects who were prominent at the time, but are now the architects that time forgot? We are talking about skilled designers such as Leonard Willeke, Hugh T. Keyes, George Mason, Charles Kotting, and J. Ivan Dise (to name but a few). We drive past their creations everyday and their work continues to set the architectural theme for the community we live in.

Ivan Dise created a large number of homes (17 that we know of) in Grosse Pointe and a very recognizable public building in the Farms. However, is J. Ivan Dise a name that we instantly associate as a prominent architect in the community?

Ivan Dise Dise was born in Pennsylvania in 1887. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1909 he began his career in New York with the prestigious firm of Cass Gilbert. During his time there he had a hand in several commissions the company had secured from the City of Detroit, including the Detroit Public Library and the Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle.

Dise moved from New York to Detroit in 1919 to join the architectural firm of Albert Kahn, where he would work until 1922. After working with Kahn for 3 years he set up his own firm, and worked on many civil and residential projects within Metro Detroit including: the Methodist Children’s village, the Boulevard Temple Building, many Detroit Public Schools and several homes, along with a key public building within the City of Grosse Pointe Farms.


Methodist Childrens village  Boulevard Temple Buidling


The majority of his work in Grosse Pointe occurred during the 1920’s and 30’s including three collaborative projects with fellow Detroit architect Clair William Ditchy. His houses are some of the most attractive in the area.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to Middlesex, the most interesting street in Grosse Pointe?

When it comes to finding the most interesting street in Grosse Pointe there are several that lay claim to the prize. There is the historic district of Beverly Road, the architectural gems on Kenwood and Cloverly with homes designed by some of the most prominent architects to work in Grosse Pointe. The historical homes on Lakeshore, the homes on Windmill Pointe Drive with the interesting stories to tell and then there is Middlesex.

Middlesex, located in Grosse Pointe Park, is certainly a serious contender to the prize. The road has it all, noted families; homes by prominent architects, a house constructed from a rare award winning method, and the setting for a Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

Take a walk down the quiet tree lined suburban road and you will find many of the homes have an interesting story to tell. The road runs from Windmill Pointe Drive, to Essex Avenue in Grosse Pointe Park. Half way up is house number 701, which is where we will begin.

701 Middlesex:

Built in 1951, the house was built for a reputed Mafia enforcer as an alleged ‘party house’ for the mob.*

The 7,481 sqft Georgian Colonial style home originally featured 7 bedrooms, 4 baths, 3 fireplaces along with 3 bars, two game rooms, a wine cellar, spa and card room. Along with a three-car garage, and a driveway with enough space for a half-dozen more cars.

701 Middlesex.

No expense was spared in decorating the home. Italian marble is used extensively in the foyer, and many rooms feature a striking use of tile including a working Pewabic tile fountain. Some of the rooms are wood paneled and there is even a leather-upholstered bar in the basement which contains a large initial ‘C’ above the hearth.

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It is reported that all the door frames are steel reinforced; the entrance door is inches thick and contains a peephole sized to accommodate a gun barrel.

It is also suspected there is a ‘secret room’ in the middle of the home and it is thought a tunnel once led from the basement to the house across the street – 702 Middlesex – which was home to ‘the boss’.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect – Alden B. Dow.

We couldn’t cover the modern homes of Grosse Pointe without featuring the work of Michigan’s most prominent modernist architect Alden B. Dow. He designed more than 70 residences, along with dozens of churches, schools, civic centers, and commercial buildings.

His home in Midland made the 2014 list of “The Top 25 Best Historic Homes in America” (In Traditional Home Magazine), and Grosse Pointe is lucky enough to have three prime examples of his work. He was a prolific designer throughout the state and his contribution to modern homes of that era is second to none.

alden_dow_1960sAlden Dow was born in 1904 in Midland, Michigan, son of Herbert Henry Dow, the chemical industrialist and founder of the Dow Chemical Company. After graduating from high school, Alden Dow was expected to join his father’s company and studied engineering at the University of Michigan. After three years, he decided on a different path and transferred to Columbia University in New York City to study architecture.

After graduating (in 1931), and having spent a year and a half with architectural firm Frantz and Spence in Saginaw, Dow and his wife relocated to Spring Green, Wisconsin to become an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright in the Taliesin Studio.

Having completed his apprenticeship Dow returned to Midland, Michigan (in 1934) and opened his own architectural practice, specializing (like Wright) in the principles of organic architecture.

Dow described his organic design philosophy as:

“Gardens never end and buildings never begin”

Between 1934 and 1941 Dow designed his own home and studio in Midland on a 23-acre property. The house was constructed using of Dow’s patented “Unit Blocks” which were molded masonry units designed to allow strong vertical and horizontal lines, thereby eliminating the zigzag joints in standard cinder blocks which he said were disturbing to the eye*.


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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – the Louis and Anita Rossetti House, 1145 Balfour, Grosse Pointe Park

Grosse Pointe contains only a handful of truly modernist homes. What we lack in volume we more than make up in quality. Most of the surviving homes are jewels created by noted masters.

What makes this all the more special is that several of these masters chose to create their personal residence here. One excellent example is the Louis and Anita Rossetti House.

1145 Balfour

Louis Rossetti may not be a house hold name, but his work is some of the most recognizable in Metro Detroit, including Cobo Hall, Jeffersonian Apartments, the Federal Mogul Staff Office Building (Southfield) and the Sisters of Mercy Roman Catholic Novitiate Chapel (Farmington).

cobo hall


Jeffersonian Apartments


Federal Mogul Staff office building



It is here, however, in Grosse Pointe Park that Rossetti chose to build his home at 1145 Balfour. With its timeless styling and architectural detailing, the contemporary design stands out as a rare find amongst the Tudor and Colonial Revival-style residences. Despite its vastly different styling, the Rossetti house does not look out of place in the neighborhood and sits comfortably within its surroundings.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – the William Hawkins Ferry House, 874 Lake Shore.

This article includes research from Brian Vosburg, and his excellent architectural blog:

The houses of Grosse Pointe offer a wonderfully rich and varied style of architecture. Over the years there have been many changes in architectural style around the communities, but when William Kessler designed the house for William Hawkins Ferry, it was a considerable departure from the style of homes Grosse Pointers had become accustomed to.

874 Lakeshore_6

Coutesy of Joseph Messana

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 Kessler’s own home located on Cadieux, Grosse Pointe Park.

The architect

kesslerWilliam Kessler was born in 1924 in Pennsylvania. After serving in World War 2, Kessler studied architecture at the Chicago institute of Design, graduating with a BA in 1948. He then attended Harvard University, where he studied and taught with Walter Gropius. After graduating he came to live in Grosse Pointe, working for Minoru Yamasaki.

By 1955 Kessler had established a firm with fellow architect Philip Meathe to form Meathe, Kessler and Associates. He designed his own home in the Pointes, the renowned William and Margot Kessler House (in 1959), where he would reside until his death in 2002.


The artist

Hawkins Ferry

Courtesy of and

William Hawkins Ferry is recognized as a key figure in bringing modernist art and architecture to the attention of people in Detroit and the U.S. He attended Cranbrook School for Boys, learning from Modernist Maestro’s Eliel Saarinen and George Gough Booth. He continued his education at Harvard Design School, the same school Kessler would later attend, where he studied under legendary Bauhaus Founder Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer.

In 1964 Mr. Ferry 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.


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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 330 Lincoln, aka the Waterman House, and the architect George William Graves

Two very talented men, one beautiful house – welcome to 330 Lincoln, one of Grosse Pointe’s most notable residences, designed by George William Graves and home of Cameron B. Waterman, inventor of the outboard motor.

330 Lincoln was built in 1911, and stands on Lincoln, at the corner of Maumee in the village of Grosse Pointe. The 6,800 sq ft stucco Georgian mansion was designed by George William Graves, and is a stunning example of perfect symmetrical Georgian styling. One of the most striking features of the house is the large windows, a typical characteristic of this style of home, as is the large center hall foyer, in this case a grand 250 sq ft in size, offering a stunning entrance to the residence. The floor plan flows seamlessly into the expansive living room (33’ x 16’) and a large dining room (19’ x 16’) both of which had their own sunrooms.

330 Lincoln_3_81

330 Lincoln – March 1981


A few years after the main portion of the home was built, Mr. Waterman added a tudor-inspired library and games room to the back of the home (36’’ x 22). The new two-story addition, designed similar to an English Chapel, features an attractive balcony at one end and a large stone fireplace at the other. Both rooms’ feature leaded-glass windows, gothic arches along with oak-paneled and trimmed ceilings and walls. It is said that this room was inspired by the Waterman’s trips abroad and became the perfect venue for large-scale family events.

330 Lincoln_3  330 Lincoln_1

330_lincoln_2  Chapel


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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 625 Lakeshore, aka the Harry Mulford Jewett House

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth Century two very different styles of homes began to appear on Lakeshore. The early Indian trail had begun to witness a tug of war between the wealthy Detroit businessmen wanting to build themselves a summer cottage and those wanting to construct a year round residence for their families next to the water. *

Land was at premium; the two vastly different types of property were replacing the original farmhouses. First came the summer cottages; typically in Queen Anne Style, they set the tone for many of the new homes that were built in the area at the ‘turn of the century’. Many of the properties were built in picturesque settings with well-manicured lawns and elegant flower gardens.

Example of Queen Anne style House

Example of Queen Anne style House

In stark contrast were the larger year round colonial revival style residences with their formal gardens. Grosse Pointe was fast becoming the place to live, and these new homes had begun to emerge, born from the desire of many families to escape the city and move to the suburbs.

625 Lakeshore

Colonial Revival Residence – 625 Lakeshore

The early 20th Century marked the growth of Detroit thanks to the introduction of the automobile, which marked the end of the Victorian, Queen Anne style era. Colonial revival architecture was now in vogue and many of the summer cottages that adorned Lakeshore were quickly being out numbered by year-round structures.

One early example of the new style year-round family home, which still stands proudly overlooking the lake, is house number 625 Lakeshore, Grosse Pointe Shores, also known as the Harry Mulford Jewett house – originally named ‘Maplehurst’.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 22 Lee Gate Lane, aka the Hudson Tannahill House.

HughTKeyesHugh Tallman Keyes was a prolific designer of fine homes in the Grosse Pointes and was arguably one of the most diverse architects to work in the community. His work at 22 Lee Gate Lane was one of his signature projects, and, at the time, was built to contain one of the greatest private art collections in the world.

He studied architecture at Harvard University where his drawings won an honorable mention in the Intercollegiate Architecture Competition (the most important event in the collegiate architecture world), and he went onto to work with C. Howard Crane and Albert Kahn.

During his long and distinguished career Keyes built many significant houses in Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills. One of his ‘principal works’ was the Hudson Tannahill House, located at 22 Lee Gate Lane, Grosse Pointe Farms. The 5,490 sqft home was built in 1947 for Robert Hudson Tannahill, a renowned art collector in Detroit, nephew of department store king Joseph L. Hudson and a nephew of Eleanor Ford, wife of Edsel.

22 Lee Gate

Tannahill’s collection centered on 19th and 20th century artists including Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas and Van Gogh amongst others. He began donating pieces of art to the DIA in 1926, and would go on to donate over 475 items during his lifetime. Upon his death, in 1969, the museum received an additional 557 works valued at approximately $13m.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect – Hugh T. Keyes.

Welcome to the work of Hugh Tallman Keyes, a noted early 20th century architect. 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.

His work centered on creating grand estates for the industrialists of Metropolitan Detroit (clients included Ford, Hudson-Tannahill, Bugas and Mennen) and he is considered to be one of the most versatile architects of the period.

HughTKeyesKeyes was born in Trenton, MI in 1888. He studied architecture at Harvard University and worked under architect C. Howard Crane. After graduating he quickly became an associate of Albert Kahn working on Kahn’s “signature project” the Detroit Athletic Club.

He was also a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Navy during World War 1. He then spent time in Europe, traveling in England, France, Italy and Switzerland gathering inspiration for his work.

After briefly working at Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, Keyes opened his own Detroit office in 1921. His style was wonderfully diverse and ranged from Tudor Revival (highly popular in the early 20th Century metropolitan area) to rustic Swiss chalets. However he was most known for Regency (mostly French) houses of white brick, Georgian/Palladian, and incorporating symmetrical bow-fronted wings and wrought iron balconies into his designs.

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