Detroit, MI 2003


October 25-27, 2003

The Victorian Society in America visited Detroit as it once was, still is, and will be again.  We visited a great number of historic buildings, private houses, and adaptive use sites including the former Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical office building, now an Omni Hotel, which was our headquarters.  The hotel, located on the Detroit River, afforded a wonderful view of Windsor, Ontario, and Belle Isle.


Cranbrook, a large complex of buildings that consists of several schools, churches, a theater, museums, houses, fountains, sculpture, and magnificent grounds, was begun by George Booth to provide educational facilities in the new city of Bloomfield Hills.

Eliel Saarinen had met Henry Booth, the son of George Booth, at the University of Michigan, where the elder Saarinen was a visiting professor of Architecture.  After WWI  commissions were few and far between in his native Finland, so Saarinen had entered the Chicago Tribune Tower competition and won second prize.  He came to see America and ultimately taught at the University of Michigan.  In Saarinen the Booths found the man to design their school, and between 1931 and 1943 the elder Saarinen - and then all the Saarinens, Lola, Eero, and Pipsen - transformed this large farm into the prestigious art center that it is today.  Other artisans joined the faculty as artists-in-residence, including Carl Millais, Harry Bertoria, Charles Eames, and Maija Grotell.   We will tour the campus by bus and visit Cranbrook House, the Art Museum, Christ Church Cranbrook, and Saarinens House. 
Meadowbrook is the stately mansion built by John Dodge’s widow, Mathilda Dodge Wilson.  John Dodge was in the process of building a home on Lake Shore Drive in Grosse Pointe when he died suddenly in 1920.  The house in Grosse Pointe was to be magnificent with no thought to cost or material.  Dodge imported 110 stone-cutters who had worked on Skibo Castle, Carnegie’s home in Scotland.  The house contained 110 rooms and 24 bathrooms.  Unfortunately the house was never completed and was torn down in 1941 and the property divided.  In 1925 , Mathilda married Alfred Wilson, acquired 1400 acres in suburban Rochester, Michigan, and began anew to build her estate.  The Wilsons and their architect William Kapp, of the firm of Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls, then spent over a year in Europe searching for ideas for their home.  By 1929 their sprawling Tudor mansion was complete.  The Wilsons lived in the home until 1957 when they gave their estate to Michigan State University. 
3:00 p.m.  Board the bus for the return trip to the Omni Hotel  

5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.  Cocktail Reception at The Omni Hotel on the river patio (cash bar) 
6:30 p.m.  Arrive at Whitney Restaurant for Dinner  and opening session.  
The Whitney Restaurant is a wonderful Victorian house, now one of the finest restaurants in Detroit.  Originally the home of the Whitneys, who were prominent lumber barons,  The Whitney is one of the few survivors of the stately homes that lined Woodward Avenue at the end of the nineteenth century.  The owners have restored the building to its former glory and transformed it into a restaurant.  Our speakers will be Katherine Clarkson, former director of Preservation Wayne and now a consultant and tour guide, and Glenn Calvin Moon, a prominent architectural photographer.  They will present a brief talk on Detroit as it once was, and an overview of its distinguished history.  Ron Fox, the owner, will also give a brief history of the Whitney and a tour of the building. 

8:30 a.m.  Bus departs from the Omni Hotel 
Day trip  Continental breakfast, lunch and dinner are included.
Our tour leader will be Katherine Clarkson, who will escort us on a tour of historic homes and neighborhoods in the city.  Our first neighborhood will be Corktown, which is in the oldest surviving part of the city.  Corktown was settled by the Irish in the mid-to-late 1800s.  Next we will go to the Woodbridge area and visit a charming Victorian home with a new ‘Victorian’ addition.  There will be coffee, tea and continental breakfast while visiting this home.

 We then proceed toward Canfield Street and another private home.  The owner is a collector of old toys.  Canfield Street is the best preserved of the Victorian districts and, thanks to a long-time resident, the street has had the cobblestones replaced and the streetscape restored.  The homes are all well maintained.
Woodward East neighborhood.
This area had a very sad history.  The finest Victorian homes in the city were in this area, (also known as Piety Hill) and for forty years the City refused to sell or fix any of them.  Now the City has agreed to repair the entire area, even buildings with only three walls standing.  Many homes, of course, are gone, but Michael Farrell, an architectural historian who has lived here through it all, has restored one house in the area, and his next-door neighbor has restored another, which is now a law firm. Meanwhile, local developers have restored or are restoring others, as well as constructing Victorian revival row houses nearby.
Next we will visit The Inn on Ferry Street and look at the newly restored Ferry Street Bed & Breakfast Group, followed by a tour of the Freer House.  This was the home of Charles Freer (as in The Freer at the Smithsonian) and the second location of Whistler’s Peacock Room before it was sent to Washington D.C.  Built in l890 by prominent architect Wilson Eyre Jr., the house is more reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement and Frank Lloyd Wright than the other Victorian houses in the same area.
“Streets of Old Detroit” at the Detroit Historical Museum

Visit the newly renovated “Streets of Old Detroit,” a fascinating recreation of Detroit’s nineteenth century store fronts and cobbled streets, incorporating material from actual shops and theaters.  This is a popular permanent exhibit in one of the many galleries.  Lunch at the museum.
 The Historic Boston-Edison district: We will drive through the neighborhood, passing by Henry Ford’s first major home and the J. L Hudson house.  Other interesting homes include the Siegal house, the Kresge House, the Briggs House, the Fisher House, and the Berry Gordy House, and we will visit two or three of them as time permits.

 We will continue north on Woodward to Palmer Woods, driving on the first mile of paved road in the country.  Palmer Park is another historic neighborhood built in the 1920s and 1930s and included several of the Fisher brothers’ homes as well as the homes of other prominent Detroiters.  A tour of one private home is scheduled.

 We will then head south, driving through Woodlawn Cemetery, “home” to many recognizable Detroit names such as Hudson, Dodge, and others.  Continuing south, we will visit Highland Park (a city surrounded by the city of Detroit) for a look at some very fine Craftsman bungalows and some Henry Ford connections, including the home of the assembly line

Next we will have a look at the automobile industry and pass by, and perhaps look in, Henry Ford’s Piquette Avenue Plant, birthplace of the Model T.  Then we will pass the Packard Plant on our way to the most unusual site on our trip.  A short detour away is Heidelberg Street and the “art work” of Tyree Guyton.  Over the last 20 years he has “decorated” houses with an assortment of tires, suitcases, bicycles, signs, shoes, and baby dolls.  The city keeps tearing his houses down but he doesn’t give up.  The Detroit Institute of Arts has had a show for him, Cinemax made a movie about him, and his work has been declared art.  The “art” changes daily so it will be a surprise.

 Continuing on, we will arrive in Indian Village where we will pick up our new tour guide, Michelene Larsen.  Michelene and her husband Matt are obsessive Cadillac enthusiasts.  They recently entertained two thousand other Cadillac fanatics for the Cadillac Centennial.  She will give us a “car by car” description of Indian Village, actually a house-by-house account of all the automobile entrepreneurs and where they lived when the industry was in its infancy.  We will be able to visit Edsel Ford’s first house and perhaps another.
6:30 p.m.  Detroit’s Finest Fare – a progressive dinner: seven courses at seven homes, but only three blocks walking.  First we arrive at 971 Burns, which has been featured on both HGTV’s “Restore America” and “If These Walls Could Talk.”  You will then be given a map with directions to the homes on the progressive dinner, where a different course of Detroit’s Finest Fare will be served at each house.  The owners will be present to show and tell you about their homes and what they have done to them.The bus will leave for the hotel at approximately 9:00 p.m..

MONDAY  Breakfast is on your own.  Lunch is included 
8:30 p.m.  Bus departs Omni Hotel for a tour of downtown Detroit. 

Our tour will start at the Elwood Bar, an art deco jewel.  We hope to meet Chuck Forbes, the far-sighted savior of the Fox Theatre, the Palms Theatre, The Gem, and the Elwood.  Both the Gem and the Elwood were threatened with demolition when a new baseball park was being built.  Chuck saved them both by moving them around the corner.  The Gem is the heaviest building ever moved in one piece on wheels, and he will show us the movie of the event.  While in the same area we will tour the Fox Theatre, the Gem Theatre, the Detroit Opera House, and the Detroit Athletic Club, a wonderful building designed by Albert Kahn.

We will proceed for a driving tour of downtown, stopping to look in the lobby of the Guardian Building and the Penobscot Building, both splendid examples of the American vertical style.  The Guardian Building lobby is covered with Rookwood and Pewabic tiles.   

Leaving downtown, we will pass through Lafayette Park and drive past the Mies Van Der Rohe-designed townhouses and apartment buildings.  We will visit one Mies Van Der Rohe townhouse.  The owner is an art collector who tries to keep his collection on a rotating basis in keeping with the “less is more” philosophy.  Next we will visit The Players, which is a private men-only acting club.  

We will take a five-mile drive around Belle Isle (in Detroit this is a one syllable word), an island in the Detroit River.  The Belle Isle Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.  There is a fountain designed by Cass Gilbert, a botanical garden, a casino, numerous smaller buildings and an Aquarium designed by Albert Kahn.  You will see another view of Windsor and probably lots of deer.  We will be going to the Detroit Yacht Club for lunch and a tour.

 There were actually seven Fisher Brothers and so there are several Fisher Mansions.  The Lawrence Fisher Mansion was bought by Walter Reuther’s daughter and Alfred Ford, grandson of Henry Ford, for the Hari Krishnas, who own and operate it today.  The house and property are still wonderful and worth a visit.

Pewabic Pottery is an Arts and Crafts building and ceramic business started by Mary Chase Stratten at the turn of the twentieth century.  She specialized in architectural tiles but also made other art pottery.  One of her best know works is the crypt in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. 

 Optional private transportation to the Airport can be provided from this point for those with early return flights.

 Our final stop is at this eight-story early 20th century apartment building with very large apartments overlooking the Detroit River and Belle Isle.  We will tour one or two apartments as time permits.  
5:00 p.m.  Return to the Omni Hotel in time for people to make connections to planes or trains. 

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