Last week we continued with the collaborative work of Charles Platt and Ellen Biddle Shipman as we explored 99 Lothrop. The Georgian Colonial property was designed for Allen Fulton Edwards in 1928, Ellen Biddle Shipman, designed the garden. This week we take a final look at the collective efforts of this talented duo as we explore 242 Provencal. The lost mansion was completed in 1934, for Mrs. Marion Jarvis Alger, the widow of Russel A. Alger Jr.
The affiliation of Charles Platt and Ellen Biddle Shipman began around 1910. By 1912, Shipman was collaborating with Platt on gardens across the United States, including one of their first joint projects in Grosse Pointe – 32 Lake Shore “the Moorings” (now the War Memorial) in 1910/11, created for Russell and Marion Alger – the couple’s first home in Grosse Pointe – read the full story here.
Russell A. Alger Jr. and Marion Jarvis Alger were married in 1896, and together they had three children. Mr. Alger was a lumber baron and industrialist with interests in railroads and banking. He was also one of the main investors in the Packard Motor Car Co., serving as Packard’s vice president for many years. 32 Lake Shore was an Italian Renaissance style Villa known as “The Moorings”. It was set on 4.5 acres and was one of the finest country estates found in Grosse Pointe and in southeastern Michigan. Photos courtesy of: Grosse Pointe War Memorial, by Ann Marie Aliotta, Suzy Berschback, and the GPHS.
In 1921, terribly Mr. Alger was paralyzed in a riding accident. It is reported he was an invalid until his death in 1930, aged just fifty-seven. Shortly after he passed, his widow Marion Alger moved out of 32 Lake Shore. Instead of selling the property it is understood she donated the family home, in 1936, to the Detroit Institute of Arts to serve as a branch of the museum. Then, in 1948, the property was returned to the Alger family, and one year later the family donated the house to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial Association.
After her husband’s death it is acknowledged Mrs. Alger cared deeply about the community and wanted to remain in Grosse Pointe. She hired Charles A. Platt once again to design a new home for her, located at 242 Provencal, while Ellen Biddle Shipman was also hired to design the garden. At this stage in her career Shipman was a nationally renowned landscape architect who was known for her formal gardens, simple clean geometries, and lush planting style. Many national magazines regularly featured Shipman’s work – House and Garden, in 1933 named her the “Dean of Women Landscape Architects”. Shipman, throughout her career, created over 650 gardens, including at least 46 commissions alone in Grosse Pointe – more than any other community in the United States.
242 Provencal was a striking Colonial home with a circular driveway. The property was located next to 248 Provencal, the home of her daughter Caroline Fay Alger Miller and her husband, Sidney T. Miller, Jr., a prominent lawyer in Detroit. While very little is known about 242 Provencal, we were able to locate some wonderful photos of the garden. The following photos are from the Ellen Shipman Garden Photography Collection, courtesy of the Smithsonian Gardens.
242 Provencal – Alger House
Grand design plan.
Alger 2 – Lawn leading to pool and bath house.
Alger 3 – Pool and bathhouse.
Alger 4 – Patio garden with seating, urns, and lawn.
Alger 5 – Patio with fountain in niche and potted plants.
Alger 6 – Bathhouse with seating and swimming pool.
Alger 7/8 – Flower beds divided by paths behind house.
Alger 9 – Pair of statues flanking steps to lower garden terrace.
Alger 10 – Steps to sunken flower garden with sundial.
The garden at 242 Provencal was well known in the community – in June 1948, and in May 1949, the garden was part of the Detroit Garden Center tour. The tour offered the public a chance to view some of the most beautiful gardens in the city and the suburbs. In 1948, 67 gardens were on the tour, while in 1949, there were 88 gardens to see. The Alger Garden was also part of the tour in 1954, and once again in June 1961 – the program book in 1961 described the garden at 242 Provencal as “a large, handsome formal garden with gorgeous roses, statuary, and a pool. A treasure of distinguished design and horticultural beauty.” Source: Detroit Free Press (June 1961).
Throughout her life Marion Jarvis Alger was “a leader in Detroit’s charitable and cultural affairs, carrying on philanthropic traditions established by the Alger family. For many years, Mrs. Alger presented a $500 check at Christmas to the Detroit News Boys Association, to buy clothing for needy boys. She was also active in the Thrift Club (which she founded) and was a charter member of the Women’s City Club.” Source: Detroit Free Press (December 1962). It is understood she resided at 242 Provencal until her death on December 17, 1962. When she passed, she was at her winter residence in Boca Grande, Florida.
Sadly 242 Provencal was demolished in the 2000’s. As with so many of the “lost homes” in Grosse Pointe it may be gone, but it’s not forgotten.
*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.
** Research, information, and data sources are deemed reliable, but accuracy cannot be fully guaranteed.
Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2023 Katie Doelle