Last week we presented the history of Dodge Place. The property was originally the location of 17800 E. Jefferson, designed by Albert Kahn in 1905, for Charles M. Swift. The grand English Tudor, one of the earlier year-round residences to be constructed in Grosse Pointe, was razed in 1985, and is now the location of 18 homes on Dodge Place. This week we continue our focus on the work of Albert Kahn as we stop by 266 Lakeland, one of the few remaining projects by this prestigious architect. Of the 20 or so projects this nationally renowned designer completed in Grosse Pointe, at least half a dozen of his creations have been demolished.
266 Lakeland Avenue, “Rosecroft”, was completed in 1912, for Benjamin Franklin Tobin, president, and eventual chairman of the board of Continental Motors. The elegant Tudor 5,474 sq ft residence was named “Rosecroft”, because of the rose gardens that were once located on the grounds. It was one of the earliest properties created for the many high profile auto executives who wanted a stunning home in the suburbs, at the turn of the twentieth century, in what was becoming the thriving community of Grosse Pointe. Image of the rear of the property courtesy of Realtor.com
Prior to moving into their new home, it was reported in the Detroit Free Press, the Tobin’s had temporarily moved in with Mrs. Tobin’s mother, Mrs. C. C. Curtis, who also resided on Lakeland Avenue. Upon completion, the new 18-room property featured a three-story open staircase, a large living room, library, morning room, and a dining room on the main floor. The interior was also filled with many sublime architectural details one would associate with a Kahn designed home – beautiful woodwork and ornate plasterwork on the walls and ceilings. The library has hidden shelves, wood paneling, a barrel ceiling, and ornate plasterwork. There was also Pewabic tile throughout – around fireplaces, on the tile floor in the foyer, and in the bathrooms. It was reported, by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, the property has 126 windows, 74 doors, and 112 stairs. There was once a total of four wood burning fireplaces along with a dumb waiter running through the four floors. The photos below are courtesy of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society.
An interesting story emerged in June 1918, when Mr. and Mrs. Tobin, who were in need of staff, posted ads in the Detroit Free Press for an “experienced house maid, a good waitress, an experienced second maid, and a competent butler.” The experienced house maid was to be paid $10 a week (around $203 today).
The original owner of 266 Lakeland, Benjamin F. Tobin was born in Chicago on November 29, 1865. He began his career in the auto industry in 1903 and became a pivotal figure in its success and growth. He was one of the primary forces in organizing and developing the Continental Motor Corporation and eventually became its chairman, having helped establish the company in Chicago in 1905. When the plant was moved to Muskegon he went there to run the company. Mr. Tobin then arrived in Detroit from Muskego in 1912, to establish the new Continental Motors Corporation plant in Detroit and to make the city its general headquarters. Upon the company’s arrival it was reported Detroit’s auto industrial activity received new impetus. It is acknowledged Continental Motors eventually became one of the most extensive companies of its kind in the world, employing more than 7000 people, with plants located in Detroit and Muskegon. In 1929, the company formed a subsidiary called Continental Aircraft Engine Company to produce aircraft engines. Source: Detroit Free Press (November 1920). Image courtesy of: findagrave.com
During his career Mr. Tobin was also a director of the Merchants National Bank of Detroit, President of the Fidelity Mortgage & Guarantee Company of Miami, and one of the reorganizers and a Director of the Lakey Foundry & Machine Company in Muskegon. It has been suggested “the dominant feature of Tobin’s career was conservatism, and so it seemed appropriate that he would choose Kahn as the architect for his home, a man known for his diversity of styles, yet always retaining a sense of dignity and simplicity.” Source: unknown.
Benjamin Tobin married Laura Maude Loeser of Chicago in 1890, and together they had two children, Benjamin F. Jr., and Marjorie. His son Benjamin Jr., also worked for Continental Motors. We understand in addition to their home at 266 Lakeland, the Tobin family had a winter residence in Buena Vista, Florida.
Mr. Tobin passed on November 23, 1920, from acute indigestion aged just 55 years old. Many of the leading industrial figures in Detroit attended his funeral and acted as honorary pallbearers, including Horace Dodge, Emil Stroh, and Owen S. Hawes. Ross W. Judson, president of the Continental Company paid a fitting tribute. After his death the Tobin family continued to reside at Rosecroft until 1944, when it was purchased by automotive pioneer William R. Wilson. Mr. Wilson was associated with Dodge, Maxwell Motor Corp, Sudebaker, and the Reo Motor Car Co. Upon Mr. Wilson’s death, on June 5, 1958, 266 Lakeland was sold later that year to Genevieve Schaefer.
In 2017, 266 Lakeland was awarded a bronze historic plaque by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society for its architectural significance to the community. And it is significant in so many ways.
*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