We turn our attention to another significant period of transformation, the 1950s. As the large mansions on Lake Shore were razed and the plots subdivided new developments and streets were rapidly appearing.
One such street was Sunningdale. Like so many of the “newer” streets in the community, Sunningdale is one without a definitive architectural style. There is the collection of homes built prior to 1940, a significant amount of homes built around the 1950’s (a period of extensive growth in this area), and the even newer homes, built in the 2000’s – reminiscent of homes from a by-gone era.
40 Sunningdale is of particular interest. Completed in 1957 it has had a number of high profile residents including, Alfred L. Marks and his wife Virginia Backus Marks (the original owners), Bill Ford Jr. and Kirk Gibson. It is a striking Colonial inspired home, originally located on a secluded 1.9 acre estate, the house was 5,050 sq ft, when completed. It was beautifully decorated throughout with herringbone floors in the large living room (17’ x 27’ sq ft), dining room (16’ x 14’ sq ft) and the front hall, which is a grand 14’ x 6’ sq ft. Many of the rooms on the first floor feature large fireplaces (living room, dining room, and the library). There was also a substantial 24’ x 24’ sq ft terrace room. The second floor contained six bedrooms, along with two additional bedrooms for maids, while the basement featured a 32’ x 17’ sq ft games room (with fireplace), and a large 11’ x 24’ sq ft workroom.
It appears the house, and its lot size, has changed considerably over time. The house is now around 6,742 sq ft, while the lot size is 0.95 acres. In 1984 the home was listed for sale, as were part(s) of the original lot to form a new lot on Stratton Place and a new lot on Lochmoor Blvd. In total the complete package (the house, and two separate lots) was listed for $810,000 (around $1.9 million today).
Edmund E. Primeau designed 40 Sunningdale, and the noted Hilary Micou built it. Primeau was a versatile designer creating numerous homes in Grosse Pointe in varying architectural styles. During the 1950’s he created several residences including: 381 Lake Shore (1957), 77 Sunningdale (1955), 21 Lochmoor Boulevard (1955), and 211 Country Club Drive (1951).
The original owners of the home were Alfred L. “Budd” Marks, and his wife Virginia Backus Marks. Based on research by Larry W. Stephenson, M.D we understand that by all accounts they were a rather colorful couple. They married in 1941, and had five children together. Dr. Stephenson’s research explained that General Marks was officially known in Grosse Pointe as Alfred Lafayette Marks, while the Michigan Air National Guard had his name listed as Magnus Buddy Marks. From about 1955 through 1958, General Marks commanded the 127th Tactical Air Wing, which at that time was located at one of the Detroit airports, possibly Metro. The squadron was comprised of two jet fighter squadrons plus a third at Battle Creek.
Virginia, born in 1922, was the daughter of Standus Backus a lawyer, engineer, general Counsel for General Motors (in 1911) who then became President of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company in 1920. Mr. Backus owned one of Grosse Pointe’s grandest homes, 725 Lake Shore, a magnificent Tudor mansion situated on a 12-acre estate. Given that the Backus mansion wasn’t raised until 1966 we believe 40 Suningdale (the home for his daughter, Virginia) was located on part of the Backus residence. Now subdivided, the original Backus estate currently encompasses Sunningdale Drive, Lochmoor Blvd, Stratton Place, and possibly Belle Meade Road. If anyone has any further information on this we would love to hear from you.
In 1975 Virginia Backus Marks and her husband Alfred divorced. Virginia continued to live in the property, while Alfred moved to 75 Tonnancour Place. After Virginia married Edward Burns Caulkins, in 1975, it appears the couple resided at 40 Sunningdale until 1984 when the property was listed for sale, and they moved to Hobe Sound, Florida.
The next owner of 40 Sunningdale was Bill Ford Jr. (William Clay Ford Jr.). Born in 1957 Mr. Ford is the great-grandson of Henry Ford. He joined the board of Ford Motor Company in 1988, and has held the position(s) of President, CEO, and COO before turning over the roles to Alan Mulally in 2006. Since 2006 has held the position of Executive Chairman. Source Wikipedia.
Based on information in the Higbie Maxon archives it appears the Ford’s resided at 40 Sunningdale until 1993. At which point it was sold to one of Detroit’s most famous sporting hero’s, professional baseball player Kirk Gibson. One of the stars of the Tigers World Series winning team in 1984 he enjoyed a stellar career until his retirement in 1995. He is currently a broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers, and continues to reside in Grosse Pointe, albeit at a different address. 40 Sunningdale was sold again in 2004. The new owners made extensive changes; the size of the home was increased to 6,742 sq ft, yet despite the major alterations the homes traditional elegance was retained inside and out.
Grosse Pointe has been, and is home to numerous famous, prominent people. Despite only being built in 1957 40 Sunningdale has possibly seen more noted residents in its short history than most –a retired air force general, Henry Ford’s grandson, and a baseball superstar – it doesn’t get more impressive than that.
*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.
Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2021 Katie Doelle