Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Architect – Albert Kahn

We couldn’t cover the architectural history of Grosse Pointe without mentioning Albert Kahn, the genius architect who designed and built over 14 important buildings in the community.

Kahn was born in Rhaunen, Germany in 1869. He arrived in Detroit, in 1880 aged 11. As a teenager he landed a job at the architectural firm of Mason and Rice, during his fourteen years with the firm Kahn won a year’s scholarship (from the magazine “American Architect”) to study abroad in Europe, where he studied with another young architect, Henry Bacon, who would go onto design the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Kahn returned to the U.S and in 1895 founded his own architectural firm ‘Albert Kahn Associates’. Together with his younger brother Julius, he developed a new style of construction for industrial buildings, replacing wood in factory walls, roofs and supports with concrete.

Kahn’s innovative factory designs had already attracting Detroit’s prominent automotive barons (he designed the Packard Motor Company factory in 1903, and Ford’s Highland Park plant in 1909), and his skills in designing residential properties were also gaining acclaim. Many leading industrial figures (including the auto barons he was building factories for) began to commission Khan to design their mansions and homes in Grosse Pointe.

His experiences at home and abroad had given Kahn a profound respect and admiration for traditional architecture, which he employed on the majority of his residential designs throughout his career.

The homes he designed in Grosse Pointe displayed his traditional taste however, two buildings encompassed the innovative practices he was employing in his industrial buildings. One such example was the house built for Henry B. Joy in 1910 on Lake Shore Road, which had a long uninterrupted facade to the lake view with classic symmetry and large window openings at regular intervals.

Kahn had already employed a similar design in 1907 for the Country Club of Detroit, which served as a hub for social life of early Grosse Pointe. It was located on the site where Rose Terrace (number 2) would later be built and was beautifully simple and unique in its design for the period. Which was in stark contrast to the many extravagant Grosse Pointe buildings constructed in the twenties and thirties. (You can read more about the Country Club of Detroit in the excellent article by David Robb).

For the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House (designed in 1927) Kahn returned to his traditional style. The Fords wanted a modest and picturesque property that reproduced the design of the Cotswold homes found in Worcestershire, England. Kahn traveled with the Fords to England to study the quaint Cotswold structures and once building commenced he employed craftsman from England to ensure that elements of the building (the roof in particular) were constructed in an authentic Cotswold manner.

Kahn employed a similar Cotswold style for the Alvan Macauley House (Lake Shore Road) built in 1930. This property however was not so demanding as the Ford house and perfectly captured the concept of the Tudor manor houses found in England. Kahn had a deep admiration for sixteenth century style dwellings and this is visible in both the Ford and Macauley homes along with many others.

Kahn’s work in Grosse Pointe:

  • Henry G. Sherrad House: 59 Lake Shore – 1892 (believed to be an early Kahn design)
  • Charles M. Swift House: 1905 (demolished)
  • Country Club of Detroit: 1907 (demolished)
  • Henry B. Joy House “Fairacres”: 276 Lake Shore  – 1910 (demolished)
  • C. Goodlee Edgar House: 880 Lake Shore Drive -1910
  • Beverly Road Historic District: 23-45 Beverly Road – 1911 (Albert Kahn along with Robert O. Derrick, Raymond Carey and Marcus Burrowes)
  • John S. Newberry House: 99 Lake Shore Drive – 1911 (with Earnest Wilby) – demolished
  • Benjamin F. Tobin House: 266 Lakeland – 1912
  • Rose Terrace (number 1): Jefferson Avenue – 1912 (demolished)
  • Philip H. McMillan House “Elsinore.”: Originally 259 Lake Shore (now 8 Carmel Lane) – 1912
  • Robert Kuhn Residence: 255 Lakeshore Drive – date unknown (demolished)
  • Grosse Pointe Shore Municipal Building: 795 Lake Shore – 1915
  • Frank Kuhn Residence: 28 McKinley Place – 1920
  • Edsel and Elanor Ford House: 1100 Lake Shore – 1927
  • Alvan Macauley House: Lake Shore Road – 1930
  • 1017 Lakeshore – 1930 (originally part of the Ford Estate)
  • Jerome T. Remick Home: 257 Ridge – 1933

During his amazing career Albert Kahn would design 400 buildings in Metro Detroit. According to the Albert Kahn company website, “by 1938, Kahn’s firm was responsible for 20 percent of all architect-designed factories in the U.S.” And as of 2006 Kahn had approximately 60 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places  – 2 are located Grosse Pointe (The Ford House and the Beverly Road Historical District).


Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2015 Katie Doelle


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