It is always fun to profile an architect who not only created large, beautifully detailed structures, but could also turn his hand to designing elegant residences on a vastly smaller scale. For many architects who worked in Detroit during the first 30 years of the twentieth century many of them were capable of adapting to this variation in scale – including Albert Kahn, Louis Kamper and George D. Mason to name but a few.
This week we profile the work of Charles Nobel – born 1890, died in 1955. This versatile architect was very productive in the city of Detroit during the 1920’s, creating several iconic buildings.
Possibly his most famous creation was the Lee Plaza Hotel on West Grand Boulevard. Having received the commission from by Ralph T. Lee – referred to by the Detroit Free Press in 1940 as “Detroit’s most spectacular real estate operator during the 1920s” – he made more than $1 million in 10 years’ (around $15m today): Source historicdetroit.org
Nobel began working on the Lee Plaza Hotel in 1927. It was a stunning Art Deco inspired 17-story masterpiece. Its steeply sloped roof of red Spanish tile made a dramatic impact on the Detroit skyline. It featured an abundance of beautiful decorative elements inside and out, including Italian marble in the lobby, ornamental ceilings and elaborate plasterwork.
At the time it was one of Detroit’s most elaborate apartment hotels. When the Lee Plaza Hotel opened it contained 220 luxury class apartments ranging from one to four rooms. It cost $2.5 million to build – around $35 million today: Source historicdetroit.org.
In 1931 Charles Nobel created another Iconic Art Deco building – the Kean Apartments. 16 stories high with four apartments per floor, it was one of the last of the large residential apartments built on Jefferson for many years. Nobel’s attention to detail on the buildings exterior was superb, and the intricate details second to none, as displayed by the photo below.
In 1936 Nobel designed the Art Moderne inspired Elwood Bar (originally located on Woodward Avenue). Unlike his large Art Deco style apartment buildings this was small, yet perfectly formed. It is covered with cream and blue enameled steel. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Several other Nobel projects include:
- Tudor Inspired Miller-Storm Company Office – 1927
- University of Michigan – University Terrace Apartments – 1940’s (demolished 1996)
- Vintage townhouse style condominiums for returning GI’s – Ann Arbor – 1945
Here in Grosse Pointe Farms he created at least four homes that we know of. In 1928, while he was completing his design for the Lee Plaza Hotel, he created 226 Moran and 207 Ridge Road.
226 Moran is a 3,487 sq ft Georgian Colonial home that features a symmetrical front façade, with a central entrance and sublime brickwork. The proportions are exquisite and it is an excellent example of this architectural style.
Also in 1928, and just up the road, Noble created 207 Ridge Road. This 2,766 sq ft early American style home features a steeply pitched roof and a half brick, half-timber façade.
In 1936, having recently finished the design for the Elwood Bar, Nobel designed 91 Grosse Pointe Blvd. This distinctive 2,592 sq ft brick home designed in an English architectural style, features an asymmetrical façade, and at the time of completion had a cedar roof. In 1936 this house also had a view of the lake.
In 1939 Nobel designed 287 Hillcrest. This home is a significant departure from his brick residences and marked a new direction for his architectural style. This 1,558 sq ft home is finished in wood and we can only assume close to the color we see today. This is a charming house and is a perfect example of Noble’s diverse repertoire.
Charles Nobel was clearly a very talented individual. His designs, whether large or small, are handsome, distinctive and always perfectly formed.
If you know of any other Nobel homes that exist in Grosse Pointe we would love to hear from you.
We would like to take this opportunity to wish you Happy Holidays and a very happy and healthy 2017! Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe will return on Tuesday, January 3rd with lots more historic stories.
*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.
Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2016 Katie Doelle