Take a walk down Windmill Pointe, Grosse Pointe Park, and it can feel like you have entered an architectural exhibition, with so many classical works on display it is hard to know where to look first.
A prime example is the house located at 15530 Windmill Pointe – possibly Grosse Pointes grandest home? It is certainly a contender for the prize, but already faces stiff competition from its next-door neighbors 15520 Windmill Pointe – the superb home created by Alpheus W. Chittenden for John B. Ford arrived in Grosse Pointe in 1928. And then there is 15500 Windmill Pointe, built in 1927 by Benjamin and Straight for Colonel Jesse G. Vincent this is also a contender for Grosse Pointe’s most distinctive home.
Renowned architectural firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls designed 15530 Windmill Pointe in 1929 for Hal H. Smith, a partner in a leading Detroit law firm, Beaumont, Smith and Harris. As a member of the Detroit Museum of Art Founders Society, Mr. Smith was a patron of the arts, and played a pivotal role in the promotion and appreciation of art in Detroit.
Prior to working on the house at Windmill Pointe Smith, Hinchman & Grylls (SHG) already had a stellar reputation in Detroit for designing large commercial and civic projects, creating iconic buildings such as –
- Crowleys Department Store (Detroit 1906)
- Hudsons Department Store (Detroit 1911)
- The Bankers Trust Company Building (Detroit 1925)
- The Buhl Building (Detroit 1925)
- Guardian Building (Detroit 1928, designed by architect Wirt Rowland, who was employed by SHG)
Despite their work on these larger scale projects the firm of SHG were just as skilled in residential projects. According to research on Michiganmodern.org early on in the firms history, the Smith firm (as it was known prior to 1906) was adept at ‘adjusting stylistically to the preference of the client, taking inspiration and copying from architecture books to design various Classical Revival style structures’. By 1906 the firm had taken on two new partners and was subsequently renamed Smith, Hinchman & Grylls. By the end of World War I the firm had over 270 staff, and Michiganmodern.org states ‘during the 1920’s the firm stayed true to its design roots, producing classically inspired architecture throughout Metro Detroit’.*
They also designed several buildings in Grosse Pointe, by far their largest residential project is 15530 Windmill Pointe, the 14,547 sq. ft. residence is situated on 1.9 acres of land on the shores of Lake St. Clair. The house is a Colonial Revival design constructed of brick, with a slate roof. The home features a grand façade, featuring many Colonial elements, including the elegant front door flanked by two plain stone columns, along with many evenly spaced large windows. The symmetrical design of the home is also typical of this architectural style, as is the two identical wings on either side of the home.
The interior of the 8 bedroom, 8 bathroom home is stunning, and the craftsmanship exquisite. The long, narrow great hall has a marble floor, and from here you make your way to the sitting room and onto the colossal library. At 32’ x 45’ sq ft it is undoubtedly one of the largest rooms in the community. The library features a natural fireplace and beautiful oak paneling. However the focal point of the room is the stunning cathedral ceiling, with incredible detailing, described by Higbie Maxon in 1973 as probably being the finest in Grosse Pointe. Also on the first floor is the dining room (20’ x 22’) complete with parquet floor, a beautiful chandelier, intricately decorated ceiling and a natural fireplace. The living room is 20’ x 35’ and also features a large natural fireplace.
The second floor is accessed by a hanging circular staircase, which leads to 5 large bedrooms, including the master suite (14’ x 25’), and a sitting room (15’ x 18’) – both room’s feature fireplaces. Also on the second floor are 3 additional bedrooms for the maid’s, service stairs to the basement along with access to the 5-room apartment over the garage (it is not known if this was part of the original build or was a later addition).
Very little is known about the subsequent history of this home, and we would love to know more about it. But what we do know is this home is a beautiful example of Colonial Revival architecture at its very best, and while Windmill Pointe isn’t an exhibition, the classical architecture on display is enough to inspire anyone.
*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.
Written by Katie Doelle
© 2015 Katie Doelle
* In 2000, the firm changed its name from Smith, Hinchman & Grylls to SmithGroup. SmithGroupJJR ranks as the United States’ 7th largest architectural and engineering firm (Building Design & Construction, July 2015) and employs 800 – Wikepedia.com