Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Introducing the Work of Minoru Yamasaki

Last week we took a more in-depth look at the work of Anne (Krebs) Crane. Ms. Crane and her husband were responsible for several distinctive homes in Grosse Pointe, including their own property – 15 Moorland, Grosse Pointe Shores.

Given Ms. Crane’s association with Minoru Yamasaki we thought it was about time we presented the work of one of the most prominent architects of the 20th century. In a career spanning three decades, he created over 250 buildings throughout the world, including the World Trade Center, and at least five projects in Grosse Pointe.

Minoru Yamasaki was born in Seattle, 1912. He graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Architecture, in 1934. Shortly after graduating he studied for a master’s degree in architecture at New York University. His first job was with architecture firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, designers of the Empire State Building. In 1945 Yamasaki moved to Detroit to work for the nationally recognized firm of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, as head of design.

In 1949, he and two other employees established their own firm Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuth – the firm had offices in Detroit and St. Louis. The firm received the commission to design the Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Air Terminal, in 1951, which won the AIA First Honor Award. Source: https://usmodernist.org/. A commission for the U. S. Consulate in Kobe, Japan soon followed. Yamasaki traveled to Japan three times for the project. After which he continued with his travels, with an all-encompassing trip to Europe, India and Asia. It is said Yamasaki was struck by the traditional architecture of these places. Source: http://yamasaki.wayne.edu/

Yamasaki formed Yamasaki and Associates, in 1957. Projects came from all of the world, and from across the United States. The firm’s commission for the World Trade Center in New York City (1964-1973) landed him on the cover of Time magazine. Other significant projects include: the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Torre Picasso, Rainier Tower, and the IBM Building. Yamasaki passed in Detroit, 1986, his firm, Yamasaki & Associates, closed in 2009. Source: Wikipedia

During his career Yamasaki worked on a couple of noted buildings and homes in Grosse Pointe, they are somewhat of a rarity. His first commission was 234 Lothrop, completed in 1949 for Daniel W. Goodenough. It is a one of a kind house that Yamasaki created in association with noted designer Alexander Girrard – Yamasaki designed the interior and structure of the house, while Girard designed some of the fixtures inside the home. This superb collaboration of talent created a modern contemporary residence, situated on a wooded 1.6-acre lot. The main floor of the wood and stone construction presents an open concept, with a central atrium, a large 26’ x 30’ sq ft central living area, and a 16’ x 19’ sq ft library (a later addition by William Kessler). The first floor also includes the master suite (down four steps from the main living level), an additional bedroom, plus two bathrooms. The second floor contains a 16’ x 11’ sitting room, three further bedrooms and two bathrooms. When the house was first built there were originally seven bedrooms – two were for maids, however the home has been extensively renovated in 1956 and again in 1975. Color image source: Minoru Yamasaki: Humanist Architecture for a Modernist World By Dale Allen Gyure.



During Yamasaki’s time with Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuth the firm worked on four projects in the community.

The first project was an addition to St Paul on the Lake Catholic School. Completed in 1951, the brief was to ‘sandwich a fourteen-classroom facility into a space between two existing Tudor Gothic buildings’. The new building design, while particular modern in its approach – with a flat front elevation, an extensive use of glass, and a clean, uncomplicated design – the addition of brick walls along with limestone window sills and panels was respectful to the design of the original buildings. Image source: Minoru Yamasaki: Humanist Architecture for a Modernist World By Dale Allen Gyure.

The second, in 1952, was a residential commission for a relatively small 1,536 sq ft ranch home – 664 Shoreham, in Grosse Pointe Woods. We will be exploring this house in greater depth next week.


The third, completed in 1955, was at Christ Church. Based on information from christchurchgp.org we understand ‘a Christian Education Building’ was created to accommodate the Church School. When it became physically outdated, it was demolished and replaced in 2000 by a 32,000-square-foot Christian Education Wing’. Image source: Minoru Yamasaki: Humanist Architecture for a Modernist World By Dale Allen Gyure.

The firm’s final commision in the community was completed in 1954. The project was to design an addition to University of Liggett School (at the time, known as the Detroit University School and Grosse Pointe Country Day School) at 1045 Cook Road. The firm was faced with the challenge of how to make the new building part of the older structure. The commission required Yamasaki to add a new lower and middle school along with a library, gym, and other facilities. The design featured a modernist approach with low single-story buildings, multiple skylights, and covered walkways. The design won a top award in a national competition for better school design. Source and Image: Minoru Yamasaki: Humanist Architecture for a Modernist World By Dale Allen Gyure, and an article in the Detroit Free Press. 


From the early 1950’s through to the mid 1960’s Yamasaki was involved in the design of more than forty schools, mostly in the Detroit suburbs, establishing himself as an expert in this field. Source: Minoru Yamasaki: Humanist Architecture for a Modernist World By Dale Allen Gyure.

Minoru Yamasaki was a genius of modernist architecture, and it is wonderful to think he created five works of art here in Grosse Pointe.

*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.


Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2020 Katie Doelle

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