Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Precious Gems from Architectural Masters

The rich portfolio of historical buildings we find in Grosse Pointe can be attributed to many of Detroit’s architectural masters, some of which are noted nationally. Many of these designers created a large collection of homes in the community, Robert O. Derrick being one of the most prolific with over 25 buildings to his name, including many superb homes, two prominent school buildings, and ‘the Little Club’.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum, the architectural master’s who came to Grosse Pointe to create one special project. They may not have left us with an abundance of buildings, but what they did create were some very precious gems that should be treasured. Many of these gems came from prominent architects of national and international stature, and they are rare finds within the community.

August Geiger is one such architect who qualifies for such an honorable mention. Born in 1887, New Haven Connecticut, Geiger was one of the most prominent architects in South Florida. His predominant architectural style was Mediterranean Revival, however he also “experimented” in Mission, Neo-classical and Art Deco styles.

Geiger moved to Miami in 1905, becoming the 10th registered architect in Florida, where he worked for the majority of his career (1905 – the late 1940’s). * In 1929 Geiger was commissioned by John B. Ford to create a home for Ford and his family. It was to be Geiger’s sole project in the state of Michigan and in Grosse Pointe.

Located at 217 Touraine Road, Grosse Pointe Farms, the 8,442 sq ft home is a superb Georgian revival residence with a limestone/stucco exterior. The front façade includes an impressive formal doorway flanked by two stone columns, along with a large central pediment, and a circular stone relief.

Given Georgian revival style wasn’t his forte Geiger’s design for 217 Touraine has been described as one of Grosse Pointe’s most regal homes. It displays all the classic hallmarks of Georgian revival architecture – a formal design, strictly rectangular, symmetrical facades and distinctive quoins (cornerstones). August Geiger may have only designed one property in Michigan, but in that property he created a magnificent home.

The large marble foyer (26’ x 17’ sq ft) with circular floating staircase leads to 16 rooms including: a grand living room (31’ x 20’ sq ft), dining room (23’ x 20’ sq ft), library (26’ x 17’ sq ft), butlers pantry and 6 large bedrooms. The interior of the home is nothing but opulent.

According to research by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society the Ford’s lived in the house from 1929 through to 1941. It was then home to GM automotive designer Harley Earl until 1959.

While Geiger created something to remember on Touraine, several other prominent architects left behind some precious gems for us all to admire, including:

Paul Rudolph: 3 Cameron Place:
With a sublime view of Lake St. Clair, 3 Cameron Place, aka the Frank and Anne Parcells House, breaks the mould of the traditional architectural residences that are found throughout the Pointes. The sculpture like structure was built in 1970, and is the only home in the State of Michigan to be designed by the famed architect.


Courtesy of: archpaper.com

Eliel and Eero Saarinen: 203 Cloverly:
This one of a kind modernist home was created by father and son team Eliel and Eero Saarinen (their first joint commission) in conjunction with J. Robert F. Swanson. It is the Grosse Pointe’s only home to be designed by the internationally renowned architects, and was commissioned in 1937 by Charles J. Koebel.

Meade and Hamilton: 1008 Bishop:
Designed by Cleveland based architects Meade and Hamilton in 1919, the house was built for Major James G. Heaslet, Studebaker’s VP of engineering. The interior was said to be magnificent and contained wonderful elements such as an exquisite steuben chandelier, a Czechoslovakian cut crystal chandelier and Chinese silver wallpaper.

While the firm reportedly designed more than 800 homes, there are a very limited number in and around Detroit.

Guy Lowell: Grosse Pointe Yacht Club:
Boston architect and Harvard graduate submitted designs for the yacht club in 1927. Lowell was a renowned East Coast architect whose commissions included a number of acclaimed buildings, – the Boston Museum of Fine Art and the New York Supreme Court building, along with many distinctive residences in New York and Massachusetts.

Marcel Breuer: Grosse Pointe Central Library:
In 1951 Marcel Breuer arrived in Grosse Pointe. Through his former student (from the Harvard Graduate School of Design), Grosse Pointe resident, and architecture enthusiast, W. Hawkins Ferry, Breuer became involved in the design of the Grosse Pointe Central Library. Construction of the modernist building began in 1953.

Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue: Christchurch:
Christchurch is one of only two buildings in the state of Michigan by the prominent New York City architect. After his death in 1924 (sadly before the completion of the chapel) this project was finished by Mayer, Murray & Philip, this firm took over Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue & Associates, and was renamed in 1931.

These precious architecture gems are treasured finds. No doubt there are probably several additional buildings in Grosse Pointe that merit a mention as being the sole project of an architectural master, and if we find them we will be sure to let you know.

* August Geiger died in 1968

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


Written by Katie Doelle
© 2016 Katie Doelle