Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Robert O. Derrick Homes on Provencal

Following on from our recent posts about the homes on Provencal – Number 41, Number 234 and the residences designed by Raymond Carey – we continue our review of this prestigious road with the homes designed by local architect Robert O. Derrick.

Born in Buffalo, NY in 1890 Robert Ovens Derrick graduated with an architectural degree from the University of Columbia in 1917. Shortly after he arrived in the Metro Detroit area to begin what was to become a significant career in shaping the architectural scene of Grosse Pointe during the 1920’s.

Having completed his first project in the community, the ‘Little Club’ in 1923, Derrick went on to design over twenty five homes in the Grosse Pointe Communities, along with several community buildings.

Derrick lived and worked in Grosse Pointe, residing with his family at 407 Lincoln. He received many commissions by prominent businessmen in Metro Detroit who were looking to relocate their families out of the city to the increasingly popular distinguished superb of Grosse Pointe.

Arguably Derricks most productive and defining era occurred between 1923 and 1931, during which he worked in an array of architectural styles. The majority of his commissions were large residences, all of which are memorable, and still around today, including the homes he created on Provencal, which include:

  • 23 Provencal – 1924 – 4,829 sq ft
  • 248 Provencal – 1925 – 11,385 sq ft
  • 214 Provencal – 1925 – 11,767 sq ft
  • 204 Provencal – 1927 – 13,084 sq ft

Lets start with the first of his Provencal projects – number 23

Built in 1924, 23 Provencal was Derrick’s first project on the road. It is a striking Colonial Revival home, which could be argued, was Derricks particular Forte. Robert L. Wilbur, who at one point in his career was a teaching fellow at the University of Michigan, commissioned the house. It was one of the earlier homes to be constructed on this particular section of the street, and it certainly helped set the tone for the many wonderful homes that were to follow.

23 Provencal

Built in 1925, 248 Provencal was a clapboard colonial built for Sidney Trowbridge Miller Jr. – an attorney, and the son of Sidney Trowbridge Miller, the founder of Michigan’s oldest and largest law firm Miller Canfield. The home was later purchased by Josephine Clay Ford and demolished in the 2000’s.

Also built in 1925, 214 Provencal was created for Frederick C Kidner, a prominent doctor in the City of Detroit. Our research shows the original home was built in 1925, however many of the online data shows the current home was built in 1963 – if anyone knows the full story behind this home we would love to learn more.

214 Provencal – Courtesy of detroityes.com

204 Provencal was built in 1927 for Sidney R. Small, an active partner of Harris, Small and Lawson that primarily dealt with the buying and selling of investment bonds.

Situated on a 3.19-acre lot, the design is reminiscent of an English Country Estate, which was an extremely popular approach during the 1920’s. The striking asymmetrical stone home was 10,000 sq ft when it was completed, however it has subsequently been substantially renovated. In 1959 Hilary Micou – a prolific builder of homes in Grosse Pointe with well over 30 homes to his name – increased the size of the house to 13,084 sq ft, making it one of the largest residences in the community. At the time, the renovations were said to have cost over $200,000 (around $1.6m today).

The first floor contains a library with a natural fireplace, guest bedroom and bath, reception hall, enclosed logia, living room, a flower room, butler’s pantry, kitchen and two servant’s rooms. The upstairs contains four bedrooms along with two additional maid’s rooms. The attached 3-car garage features an apartment with two further bedrooms for servants.

Derrick was a prolific designer in Grosse Pointe and his homes on Provencal are wonderful examples of the large-scale homes that helped set the architectural scene in the community during the roaring 20’s.

We will be continuing our exploration of the magnificent homes on Provencal next week.

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


Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2017 Katie Doelle