Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to 824 Lake Shore, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Estate

Last week we featured the work of J. Robert F. Swanson who was involved in creating at least four homes in Grosse Pointe – including 21 Colonial Road, and 203 Cloverly.

This week we would like to present 824 Lake Shore, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Estate. Set on 4.3 acres with approximately 445’ of water frontage the property features a 5,490 square foot midcentury modern main house, a charming guest cottage (created as an artist studio, in 1966), and a white clapboard farmhouse.

The entire parcel encompasses three pieces of land  – the first was once the location of 820 Lake Shore – a midcentury modern home (that has subsequently been razed), the second is the main house, 824 Lake Shore, while the third was once the location of 830 Lake Shore – a quaint 1,065 square foot farmhouse, that still exists (date of construction is not known).

As you drive along Jefferson and approach the Ford estate you will have noticed the long driveways, and possibly caught a glimpse of the superb homes that line this part of the lake. The construction of these homes span many years, yet many of these properties remain a mystery, concealed by the beautiful landscaped gardens that hide their full glory. 824 Lake Shore is one such example.

824 Lake Shore was built, in 1948, for Mr. Anthony Motschall, having been designed by J. Ivan Dise, and built by Walter Mast. J. Ivan Dise was a prominent and respected architect, who created multiple homes on some of Grosse Pointes most prestigious streets. The majority of his commissions came, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, at a time when large homes were commonplace for wealthy clientele. Walter Mast designed and/or built over fifty homes throughout the community over a period of around 30 years, spanning from the 1930’s through to the late 1960’s.

It is a single story ranch home that was originally 3,989 sq ft in size (below). The design featured a large living room (15’ x 24’ sq ft), dining room (15’ x 17’ sq ft) morning room (20’ x 15’ sq ft) activities room (15’ x 24’ sq ft) along with four bedrooms, and a heated terrace. Most of the main rooms had beautiful views of the lake.

Prior to purchasing 824 Lake Shore Ralph C. Wilson Jr. had purchased 830 Lake Shore, a 1,065 square foot farmhouse, however, he never lived in the property. Two years later, in 1975, Mr. Wilson bought the adjacent lot, 824 Lake Shore, from Dr. Hugh Stalker. The property underwent extensive renovations and is now a 5,490 sq ft home (see images below). The charming mid-century modern ranch style was retained, originally created by Dise, but there have been obvious changes to the interior, and the exterior in particular. Today, the great room features a stunning wood paneled cathedral ceiling, two fireplaces, while four, floor to ceiling windows, and huge sliding glass doors provide fantastic views of the lake. The open floor plan, along with the skylights, also allows the property to be filled with even more natural light. Stunning brick colored tile is present throughout the home, including the huge hallway, kitchen, and the dining area. Meanwhile, an upper balcony provides a perfect view of the family room.

It appears the extensive expansion and renovation is attributed to the HNTB Corporation, an American infrastructure design firm that was founded in 1914. In 1941, it changed its name to Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff when Enoch Needles, Henry Tammen & Ruben Bergendoff joined as partners. In 1975, it merged with Kivett and Myers to form a sports architecture practice. Source: Wikipedia.

The HNTB Corporation became associated with Ralph C. Wilson Jr. having designed the stadium, in 1973, for the Buffalo Bills, owned by Ralph C. Wilson Jr.  The stadium became known as the Ralph Wilson Stadium. Prior to forming the Bills, Mr. Wilson, in conjunction with Lamar Hunt, created the American Football League in 1959. That same year the Buffalo Bills officially became the seventh AFL team. In 1960, the inaugural season began, and Hunt was elected President of the AFL. Mr. Wilson owned the Bills until his death in 2014, at the age of 95.

Ralph C. Wilson Jr. was born in Detroit, in 1918. Having graduated from the University of Virginia, he then attended one year of law school at the University of Michigan Law School before World War II broke out and he enlisted. During the war he served in the U.S. Navy, mostly in the Atlantic and the Pacific. When the war ended he joined his father’s insurance company, and invested in Michigan area mines and factories. Later in his career Mr. Wilson purchased manufacturing outlets, construction firms, television and radio stations.

In 1997, having resided in his Lake Shore residence for over twenty years, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. purchased the adjacent property, 820 Lake Shore, the former Broomham Estate. 820 Lake Shore (below), completed, in 1966, was a 5,790 sq ft semi ranch style home that was designed by Walter Mast. Mr. Wilson razed the property (the year of demolition is not known) to create a gigantic 4.3-acre lot on the water.

Today, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. residence is one of the largest estates in Grosse Pointe. He lived in the home, until his death, with his wife Mary. The scenic home, with its collection of impressionist paintings in the living room, was the ideal place to lead a quiet life, surrounded by trees, with a perfect view of the lake – Mr. Wilson always wanted to be on the water.

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


Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2020 Katie Doelle

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