Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to McKinley Place – the small street with the big names

Having recently featured Cloverly Road, we continue with our series of blog posts profiling the homes on a specific street. This week we explore McKinley Place, Grosse Pointe Farms.

The majority of streets in Grosse Pointe consist of several blocks, however McKinley Place is unique in that it is essentially one road, connecting Jefferson Ave with Grosse Pointe Blvd. According to research by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society an orchard near Fisher Road was removed in 1907 and replaced by an early subdivision (one of Grosse Pointe’s earliest), McKinley Place.

Many of the houses date before 1915. It soon became apparent this small street was the place to be, attracting some big names from Detroit’s leading architecture firms.

Albert Kahn could be described as the architectural champion of Metro Detroit. Throughout his career he created over 400 buildings in the area, stretching back as far as 1888. Known for both residential and commercial projects Kahn created at least 20 buildings in Grosse Pointe, including the Frank and Robert Kuhn Residence, located at 28 McKinley Place (1914).

Built in the traditional Colonial Style, Kahn reportedly used an unconventional tapestry brick technique (based on research from the book The Legacy of Albert Kahn), which provided an ‘interesting textural quality’ on this 8,000 sq ft home. It is also reported Kahn ‘built the house as a favor to the Kuhn brothers because he had built their factory in Detroit’.

Howard Crane had one of the most diverse and varied portfolios of any architect during the first quarter of the 20th Century. Known for his design of theaters around the world Crane designed at least 6 homes in Grosse Pointe. The first of Crane’s residential projects in Grosse Pointe came in 1914, located at 38 McKinley Place. Designed in the Arts & Crafts Style, the 5,036 sq ft three-story house features wonderful decorative craftsmanship including wooden floors throughout and interior paneling.

Alpheus Chittenden and Charles Kotting were two incredibly skilled architects. They teamed up in 1903, and during their 13 years together created numerous elite residential projects in Grosse Pointe and Indian Village, along with the Detroit Boat Club building on Belle Isle. Their work in Grosse Pointe includes a beautiful colonial located at 1014 Bishop Road, along with 15520 Windmill Pointe Drive created by Chittenden for John B. Ford 1903. Originally located in the riverside of East Jefferson Ave. Indian Village the home moved to its current location on Windmill Pointe in 1928.

Here on McKinley they designed two prestigious homes: 35 McKinley Place (in 1909 for David Gray) and the instantly recognizable, and oldest property on the street 43 McKinley Place (in 1905 for Dr. E. T. Tappey – 8,500 sq ft)

35 McKinley is constructed from double brick walls, and finished with stucco. The 7,000 sq ft 3-story house displays all the characteristics from designers who were accustomed to creating elegant homes. The ‘great hall’ (21’ x 16’) features a stone fireplace and a high 10ft ceiling – present throughout the house. The living room (26’ x 17’) is home to a marble faced natural fireplace, while the dining room (15’ x 15’) houses a large bay window. Many of the rooms feature hand carved plaster moldings along with oak floors, wood paneling and large windows, proving an abundance of natural light throughout the property.


35 McKinley Place courtesy of: American Architect, google books

The second floor is home to 7 bedrooms; the master suite includes a sitting room (18’ x 18’), complete with natural fireplace, a large area for sleeping (15’ x 11’) and a private bathroom. The following photo’s provide a glimpse to the detailed and highly finished interior.

The garden is also spectacular, including a ‘Box Elder’ tree (in the center of the picture), several oaks, a Northern Beech and a Ginkgo Tree (the sole survivor of an ancient group of trees older than the dinosaurs – www.kew.org)

McKinley Place may be small, but it is evident from the homes on display, it is perfectly formed. With its long history and residences by big name designers it’s a road that is certainly worth exploring.

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


Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2016 Katie Doelle