Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – Welcome to the World of Isadore M. Lewis

It is always interesting to come across an architect who is less familiar, only to discover he was a prolific and prominent designer.

Welcome to the world of Isadore M. Lewis, a creative and productive architect who had a long and fruitful career spanning at least 40 years. During this time his creativity encompassed several architectural genres across a number of disciplines.

Isadore M. Lewis created an array of commercial, industrial and residential buildings, primarily for Jewish clients. He was born in 1888 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Having graduated from the University Pennsylvania in 1911 with a BS in architecture he moved to Detroit in 1916 to open his own architectural firm. Source: Wikipedia.

As a licensed architect in New York, Washington D.C, and Detroit, his career was fascinating. From the beginning of the 1920’s through to the 1950’s Lewis was heavily involved with designing apartment buildings, primarily in the city of Detroit. One of his earliest projects appears to be the superb Regent Court Apartments, built in 1921. Located at 2535 W.Grand Blvd the apartments are particularly striking, and it could be argued that they were certainly ahead of their time in terms of design and architectural appearance – as the photo below demonstrates.

In the early twenties it also appears Lewis’s work wasn’t restricted to the neighborhoods of Detroit. He was also receiving commissions from outside the state, which included a home, designed in a Neoclassical style, in the City of Niagara Falls, NY in 1920.

In 1922 Lewis completed the historic Tushiyah United Hebrew School (later known as the Scott Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church) located at 609 East Kirby. Once again the design is impactful, in particular the brick and limestone detailing on the front elevation. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also in 1922 Lewis completed the Hadley Hall Apartments located at 665 West Warren, where he once again used brick to create an extraordinary building.

Here in Grosse Pointe, we believe Isadore M. Lewis created two homes, both are located in Grosse Pointe Park. The first is located at 838 Whittier, built in 1923. It is an elegant Colonial style 2,816 sq ft brick home, which has superb detailing on the front elevation. Frederick A. Balch, the son of a prominent Detroit businessman, George W. Balch commissioned it.

In 1930 Lewis designed another elegant brick home in the Park – 860 Pemberton. The unusual design of the front elevation is quite unique, and the detailing is superb. The brick archways above the front door and several of the windows create a wonderful contrast to the dominant triangular shape on the front of the home, and the sharp angular configurations of the roof.

Throughout his career it appears Lewis continued to design many residents throughout Metro Detroit, including several homes in Huntington Woods. Post 1930 he continued to create multiple apartment buildings. As architectural trends evolved so did Lewis’s style. By the 1940’s he had fully embraced a more contemporary modern style. This is particularly evident with the apartment building he designed in 1946 – Park Plaza, 825 Whitmore Road in the Palmer Park. The design is quite a departure from his earlier brick inspired buildings. As the photos below demonstrate Lewis had transitioned into the Art Deco style, incorporating glass blocks, and a creative use of light into his work.

Courtesy of A History of Detroit’s Palmer Park by Gregory C. Piazza

Courtesy of A History of Detroit’s Palmer Park by Gregory C. Piazza

Post 1950 Lewis’s style evolved again – moving from Art Deco to International Style. During this era he created two further apartment blocks in Palmer Park – 900 Whitmore Road, 1950, and its next-door neighbor 850 Whitmore Road in 1952. Both are wonderful examples of modern contemporary architecture. The skill Lewis had in incorporating ornate use of brickwork into so many of his projects was not lost in his later buildings’ as demonstrated in the exterior photo of 900 Whitmore below.

Courtesy of A History of Detroit’s Palmer Park by Gregory C. Piazza

Isadore M. Lewis continued to work in Detroit until at least 1960, and died in 1968. He created several architectural marvels for the city of Detroit to enjoy, and we are very lucky to have some of his work here in Grosse Pointe.

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


Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2017 Katie Doelle