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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 21 Colonial Road

Posted by Darby Moran on Tuesday, June 5th, 2018 at 9:47am.

What makes the architecture in Grosse Pointe so interesting is the sheer diversity of the buildings that are on display. Last week we profiled the Country Club of Detroit, and its fascinating history that began in 1884. This week we jump to 1928, and to a home that was created for nationally recognized architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci. 

Grosse Pointe has been home to many nationally noted artists, designers and sculptors, including William Hawkins Ferry, Alexander Girard and William Kessler - to name but a few. Parducci was one of the most acclaimed sculptors of the early 20th century, and it was here in Grosse Pointe, at 21 Colonial Road, Grosse Pointe Shores, that he selected to reside.

Corrado Parducci was a talented architectural sculptor known for his early - mid 20th century works. His work is still visible on many significant buildings in Detroit, including the Penobscot, Guardian and David Stott buildings; and the interior of Detroit’s Masonic Temple. His work was also found in the, family homes of auto barons Edsel and Eleanor Ford; the Wilson Estate, and Meadowbrook Hall, in Rochester.

He worked with some of Detroit’s leading architectural firms, (George D. Mason, Smith Hinchman and Grylls, and Donaldson and Meier). His sculptures can be found in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Royal Oak, Saginaw, and Ypsilanti, and his work adorns over 600 buildings throughout the United States. Source: Historicdetroit.org.

Parducci was born in 1900, in an Italian mountain village. Aged four he travelled with his father to America, setting up home in New York City. As a child Parducci was enrolled in a sculpture program for local children. He was subsequently sponsored by heiress/sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and went to art school in the city, attending the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, and Art Students League. 

By the age of 17 Parducci was working as an apprentice to nationally noted architectural sculptor Ulysses Ricci, and his work had come to the attention of Albert Kahn. In 1924 Parducci left New York and moved to Detroit for a few months to work with Kahn. However, what had intended to be a short stay turned into a permanent move, and he spent the rest of his career working from the city.

Parducci’s arrival in Detroit coincided with the building boom of the 1920’s, and his talents were in great demand from the leading architectural firms of the city. His first year in the city saw him produce a colossal $56,000 worth of work (around $750,000 today). Source: historicdetroit.org.

His style covered a multitude of artistic movements, notably Romanesque, Classical, Renaissance, and most importantly Greco Deco. Each of his sculptures was created to fit the building style determined by the architect he was working with.

During the depression much of Parducci’s work dried up, and his focused changed from skyscrapers and mansions to churches - working on many projects throughout Metro Detroit from the 1930’s to the late 1970’s. He died in 1981.

Parducci, in 1928, had commissioned prominent local architect J. Robert F. Swanson to design the striking Mediterranean styled 2,976 sq ft home on Colonial. It is a striking home. The design features a unique first floor plan - containing a cloister and pool, a step down studio (22’ x 17’), and a large living room (33’ x 16’). It is believed the living room is a direct copy of a room in the Davanzati Palace, Florence. The second floor has four bedrooms.

Swanson, a graduate of the University of Michigan, was also born in 1900 (the same year as Parducci). After graduating he and close friend Harry Scipps Booth began work at Cranbrook, and formed the architectural firm of Swanson and Booth. The firm, for many years, also included the globally known modernist architect Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero. 

In 1926 Swanson married Saarinen’s daughter Pipsan - an accomplished designer in her own right. They were lifelong companions and design partners. In 1933 Robert Swanson started his own firm, Swanson Associates, Pipsan joined the firm as the interior designer. Their work encompassed exteriors and interiors of many types: residences, schools, universities, churches, airports, banks and government, industrial, and commercial developments. Source: http://www.cranbrook.edu/ 

21 Colonial Road, nestled away on a quiet road in Grosse Pointe Shores presents us with a wonderful homage to two extremely skilled artists – the owner Corrado Parducci, and the designer J. Robert F. Swanson. 

*Images courtesy of: HMA archives; https://showmedetroittours.wordpress.com/; https://en.wikipedia.org/; http://michiganexposures.blogspot.com/

Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2018 Higbie Maxon Agney & Katie Doelle

If you have a home, building or street you would like us to profile please contact Darby Moran – Darby@higbiemaxon.com - we will try and feature the property.

(For more historical information on Grosse Pointe, visit Grosse Pointe Historical Society).

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