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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Country Club(s) of Detroit

Posted by Darby Moran on Monday, June 4th, 2018 at 3:00pm.

 

Having recently focused on the gardens created by nationally recognized landscape architect William Pitkin Jr., lets turn our attention to one of the most prominent buildings in Grosse Pointe, the Country Club of Detroit. 

As with so many of the buildings, homes and streets in Grosse Pointe it has an interesting story to tell - featuring four buildings, demolition, fire, relocation, a new name, and clubhouses designed by some of the best architects that Detroit had to offer. 

The story begins in 1884. Grosse Pointe was in need of a social centre for its growing residential community. The organization of the Grosse Pointe Club commissioned architect William E. Brown to design its new clubhouse. The building was located at 12 Lakeshore, set in a scenic seven-acre site overlooking Lake St. Clair. It was completed in 1886. As the photos below demonstrate it was a striking building, constructed of wood on a brick foundation. The clubhouse measured 100 x 140 feet in size, the dominant circular tower, with its immense conical roof, provided wonderful views of the lake from its many windows. William Hawkins Ferry once described it as having ‘elephantine proportions’.

Once it was built, the total cost of the ground, building, furniture etc came to around $50,000 (around $1.2m today). The club, when full, had intended to accommodate three hundred members. The initiation fee was $150 (close to $4,000 today), with an annual assessment for the maintenance of the club. Source: Grosse Pointe on Lake Sainte Claire.

The club was incredibly popular amongst local residents, however the dirt roads that linked the city with Grosse Pointe were poorly maintained and were notoriously difficult to travel on during wet weather. Given Grosse Pointe’s frequent inaccessibility this contributed to the membership of the club being insufficient to support it and so it was forced to close down two years after its completion. Source: Buildings of Detroit – Williams Hawkins Ferry.

During the 1880’s a trolley route was extended to Grosse Pointe along Jefferson Avenue, which made the community far more accessible. The Grosse Pointe Club was reorganized under the name of the Country Club of Detroit (CCD), and the clubhouse was reopened. During the 1890’s golf was growing in popularity across the country, so in 1898 the club opened its first golf course close to the clubhouse.

By the early 20th century the number of year-round residents in Grosse Pointe had increased substantially, and more and more permanent homes were being built. The Country Club of Detroit was fast becoming the social center of the Grosse Pointe community, and had become a year round organization. It was decided a larger more modern clubhouse was needed. The club hired Albert Kahn to design a brick building on part of the original site. Completed in 1907 the new four-story building was a superb informative building; close in style to some of Kahn’s residential projects of that era. The modern design complimented its surroundings perfectly, and displayed many wonderful features including a glass-enclosed veranda that extended the full length of the building. It is reported the building cost approximately $60,000 to build (around $1.5m today). Source: Grosse Pointe Historical Society. The original Grosse Pointe Club clubhouse was subsequently demolished.

By 1912 the club was continuing to expand. As demand for land in Grosse Pointe continued to grow, and because the lease on the Joseph Berry property (the location of the golf course close to the original clubhouse) was not going to be renewed the club made the decision to purchase land for its own golf course or run the risk of losing it. In 1912 the CCD purchased Weir Farm – the home of its present location – and hired renowned British golf architect Harry Colt to design their new course on the former farmland. Source http://www.ccofd.com. You can read the full story of the CCD golf course by clicking here. 

In 1921 the CCD members voted to relocate the club – to its present site, close to the golf course - and sell the lakefront property. Albert Kahn was once again hired to create the building, which opened in 1923. Designed in the English Cottage style it was constructed from brick and featured many artistic details on the exterior of the building.

Two years later, in 1925, the building was destroyed by fire; only the servants’ wing was left intact. The prestigious Detroit firm of Smith, Hynchmann and Grylls was commissioned to design the new clubhouse. Much of the traditional English architectural style remained, however the layout and details were very different. The floor plan featured large rooms, a long connecting gallery, and impactful large windows. The new clubhouse opened in 1927, and is still enjoyed today.

Meanwhile, the old clubhouse designed by Albert Kahn (located at 12 Lakeshore) was demolished in 1924. Mrs. Horace E. Dodge, and her second husband Actor Hugh Dillman had purchased the property, tore down both the clubhouse and the original Rose Terrace to accommodate their new property - Rose Terrace, number 2. You can read the full story of this home by clicking here. 

Today the Country Club of Detroit is a prominent, historical building in the heart of Grosse Pointe, and is an integral part to the community.

 

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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