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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Gardens of William Pitkin Jr.

Posted by Darby Moran on Monday, June 4th, 2018 at 2:44pm.

Last week we explored several homes on the elegant street of Lothrop, Grosse Pointe Farms. One of the homes we profiled, 99 Lothrop, was designed by Charles A. Platt. Mr. Platt was not only a talented architect, but was also considered to be one of America’s more influential landscape designers. 

Platt designed at least four homes (that we know of) in the Grosse Pointe communities. Despite his natural talents in landscape design Platt was happy to hire leading landscape architects to work alongside him on his project(s). His propensity to hire nationally recognized landscape designers was based on his desire to create a natural synergy between the house and its surroundings, and one designer who was particularly skilled in this area was William Pitkin Jr. 

Mr. Pitkin worked on at least three prominent gardens in Grosse Pointe, all of which were located on the grand estates of Lakeshore. Each of these estates were created by nationally noted architects – Charles A. Platt (241 Lakeshore, 1914), the New York City firm of Trowbridge and Ackerman (123 Lakeshore, 1913), and the talented duo of Chittenden and Kotting (415 Lakeshore, 1913). Together these talented architects, and Mr. Pitkin, would form a formidable partnership.

241 Lakeshore, the home to Mrs. Henry Stephens, is a great example of the integral relationship between architect and landscape designer. Charles Platt hired William Pitkin Jr. to design the estates extensive grounds. Early on in the process Pitkin submitted a report to Platt explaining how the layout and plan of the house should be influenced somewhat by the landscape features. Based on research from a copy of American Architect and Architecture, Volume 109, it appears Pitkin recommended the following – ‘the garden, with its central grass panel is literally an extension of the hall, and as such must be considered an integral part of the floor plan, while the main entrance is placed at the end of the house’.

The garden included many fine specimens’, selected by Pitkin, to enhance, frame, and compliment the home. Some of the trees on display included mugho pines, dogwoods, ash, American elms, red cedar, English yew, horse chestnut, oaks, rhododendrons and poplars. Flower panels created stunning formal gardens at the rear of the home, and many were arranged to give one simple floral effect at a time – as depicted by the planting plan below.

Pitkin’s influence was also evident at the home of Truman H. Newberry, located at 123 Lakeshore. From the beginning the gardens were an integral part of the overall plan for the estate, created by New York City firm of Trowbridge and Ackerman.The driveway was looped around to the rear of the house, so not to impede the view, while many of the rooms on the first floor (breakfast room, dining room, library and loggia) overlooked the magnificent 300-foot wide lawn, and the uninterrupted view of the lake. The views were enhanced by the ‘character of the planting, which formed part of the picture’. Source: The Architectural Review, 1920.

Much of the garden was divided up by a collection of planted and open areas connected by a series of paths in order to create a succession of views. One area of the garden, known as the music court, was shaded by maples and elms, among which is undergrowth of various flowering plants and shrubs arranged to form a passage from the music court to the flower garden. 

Further areas included a rose garden, a rock garden and a wild garden. Open spaces alternated with planted areas to make sure views across the gardens constantly changed. The design was also created to ensure that from no point are the full extent of the grounds seen – there was always the impression of more beyond. Source: The Architectural Review, 1920.

William Pitkin, Jr. was born in Rochester, New York, 1884. One of the leading landscape architects in the United States during the early 20th century Pitkin worked with some of the most prominent architects in the country. His projects were nationwide ranging from a 64-acre estate in Flint (known as the Applewood Estate, 1916), several large projects in Ohio, along with an exclusive historic subdivision in Jacksonville, Florida. Some of his projects included landscaping neighborhoods. His work in Upper Arlington, Ohio, and Jacksonville, Florida embraced and expanded on the Garden City Movement by incorporating the natural curves of the land into his designs. He designed the lots so that houses could be set back far enough from the sidewalk to allow trees to be the main focus as residents walked through the neighborhoods.

In 1936 Pitkin returned to his hometown of Rochester to begin a second career, replacing his father as president of Chase-Pitkin Nurseries. Many of Pitkin's designs, some nearly 100 years old, live on in the 21st century. Source: https://www.zoominfo.com/p/William-Pitkin/351184145

The work of several other leading landscape architects graced Grosse Pointe - Jens Jensen (The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, 1929), Fletcher Steele (The Standish Backus Estate, 1934), and the nationally renowned designer Ellen Biddle Shipman. Some of Shipman’s better-known projects include: (the dates below are approximate).

  •        1913 – 355 Lincoln
  •        1925 – 15366 Windmill Pointe Drive
  •        1928 – 99 Lothrop with Charles A. Platt
  •        1917 – 251 Lincoln (Murray Sales House)
  •        1925 – 22 Webber Place (Oscar Webber Mansion)
  •        1927 – 447 Lake Shore (Roy D Chapin Home)
  •        1929 – 109 Kenwood (Lynn McNaughton Home)

With its abundance of beautiful estates, homes by noted architects, and gardens by nationally recognized landscape designers, Grosse Pointe has it all. 

 

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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