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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – The Lost Estates – Part 1

Posted by Darby Moran on Tuesday, March 6th, 2018 at 4:52pm.

Last week we featured 55 Tonnancour Place, the distinctive home that occupies a division of land that was once part of the extensive Theodore Parsons Hall estate.

After researching this home we became more intrigued about the Hall estate and the subsequent development(s) of the original Hall property.

Based on research by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society we know Mr. Theodore Parsons Hall purchased 63 acres of land in the 1880, and set about building an elaborate estate called Tonnancour. Mr. Hall had retired early, having made his fortune in the grain business, and dedicated much of his time to his estate, which he shared with his wife, Alexandrine, and their nine children. Part of the property included an eye-catching summer residence – a Victorian Swiss Chalet style mansion, designed by Mortimer L. Smith, along with a Swiss style boathouse. Source: Thomas W. Brunk, courtesy of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

The Victorian architectural style and elaborate summer residences were particularly popular in Grosse Pointe during this era, and many such homes were being constructed on Lakeshore towards the end of the 19th century.

In 1909 Theodore Parsons Hall passed away, survived by his wife, and three remaining children. Around five years later their beautiful Victorian home burned down. Following the fire Alexandrine moved to a residence in Detroit while her new home, 383 Lakeshore was completed. During this time the Hall estate was sub divided. A section of the land became part of the Country Club’s golf course, while each of Hall’s three surviving children (Josephine, Nathalie and Marie) built homes on the lake front sections of the property – Josephine Hall Irvine (403 Lakeshore – completed in 1915, now razed); Nathalie Hall Scott (moved into her mother’s home 383 Lakeshore, the original home is now razed), and Marie Hall Fuger (395 Lakeshore – completed in 1914, now 55 Tonnancour Place). Source: Thomas W. Brunk, courtesy of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

In 1922 the house (383 Lakeshore), and land owned by Nathalie Hall Scott, – was purchased by Anna Scripps (daughter of the Detroit News founder James E. Scripps), and her husband Edgar B. Whitcomb. The couple paid a colossal for $235,000 (around $3.5 million today) for the property, and set about creating a magnificent estate.

Mr. Whitcomb, a prominent businessman, and a longtime director of the Detroit News, was born in Boston in 1866. Aside from his career with the Detroit News Mr. Whitcomb was also heavily involved in real estate, specializing in central business property investments and building.

383 Lakeshore became known as the Scott Whitcomb House. The following photo’s of the home are courtesy of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

Mrs. Whitcomb was passionate about gardening, and had a particular fondness for orchids that filled the garden and part of the five large greenhouses that she had built on the estate. Head gardener William Crichton, who worked on the estate for 27 years, tended to the flowers. From 1927 many of the stunning orchids were displayed for a few days annually at the Detroit Flower Show, and at the Belle Isle Conservatory. Source: www.blogs.detroitnews.com Mrs. Whitcomb passed away, aged 87 in 1953. Upon her death she left her entire collection of more than 600 orchids to the Belle Isle Conservatory.

Shortly after her death, the Whitcomb’s son, James, tore down the home and built a new residence at 383 Lakeshore – a stunning Spanish style residence (completed in 1957), now known as the Cracchiolo Estate. While the original Whitcomb estate was sub divided, to include the creation of Whitcomb Road, the Cracchiolo residence sits on much of the original Whitcomb property. Its 10 acres makes it one of the largest estate’s in the Pointes. Very little is known about the 8,866 sq ft Cracchiolo home, and we would love to know more, in particular the architect who designed it.

The story of the Hall estate is a fascinating one. As the decades have passed the land has been sub divided several times, and numerous homes have come and gone. Thankfully 55 Tonnancour still exists, as does 383 Lakeshore, albeit with a new family, and in a new guise.

We will continue the story of some of Grosse Pointe’s lost estates next week.

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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