Last week we presented the story of Frank D. Wilberding, a prolific builder of fine homes in Grosse Pointe. In the space of 25 years, from around 1950 through to the 1970’s, Mr. Wilberding helped design and build over one hundred homes in the community. The majority of the “Wilberding Homes” are classically styled center entrance Colonial properties - one of the most popular architectural styles found in Grosse Pointe.
This week we turn our attention to a home completed in 1941, that has been lost over time – welcome to 22 Oxford. The property was built for respected industrialist and acclaimed powerboat owner and racer Herbert (Herb) A. Mendelsohn. It is not known who designed the house, but it appears it was built by prolific builder Walter Mast.
22 Oxford Road was a 7,350 sq ft stately mansion located on a huge 210’ x 315’ double lot. The property, designed in a Georgian Revival architectural approach, was constructed from brick, with a low-pitched slate roof. The exterior had a prominent entrance that was framed by limestone columns and a decorative open segmental limestone pediment. As with many Georgian style properties from this era the home’s dominant feature was the symmetrical configuration of the front elevation along with abundance of tall windows with shutters on the main floor.
The interior was exquisitely designed with a two-story foyer and a grand sweeping staircase. Ours files, from 1947, describe the entrance hall as being 30’ feet wide. The large 30’ x 20’ sq ft living room had a sizeable, screened terrace at the rear that overlooked the picturesque gardens. The main floor also included a 20’ x 18’ sq ft dining room, a 23’ x 16’ sq ft library (that also overlooked the garden and the slate patio), and a morning room that doubled up as a very spacious breakfast room. There was also a large butler’s pantry, and a maids dining room.
The master bedroom, on the second floor, had two dressing rooms, while there were three further large bedrooms. There were an additional 3 bedrooms for maids over the attached heated garage. Meanwhile the basement contained three lounge rooms that included a plush bar and a trunk room. Image courtesy of Redfin.com
It appears Herbert (Herb) A. Mendelsohn and his family listed the home for sale in May 1947, for $200,000 (around $2.5m today). Much of the formal furniture that was made for the house was included in the sale. It was purchased by Raymond Whyte.
Herbert Mendelsohn, the original owner of 22 Oxford, resided at 1941 Balmoral Drive, Palmer Woods prior to relocating to Grosse Pointe. Herbert was born in Detroit in 1897, to Aaron and Jennie Mendelsohn. Aaron Mendelsohn was a financier who, together with his brother Louis, was largely responsible for the success of the Fisher Body Corporation, before it was integrated entirely as an in-house coachbuilding division of General Motors, in 1926. Herbert’s uncle, Louis Mendelsohn, resided at 1000 Lake Shore, a grand estate that was, at one point, possibly one of the largest homes in Grosse Pointe. It was a stunning property, and was, in some respects, a private museum to the treasures the Mendelsohn family had gathered. You can read the full story of 1000 Lake Shore by clicking here.
As a central figure in the next generation of the Mendelsohn family Herbert Mendelsohn was a prominent industrialist in Detroit and Los Angeles. He was also an auto dealer and an experienced powerboat racer and owner. Herbert was also friends with Horace Dodge Jr., a fellow hydroplane enthusiast, they frequently raced their hydroplanes against each other. Horace raced the ‘Delphine II’ and Herbert raced the ‘Notre Dame’. Herbert’s boats were always named ‘Notre Dame’ - Mendelsohn served on Notre Dame University’s Board of Commerce, which advised University officials on business matters. Herbert asked for and received permission to use the University’s name and insignia on his racing boats, which brought much attention to the university during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Source: thunderboats.ning.com/. In 1935, Herbert Mendelsohn entered big-time boat racing, achieving almost instant success. His boat (piloted by famous speedboat designer and racer Clell Perry) won the President’s Regatta (in Washington D.C), while in 1937, he won the Hydroplane cup in Detroit, along with the Presidents Cup, which he then won again in 1940. To power his boats Herbert bought the renowned supercharged 24-cylinder Duesenberg engine from Horace Dodge. After the engine was re-worked it went on to power all of Herbert Mendelsohn’s boats. The final appearance in competition by a Herbert Mendelsohn-owned craft came at the 1947 President’s Cup on the Potomac River. Image courtesy of: acbs-tahoe.org. You can read the full Notre Dame Story by clicking here.
Herbert Mendelsohn was married to Marie Louise (Kuhn) and together they had five children. Herbert passed in 1951. After his death, Herbert’s youngest daughter Shirley Mendelsohn (McDonald) carried on the powerboat tradition started by her father. Her boats, also named ‘Notre Dame’, enjoyed much success from 1962 through to 1973. In 1983, Mrs. McDonald was inducted into the Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame, the only female inductee. She passed in 1993, in Seattle.
22 Oxford was listed for sale for the final time in 2006, for $1.8 million. It appears the property was purchased by the Krueger family who subsequently razed the property to create space for a new home - 26 Oxford Road (constructed in 2007). The Krueger family have amassed an impressive amount of real estate in this area that includes property on the first block of Oxford Road, Lake Shore Road, and part of the first block of Renaud, thus creating several adjoining residences.
The architect(s) behind two of the Mendelsohn properties in Grosse Pointe remains a mystery. The architect who designed 1000 Lake Shore is unidentified (it is possible it was Albert Kahn, given the families long-term friendship with him, or Louis Mendelsohn himself) and it is still not clear who designed 22 Oxford Road. But whoever the architects were, given the Mendelsohn’s family connections and their love of beautiful architecture and furniture you can guarantee their architect(s) had a stellar reputation.
A big thank you to Joe Mendelsohn, Herbert’s grandson, for sharing some wonderful stories about his grandfather. And for our frequent conversations about the historical architecture of Grosse Pointe – it’s always a pleasure Joe!
*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.
** Research, information, and data sources are deemed reliable, but accuracy cannot be fully guaranteed.
Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2022 Higbie Maxon Agney & Katie Doelle
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