Last week we presented the story of Dorothy Scherer. Aside from being a national figure in women’s golf, she was a descendent of one of the most noteworthy families in Detroit, and was the mother of HMA’s founder, our very own Hugo Higbie. She and her husband Harley G. Higbie resided at a magnificent estate named “Higbie House”.

This week we stay on Lake Shore to visit a superb Mid-Century Modern home – 515 Lake Shore, designed by Wallace Frost for Almadus DeGrasse Wilkinson in 1956-1957.

Wallace Frost was a versatile architect who designed at least 44 homes in and around Birmingham, Michigan. Yet despite working predominantly on the west side of Metro Detroit he also created at least nine homes in Grosse Pointe that spanned several architectural styles and decades – 1920’s through to the 1950’s. Having previously been an integral figure in the office of Albert Kahn, Wallace Frost set up his own architectural firm in 1926, to focus on residential projects in around the suburbs of Detroit. His work had several key characteristics, and he was associated with creating midsize cottage style houses with exquisite detailing, elegant woodwork, and an abundance of light. Most of his early designs had a mix of Italian, French and English architectural influences. It is reported many people who lived in one of his homes often referred to them as “Wally” houses.

Between 1932 and 1933, Wallace Frost left Michigan and travelled to Europe, working predominantly in Florence, Italy. On his return to the United States, he moved to Southern California, where his traditional style of architecture underwent a complete transformation to a Californian modern approach, which included his own large home in the Montecito Valley, near Santa Barbara.

In 1939, he returned to Birmingham, MI, where he would practice until 1961. He brought his new modern architectural approach with him, which is evident in two of the houses he created in Grosse Pointe during this period. Previously, (prior to 1930) he had created at least seven traditional style homes in the community. He also designed a contemporary ranch-style home – in 1957 – for Howard and Letha Sober who donated it to the state in 1969, to become the Michigan Governor’s Mansion. Wallace Frost died in 1962.

515 Lake Shore is one of the two modern homes Frost designed in Grosse Pointe. The other is 280 Vincennes (completed in 1954). The 8,532 sq ft home on Lake Shore was completed for Almadus DeGrasse Wilkinson in 1956-1957. The house not only incorporates exquisite detailing, elegant woodwork, and an abundance of light, but also a floating stone staircase – a feature that Frost had become known for in many of his designs since the 1920’s.

The two-story custom-built property was featured in Town and Country magazine in 1958. The 7-bedroom property, originally painted white, has a large bay window on the front elevation that provides a perfect view of the lake. The floorplan is particularly interesting - arranged in a long narrow configuration. The first floor includes a glass enclosed 22’ x 43’ sq ft loggia, a 20’ x 22’ sq ft living room, a 17’ x 18’ sq ft library, a 15’ x 21’ sq ft pantry and a large 14’ x’ 19’ sq ft bedroom. The first floor has a curved floating staircase, the towering structure is 25 feet high with an unusual stainless-steel balustrade. Also on the first floor is a screened-in porch along with a long narrow gallery at the rear of the home. Images courtesy of Town and Country magazine (1958).

On the second floor was a living room, two sets of service stairs, two smaller bedrooms for maids along with four larger bedrooms – the master bedroom is 19’ x 39’ sq ft with a huge window overlooking the lake. The garden had a heated swimming pool, a pool house, along with an apartment above the attached garage. On 7 November 1959, it was reported a fire broke out in the library that caused at least $15,000 worth of damage (around $159,000 today). Source: Detroit Free Press (7 November 1959).

Maurice Wood was the interior designer. It was reported much of the décor encompassed warm tones with an interesting selection of finishes for the walls. For instance, the wall next to the staircase had a bleached-wood and fiber covering, the wall in the drawing room had a hand painted scenic design on white silk, while in the drawing room the walls were gray grass cloth. The spacious efficiency kitchen had chalk blue colored painted walls, while all the cabinet doors were of heavy gauge Lucite. The floor was gray vinyl, and all appliances along with the tabletops were stainless steel. Much of the fabrics were tones of blue, beige, and off-white. It is also acknowledged the mantel in the drawing room was 17th century marble. Source and Images: Town and Country Magazine 1958).

The original owner of 5151 Lake Shore was Almadus DeGrasse Wilkinson – born in New York 1890. He was married to Harriet Gertrude (Whitcomb) Wilkinson - the granddaughter of James E. Scripps, founder of the Detroit News - she was born in Detroit10 Mar 1895. Together they had tour children - Warren Scripps (born February 2, 1920); Lawrence Scripps (born October 1, 1927), Mary (born July 14, 1918) and Ann (born, 1921). A. D. Wilkinson graduated from University of Michigan as an electrical engineer, but later in his career he transitioned to become a real estate executive – holding the position of president of the James E. Scripps Corporation. Image courtesy of: Detroit Free Press (March 1952).

Prior to moving to their new modern home on Lake Shore, the Wilkinson family resided at 334 University Place (built in 1915). The couple were prominent members of Grosse Pointe’s social scene. Their house on Lake Shore was the location for many parties, social events, and was a regular stop on the annual garden tour in Grosse Pointe, that was presented by the Detroit Garden Center. The garden at 515 Lake Shore (for the tour in June 1959), was described as “an interesting garden with a swimming pool, ornamental pools, and terraces. Plaques of ceramic tile and mosaics lend interest to a serpentine wall which encloses the garden.”  Source: Detroit Free Press (June 12, 1959). The property was also one of the homes that was part of the “Living with Art” tour, held in Grosse Pointe in May 1968. Image courtesy of: Detroit Free Press (May 1958).

Almadus DeGrasse Wilkinson died on December 16, 1967, and Harriet passed on 16 Apr 1971. It appears the property was listed for sale in May 1971 for $300,000 (around $2.2m today). It was then rented for several months before being sold to T. Moroun in June 1972.

The Wallace Frost homes around Michigan are often described as “prized finds”. 515 Lake Shore is certainly that, along with being one of the finest examples of a Mid-Century Modern home found in the community.

The work of Wallace Frost was presented recently as part of our Higbie Maxon Agney free Lecture series that highlights architectural and historical interests in Grosse Pointe. You can watch the full presentation by clicking here.

*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 © 2024 Higbie Maxon Agney & Katie Doelle


If you have a home, building or street you would like us to profile please contact Higbie Maxon Agney – - we will try and feature the property.

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