Auto magnate Henry Ford spent some of his most professionally creative and eventful years living within a couple of miles of his plants in Detroit (on Piquette) and in Highland Park, where he revolutionized the automotive industry by introducing the assembly line and spurred the Detroit area's development by attracting workers with his then-generous and unheard-of offer of $5 per day wages.
We recently stopped to take a few pictures of the home in Detroit's prestigious Boston-Edison neighborhood. The neighborhood, which is about four miles north of downtown Detroit, is in a densely populated area of the city, but when the Fords first settled there, nothing more than empty fields surrounded the newly developing subdivision.
Ford asked the prominent Detroit architectural firm of Malcomson, Higginbotham and Clement to design a home for his family.
The firm designed over 75% of Detroit's school buildings between 1895 and 1923, including Wayne State University's Old Main building in 1895 and the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy (Tim's alma mater) in 1931.
Ford's Italian Renaissance Revival home, built in 1908, was far from an institutional-style school building, though.
The 7,500-square-foot brick house had a large front porch with Tuscan-style columns and side windows with ornamental railings (balustrades) and limestone arches. Ford built a machine shop above the garage to encourage the interest of his teenage son Edsel's in car design, made sure there was space in the garage to house his wife Clara's electric car and commissioned T. Glenn Phillips to design the home's gardens.
Ford was wealthy by this time, just as his wildly popular Model T went into production, and he paid $483,253 to build his new home at the corner of Second and a street named appropriately enough for his good friend [Thomas] Edison.
Today the home is valued just shy of $250,000, but the neighborhood is still among the most desirable places within the city limits to live.
Most of the 900 homes along the four streets comprising the Boston-Edison neighborhood (West Boston Boulevard, Chicago Boulevard, Longfellow Avenue and Edison Avenue between Woodward and Linwood) date from 1905 through 1925. They represent a variety of architectural styles that include English Tudor Revival, Roman and Greek Revival, Prairie Style, French Provincial, Colonial Revival and Italian Renaissance Revival homes like the Ford house.
Some of the Detroit area's most well known citizens lived in the neighborhood over the years. Many of Henry Ford's early business partners, stockholders and automotive rivals lived in the area, as well as Detroit "dime store" king Sebastian S. Kresge, historian Clarence M. Burton (whose papers became the nucleus of the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit's public library), Motown mogul Berry Gordy, labor leader Walter P. Reuther, boxer Joe Louis, and Detroit Tiger baseball players Ty Cobb and Willie Horton.
The neighborhood organized the Boston-Edison Association in 1921, which is the oldest continuous neighborhood association in Detroit.
The Boston-Edison neighborhood was also fairly unique in being one of few areas early on in Detroit that did not have restrictive covenants regarding who could live or purchase property there. Given Ford's later reputation for anti-Semitic sentiments, it is notable that Boston-Edison was among the first upscale neighborhoods in Detroit to welcome Jewish residents and African American residents, who started moving into what was then a partially Jewish neighborhood in the 1950s. The neighborhood remains fairly diverse today as well.
The Fords remained in the home until 1915, moving on to the much larger 30,000-square-foot Fair Lane estate in Dearborn, Michigan.
The convenient location of Boston-Edison likely contributed to Ford's decision to move as job seekers disrupted the family's privacy by showing up on the Ford's front porch.
The Boston-Edison neighborhood earned designation as a Michigan State Historic Site (1973), historic designation by the Detroit Historic District Commission (1974) and a listing on the National Register of Historic Places (1975). Michigan erected an historical marker at the Ford house in 1989.
The house is a private residence today, but the neighborhood is a must-see for fans of Detroit history and early-20th-century architecture.
Read Ford Model T: The Car that Put the World on Wheels by Lindsay Brooke, which includes a short interview with the man who currently owns the Ford house and his efforts to preserve the Piquette plant.
Check out my story Victorian splendor in Toledo's Old West End to learn about another historic neighborhood about an hour away from Detroit that is also home to a variety of late-19th- and early-20th-century architectural styles, and home to some of the most prominent citizens in Toledo, Ohio, over the years.
© Dominique King 2012 All rights reserved