First built as a spacious abode for a German immigrant and his family, Ardmore Park Place has changed moods over the years but hasn’t lost its stately, historic look.
So it is fitting that the house on Little Mack Avenue, which now houses a collection of shops, was the first business awarded a historic marker by the St. Clair Shores Historical Commission Oct. 27.
“It was built by Frederick Schroeder in approximately 1880,” said co-owner Ray Domke. “They had 12 children. He was just a farmer (who) immigrated from Germany.”
More than 300,000 bricks were used to build the three-story, 132-year-old structure, which now includes a café with full bar and banquet facility, and a wine store. The remaining space is leased out to a salon, several boutiques and a psychologist.
Domke, who owns the building with Larry Berdasono, said it has many more ornamental features than other farmhouses in the area.
“Ours is so ornate. The man really did a beautiful job; it wasn’t just a typical home,” Domke said.
During the Prohibition Era, the building was a bordello and gambling house, accessible only with the secret password. A sentinel on the roof watched out for uninvited guests. The house was converted to Reenies Lodge when Prohibition ended — it included a dining facility and ballroom — and then was turned into a furniture store, E.C. White’s, from the 1950s until the early 1980s.
“We bought the building in 1986,” Domke said. “It was very neat when you drove down the road and (saw) the ‘for sale’ sign.
“We gutted the whole thing out and started all over.”
The pair first opened the building as Victoria Place, then changed the name to Ardmore Park Place in 2008.
“We brought it back to the character of what the building should have looked like in the 1880s,” Domke said. “To have a historical building and to have the first commercial historical marker, it’s kind of neat.”
The Historical Marker Program recognizes homes or businesses that were built in or before 1951 — the year the city was incorporated. Applicants must submit documentation of the structure’s history and then can receive one of two colored markers — a plaque with a black background with silver lettering identifying the building as a St. Clair Shores Historical Site with the year of construction, or a plaque with gold lettering for structures more than 100 years old.
Cindy Bieniek, adult services librarian and archivist at the St. Clair Shores Public Library, said they could help those searching for the history of their abode. To start, the library has an instruction pamphlet available called, “This Old House: Researching the Past.”
The instructions walk a homeowner through step-by-step instructions, which start with the city’s assessing department.
“They have an estimate, sometimes, of when (a house or business) was originally built,” she said. “You want to be as exact as possible with the date on the plaque.”
She said the property’s title sometimes also has abstract portions dating back to the original owners of the land.
“We also like to use the U.S. Census,” she said. “We look back at those 10 years to see who was living in that property, and street names start popping up.”
She said research sometimes uncovers the fact that a building has been moved, and homeowners can also get clues while doing renovations. Sometimes, she said, a photograph or newspaper may be stuck in a wall for luck — that may give a clue to the provenance of the building. City atlases are also helpful.
“With Ardmore Park Place … we noticed on one map (that) the older cabin was built further back on the property than the new brick house was,” she said. “It’s a combination of things that we use to try to prove a case.”
The local history center in the library’s basement is open on Tuesdays from 1-4 p.m., Thursdays from 5-8:45 p.m., and on the second and fourth Saturdays of the months from 10 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m.
Domke said they were happy to be recognized by the Historic Commission.
“No one appreciates old things anymore,” Domke said. “They tear them down, they don’t take the time and redo them. This is history.”