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‘Belles’ will again be ringing in the holidays at Ford House

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 3, 2019

 This historical photo shows, at left, Lynn McNaughton Ford and, at right, Sheila Firestone Ford with their grandmother, Eleanor Clay Ford, center, before a pre-debutante reception for the teens in December 1969 at their grandmother’s Grosse Pointe Shores estate.

This historical photo shows, at left, Lynn McNaughton Ford and, at right, Sheila Firestone Ford with their grandmother, Eleanor Clay Ford, center, before a pre-debutante reception for the teens in December 1969 at their grandmother’s Grosse Pointe Shores estate.

Photo provided by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House

  Staffers at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House created balloon arrangements with faux vines and LED lights to replicate what attendees of a 1969 party for cousins Lynn McNaughton Ford and Sheila Firestone Ford would have seen. The balloon arrangements, located in the gallery, are hanging where the chandeliers would normally be.

Staffers at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House created balloon arrangements with faux vines and LED lights to replicate what attendees of a 1969 party for cousins Lynn McNaughton Ford and Sheila Firestone Ford would have seen. The balloon arrangements, located in the gallery, are hanging where the chandeliers would normally be.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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GROSSE POINTE SHORES — 1969 was the year that brought us Woodstock, the moon landing and the establishment of PBS. It was also a year in which Eleanor Ford hosted a festive holiday celebration in December for her granddaughters, Lynn and Sheila, and about 600 guests.

The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House is inviting the public to take a trip back to that time — and that party — this holiday season. Through Jan. 5, visitors to the historic estate in Grosse Pointe Shores will be able to see the house decked out in décor created to replicate that special event while they learn more about the family and the special relationship between Eleanor and her grandchildren during guided “Holiday Belles” house tours.

“Our grandmother, Eleanor, made it a very special evening,” said Lynn Ford Alandt, chair of the Ford House Board of Trustees, in a press release. “She loved to entertain in her home. She was a remarkable woman, and a warm, welcoming and truly gracious hostess.”

The Ford House offered its first “Holiday Belles” tours last year, and after visitors responded positively, organizers decided to offer them again this year. During the 1960s, Eleanor Ford hosted special parties at her home for her granddaughters in anticipation of their debutante balls.

“If you took the tour last year, you’ll see new decorations and hear new stories (this year),” said Clare Pfeiffer, director of communications and engagement for the Ford House. “People were really interested to see (‘Holiday Belles’). It’s a different way to decorate for the holidays. Our focus was to do something authentic to what the Fords did here. I think our audiences appreciated hearing the stories. (We wanted to) let people immerse themselves in … (that) time period.”

The December 1969 soiree had a fruit and flowers theme, and Ford House staffers have been working for months to create the elements that visitors will see. Since arrangements of real fruits and flowers wouldn’t last for several weeks, these have been re-created using faux versions.

Lisa Worley, the Ford House director of material culture, said they relied on old photos, news articles and other archival materials to determine how the house was decorated for the party. The landscaping team built a bar, and music from bandleader Lester Lanin will play in the background; he used to perform at society gatherings.

“It’s a window into one evening in the winter at the Fords’ house,” Worley said.

Two Ford House staffers are also accomplished seamstresses, so they’ve created a pair of dresses reminiscent of the ones Lynn and Sheila Ford wore. Worley said the dresses are being made using a vintage 1960s dress pattern and vintage fabric. The original dresses — purchased at legendary couture store Walton Pierce in Grosse Pointe City’s Village shopping district — were no longer available.

A Christmas tree in the library is decked out in vintage frosted bread ornaments and straw angels, in keeping with a South American theme the Fords had for the room that holiday season.

“For 1969, it was a pretty unique look and feel,” Worley said.

Historical photos of the party are included in the rooms so that visitors can see what it looked like in 1969.

Vibrant colors like fuchsia, orange, white and yellow are a surprising divergence from classic holiday hues like red and green.

“You’ll still see some of that formal elegance … but there are whimsical touches,” Pfeiffer said.

Visitors will also encounter beloved Ford House holiday traditions, including a white tree in the main hall with iconic glass teardrop ornaments that are so popular with visitors, replicas can now be purchased at the Ford House gift shop.

To add to the festivities, the Ford House is offering a pop-up shop by Detroit boutique The Peacock Room Dec. 5-7, during which visitors can purchase vintage and vintage-inspired jewelry, handbags, capes and more.

And between 4 and 8 p.m. Dec. 11 and 12, a fruit and flowers-themed pop-up shop will include doughnuts, cider, jams and jellies from Blake’s Cider Mill & Orchard; handmade bath and body products from ILERA Apothecary; and chocolates, truffles and fruity treats from Sweet Thoughts.

Although visitors can purchase a house tour in conjunction with the pop-up shopping events, no admission is necessary for those who wish to shop only.

The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Shores, between Vernier and Nine Mile roads. For tour reservations or more information, visit www.fordhouse.org or call (313) 884-4222.

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