Find old-world elegance on Detroit home tour

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published August 31, 2016

 A formally decorated room graces a University District tour home.

A formally decorated room graces a University District tour home.

Photo provided by the University District Community Association

DETROIT — When Kelda London and her husband were first married, they hoped that someday they would live in one of the gracious and grand homes found in the city’s University District. 

“It was the beauty and the history of it all,” London said. Four years ago, the couple finally moved into their dream home in the neighborhood located west of Palmer Park, bounded by McNichols Road, Seven Mile Road, Livernois Avenue and the Detroit Golf Club.

“Some of the houses here look like castles,” said Theresa Henige, who also lives in the University District. “A lot of the houses have three stories. Our third floor is my office — it was formerly the maid’s quarters.” 

History buffs and those who appreciate the charm and elegance of a bygone era will enjoy the upcoming University District Community Association’s Historic Home Tour. The tour features six distinguished homes and two churches. 

The neighborhood’s homes were built in the 1920s and 1930s and feature crystal chandeliers, twin staircases, Pewabic tile, ornate fireplaces, built-in cabinetry, marble windowsills, stained glass and many more opulent details. 

The six tour homes are located on Birchcrest Drive, Parkside Street, Wildemere Street and Muirland Street. Although many of the homes have been renovated, most stay true to the character of the past while attempting to combine the present, London said.

One home on the tour was built by the Spoon brothers, who were known for their opulent craftsmanship. A fountain, a large aquarium, a deck and a koi pond grace a Wildemere Street home. A tour home on Muirland Street suffered a kitchen fire in 1998 that led to the discovery of a hidden area.

The Birchcrest Drive house features burgundy marble windowsills, Pewabic floor tile and marble baseboards. The formally decorated Parkside Street home has an elegant red room, a formal dining room, four bedrooms with Jack-and-Jill bathrooms, and an etched granite rendering of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.”

Tour home details include rhinestone cabinet handles, multiple types of stained and leaded glass, along with recessed, pendant and sconce lighting. Tour visitors will see an original 6-by-7-foot wall mirror and many rooms originally occupied by servants.  

Two historical churches also will be open during the tour — Gesu Catholic Church on Oak Drive and All Saints Episcopal Church on Seven Mile Road. Church members will be on-site to talk about the historical significance of the churches and point out special features and artifacts. In addition, All Saints will sell snacks and drinks. 

Although elegant, the University District area does not intimidate the residents. 

“It is super friendly here,” London said. “Our neighborhood is wonderfully close-knit. We sit in our backyards and talk and laugh with the neighbors. I see it all the time here.”

New neighbors are another common sight, and many of the newest homeowners have children. 

“I love to see the young families move in,” London said. “It is becoming a younger neighborhood again — with young people who are committed to the revitalization of the city.” 

The University District Historic Home Tour will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 11, beginning at the Gesu Community Center, located at 17198 Oak Drive in Detroit. Tickets cost $18 in advance or $20 the day of the tour. A free shuttle bus will be available, or ticket-holders can walk or drive themselves to the tour homes. 

For more information or for tickets, visit www.udca.info or call (248) 763-8432. More information can also be found on the UDCA Facebook page.