Grosse Pointe Shores embraces history of its municipal building

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 15, 2017

 A bronze plaque from the Grosse Pointe Historical Society — mounted next to the front door of Grosse Pointe Shores City Hall — recognizes the Albert Kahn-designed building’s historical significance.

A bronze plaque from the Grosse Pointe Historical Society — mounted next to the front door of Grosse Pointe Shores City Hall — recognizes the Albert Kahn-designed building’s historical significance.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Grosse Pointe Shores might soon have a distinction that its fellow Pointes don’t share.

City officials hope to learn in the coming weeks whether the City Hall building at 795 Lake Shore Road will receive recognition by the Michigan Historical Commission. Designed by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn and completed in late 1915, the building was honored earlier this year by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society.

“I’m hoping in the fall, we’ll get word” about the state designation, Mayor Ted Kedzierski said.

One of the most prominent architects of his era and the namesake for a firm that continues to this day, Kahn was responsible for designing a number of significant structures, including the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and the Belle Isle Aquarium on Belle Isle, as well as the Detroit Athletic Club, the Fisher Building, the Packard Plant and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, the last of which is also in the Shores.

During its Pointes of History Celebration May 9 at Pier Park in Grosse Pointe Farms, the GPHS honored two buildings with bronze plaques denoting them as historically significant. Shores City Hall was one, becoming the first city hall in the Pointes to receive this designation.

Greg Jakub, chair of the GPHS Historic Plaque Committee, said that a proposal to build a Shores Village Hall at a cost of $7,000 — the Shores was a village until 2009 — was struck down by a single vote in May 1911. Village Council meetings took place in private homes until October 1912, when the Shores started leasing a home on the southwest corner of Lake Shore and Vernier roads for city business. In November 1913, the Shores purchased the property where City Hall now stands, and in April 1914, Village Council President George Osius — the namesake of Osius Park — recommended construction of city offices.

In November 1914, Shores voters approved construction of Village Hall, at a cost of $22,000. The building took about a year to complete, and the council met for the first time there on Nov. 1, 1915. A dedication for the building was conducted on Dec. 10, 1915.

“We’re very pleased with the building,” Kedzierski said. “We learn new things about the building all the time.”

The Shores was incorporated on April 1, 1911, and had public safety from the beginning.

“We’re really proud of being the first city to have a public safety department,” Shores City Councilman Doug Kucyk said in May.

In those early days, Kedzierski said unmarried public safety officers lived on the upper level of City Hall.

“It was like a bachelor’s pad,” he said.

During the May 9 program, the GPHS also recognized 266 Lakeland Road in Grosse Pointe City. Named Rosecroft for the rose gardens that once grew there, the 18-room English Tudor house was designed by Kahn in 1912 for Benjamin F. Tobin, one of the organizers of the Continental Motor Corp., said GPHS Historic Plaque Committee Member Mike Farley.

“There’s a lot of detail in the house,” said Farley, praising the “intricate plaster work” on the ceilings, along with Pewabic tiles, four wood-burning fireplaces and sleeping porches on the second and third floors. The home is now proudly owned by Agnes and Paul Ward.

“We passed by this house for a year before we bought it,” Agnes Ward said. “It really was a labor of love” to renovate it. She said the house needed substantial work, including plaster repairs.

“We love the flow of the home,” she continued. “That’s what really attracted us.”

Agnes Ward said she and her husband lived in a carriage house on the property for 11 months while working on the main house.

Since 1986, the GPHS has annually presented bronze plaques to important properties in the Pointes “to encourage continued preservation of our built environment and adaptive reuse,” Jakub said.

Over 90 plaques have been awarded over the last 31 years, he said.

Criteria for a plaque include a property’s prominence in Grosse Pointe history as a place where a noteworthy person lived or an event occurred; the significance of the architect and whether the construction itself had high artistic value; and whether there’s adequate documentation on the property’s history. In addition, a structure must be at least 50 years old to qualify.

The plaque, which features the GPHS logo — a French windmill that once stood on the shore of Lake St. Clair circa the 1700s — was designed by J. William Gorski. Jakub said a plaque remains with the property as part of its legacy.

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