Historical Society recognizes significant structures in Pointes

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 19, 2018

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Although a number of important historic structures in the Grosse Pointes have met the wrecking ball in recent decades, the community is still home to significant structures, and the Grosse Pointe Historical Society recognizes some of the most prominent among them each year.

You may have seen one of the society’s circular bronze plaques — designed by J. William Gorski and featuring the society’s logo, a French windmill that once stood on the shore of Lake St. Clair in the 1700s. Each building that the GPHS honors receives one of these plaques, which are usually displayed in a visible location on the structure. Grosse Pointe Shores City Hall, which was recognized last year by the GPHS, has its plaque affixed to a portion of the building adjacent to the main entrance, for example.

On May 8, the GPHS gave plaques to the 92nd, 93rd and 94th buildings to receive them since they were first awarded 31 years ago, in 1987. During the annual Pointes of History ceremony at Pier Park in Grosse Pointe Farms, the GPHS recognized 31 Renaud Road in Grosse Pointe Shores, 874 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Shores and the Bon Secours Hospital and chapel (now Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe) in Grosse Pointe City.

Longtime GPHS member Michael Farley said that 31 Renaud was constructed in 1930 by builder and architect Carl L. Meek for prominent throat specialist Dr. George L. Renaud. Renaud was known for cautioning against the removal of tonsils as early as 1925, a decade before the notion that tonsils performed a valuable function was more widely acceptable in the medical profession. The doctor would continue to purchase parcels of land in the neighborhood, ultimately owning the area from Lake Shore Road to Mack Avenue.

Built in the French Normandy style, 31 Renaud features a turret and a steeply pitched roof. Today, it’s owned by Shane and Joy Krueger and is part of the Krueger family estate, a series of adjacent homes owned by four generations of the Krueger family that have merged backyards that have been turned into a shared park with a swimming pool and pool house, an ice rink and other amenities for the family to enjoy.

“It took a lot of work to update the house and make it a place to raise our family,” said Shane Krueger, adding that the couple has three children and is soon expecting a fourth. “It was a balance between making the space functional, and yet preserving the old-world character.”

He said that he and his wife purchased the home in 2008 and added new electrical and hardwood floors, along with preserving historic elements and replacing “mismatched vinyl windows” with the original leaded glass windows, which they also restored.

In order to install a new slate roof — which Shane Krueger said weighed more than 80,000 pounds, the equivalent of roughly 20 SUVs — he said they had to re-engineer the structure of the roof. He said they also used reclaimed brick “that matched the (original) house exactly” during the renovation process, which included the addition of a mudroom and a first-floor laundry room.

“Thank you for recognizing the time and effort we have poured into our home,” Shane Krueger told the GPHS.

Michael Skinner, a member of the GPHS Board of Trustees, said 874 Lake Shore is known as the W. Hawkins Ferry house for its first occupant, a trustee for the Detroit Institute of Arts for 27 years and a graduate of the Cranbrook School for Boys and the Harvard Design School. Ferry was the grandson of Dexter Ferry Sr. — the founder of what is today known as the Ferry-Morse Seed Company and a founding board member of the DIA who contributed a significant amount to the DIA to construct its original building at Hastings Street and Jefferson Avenue; the building was demolished in 1957 to create the Interstate-375/Jefferson interchange, Skinner explained.

In 1951, W. Hawkins Ferry, a student of the modernist movement in art and architecture, convinced his father, Dexter Ferry Jr., to hire the younger Ferry’s former professor, Marcell Breuer, to design what is today the Central Branch of the Grosse Pointe Public Library in Grosse Pointe Farms. The Ferry family had donated land and funds for the creation of the library, the first stand-alone library facility in the Pointes. Prior to that, the libraries had been housed inside schools, municipal buildings and commercial buildings.

A strong supporter of the DIA like his father and grandfather. W. Hawkins Ferry became a trustee of the DIA Founders Society in 1960 and played a pivotal role in the museum’s acquisition of modern art. His 1968 book, “The Buildings of Detroit: A History,” is still one of the most widely referenced books on Detroit architecture.

Ferry tapped architect William Kessler, also a Harvard Design School graduate, to design his home. The two-story structure takes advantage of the home’s view of Lake St. Clair with a series of glass walls and terraces on the lake side, and the living room and library are both two stories high. Ferry died at his home on Jan. 28, 1988.

Mason Ferry, of Grosse Pointe Shores, was W. Hawkins Ferry’s nephew. He said he remembered some of the artworks — including one by Pablo Picasso — that his uncle purchased early on.

“His life spanned the entire modernist era,” Mason Ferry said after the GPHS plaque ceremony.

Skinner said the home’s current owners, Anthony and JJ Curis, “have restored the home to its original architectural intent.” The couple also brought in noted Detroit sculptor Glen Michaels to restore the design of the lakeside patio. Skinner said the couple is also trying to get the home added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’re honored, and we feel privileged that you’re honoring our house,” JJ Curis said of the home, which they’ve owned for the last two years. “It’s a dream to live in the house. It’s been a labor of love (restoring it).”

Like the Kruegers, the Curises have painstakingly worked on restoring original elements of the home, including some that were removed and stored away by the previous owner.

Gregory Jakub, manager of community relations for Henry Ford Health System, discussed the history of Bon Secours/Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe. He said he worked in public relations for Bon Secours in the mid-1980s. In Paris, in 1824, following the French Revolution, Jakub said, a group of 12 women founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours; Bon Secours is French for “good help.”

“The sisters risked leaving the security of their cloister to nurse the sick and dying in their homes — a ministry at that time untested in the Catholic Church,” Jakub said.

On Aug. 11, 1922, Jakub said, the Rev. James Stapleton was granted permission to purchase what was then known as the Michael Cadieux Farm — one of the last ribbon farms in the area — for a future hospital operated by the Sisters of Bon Secours. In 1938, the farmhouse was opened as the first Bon Secours Convalescent Center. Plans for the hospital were completed by Detroit architect Roland C. Gies in 1941, and in 1945, Bon Secours Hospital opened as a full-service hospital.

Jakub said the chapel — known in the community as “the little church” — could seat 150 and featured stations of the cross carved in Italy, Venetian mosaics and a canopy made of walnut and 23-carat gold lettering and motifs. Today, there’s also a prayer room for people of all religions to worship.

The Rev. Rich Bartoszek, a Catholic priest who serves as Beaumont’s chaplain, said he has kept in touch with the Sisters of Bon Secours since they turned over the hospital to Beaumont in 2007.

“They are very pleased about what Beaumont has done,” he said.

Bartoszek said Beaumont officials “were very respectful of the history and the legacy” established by the nuns. He said the first four nuns came to the Pointes in 1909 to care for the sick in their homes, and they continued that mission of health care for more than 98 years. This was the order’s third hospital site.

“We are very honored that you have honored us with this plaque,” Bartoszek said.

The GPHS also honored retiring Pointes of History Plaque Committee member John “Jack” McCormick, who served for 11 years and used to play the piano for GPHS events. McCormick formerly served as the vice president of administration for the GPHS as well.