Workers start digging what will be the basement of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society’s new office and storage space Aug. 30. Work is being undertaken by Ross Construction.

Workers start digging what will be the basement of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society’s new office and storage space Aug. 30. Work is being undertaken by Ross Construction.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran


Local history is finally getting a real home

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 5, 2021

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — After years of dreaming and searching, the Grosse Pointe Historical Society is finally getting a permanent home.

On Aug. 30, GPHS members were on hand for a groundbreaking at what will become the new offices and archives at 375 Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe Farms, across the street from the GPHS’ historical Provencal-Weir House. The 5,000-square-foot brick structure will resemble a single-family home to be in keeping with the neighborhood, complete with a circular driveway instead of a parking lot.

“We’re really happy to break ground,” GPHS Board President Leslie Wagner said.

Wagner said construction is starting this fall. They hope to open the building in the spring.

This project has been in the works for years. In 2016, the GPHS purchased a 1969 quad-level house with the intentions of renovating it for their new offices. The structure — anecdotally referred to as the “yellow house” — was demolished in fall 2019, and GHPS officials at that time announced plans to start construction on the new building in 2020. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, putting those plans on hold once again.

“We did a feasibility study, and we found out it wasn’t going to be feasible to repurpose that building,” past GPHS Board President Patricia O’Brien said. “It would suit our purposes better to build from scratch.”

Among the complicating factors: The house couldn’t be modified to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it was an all-electric building, with no gas lines.

The new building, which will be accessible, will house storage and a digital archives lab on the lower level, as well as offices and flexible spaces for study, small public exhibitions and meetings on the first floor. Because it’s new, GPHS officials said it will be built with the latest energy-efficient technology and climate control; the latter is particularly vital to protect the historic documents and other artifacts in the GPHS collection.

Besides its own documents, the GPHS will be digitizing the historic paper photos and records of some other local groups, including the Louisa St. Clair Society chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Stuart Grigg, vice president of development for the GPHS, said the DAR chapter provided the GPHS with a keystone gift of $50,000 toward the new GPHS building. He said GPHS will be digitizing DAR’s albums and photos, dating back to 1893.

“The problem with albums is, they’re really deteriorating,” said Grigg, noting that they can take high-quality digital images of all of these materials and then pack them up in archival paper for storage. “The Detroit area is full of all of these kinds of groups that kept meticulous records on paper. If we don’t digitize them, they’re going to turn into dust.”

Besides preserving these records for future generations, Grigg said digital archives can easily be shared online, making them more readily available for everyone.

“Historic preservation is one of our pillars for our mission as an organization,” said Deann Newman, director of the Louisa St. Clair chapter of DAR. “We believe strongly that we need to preserve our history.”

During a meeting April 12 via Zoom, the Farms City Council voted unanimously in favor of a conditional use request and building permit for the project. The council had already voted in favor of the same request in January 2018, but because construction didn’t start within 12 months of that approval, the GPHS had to obtain it again.

During that meeting, O’Brien told the council that the facility would house GPHS administrative offices and also be used for board meetings and small gatherings of no more than 25 people.

In keeping with the residential character of the surrounding neighborhood, the GPHS will use residential trash and recycling containers instead of a larger, commercial trash receptacle.

If the GPHS were to relocate in the future, the structure needed to be one that could be used as a home, which figured into the residential design.

“It’s really pretty,” Wagner said of the architectural style. “It fits the site. It could be transformed into a single-family home.”

Grigg said the need for a new, larger space for GPHS offices and archives was part of their strategic plan as far back as 2005. The organization’s archives include more than 4,000 blueprints from homes in the Pointes, but they’ve never had a place to store or share them, he said.

“Then, we had to wait until there was land (available) that made sense,” Grigg said.

With its proximity to the Provencal-Weir House — which, dating back to circa 1823, is the oldest remaining structure in the Pointes — this proved to be the ideal spot.

The GPHS had been hoping to start construction in 2020, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing the project to be delayed.

“We’ve been waiting so long; we just want to dig,” Grigg said.

They aren’t anticipating large crowds of visitors but will be happy to finally have adequate room for researchers and those who just want to learn more about local history.

“We want it to be a place where people can come and access history in a way that works for them,” Grigg said.

GPHS offices — which are temporarily inside the Provencal-Weir House — have traditionally been visited by researchers and others, so GPHS officials say traffic to their new facility isn’t likely to increase, nor is the demand for parking.

For 20 years, GPHS offices were housed nearby inside rented space next to Jerry’s Party Store, but GPHS officials said that space was never large enough to house their collection or adequately serve visitors.

At press time, Grigg said the capital campaign for the new building was still going on. He said this is a roughly $1 million project, and they want to raise an additional $500,000 to create an endowment. Although the GPHS is headquartered in the Farms, Grigg said they’re focused on preserving the history of all five Grosse Pointes.

Mason Ferry, who’s in charge of the capital campaign for the building, said anyone who wants to make a donation toward the project can send money to the GPHS’ temporary offices at the Provencal-Weir House. Ferry’s late uncle, W. Hawkins Ferry, authored the important Detroit architectural book, “The Buildings of Detroit: A History” in 1968 and was responsible for contracting the construction of a modern Grosse Pointe Shores home that still bears his name.

“This is a big day, an exciting day,” Ferry said of the GPHS building groundbreaking.

To donate or for more information, visit www.gphistorical.org, email development@gphistorical.org or call (313) 884-7010.

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