Southfield residential neighborhood Northland Gardens was named one of 12 distinctive places in Michigan listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Ties to Motown stars and the J.L. Hudson Co. are part of what makes this subdivision unique.

Southfield residential neighborhood Northland Gardens was named one of 12 distinctive places in Michigan listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Ties to Motown stars and the J.L. Hudson Co. are part of what makes this subdivision unique.

Photo by Jacob Herbert


Southfield neighborhood named one of 12 distinctive places to live in Michigan

By: Jacob Herbert | Southfield Sun | Published February 12, 2021

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SOUTHFIELD — Once home to legendary singer/songwriter William “Smokey” Robinson and several other Motown stars, Northland Gardens has recently been named one of 12 distinctive places in Michigan listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2020.

The 47.8-acre residential neighborhood, located near the intersection of Southfield Road and M-102/Eight Mile Road consists of roughly 120 midcentury modern homes. Midcentury modern homes often have large windows, sliding glass doors and changes in elevation. Many of the homes in Northland Gardens are large ranch-style homes equipped with fireplaces, huge living rooms and sometimes even bowling alley basements.

“When we look at it, we use the national registered criteria for historic places,” said Amy Arnold, a preservation planner at the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. “Basically, you look at the associations with significant people or events or for its architectural quality. There’s also seven elements of integrity. That’s the criteria that we use for everything at the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.”

The seven elements of integrity include location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association. But there’s more to Northland Gardens than the famous stars who occupied its homes. The story of Northland Gardens dates back to the 1950s.

Northland Gardens was developed by the Hudson-Weber Realty Co., the real estate branch of the J.L. Hudson Co. On March 22, 1954, Hudson’s opened the Northland Center, a 159-acre shopping mall located near the intersection of M-10 and Greenfield Road.

Hudson’s wanted to make sure they had upscale shoppers near the stores, so Northland Gardens was built. The first residents of Northland Gardens were primarily white, but the neighborhood quickly became more and more diverse in the 1970s.

“This mall was copied over and over again, but it was the first,” Southfield Mayor Ken Siver said. “It really was instrumental in the development of Southfield.”

More than 95,000 properties across the country, including nearly 2,000 in Michigan, have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since the program began in the 1960s. To be considered for a listing in the National Register, a property must generally be at least 50 years old, and it must also be significant when evaluated in relationship to major historical events or trends in the history of its community, the state or the nation.

It is Arnold’s goal as well as the State Historic Preservation Office’s that when neighborhoods and communities are recognized, it could bring people together to save the community, if necessary.

“One of the things we wanted to do is pick neighborhoods that people could relate to,” Arnold said. “When buildings are turning 50 years old they’re either at that point where you’re going to rehab them or demolish them. Our hope was that once people had a better understanding of the history of them, they would want to rehab them.”

For Siver, the recognition from the State Historic Preservation Office makes property more valuable. Siver said the city took a hit with the mortgage crisis, so he’s been looking for tools to make Southfield’s residential neighborhoods more valuable.

“This is what makes us unique, and I’m very proud to have this,” the mayor said. “I’ve felt that every community needs to promote itself. One of the ways we promote ourselves is through our architecture, our midcentury modern architecture as well as these unique neighborhoods.”

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