Tours highlight blooms, buildings

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published June 19, 2013

 This home in Southfield’s Cranbrook Village subdivision is a classic mid-century house with its large windows, sloping roof, carport and rainbow flagstone facade.

This home in Southfield’s Cranbrook Village subdivision is a classic mid-century house with its large windows, sloping roof, carport and rainbow flagstone facade.


SOUTHFIELD — In addition to enjoying the best of the summer weather that’s arrived this year, a handful of local community leaders want residents to take the time to enjoy the scenery.

That is, the design, history and style of Southfield’s homes and businesses, and the art, landscaping and individuality of homeowners’ yards.

Architectural tour

“In our day-to-day lives, we drive up and down these streets and don’t pay much attention to the design of some of the wonderful buildings that we have in Southfield — some that are more valuable because they were designed by prestigious architects,” Council President and Southfield historian Ken Siver said.

For the first time, a mid-century modern architectural tour will be held through the city, hosted by the Southfield Planning Department and the Southfield Historical Society. It’s set for June 29 and will demonstrate the best of the design that tour leaders say has made a tremendous resurgence.

“This tour is about getting people to take another look at the fine examples that we have, as well as think about investing here and moving their company into some of these buildings or buying a classic mid-century modern home,” Siver added. “I think we have a treasure trove of buildings. … The people who came to Southfield in late ’50s and ’60s were architects with amazing portfolios building around the city.”

Mid-century modern is known for being post-World War II design and a byproduct of post-war optimism as people clung to building a new future. Modern materials, clean lines, automobile-oriented spaces — such as buildings situated in the center of a site with parking surrounding and car ports connected to ranch-style homes — were the coveted spaces as folks moved from Detroit to the suburbs, according to City Planner Terry Croad.

The tour aims to promote exposure about how the design element has and will continue to characterize Southfield, he added. Local students from Lawrence Technological University helped to do an analysis on the mid-century modern makeup of Southfield, which allowed for the creation of the tour, he explained.

“This is part of building awareness and education on our unique assets here in Southfield,” Croad said, adding that more than two dozen commercial office buildings will be featured, along with residential homes. “Because Southfield has so much unique architecture of this period, at that time, we were the fastest growing city in the region — in the state even. Now, we are 50 years-plus after that and there’s an appreciation of this style that we have to preserve and protect (during redevelopment).”

The Planning Department has had a longstanding tradition of collaboration with the students and faculty at LTU on this topic.

Amy Green Deines, associate dean of the College of Architecture and Design at LTU, said that the design transcends architecture to signify much more than that.

“Mid-century modern design is not only an architectural movement, but also an aesthetic that transcended into many other disciplines; such as industrial design, graphic design and interior design,” she explained. “Architecturally speaking, mid-century modern was concerned with the connection of the built environment and nature; and its use of glass, open spaces and simple elements was the foundation of this movement.”

The bus tour will include the Northland area, a loop through the Northland Gardens, Washington Heights and Cranbrook neighborhoods, as well as the Northwestern Highway Corridor.  In addition to homes, offices and commercial spaces, religious institutions, such as Congregation Shaarey Zedek’s design by famed New York architect Percival Goodman, will be explored.

Participants will learn about notable architects like Victor Gruen; Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the World Trade Center; Gunnar Birkerts; Rosetti & Associates; and others, and how they impacted Southfield’s growth. Participants will also learn the history and prominence behind familiar buildings like the IBM Headquarters at Nine Mile and Southfield, as well as Northland Shopping Center.

Garden Walk

As the architectural tour kicks off for the first time, Southfield’s tradition of the annual Garden Walk continues, now in its seventh year.

“This tour is for people who enjoy gardens and landscaping and seeing how others interpret their yards,” said Siver, who is also the Garden Walk chairman. “I find it very interesting because landscaping can be a lot like personalities. We are all different and we express ourselves, whether through clothing or the things we do, and landscaping is an extension of that.”

Siver, who has lived in his Southfield home for more than 40 years, said he’s put his green thumb to work for a garden that could be best described as “eclectic.”

“Over the years, I’ve been experimenting to see what would fare better in my yard with the shade and soil I have,” he said, adding that his garden includes a large vegetable garden and a number of perennial beds. “I inherited a nice rock garden from the home’s previous owners, and I’ve been a good steward, loading it with lots of perennials and made it my job to keep it going.”

Siver said the tour, which rotates to various neighborhoods annually, is also about promoting curb appeal throughout the city.

The Summer Garden Walk will take place June 23, led by Southfield Parks & Garden Club. The walk features 20 yards in the Mt. Vernon Place neighborhood, which is bound by Lahser, Winchester, Virginia and Paul Revere streets.

The Southfield Parks & Garden Club began the annual walk to showcase some of the city’s most colorful, unique and oasis-like yards. Blooms, themes, garden art and one-of-a-kind landscaping are what make these neighborhoods worth a nice summer stroll, according to organizers.

The Southfield Parks & Garden Club originated the annual walk to showcase residents’ unique gardens and garden art, to offer tips and ideas to fellow homeowners, and hopefully teach participants a thing or two about annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees.


Garden Walk

The seventh annual Garden Walk will run 2-5 p.m. June 23, featuring 20 yards. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased the day of the event. The walk begins at Stevenson Elementary School, 27777 Lahser Road. Parking on site is free, as are refreshments.

Architectural tour
A bus tour will highlight Southfield’s mid-century modern design at 1 p.m. June 29. The event will explore several neighborhoods and last slightly more than two hours. The tour begins at the Millennium Center, 15600 JL Hudson Drive, with free parking on site.  Tickets are $20 and are available in the lobby of Southfield City Hall or from Southfield City Council President Ken Siver.

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