Before we moved to Wyoming, I worked in the Marketing department of a law firm in downtown Detroit. Every time I tell someone we moved to Wyoming from Detroit, I get comments about a rotting city, third world country, and “oh! no wonder you moved!”. Let’s get this clear – I love Detroit. I always will. Just a few months after I accepted that Marketing job, I started looking for a home to buy in the city. At the time, I was single and living in the Grosse Pointe area, a well-to-do Pleasantville-like suburb of Detroit, but I wanted to move in.
I came across house hunting photos while digging through old folders the other night and I still feel a pit in my stomach at the idea of admitting that I’ll have to let go of this dream. I know its irrational, but I think I’m actually mourning the loss of these homes.
I mean, clearly… I’m not stupid… these places need a ton of work. I got to the point of placing an offer on one home and literally planned to finish it one room at a time. Some have been stripped of their original fixtures and plumbing or need totally updated wiring or have flooded basements. I looked at one where the chimney caught on fire and I was all psssh we can work around that! Some are also absurdly large and have stupidly huge utility bills and sinking foundations and probably aren’t the safest place for a single woman to be living. Still, I see them as gorgeous living creatures with an incredible history and they need to be saved! My love is irrational. I am stupidly, blissfully blind to any faults. Even now, I daydream about someday being able to afford a second home near family and I’d love if it were one of these. I absolutely stand by our decision to move to Wyoming, but I think I’ll always have a small piece of me that considers never purchasing one of these homes as the greatest regret of my life. Thankfully, in the realm of real problems, it’s a pretty small one to have.
I could ramble on about this for forever — the history of the neighborhoods, the history of some of these houses, the details in the woodwork, the people who lived here and died here (yes, one had a suicide), the tax issues that stopped me from ever buying, the issues with getting young people to move into the city. Like looking up a long lost friend, sometimes I google snoop to see if any of the homes I admired most have been purchased and are being fixed up. I hope they’ve been adopted and are well loved and their new owners are saving Detroit one person at a time.
To get a scale of the size of these homes, know that I told the realtor I only wanted to look at “small” places. In this neighborhood, that qualified as anything under 4,000 sq ft. Our home in Michigan is less than 1,100 sq ft. So, obviously, they’re huge… but these are the small ones. Throughout the neighborhood there are 9,000+ sq ft mansions from the 1800s and early 1900s with carriage houses and solariums and original indoor pools. I would have willingly toured every single one.
I was very attached to this house (two photos above) and desperately wanted it, but there was a fire (maybe more than one?) in the chimney years before. I later saw new plants on the front porch, so I think it was purchased shortly after I toured it and given some love.
I almost bought this house. Well, I tried to. While I was getting loan approval (very difficult, by the way. Banks don’t believe that someone would leave Grosse Pointe for Detroit – they assumed I was buying “income properties” and it made things complicated), I was told that it went to a cash buyer, a guy who was known for buying up places in the neighborhood and putting in essential work (new roof, fixing structural issues, etc.) so they wouldn’t fall into total disrepair. The woodwork in this house was breathtaking. That’s also a safe installed in the wall, there was an amazing butler’s pantry, the backyard was gorgeous. Like most homes of similar size and location, it had a third floor with separate maids quarters and a staircase that leads directly to the kitchen. What would I do with a maid’s quarters? I have no idea. I probably would have used the hidden staircase to sneak up on people and scare the shit out of them. Oh oh! See that paneling that goes all the way up the wall — there was a panel that popped out to reveal the stairs to the basement. It was like Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs only so much better. Of all the homes, this is the hardest to forget. I started to envision myself living there and made plans. Heartbreak.
Finally, this masterpiece. This place was never a real contender because it’s in a far less desirable location (well, it was at the time. I doubt it’s come that far along). It’s also huge, was vacant for a long time, and needed serious work. My god though… look at that beauty! I have a ton more interior pictures, but I don’t want to share them and ruin your vision due to someone’s absurd decorating choices. More so than any others, this one had details that so easily remind you of a previous time, like maid’s quarters and a coat room that wasn’t visible from the grand entrance. The third floor also had a gentleman’s room for billiards with an old school ventilation system. There were three separate porches, something like 7 bedrooms, many of them with private marble sinks in the rooms, built-ins everywhere, a staircase that had to be 7 feet wide. I believe it was listed for $54,000. I’m sure it’s still vacant.