The early days of motoring inspired a new family tradition: Piling into the car on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps with no particular destination in mind but a desire to see where the road would lead, or to gaze at the homes of the wealthy.
East Side Sunday Drives
From Belle Isle, the family out for a Sunday drive would continue up Jefferson Avenue, past the Chrysler plant, with the new models in the wide showroom windows, past Alter Road, by the Esquire Theater and Al Green’s Restaurant at Beaconsfield and into Grosse Pointe.
|Lake Shore Drive in the 1920s, before it was widened.|
Most of these grand mansions have been victims of the wrecking ball: the land was too valuable, the upkeep too high on the old houses, and the family fortunes dispersed and diminished by numerous offspring, declining profits, and taxes.
But at mid-century, Gross Pointe was still in its prime. A right turn from Jefferson down to Windmill Point Drive brought the first glimpse of lakeside mansions. Huge, but comparatively close upon one another, these homes still stand for the most part. Rumors of bootlegging activites in this neighborhood always lent a raffish air. Windmill Point ends in a curve back up to Jefferson, and the motoring family could proceed northeast past the subdivided areas on the lake side, until lakeside homes began to appear, and Jefferson turned into Lake Shore Road, which was widened in 1931 from a narrow and scenic drive to a four lane boulevard.
|A 1965 view of the imposing Rose Terrace, Mrs. Horace Dodge’s home.
Next along the route was the Russell Alger home, The Moorings, built in 1910. Russell Alger was a lumber baron who served as President McKinley’s Secretary of War, governor of Michigan and U.S. Senator. Donated by the family to the city to be a branch of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the home was returned (the maintenance costs were too high) and eventually became the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, a community center.
Grosse Pointe Memorial Church hides the exclusive lakefront Grosse Pointe Club or “Little Club” from prying eyes.
St Paul’s Catholic Church and The Academy of the Sacred Heart, a private girls’ school until 1969, stand next to each other overlooking the lake. Near to Sacred Heart, where his daughters attended school, stood Henry Ford’s home, which had been the Roy Chapin house, until Ford bought it after Mrs. Chapin’s 1957 death. The house was razed in 1983 for luxury condominiums.
Henry Joy, the president of Packard Motor Company, lived in Fair Acres, on Lake Shore near Kerby Road. The mansion came down in 1959. Financier and philanthropist Joseph Schlotman’s imposing home, Stonehurst, was demolished in 1970. Benson Ford’s home, near Oxford Road, still stands. Real estate magnate and co-owner of the Empire State Building, Alfred Glancy had a beautiful tudor, now gone, near the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club. The Yacht Club still stands, its tower a beacon to sailors and more land-locked travellers driving up Lake Shore Road.
|The gatehouse of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford estate stands along Lake Shore Drive.|
The return trip of an east side Sunday drive might be back up Lake Shore, looking out at the lake instead of at the mansions. Freighters from around the world ply the waters of Lake St. Clair, and Canada is faintly visible across the wide lake.
West Side Sunday Drives
|Hines Park: A popular west side destination.
The Road Commission actually began in 1903, with Hines, Henry Ford and Cass R. Benton. Their first official act was to fill up some mud holes in roads outside the city, for which they billed the county $25, which the county refused to pay. A lawsuit was brought to force payment and Ford and Benton quit, saying they joined to build roads, not lawsuits. Hines hung in and won the suit and so began a system of roads that were the envy of the country in the ’20s and ’30s. Hines was credited with the idea of a highway center line, the first of which was in Wayne County. Snow removal from highways was a Hines innovation, as was roadside beautification, with the elimination of billboards and electric wires.
Hines, who was the president of the League of American Wheelmen, a bicyclist organization, was also instrumental in acquiring park land and cleaning up the Rouge and Huron River Valleys, to turn them into a park system “where people could go for an outing, to rest as well as to play, to breathe pure air and to enjoy natural beauties.”
In 1937, the Middle Rouge Parkway was renamed Edward Hines Drive in his honor. Although plagued by rowdyism in the ’70s, earlier in the century, Hines Parkway was an ideal destination for a Sunday drive for west-siders. A Sunday drive in Middle Rouge Park became a fitting testimony to a man who dedicated his life to motorists and the enjoyment of the outdoors.By Jenny Nolan / The Detroit News