Life

The Sunday drive

It’s Sunday afternoon! Jump into the Chevy and let’s go.


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

 

      On the east side of town, Belle Isle and Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe were the preferred destinations. A drive around Belle Isle took in the lagoons, the gardens, the zoo, the Conservatory, the wild deer and the clubs: the Detroit Yacht Club and Detroit Boat Club, and its rowing races.

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.

Early Lake Shore DriveLake Shore Drive in the 1920s, before it was widened.

      Settled by the French in the early 1700s, the land in Grosse Pointe was divided into ribbon farms — narrow strips stretching far back from the lakefront. Eventually some of the lakefront was appropriated for golf and sailing clubs, and summer cottages. As the roads improved, Grosse Pointe was no longer a day-long journey and the beautiful setting of the Lake St. Clair shoreline attracted wealthy families looking for lake breezes and more palatial grounds than were available in the city. In the ’20s, with the paving of Jefferson Avenue, and the automobile making it more accessible, the auto barons saw a venue for creating showplaces.

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.

Rose TerraceA 1965 view of the imposing Rose Terrace, Mrs. Horace Dodge’s home.

      Perhaps the most impressive of the auto barons’ homes was Rose Terrace, built by Horace Dodge’s widow in 1934. It boasted 42 rooms and 20 baths, and was built on the site of the original Rose Terrace built by Horace Dodge. Horace Jr. lived next door.

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.

Ford GatehouseThe gatehouse of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford estate stands along Lake Shore Drive.

      The final estate and turn-around point on an east side Sunday drive was usually the       Edsel and Eleanor Ford house on the border of St. Clair Shores, which now is open for public tours. The house isn’t visible from Lake Shore, but the gatehouse of the estate is impressive enough — larger than the homes of most gawkers who drove by on a Sunday.

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

 

      On the west side of town, the popular destination was Hines Drive. Winding for 17 miles along the Rouge River, through Dearborn Heights, Westland, Livonia, Plymouth Township, Plymouth, Northville Township and Northville, the drive passes through 2,225 acres of the Middle Rouge Valley, commonly called Hines Park. The park is actually a natural flood plain for the Rouge, meant to take the overflow from the river, and prevent it from ending up in more populated areas downstream.

Hines ParkHines Park: A popular west side destination.

      The drive was named after Edward Hines, a printer by profession and a member of the Wayne County Road Commission from its inception in 1906 until his death in 1938. His first enthusiasm was for bicycle paths, but eventually motoring roads took his attention. He was responsible for paving Woodward between Six and Seven Mile in 1908. It was thought to be the first modern concrete road in the world.

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