Mrs. Dodge and the regal Rose Terrace

In her last days Anna Dodge liked to be wheeled out to the steps of her terrace to enjoy the view of the lake and her gardens. This photo was taken in 1966, four years before her death at the age of 99.

It was the  end of an era.  In July of1976 Rose Terrace, one of this country’s most beautiful and luxuriously appointed residences — perhaps the last of its kind — was leveled to the ground, spelling an end to a storybook way of life enjoyed by a handful of America’s wealthiest families.

The Dodge automotive family had lived the American dream, but they were also cursed by nightmares that often accompany vast wealth. The Dodge brothers who amassed the family wealth, John and Horace Sr., were born in Niles, Mich., in the 1860s. “We were the poorest little urchins ever born,” they liked to tell their later business associates.

Mrs. Horace E. (Anna) Dodge in 1919.

The two red-heads worked long hours after school helping their father build marine engines in his machine shop. When they moved to Detroit with their parents in 1886 both landed jobs in a boiler factory.

Horace, a gifted mechanic and tinkerer who often worked 18 hours at a stretch at his workbench, created a dirt-proof ball bearing. John, the salesman, procured financial backing for a company to manufacture their first vehicle, a bicycle.

The profits from this venture enabled the brothers to acquire their own machine shop and in 1903 they met Henry Ford, who was so impressed with their talents he convinced them to go to work for him.

For almost a decade the Dodge brothers supplied parts to Ford, becoming major stockholders along the way and amassing a combined fortune of more than $50 million.

In 1914 they broke with Ford to introduce their own car, which proved so popular it threatened to overtake Ford in sales. Eventually the brothers built a fortune of $200 million, the equivalent today of more than $2 billion.

The pair, inseparable throughtout their lives, possessed many virtues. Despite being rough, they thrived on American work ethics and values and they never cheated their workers or business partners. They produced a quality product for their devoted customers, building a reputation for dependability. And they never reneged on a debt. Early advertising for their automobiles capitalized on their reputations, displaying the name, Dodge Brothers, followed by three words: Reliable, Dependable, Sound.

By 1920 the brothers were wealthy enough to provide their families with any worldly possession they desired, and both men began spending lavishly.

In 1912, Horace hired Albert Kahn to build a large red sandstone mansion on Jefferson Avenue in Grosse Pointe.

Banks of large mullioned windows offered a commanding view of Lake St. Clair and the formal gardens between the home and the lake. The name Rose Terrace came from a collection of roses that was a favorite of Mrs Dodge. From a balustraded upper terrace a broad flight of steps descended to a lower level.

This first Rose Terrace fulfilled Horace Dodge’s dream of providing his family with worldly possessions he had lacked as a young boy growing up in Niles. He loved boating and relished his home life, playing his great pipe organ for hours at a sitting.

The first Rose Terrace was rated as one of the finest homes in America in 1920.

     He bestowed fine gifts on his beloved wife Anna, once paying $825,000 for a pearl necklace that had belonged to Catherine the Great of Russia. He also commissioned the construction of a 257-foot yacht, named the Delphine II after his daughter, and built a mansion for Anna in Palm Beach, Florida.

Then suddenly, both brothers died in the same year.

Ever inseparable, the brothers had gone to New York in January 1920, to attend an automobile show. While there Horace developed pneumonia. John sat at his bedside for four days and nights. Horace recovered but John took sick and died of pneumonia on January 14. Grieving, Horace went to his winter home in Palm Beach and died there 11 months later in December.

Under Horace’s will, Anna Dodge received the entire income of his estate until her death, at which time it was to be divided between the children or their heirs.

Anna had married the Horace E. Dodge in 1896, long before he became one of the wealthiest men in America. Born in Dundee, Scotland, she had come to Detroit as a child with her widowed mother.

Her mother insisted that Anna study music, and before her marriage to Dodge, Anna supported herself and her mother by giving piano lessons in Detroit. She was musically gifted, but any dreams of a musical career were ended by an accident that severed tendons in her hand.

An aerial view of the first Rose Terrace in 1930.

     Many years after Horace’s death, when she had become one of the world’s weathiest women, she claimed to be one of the loneliest women in the world. She told a friend, “The happiest days of my life were when I was packing Horace Dodge’s lunch pail.”

In 1926, Anna Dodge remarried, becoming the wife of Hugh Dillman, a former actor whose first wife had been the actress Marjorie Rambeau. On the marriage license, Dillman’s age was listed as six years Mrs. Dodge’s junior, but other reports give the correct age difference at 14 years.

She credited Dillman with teaching her how to have fun with her money.It was during her marriage to Dillman that plans for the second Rose Terrace started.

She commissioned Horace Trumbauer to design a new mansion on an 8.8 acre site of prime Grosse Pointe property. She spent two years in Europe collecting 18th century French art treasures, advised by noted dealer Sir Joseph Duveen.

On one trip the Dillmans bought several hundred old barns in Greece, which were cannibalized for their aged cypress for paneling in the reception room. They bought an entire French inn which provided the floorboards for the bar area. Mrs Dillman’s business manager was kept busy clearing these purchases through customs.

The new Rose Terrace emerged as an enlarged version of Miramar, a Louis XVI-style mansion the Trumbauer firm had designed for Mrs. George Widener in Newport, R.I., in 1913.

As construction began in the early years of the Great Depression, when more than one-third of Detroit workers were unemployed, there was much criticism of the lack of Detroit workers on the project. Trumbauer’s office in Philadephia handled the design plans while the George A. Fuller Company of New York supervised construction. The architect and builders claimed that the elaborate interior work was beyond the skills of Detroit craftsman.

The second, and even grander, Rose Terrace.

     After her death, executors of her estate found an entire wall of filing cabinets filled with domuments relating to the years she spent shopping for the mansion, from pricless antiques to toilet paper.

Set back far from Lake Shore Drive, the French-style chateau’s principal rooms looked out over Lake St. Clair. Elaborate wrought iron gates provided entrance to the grounds and visitors approached down a long circular drive coming to a halt on a balustraded forecourt.

Entry to the home was through tall glazed doors, decorated with ironwork, with matching windows at each side. On the main floor was a series of magnificent reception rooms, a formal dining room, a library, a breakfast room, two cozy sitting rooms, a music room which could also serve as a ballroom, a card room, a bar which conveniently connected to the men’s reception room, and a kitchen pantry.

Mrs. Dodge’s private suite occupied the entire right wing of the second story. She and her second husband had separate bedrooms, dressing rooms, baths but shared a sitting room and office.

The details were stunning. Anna’s bathroom tub was made of royal porcelain enclosed in marble. The hot and cold control valves featured Louis XV valve stems and hand-chased dolphin handles. The second floor had eight guest rooms and eight baths, a second office, and another sitting room.

A large square marble staircase with wrought iron railings and a lavishly decorated elevator inset with Chinese silk panels and mirrors connected the two main floors.

The attic floor provided servants quarters, including 12 maids’ rooms, an apartment for the housekeeper, a valet’s room and six rooms for other male servants.

Delphine Dodge, daughter of Ann and Horace E. Dodge.

The lower level housed a kitchen equipped with heavy-duty restaurant appliances capable of easily producing dinner for 100 guests, a dining hall for the servants, an ice cream parlor (one of Anna’s favorite foods), a flower room, wine cellar, gymnasium and separate storage vaults for furs, rugs, and silver.

Mrs. Dodge named the main salon of her home the Music Room, and hosted many musicial performances amidst its elaborate furnishings. She had her late husband’s beloved pipe organ reinstalled from their earlier house.

The focal point of the Music Room, a jewel casket, had once stood in the bedroom of Russian Empress Maria Feodorovna. The Music Room also contained a rosewood writing table by Jean Henri Riesener, one of the greatest cabinetmakers in the world.

Architectural historian, W. Hawkins Ferry described Rose Terrace as “unquestionably Grosse Pointe’s most regal residence.”

The astounding quantity and quality of the furnishings of Rose Terrace rivaled many museums. In 1970 the Music Room and its contents would be bequested to the Detroit Institute of Arts. The contents included Louis XV and XVI furniture and ceramics, English artwork, tapestries, and many objets d’art. A maintenance endowment accompanied the gift.

The home boasted fifteen fireplaces, 40 sets of french doors, 37 sofas, and more than 100 tables. Most of the furnishings had historic pedigrees, including a bureau made for Catherine the Great of Russia. Four chairs belonged to Marie-Antoinette. A piano had been played by the children of George III.

Horace E. Dodge Sr.

Despite its opulance, the house was only a part-time residence, with the Dillmans dividing their time with their Palm Beach, Fla., masnion, Playa Rienta.

If money could buy happiness, the Dodges should have been one of the happiest families in the world. Far from it.

The abilities that enabled the Dodge brothers to succeed left their widows and children unable to handle their fortunes.

Excluding some small bequests to individuals and charities, the brothers wealth went into two trusts. All income from Horace’s trust went to his widow, Anna. At her death the principal was to be divided between their two children, Delphine and Horace Jr. This left both children with no capital or income of their own, forcing them to ask their mother for every penny.

Although Horace Jr. inherited some of his father’s engineering talent, he never used it, explaining that he had a hard time getting up early in the morning. Anna did little to discourage this attitude. She wanted to see her son as a part of “high society,” not spending his life sweating in a hot, dirty factory.

When Anna’s daughter Delphine and her husband Jim Cromwell lost a fortune in a Florida land speculation in 1926, Mrs. Dodge and Cromwell’s mother repaid $3 million to the bilked investors.

Despite wealth and beauty, Delphine was an unhappy person. She suffered through many personal problems and relationships and two more marriages. She turned to drinking heavily until she died in 1942 at the age of 43. Her third husband, Timothy Godde, an English bank clerk, quickly married her youthful maid after her death.

Horace E. Dodge Jr.

Anna divorced Hugh Dillman in 1947 and took back the Dodge name. Even before the construction of Rose Terrace was finished, the marriage had soured. Despite an annual allowance of more than $100,000, expensive cars, costly gifts and a trust fund for Dillman worth $6 million, he wanted out.

Horace Jr, lived his entire life on the allowances his mother doled out to him, going through five failed marriages and countless financial and legal troubles. He could be charming and entertaining. but he had a dark abusive side that kept him in the headlines.

Mrs. Dodge once sadly said of Horace Jr., “If he hadn’t been a rich man’s son, Horace might have been a great engineer-he had his father’s inventive genius.”

Begging still for one more bailout from his mother, Horace Jr. died in 1963 at age 63. Years of heavy drinking and a destructive lifestyle claimed him just as it had his sister.

After her son’s death , Anna lived in seclusion amid the opulence of Rose Terrace. Most of the great mansion was closed, the museum quality furnishings covered by dust sheets. No chauffeur was required, since she never went anywhere. There was one man in charge of maintaining the estate, aided by two gardeners. The roses that gave the mansion its name still graced the terrace outside Anna’s bedroom.

On warm summer days, Anna like to be wheeled out to the steps facing Lake St. Clair, to enjoy her view and gardens. In frail health, she cared for little except watching three televisions in her bedroom. She died alone, June 2, 1970, at the age of 99, still one of the world’s richest women. And still one of the loneliest.

Anna Dodge and her second husband, Hugh Dillman, at the formal opening of the Palm Beach (Fla.) Biltmore Hotel in 1938.

(This story was compiled using clip and photo files of the Detroit News.)By Patricia Zacharias / The Detroit News