ALDEN B. DOW IN GROSSE POINTE, MICHIGAN
Alden B. Dow was born in 1904, the son of Dow Chemical Company’s founder Herbert Henry Dow and Grace A. Dow. Dow visited Japan after high school and spent time in the Imperial Hotel; he later shifted his studies from engineering at the University of Michigan to architecture at Columbia. After graduation, he worked for an architect in Saginaw before venturing to spend a summer (1933) studying with Frank Lloyd Wright (the Imperial Hotel’s designer) at Wright’s Taliesin in Wisconsin. He returned home to Midland, Michigan, to establish his own architecture studio.
Dow’s masterpiece is his home and studio in Midland, which has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a museum. He adhered to many of Wright’s philosophical principles regarding organic architecture. As may be expected, his designs incorporate many characteristics associated with Wright, such as hidden doorways, flat roofs, and a style consistent with the landscape. He also deviated from Wright to establish his own reputation, and is credited with the first home featuring a forward-facing attached garage (the Towsley house in Ann Arbor).
Dow designed about 600 structures, including six basic house designs for an entire company town for Dow Chemical in Lake Jackson, Texas.
Grosse Pointe, Michigan, is actually a series of five separate cities in Detroit’s east-side suburbs. Dow designed three houses in the community. There is an additional house in nearby St. Clair Shores.
There are no Wright designs in the Grosse Pointes (or, for that matter, the east side of the Detroit area). These homes are a pretty good substitute.
For more photos of Dow designs, see the excellent NCModernist website.
888 Pemberton, Grosse Pointe Park
The Millard Prior house was built in 1936 and features 2659 square feet of living space. The longest face and the garage are on the Fairfax side of this corner lot. It has a large section of glass block on the Pemberton side to take advantage of natural light.
741 Middlesex, Grosse Pointe Park
Built in 1941 for Robbie Robinson using the Unit Block system of construction. The system is a modular style employing cinder block construction that reminds a viewer of a plainer version of Wright’s “textile block” system used in the late 1920s, primarily in California. This method was used for nearly a dozen homes before Dow moved on to other innovative materials and theories.
The Robinson house is 2559 square feet on two floors. When restoration is completed, the horizontal wood trim will extend all along the south side of the house to the garage (that view is shown in the last photo). This house is about three blocks from the house on Pemberton (above).
96 Handy Road, Grosse Pointe Farms
This 1939 house for Clark Wells may evoke memories of Wright’s work for its judicious use of wood trim. It sits on a corner lot where Handy Road switches direction, and is about three blocks from Grosse Pointe South High School. 2481 square feet.
Charles S. Comey Residence, 22581 Statler, St. Clair Shores
Statler extends into Lake St. Clair, and the backyard of this 1950 house has an excellent view of the lake.