The Eminem movie, Eight Mile, presents a realistic view of a gritty industrial Detroit. It may be amazing to realize that in this city you can find exceptionally beautiful homes and buildingssome of them constructed many decades before MIT and Ecole des Beaux Arts started credentialing architects.
The home you see on the right on East Jefferson is among a small number surviving from the pre-Civil War era. You would expect to find an attractive building such as this one below Houston in New York, in Boston, in Philadelphia or near M Street in Georgetown. But here it is in Detroit, within 95 feet of the headquarters of the world's largest firm.
Antoine Beaubien was proprietor of a ribbon farm that stretched northwest from the River. By the 1850s, Detroit was growing into a commercial center oriented to the waterfront and the ribbon farms were being converted to residences. This seven-room Italianate home was constructed for Antoine Beaubien's cousin Charles Trombly and his wife, Elizabeth Knaggs. Note the consistent use of three bays with attractive triangular and segmented arched carved stone windows. The builder also used a stone band to separate the second and third floors. The off-center entrance illustrates a style used in other substantial Detroit homes of the erathe use of a glass transom light atop or along side the entry door. This is a substantial and attractive home, letting us know about the architectural preferences of prosperous Detroit residents in the era before the city became one of the nation's dominating manufacturing center.
At one time, there were many similar homes in this area of downtown Detroit. Most were razed just after World War II and the land used for parking. The much more recent Alexander Chapton home survives on Beaubien, as does the older Christopher Moross home on East Jefferson. In 1977 the Michigan chapter of the American Institute of Architects purchased this home for their headquarters and restored it to the original plans insofar as that was possible. They did a spectacular job.
Architect and builder: Unknown
Architectural style: Italianate townhouse
Date of Completion: 1851
Building Material: Red brick
Michigan Register of Historic Sites: P25266, Listed August 15, 1975
National Register of Historic Sites: Listed: August 13, 1979
Photo: Ren Farley, October 2002
Use in 2002: Offices of the Michigan Chapter of AIA
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