Iconic Detroit Building of the Week, Curbed O’Ween Edition:The Whitney


This week’s entry in our Iconic Detroit Building series, The Whitneyis one of the most beautiful private houses ever built in the Autostadt, which really says something when you consider that we count that Fisherman’s villa, Ransom at Gillis Houseand the house of Walter O. Briggs, to name a few. We picked this place for the usual reasons (beauty, pedigree, history) but also because it is said to be haunted and Halloween is only a week away.

The Whitney is a lavish mansion built with the most expensive materials available. It protected its namesake family for almost a quarter of a century. Today the house has been beautifully restored by two new owners and functions as The Whitney, one of the city’s most prestigious fine dining restaurants.

Original owner: Wooden baron David Whitney Jr.., the richest man in Detroit at the time of his death in 1900. Whitney’s timber fortune was estimated at over $ 15 million, or $ 388 million in 2015. Whitney was born in Watertown, Mass, in 1830 and moved to Detroit in 1857. With brother Charles, he ran the largest timber business in the United States. Whitney was essentially Dan Gilbert from the 19th century – in addition to his timber empire, he was also heavily involved in real estate, operated a fleet of steamers and also had banking interests. Like Gilbert, he went all-in on Detroit, bought property near the Grand Circus when it was cheap, and eventually built the Grand Circus Park Building and its successor, the far larger David Whitney Building, now owned by Dan Gilbert. Whitney had a son and three daughters with wife Flora McLaughlin.
Facts: The Whitney family grew out of their original home in Woodward and Sproat. In 1890 Whitney hired architect Gordon W. Lloyd, the designer of his Grand Circus Building, to create a new family resort in Woodward and Canfield. The house was a great extravaganza and cost $ 400,000 –Almost $ 10 million in 2015– and it took almost four years to build. When finished, the mansion offered itself 22,000 square feet of living space in an amazing 52 rooms (10 bathrooms and 20 fireplaces).

Architectural style: Romanesque revival

Architect: Gordon W. Lloyd, an English Canadian who practiced primarily in Detroit, designed many of the finest buildings of the turn of the century, including Central United Methodist Church, the Wright Kay building, Dowling Hall of the University of Detroit, the headquarters of the Brown Brothers Tobacco Company, and the Thomas A. Parker House.

Materials: Pink South Dakota jasper, Tiffany stained glass windows, granite countertops, slate tile (roof), copper, English tile, silver leaf, ivory enamel, Numidian marble, bronze, and white onyx.

According to historic Detroit, which cites an article in the Free Press from that period, Whitney, a wood baron, wanted most of all to highlight wood in the house, so there is extensive paneling, as well as ornately blasted and coffered ceilings. “He knew the use of wood and the beautiful cladding in this house expresses his love for trees and what emerged from them,” said the Free Press.

Insane Amenities: The Whitney was the first private home in Detroit to have its own Elevator. The entire third floor was a Museum quality art gallerywhere the family exhibited art that was collected from around the world. The house has many Tiffany windowthat are actually more valuable than the structure alone. One of them, an incredible one opulent two-story scene in stained glassshows a knight because the ancestors of Whitneys were from England and the family took great pride in having real knights and royal British blood in their line. There is also a ballroom, carriage, music room with a Tiffany stained glass window with a portrait of St. Cecelia and Apollo with a lyre. The angels on the ceiling of the music room were hand-painted on silk. David Whitney likely preferred the adjoining smoking room, with its mahogany paneling and vaulted ceiling. There was one too Billiard roomThe Whitneys are among the first to enjoy a good Detroit tradition: the hobby room in the basement.

Weird Stuff: David Whitney had a secret vault that kept the family’s finest treasures. To hide this, he commissioned panels from Parisian artists from the Gobelin Tapestry Works.

After 1900: David Whitney died in 1900, and his widow, second wife Sarah (the sister of his late wife), lived there until 1917. The Whitneys gave the sparkling treasure of a house to them Wayne County Medical SocietyIn 1979 entrepreneur Richard Kughn bought the house and spent $ 3 million on the restoration. In 1986, Kughn opened The Whitney restaurant. In 2007, Kughn sold the building to the former Chrysler manager Bud darlings for $ 2 million. Liebler invested in more renovations, restored more woodwork, and invested a whopping $ 300,000 in creating lush gardens. Liebler renamed the facility’s story bar Ghost bar because local lore has it that David Whitney’s ghost still haunts the place.

Current Events: The Whitney, one of the options on our recent haunted map of Detroit locations, has some fun Halloween events including a haunted high tea and the Whitney’s annual paranormal dinner, a $ 100 affair with “paranormal” tours of the house and the carriage house, a 4 course meal and a performance of “The Haunting of Broadway”. The Whitney will also have a gala Halloween event on October 29th, The Haunting at the Whitney. This ticket, valued at $ 150 per ticket, runs from 5:30 p.m. until after 2 a.m. and will benefit the Heat and Warmth Fund, which provides assistance programs to Detroiters in need.

· Whitney, Jr. David. [Detroit Historical Society]
· The Whitney [Historic Detroit]
· Gordon W. Lloyd: Architect of Lost Detroit [Oocities]
· Entrepreneur in the spotlight: Bud Liebler [Model D]
· The Ultimate Thanksgiving Guide to Metro Detroit [Eater Detroit]
· Annual Halloween paranormal adventure [The Whitney]
· Haunted High Tea [The Whitney]
· Broderick! Whitney! Capitol Park! Gilbert Staffers! [Curbed Detroit]
· Detroit’s scariest places mapped [Curbed Detroit]
· The heat and warmth fund [Heat and Warmth Fund]


Dusty Kennedy