Grosse Pointe Shores – Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of auto pioneer Henry Ford, has fond memories of visiting his grandmother, Eleanor Ford, Ford’s daughter-in-law, at her home on Gaukler Pointe in Grosse Pointe Shores.
The family often gathered at the house at Christmas and he remembers stopping at her home on Jefferson Avenue for dinner.
“She was just one of those people who was very warm and welcoming,” said Ford II.
No wonder why Ford II, who now chairs the board which oversees her home, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, believes his grandmother would be happy about plans to build two new buildings on the estate. Construction officially started Tuesday on a new visitors center and administration building with a ceremonial ground-breaking ceremony for the project, which represents the biggest new construction at the estate since the main house was built in the 1920s.
“Today our grandparents are looking down on this groundbreaking, smiling,” Ford II said during a brief ceremony with shovels, hard hats and a large pile of dirt as local officials, staff and relatives including Martha Ford and Benson Ford looked on. “So many memories were made here and they wanted others to make memories.”
The new buildings – a 40,000-square-foot visitors center and a 17,000-square-foot administration building – will take advantage of the 87-acre estate’s frontage along Lake St. Clair, offering views of Ford Cove and Bird Island. Once the buildings are completed, which should be by spring 2019, visitors will be able to take in the picturesque view and interact with the estate in new ways, officials say.
Like the Edsel and Eleanor Ford house, which was designed by Albert Kahn, the buildings will be a “contemporary interpretation” of an English Cotswold Village, each with a limestone exterior and a slate roof, said Bob Varga, vice president and design principal with SmithGroup JJR in Detroit.
Varga, whose firm worked on the designs for more than a year, said it wasn’t about copying the architecture of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016, but making it “compatible.”
“You want to have it work in harmony,” said Varga.
The cost of the two new buildings has not been disclosed, but both projects will give visitors a chance to experience the estate in a new way with new exhibition spaces, meeting rooms, a waterside restaurant and an education wing. The old visitors center, built in 1990, will be torn down.
It’s about taking the legacy of Edsel, the only son of Henry Ford, and Eleanor and their four kids, and answering “how do we move that legacy forward?” said Kathleen Mullins, president and CEO of the Ford House.
Part of that is through environmental stewardship, she said. The new administration building – which will consolidate the house’s administrative staff now spread out throughout various buildings at the estate and putting them all in one location – will be what’s called a Net Zero building, meaning it’ll generate as much energy and possibly more, as it uses. That’ll be through dozens of photovoltaic panels which will cover the roof.
Vargas says the board of the estate, which along with Edsel includes Martha and Benson Ford, was vocal from the beginning of the planning process that they wanted the new buildings to be as green, or environmentally-friendly, as possible.
The buildings “will serve as an example of how historic estates can do this,” said Mullins.