Cobblestones pave the street in front; a drinking bowl for horses still stands down the way. In Midtown Detroit, this one block of Canfield Avenue is lined on both sides with large Victorian homes – 18 of them – in styles like High Victorian Gothic and Queen Anne.
It’s a scene preserved from the 1870s, when horses, not automobiles, shaped Detroit neighborhoods. West Canfield Historic District’s 18 grand houses rarely change owners, and when houses sell, most don’t reach the open market.
But one good property is up for sale now at just over $1 million – a house with a long history of hospitality and parties.
It’s the home and carriage house of real estate attorney Kenneth Davies.
He has owned the house since the middle 1970s, and has lived here 62 years, since 1958, when he rented an apartment as a Wayne State University law student.
“The block has always attracted fascinating and interesting people,” Davies said, naming off professors, a judge, a news photographer, “and people who just liked that sort of crowd.
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“And because those houses are expensive to maintain, nobody bought a house who didn’t have the money to fix it up.”
This house has been well cared for at least since the 1950s and is in quite good shape. On the elaborately carved front face, a painstaking two-tone paint job emphasizes the carvings – flowers, corbels medallions, scallops, dentil trim, swirls and spindles, lots of spindles. Its porch and its fireplace have been sets for movie scenes.
Many windows, perhaps a dozen, have a second window above them made of stained glass. Some are rectangles, some eyebrow shape. The handsome main living room, for example, has four such stained glass windows.
The Victorian staircase is heavily carved and is natural oak. So is all the trim around it in the foyer. Through most other living areas, that thick oak trim and crown molding have been painted glossy white. A prime example is the big, white carved wood fireplace that’s the centerpiece of the living room.
The interior has beautiful spaces, arches and windows. But a buyer who wants just a personal residence will probably make changes. Some unusual configurations sprang from its longtime use as a hospitable waystation for students and theater people as well as a party house for political fundraisers, house and garden tours and family parties.
“We had weddings there, jazz trios and dancing, Kentucky Derby parties, celebrations of all sorts,” said Jacqueline Davies. “We kept 1,000 champagne glasses.”
Her garden was featured in Detroit Home magazine. Meanwhile they loaned living space to family and WSU students. “There were always more people,” she said.
The upshot is that the house has kitchens on two floors with the bigger kitchen and the dining room on the second floor.
In the 1870s, well-off professionals came to Canfield Street because it was just a 20-minute carriage ride to downtown. Now the carriage house here is a garage plus a two-bedroom apartment, which is rented.
And now this neighborhood is still one of the city’s liveliest. “I think it’s the coolest block in Michigan,” said Realtor Matt
O’Laughlin. Starting just across Third Street, “you have the flagship store of Shinola, all sorts of little cocktail lounges, a couple of the finest restaurants in the city.”
Dozens of locally owned boutique shops are scattered through. And the venerable Traffic Jam and Snug restaurant is an anchor.
Kenneth Davies reminisced on his 62 years in this house and the spirit he finds there.
“It bubbled with a lot of energy, a lot of coming and going, a lot of romance,” he said. “A mayor would show up there. I had a great life there.”
“You see something in a location that attracts you, and you’re willing to give part of your life to it. I think a lot of us had that sort of feeling.”
669 W. Canfield, Detroit