Solidly built old homes are often said to have “good bones.”
David Montgomery’s Albert Kahn-built Tudor in Grosse Pointe Farms goes one better: Its good bones are reinforced by muscles and sinew.
“This house is built like a factory,” says Montgomery, who bought the 1927-28 home two years ago. “There are steel I-beams and poured concrete for support; that’s why the floors don’t squeak. You could drive a car over these floors.”
Montgomery’s comparison isn’t far-fetched, because Kahn built several auto factories in metro Detroit, including the Packard Plant, the Highland Park Ford edifice, and the Ford River Rouge Complex.
But Kahn also designed many stately homes in the Grosse Pointes, such as the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House; “Fair Acres,” the Henry B. Joy (president of Packard Motor Car Co.) mansion; “Rosecroft,” the home of Benjamin Tobin, president of Continental Motors Corp.; and the first Rose Terrace, erected for Horace and Anna Thomson Dodge. Clearly, Kahn built the homes to last, even though the wrecker’s ball has claimed some.
One still standing is a 10,000-square-foot house built for Jerome Remick, a phenomenally successful sheet-music publisher. Remick’s offices were on Library Street downtown, a 1907 structure that has also survived. Lofts now occupy the upper levels, and Vicente’s Cuban Cuisine is on the ground floor.
Remick published some of the biggest hits of the early 20th century, including “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” “Baby Face,” “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” Remick was already wealthy from his family’s lumber business, but his music-publishing firm made him particularly flush. He also owned a farm on Gratiot near Mount Clemens and held a controlling interest in the Detroit Creamery Co.
Sadly, he didn’t have much of a chance to enjoy his lavish digs, which include a carriage house, nine bedrooms, his-and-hers master suite, and servants’ quarters. A built-in pool and poolhouse were added later. Remick died in 1931, but his widow, Adelaide, along with their son James and his family, lived in the home until the 1950s.
For all of its rugged construction, the former Remick home has many elegant touches. The living room, which Montgomery says “is very similar to the Edsel & Eleanor Ford living room,” contains oak paneling with linen-fold carvings, an elaborate plaster ceiling, and herringbone-patterned oak floors. Leaded-glass windows run throughout the brick-and-limestone home and Pewabic tile graces all 12 bathrooms.
But when Montgomery bought the house, it needed sprucing up, including removing dated carpeting and wallpaper, painting nearly every room, and tending to landscaping, including the removal of a towering — and light-blocking — white spruce that stood too close to the house.
“There was carpeting in the library, and under it was all this gorgeous quartersawn oak,” says Montgomery, still sounding a bit incredulous.
The homeowner used Farrow & Ball and Sherwin-Williams paints. Montgomery also painted over a lot of chocolate-brown trim. “Someone really liked that, but the house needed to be brightened up,” he says.
Montgomery’s mother, Anne, a former interior designer, helped choose colors and fabrics and offered other suggestions. Most of the furnishings are antiques, many of which Montgomery, who works as a private investor, inherited from his family. Notable is a pair of 100-year-old matching settees in the library bought at Detroit’s old Kern’s Department Store.
Montgomery’s art collection is primarily British Victorian, including pieces by William Shayer and E.J. Cobbett. One artist he has a special connection to is Canadian painter Emily Elliott, Montgomery’s great aunt. He owns three of her works: A floral oil hangs over the living-room mantel, another floral is in the first-floor powder room, and a small pastel of the Canadian Rockies graces his bedroom.
Montgomery is no novice at renovating older homes. He previously lived in a 1916 Arts-and-Crafts classic, on Boston Boulevard in Detroit. Like his current home, it was built for a notable family: the Wagners, who owned Wagner Baking Co., where Wonder Bread was baked. It’s now the site of the MotorCity Casino Hotel.
Montgomery’s interest in historic houses dates to his days as a college student in Florida, where he was drawn to the stately homes in Coral Gables. He speaks fondly of his former Detroit residence, but the sailor and self-described “sun worshipper” wanted to be closer to the water — and that meant Lake St. Clair.
After gussying up the home, Montgomery agreed to host a gala fundraiser in June for the Grosse Pointe Historical Society. Previously, he opened his Boston Boulevard house as part of a neighborhood Christmas tour, but the latest experience still gave him butterflies. “We had 325 people show up,” he says. “It was a beautiful night, but I’m glad it’s over.” He received a bevy of compliments, among them from Bud and Susie Fruehauf, who owned the house for more than 40 years.
Yet, the greatest praise came from a woman who remembers the house in its early years. Liz Remick Schreier, the granddaughter of Jerome Remick, now lives in Buffalo, N.Y., but was in town for a funeral and asked Montgomery if she could see the house.
“She was married in this home, and threw her wedding bouquet from the stairway,” Montgomery says.
He produces a handwritten letter from Schreier that she sent him, in which she writes warmly about her memories of growing up in the house and how pleased she is with how it looks today.
“That means a lot to me,” he says.