Five cities actually make up the area collectively known as Grosse Pointe on Detroit’s far east side. Taken as a whole, Grosse Pointe Shores, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Woods, the city of Grosse Pointe, and Grosse Pointe Park make up one of the metro area’s wealthiest suburbs, a land of landscaped estates, big trees, big homes, and even bigger money.
A summer community in the 1840s, Grosse Pointe began to change about 1910, when wealthy Detroiters sought to separate themselves from the immigrants who crowded the growing city. The wealthiest built mansions that imitated the elegant country houses of England, France, and Italy, importing stone fireplaces and entire rooms that were later incorporated into new construction.
This is where the city’s prominent old families settled; many descendants of this founding aristocracy still live here. For years (through roughly the 1950s), prospective home buyers were screened by a Grosse Pointe real estate broker’s infamous point system designed to perpetuate WASP homogeneity.
Today, you’ll find a much more diverse population, although, like most of Detroit’s suburbs, it’s still predominantly white. Grosse Pointe Park is the most liberal and Democratic, with a number of smaller homes and modest, middle-class 1920s housing. One area, now known as the Cabbage Patch because its early Belgian residents grew the vegetable in their yards, was developed to house servants from the nearby estates.
Many of the largest mansions have been razed, although a few remain along Lakeshore. It’s a beautiful drive in any season, with the Detroit River attracting joggers, freighter-watchers, and others who come just to ogle the architecture.
To get a peek at the inside of one of the area’s original estates, stop at the former Alger House, now known as the Grosse Pointe War Memorial (32 Lake Shore Rd., 313/881-7511, www.warmemorial.org, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat., free). It was originally the home of a founder of the Packard Motor Company and now serves as a community center.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel