Mason-Rice & the Legend of Albert Kahn
Kahn (1869-1942) has been hailed as the architect of the modern
industrial era. His portfolio is phenomenal: Kahn built more than
1,000 buildings for Ford, including the River Rouge complex and
the Model T factory, and hundreds for General Motors- the entire
automotive industry used his services. He also designed and built
numerous office spaces, including the Fisher Building and General
was responsible not only for almost all of the major industrial
plants of the Big Three and other auto manufacturers in the US,
but also for aviation industry plants, hospitals, banks, commercial
buildings, public buildings, temples, libraries, clubs and over
one hundred beautiful mansions.
is lesser known about Albert Kahn is the role he played in the design
and construction of many of Walkerville's finest buildings. In Walkerville,
the young man made his mark that would lead to a shining career
as one of the greatest architects of the 20th century.
of the urban planning in Walkerville flowed out of Hiram Walker's
desire to emulate Britain's Garden Cities. The "Garden Plan", as
it has become known separated industry from residential areas by
Detroit architects Mason & Rice, who were heavily influenced
by the style known as "Richardson Romanesque", delivered much of
the work. Created and popularized by Boston architect Henry Hobson
Richardson (1838-1886), this style is characterized by low-slung
arched entrances, dark masonry and detailed brickwork. Examples
of this style can be seen on Devonshire Road north of Wyandotte
toward the river, once considered the main street in Walkerville.
the tender age of 23, Kahn apprenticed with Mason & Rice, and
won a scholarship to study in Europe. Kahn's experiences in Europe
proved valuable to Mason & Rice, and the young draftsman was
assigned to help design and build the new Hiram Walker
& Sons Main Office Building- a masterpiece that remains a showpiece
on Riverside Drive. Kahn is responsible for the splendid interior
of this great edifice, particularly the lavish fireplaces and panelling
in the offices. The dark, cozy Sample Room, the inner sanctum in
the building, was inspired by sketches he had done in Nuremberg.
completion of the new headquarters, the young architect's career
took a fast track. In 1896, he joined forces with George Nettleton
and Alexander Trowbride. In 1899, he founded his own firm, Kahn
& Associates. This company celebrated its 100th anniversary
last year and is still considered a leader in industrial plant design.
heirs continued their patriarch's hands-on tradition, and Kahn played
a pivotal role. Edward Chandler Walker and his wife Mary Griffen
directed the Garden Plan after Hiram died in 1899. To fund the development
of lands between Wyandotte and Richmond Streets, they sold the Lake
Erie and Detroit River Railway to Pere Marquette Railways for $2,870,000.
interrupted street pattern reduced traffic, creating a park-like
setting, especially heading south to St-Mary's Church- a landscaped
"island"- and the Walkers used this feature to promote as fine a
neighbourhood as existed in North America. Since lots were sold
only to those who could build homes of at least 3,500 square feet,
the character of the neighbourhood was assured.
Walkerville and Detroit's Indian Village (almost directly across
the river in Detroit's near east side), Kahn embraced the Arts and
Crafts Movement, a philosophy of design founded around 1850. Emphasizing
handmade architecture in an era when factory mass-production was
taking hold, every Kahn designed home expresses the movement's influence.
Kahn believed that historic period styles were best suited to homes
and public institutions, while factories should be utilitarian,
brightly illuminated and devoid of ornament. Kahn's most famous
Detroit home may be the Edsel Ford estate on Lake Shore Drive in
Grosse Pointe Shores. The palatial English cottage-style mansion
overlooking Lake St. Clair is now used as a show house for local
events. The gardens include an exquisite walk-in playhouse made
for Josephine Ford. And in Walkerville, it is Willistead that showcases
Kahn's architectural genius.
the direction of Edward Chandler Walker, Kahn's commissions in Walkerville
flourished, and his influence can be seen in many buildings. Kahn
is responsible for many of the finer structures that remain in Walkerville,
including The Town Hall, The Bank of Commerce, The Strathcona Block,
the row houses on Monmouth Road and many of the finer private residences.
Manor is the epitome of Edwardian elegance, combining stone walls
and half-timbered wall areas under a grouping of picturesque medieval
roofs and chimneys.
Kahn's influence in Walkerville is evident, it is also possible
to tour many of his works across the river. Readers may be familiar
with many of Kahn's buildings, including the Conservatory and Casino
on Belle Isle, The Cranbrook House in Bloomfield Hills, Temple Beth-El
in Detroit, The Detroit Free Press Building, Hill Auditorium In
Ann Arbor, and many fine homes in Grosse Pointe such as the magnificent
Edsel Ford House.
designed or closely supervised every building he built. Much of
his legacy can easily be appreciated by the fortunate residents
and friends of Walkerville.
on Albert Kahn