Visit with a Giant

If filmmaker Ron Howard sought a Detroit location for "The Da Vinci Code," he would certainly land inside the Bishop's Residence in Palmer Woods, occupied for decades by the Catholic hierarchy and now owned by the bishop of an evangelical church with global outreach.

Here is where power and spirituality converge in 39,000 square feet of space, lit by the fires of 10 intricately carved marble fireplaces. Dressed up for the holidays, it is the hottest spot among four houses included in the Dec. 3 Palmer Woods Holiday Home Tour, aptly titled, "Light My Fire."

This tour marks the first time in 17 years Bishop's Residence is included in the Palmer Woods tour, usually relegated to beautiful but not as massive homes designed by such architects as Albert Kahn, Wallace Frost and Minoru Yamasaki, who also built the World Trade Center.

In this mammoth mansion, a phalanx of designers painted murals to soften its walls and halls for the 1995 Designer Showcase, but the mythical Holy Grail could hide somewhere within its 62 rooms.

"We're thrilled to have the Bishop's mansion on the tour this year," said Jane Strand, co-chair of the Palmer Woods tour and long time resident. "It is among the finer urban treasures in our neighborhood."

'Just a home'

The paneled oak walls and Sicilian marble pillars tell no tales of secret meetings with the Illuminati or Knights of Templar, but stories must lurk in the dark corners unlit by glittering crystal chandeliers. Ecclesiastical icons look out from every vantage point.

A rooftop copper statue depicts St. Michael the Archangel battling Satan. New Testament authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are carved into the wood paneling above the fireplaces in the conference room and chapel, evoking God's help decision-making.

A bas relief panel depicting a chirho, the Greek symbol for Christ, surmounts the portico while two huge antique safes hide behind extra wide doors on the first and second floor, reminding visitors it took great influx of dollars to keep the clergy in hierarchical style.

Stepping past the 400-pound oak door protected by an ornate copper screen, visitors find the conference room. It has hand-hewn Pewabic tile on the floors and ceiling and dark wood paneling. Equally awesome is the chapel, constructed directly above the conference room with its marble floor, vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows.

More of the contemporary meetings held by 11-year homeowners Bishop Wayne T. Jackson and Dr. Beverly Y. Jackson of the Great Faith Ministries are held in the baronial dining room. Furnished with an octagon table it seats 20 on imported Italian provincial chairs, viewing a regal fireplace, carved with a Latin phrase that translates to "All things in Abundance." Church guests repair to the living room with gilded furniture and a white laminate grand piano.

The master suite, 14 bathrooms, 24 closets, four visitor suites, carriage house, in-ground swimming pool, and the four screened-in porches serve the family and the congregation, according to Corrine Bozeman, mother-in-law of the bishop who oversees events and operations. "It's just a home," she says, noting private suites are excluded from the tour.

Maybe so, but guests have included political, entertainment and other luminaries, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Winnie Mandela, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and hip hop artist Mase. The movie, "Forbidden Fruits," produced by Marc Cayce in 2005, was filmed almost entirely inside the estate.

John Salley slept here

Docents guiding patrons of the Palmer Woods tour will tell visitors of the mansion's rich history. The seven Fisher brothers, who founded Fisher Body and made a fortune marrying carriages to General Motors car bodies, spared no expense to build a home for then-Bishop Michael J. Gallagher. The Gothic Revival structure, designed by Maginnis and Walsh, took two years to complete in 1926. The architects imported wood from the Black Forest of Germany, marble from Italy and a phalanx of global craftsmen.

Until 1989 it was occupied by bishops, cardinals and staff. Then the church sold the dwelling and removed the papal throne, relics, the altar and the Stations of the Cross. Bachelor and then-Detroit Pistons star John Salley purchased it for $1 million in 1989, even turning the chapel into a home movie theater and staying five years.

Spirituality returned when Bishop Jackson, his wife and eight children, bought the dwelling. He conducted numerous prayer rituals to re-consecrate the house and dedicated a Michigan Historical Placard outside. His mother-in-law, Corrine Bozeman coordinates family and church functions while the Jacksons stay in another mansion in Bloomfield Hills.

The rest of the tour

Visitors from throughout the metro area come to glimpse how the auto barons, theater owners and early civic leaders built lush palaces to their burgeoning profits, how a new breed of urban pioneers adapt and revive the homes for modern use. Homes are decked in boughs of holly, mammoth pine trees and antique ornaments greet long lines of visitors on tour day. People come to explore urban living at its finest.

"Many people don't realize what a physically beautiful neighborhood we have here," says Barbara Barefield, a 19-year resident, graphic artist and sculptor. "People take walks, ride bikes and attend events with a wide cultural and racially diverse assortment of neighbors who span the ages."

Palmer Woods began in the early 1900s when major executives built regal homes in a subdivision platted by landscape architect Ossian Simonds. Curved and winding streets took names such as Gloucester, Balmoral and Cumberland to reflect English history and brick Tudor styling. The new neighborhood adjoined Palmer Park, a 100-acre plot gifted to the city of Detroit by U.S. Sen. Thomas Palmer in the late 1800's.

Current residents include the roster of who's who in Detroit, including jazz artist Spencer Barefield, GM's Chief Designer Ed Welburn, retired Marygrove President Glenda Price and Detroit Institute of Arts director Graham Beal and WSU Board of Governors member Eugene Driker. Residents hope to combat a spate of for-sale signs by encouraging tour visitors to consider the neighborhood.

One incentive may come from the newly passed Neighborhood Economic Zones, according to Kenan Bakirci, a real estate agent for Hall and Hunter. The NEZ cuts property taxes 25 to 35 percent for those who purchased after 1997.

"The NEZ puts our taxes on par with Grosse Pointe or Bloomfield Township, and you can get a lot more house for the money. It is housing stock unmatched in most other areas," says Bakirci, noting houses range from $300,000 to $800,000.

Proceeds from the Palmer Woods Holiday Home Tour go to beautify the neighborhood and to help the Coalition on Temporary Shelter. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 on the day of the tour at the Western District Police Station (formerly 12th Precinct) at 1441 W. Seven Mile. For ticket sales locations or other information contact (313) 670-0893 or visit


The Main Sitting Room


The Boardroom

The Foyer

The Second Floor Hallway

A Carved Marble Fireplace Detail

The 20 Person Dining Room

The Original Intercom System

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

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