Falling for Brush Park

Known for its unique Victorian-era homes and the famous locals like J.L. Hudson who once lived there, Brush Park was once a neighborhood of magnificence and grandeur. And then it fell.

Sandwiched between Mack, I-75, Brush and Woodward in Midtown, visitors for years only could imagine what the neighborhood was like during its majestic heydays in the late-1800s. Blight and neglect had taken over. Mansions slumped, deteriorating. Many were leveled. Streets crumbled.

But that's changed. A new wave of Detroiters is falling for Brush Park again.

Developer Jim Wickenheiser of Detroit Urban Living is one of the people behind recent projects in Brush Park like the Carola Lofts, the 12-unit Lamar Lofts and the 49-unit Carlton Loft-Condominiums. Brush Park is on its way back for a number of reasons, he says. “Its proximity to the entertainment district and the cultural center can’t be beat.” Even though it feels like it's right downtown, he says Brush Park also has the potential to have more of a neighborhood feel because it doesn't have the big skyscrapers.

Wickenheiser’s colleague, real estate agent Lisa Debs, talks about proposed developments the company is working on like the Devon and the Lamar II. She also mentions Central Brush Park, a 145-unit mixed-use project that calls for residential lofts, live-work lofts, clustered row houses and custom and non-custom carriage houses. 

“There won’t be much land to develop after that,” says Debs.

Brush Park has its share of new construction, and many developers are also staking claim to what historical homes are left.

“This is the diamond in the rough," says developer Conrad Sobczynski, who's rehabbing a mansion and carriage house. "Once Brush Park is done, it’s going to outshine everything.”

Here's a look at two rehab projects. Such renovations are preserving the neighborhood's past, recapturing bits of Brush Park's former grandeur, and still helping shape the area's future.

Love at first sight

Speaking of grandeur, it is difficult to find a more appropriate word to describe the area's most recently completed project, Edmund Place at Brush Park, an 8,400-square-foot mansion.

“The first time I saw it, I fell in the love with it,” says Gail Geer.

Geer, a partner in Renevatio, a development company she owns with daughter Jan Dijkers and husband Charles, broke ground on the blighted 1882 mansion in February 2006, turning the home – originally built for banker Frederick Butler — into four luxury condominium units.

The red-brick, French Second Empire-style home stands regally at the corner of Brush and Edmund. It exhibits many of the affluent characteristics made popular by Napoleon III: a mansard roof, large first-floor bay windows, intricately carved, prominent window-encasements and a domed tower.

The effect of the Bonapartist-regime is also prevalent inside with delicately carved moldings, elaborate ornamentation and what Geer calls the “garden-level”; an additional floor of space below the two ground-floor, bi-level units.

Despite years of neglect, many of the home’s non-architectural elements are intact, including floor-to-ceiling oak pocket (sliding) doors. Geer attributes much of the preservation to previous owners, who in the 1940s had turned it into a boarding house for autoworkers. "When this house was split up, the owners put up drywall and essentially preserved much of it for the future.”

Dijkers says her family also salvaged the home’s mahogany staircase, vestibule, oak and marble fireplaces, red tile and bay windows.

“It was very important to us that we preserve whatever we could of the home’s history,” Geer says, “but that we also update it with contemporary features.”

Kitchen islands and whirlpool bathtubs are two modern amenities, and customized extras – exotic floors and tile, granite countertops and walk-in closets – are available for a more distinguished look. The luxury units feature views of downtown, parking in a privately accessed garage and private terraces.

The two-bedroom units, ranging from 1,100 to 2,200 square feet, run between $239,000 and $395,000.

The units meet eligibility for 12-year Neighborhood Enterprise Zone tax abatements. The new geo-thermal heating system will save some dough on electric bills, too; a renewable source of energy, it uses 25- to 70-percent less electricity than a conventional heating system.

Sense of history

Just down the street from 291 Edmund Place is another restoration and mansion-conversion: Moorie Townhouse Estates.

The former residence of lumber baron Lucien Moore, the project by Platinum Building & Development has taken over a 7,000-square-foot Gothic-Revival with Renaissance details. The home, shown on HGTV’s Restore America, features bay and pairs of elongated windows, banded arches, dormers with pointy roofs and a prominent Gothic tower.  

Scheduled to be ready next month, developer Conrad Sobczynski says three of the six have already sold at 104 Edmund. They range from 1,100- to 1,800-square-feet and start at $209,500.

Amenities inside the two-bedroom, 2 ½-bath units featured include modern kitchens with large pantries, extra large closets, and high-speed Internet access, as well as sound control, fire alarms and security systems. Outside the 1885 property are one-car garages, a backyard patio with a privacy fence and new sidewalks and landscaping.

His first development in Detroit, Sobczynski is a 22-year construction veteran who grew up in the city. He “fell in love” with Brush Park – a common theme – seven years ago when his other company, Debroe Construction, was contracted to do façade improvements in the neighborhood. He's also working on the Moorie Carriage House, a two-unit restoration next to the Moorie Estates.

Sobczynski is enthralled with Brush Park’s history, and says it explains why he is doing this project instead of constructing new homes in the exurbs. “There’s something about knowing the history here, that there was an Indian Reservation right over on the other side of Woodward,” he says. “Even just thinking about the manual labor that went into these houses … it’s amazing.”


Moorie Townhouse Estates

Lisa Debs, Detroit Urban Living

Edmund Place

Jan Dijkers

Carlton Lofts

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Jaime Pfeffer also writes a blog about Detroit, called Girl in the D.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.