Detroit: Ransom Gillis House

This is Part V in a series. Part I is here. Part II. Part III. Part IV.

 

The 1870s Ransom Gillis House in Brush Park, Detroit.

 

The Gillis house, like most of Brush Park, was ravaged over time, and the house became the most famous ruin in Detroit.

 

Amazingly, the city purchased the wreck and stabilized it.

 

Even more amazingly, Quicken Loans, which has been a major force in the resurrection of Detroit, purchased the house and rebuilt it. Wow. The project was meant to spearhead the massive development of Brush Park. The cast-iron columns of the tower were returned by a neighbor.

 

2014.

 

And today. Astonishing.

 

In my previous four posts in this Detroit series, I detail how three historic homes in Brush Park were reborn on the cheap (by a massively well-funded developer), while one home is being carefully and meticulously restored to a very high standard (by a developer of modest means).

The Gillis House falls between these two standards. The exterior work was not done as cheaply as possible but it was not done, well, to the high standard the iconic home warranted.

 

See this incredible roofing detail? The angled wall of the chimney bay created its own little roof tower, topped by glorious fretwork and double finials. Fabulous!

 

This wondrous detail though was not recreated, and the current simple roofline does not match up with animated brick and stone house below.

 

Note also the boldly scaled round tower finial, and the boldly scaled roof cresting.

 

Sigh. The tower finial is a type available on Amazon for $100. The roof cresting is half the hight it should be, and half the intricacy.

 

It is not hard to find cresting of the right scale and intricacy.

 

See the chimney adjacent to the round tower roof?

 

It was not recreated. Around the block, the owner of the Henry Glover house recreated TWO lost chimneys.

 

The tower was eccentrically held aloft by a single stout column resting on highly detailed, highly animated stone.

 

The current anorexic column and banal base. It is like a toothpick holding up a boulder.

 

 

The original porch was separate from the adjacent window bay, creating the kind of animation adored by Victorian-era architects. This wonderful drawing is by briguyinla.

 

The new porch simplified the original animation. The beefy original railing atop the porch roof was not recreated. The round details on the roof cornice…

 

…mimic an original detail.

 

Inside the house, essentially no effort was expended to recreate the original interiors. Only a single original mantel remains (in this upstairs bedroom) but most of the original trim was discarded, sconces were not installed where gas sconces once were, and picture rail was not recreated. It would have been nice to at the very least do a single room in a period manner. This wonderful drawing is by briguyinla.

 

I applaud Quicken Loans for undertaking such a project. Yet, rather than push for 100% they settled for 80%. They settled for OK rather than expend the extra effort for WOW. For THE premier project of Brush Park this seems curious.

Most people will, of course, walk by the house today and be thrilled by its beauty. But…people could have walked by the house and gasped.

 

 

 

11 Comments

  1. Amy Heavilin on December 26, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    Was the Quicken Loans thing before or after Nicole Curtis got her hands on this house? I remember when her show worked on it which terrified me (and added too much subway tile).

    https://www.hgtv.com/shows/rehab-addict-detroit/before-and-after-tour-the-renovated-ransom-gillis-house-pictures

    • Ross on December 26, 2019 at 4:42 pm

      Hi, Amy!

      I’ve missed you!

      The rebuild of the Ransom house was a Quicken Loans project. They brought in Nicole but retained control.

      • Amy Heavilin on December 26, 2019 at 6:21 pm

        Gotcha. I’ve missed you too! I am hoping for a calmer (and more productive!) 2020 – I need it! I’ve missed working on the house SO MUCH.

  2. Acronym Jim on December 29, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    I find it ironic that a later early alteration that actually added to the balance and visual interest of the house was undone by the latest restoration. Note the second floor window just adjacent to the chimney in the un-restored and mothballed photos; it doesn’t appear the the historical photo and is bricked up in the current house.

  3. Brian A on December 31, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    And why didn’t they recreate the dormer above the front door? That seems like it should have been a relatively simple thing to do.

    • Ross on December 31, 2019 at 9:15 pm

      Ha!

      I missed that, Brian!

  4. biki honko on January 1, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    While they didn’t do a full on restoration, they did much better than the others on that street. If someone buys the house those minor details could be easily brought back to the gloriousness of the original. It would be a bit of a visual whiplash to see the outside and then walk into plain unornamented boring interiors. But again if the right people with a vision to repair the house to its heyday, it wouldn’t be difficult to do. The expensive portion, the hard bit has already been done for them. We just have to hope for a buyer with vision.

  5. Alex T on January 12, 2020 at 12:22 am

    Hi Ross,

    Interesting series, Detroit is an endlessly fascinating city. Brigunyula, the individual who posted those drawings, here’s a post they did about them on Reddit,I guess he/she has been working with an architect to document these important residences for some time now: https://www.reddit.com/r/Lost_Architecture/comments/a5ndx5/for_a_decade_i_have_been_working_with_an/

    Here’s another post they did recently with photos of lost Woodward Ave. mansions:
    https://www.reddit.com/r/Lost_Architecture/comments/a5ndx5/for_a_decade_i_have_been_working_with_an/

    I also thought this was interesting, a number of people posted before and after photos of different areas of Detroit, 10 years ago versus today, very striking:
    https://www.reddit.com/r/Detroit/search?q=flair_name%3A%2210%20Year%20Challenge%22&restrict_sr=1&type=link

  6. JP on March 19, 2020 at 4:56 pm

    Very late comment here, but Ross, do check out the James Scott mansion. While the interior was converted into rather boring apartments, they did a commendable job on restoring and recreating an exterior which had largely fallen apart!

    • Ross on March 19, 2020 at 4:57 pm

      I did a blog post on the Scott mansion a while back!

  7. David McDonald on April 10, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    I found ALL of these blogs and pix before I found your blog, Ross. The details you circled and point out are the very same things I was so aggravated with. But, at least it was saved. Now someone needs to buy it and restore it right! It just LOOKS better the original way!
    So, totally agree with you!!

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