Gar Wood- Mom at Grayhaven 1943
Marjorie LeSuer Rentz leaning on Phil Wood's boat, Gar Wood's brother.
My grandfather worked for both Ed Gray and Gar Wood- starting with Edward Gray at the Ford Highland Park Plant. At the time of his death (my grandfather, Elmer LeSuer) he was working on an engine for a landing craft with Gar Wood's builders. Six of the engines were actually built and they were the first outboard engines with a clutch (dead jaw pickup- that's what my uncle said the unit was called). (I understand that the war ended before they finished the project.) That's my mother sitting on one of Gar Wood's boats but this one was his brother's, Phil Wood- with the bays of others at Grayhaven (Detroit) in the background. See the story from the Detroit News below-
Born on a farm near Peoria Ill, Gray came to Detroit in 1909, and went to work for Ford. After eight years with Ford, he turned to real estate and by 1931 had attracted the attention of the Fisher brothers, of Fisher Body fame; William Koerber, a prohibition era brewer, and Gar Wood, whose speed boats not only won races but made the rum-runners happy. All built large homes in Grayhaven. But the Great Depression made continued development almost impossible.
Gray took out a full page ad in a Detroit newspaper May 10, 1931, which read in part: "Grayhaven is a strictly private residential community minutes from downtown, yet isolated on the shore of the Detroit River...Homes range from moderately priced to very expensive....and the list of residents already reads like a Detroit Social Register...A paradise for Yachtsmen...created by a yachtsman. Restrictions provide that every home have a drydock in which the owner can keep his yacht safe and clean winter and summer...
"Guarded gates and a private intercommunicating telephone system allow undesired traffic to be denied entrance...a privilege because the streets are owned outright by the residents...Grayhaven, merely a dream 18 years ago, is today a reality nearly complete...as shown in the photographs...The world's largest and finest privately owned, fireproof marine garage is here...offering safe and clean storage to owners of boats and yachts from 10 to 75 feet in length...
"You may search the world over but you will not find another community like Grayhaven where the shore and city homes are so pleasingly combined. Ideal conditions...wholesome social conditions, health-giving atmosphere and sports...quietude and privacy...exceptional beauty...in city location...close to public and private schools...close to churches...
"The cost may be more than for the conventional type, but the difference is more than saved in the first two years by decreasing the cost of caring for the yacht and the cost of constructing a detached garage... and you may build a conventional home if you wish...Come to Grayhaven today...Tour it with the man who designed and developed it for you. Drive out to Dickerson Avenue, turn right and follow to the end of street and GRAYHAVEN."
Eight other buyers had smaller homes built on the island and along the Port Lagoon mainland strip. But Gray's dream did not come to fruition during his lifetime. He died in 1939 and his widow had to let the remaining vacant lots revert to the city for nonpayment of taxes.
However the three original Grayhaven builders stuck around despite changing conditions.
The first of them, the Fisher family, bought the entire easterly strip of 46 lots along the Starboard Lagoon facing Lenox Street. The U-shaped canal flows a half-mile to the single bridge connecting the rectangular 40-acre island in the middle of the entire 67-acre subdivision. The canal's eastern entrance grabs some of the natural Detroit River current and channels it at one mile per hour around the island keeping the 10 foot deep water fresh and flowing. The wide canal allows 70-foot yachts to enter and maneuver. The Dodge family's "Delphine" often docked behind the Fisher mansion.
Because the Fisher family was so large, many other Detroit homes are called "The Fisher Mansion," but they should not be confused with Grayhaven's Fisher Mansion. Lawrence P. Fisher, one of the seven Fisher brothers, spent $1.5 million to build his Grayhaven mansion in 1928. The home's front faced Lenox, but the rear backed up to the wide canal. The grounds included a small golf course where Fisher entertained guests like golfing legend Walter Hagen.