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Livingston House, Detroit | by southofbloor
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Livingston House, Detroit

The William Livingston house, completed in 1893, was one of the earliest known efforts of Albert Kahn, who designed the facade while working for the office of Mason and Rice. Its renaissance revival character demonstrates what Kahn had learned on the European tour that he had just completed. He was 23 at the time, good god. William Livingston was born in Dundas Ontario (just outside of Hamilton, in what was then the province of Upper Canada) in 1844 and later came to detroit, founding the Dime Savings Bank in Detroit in 1900.

 

This house is now primarily known for its spectacular slump and collapse over the last decade. This is really unfortunate because this was one of the more dignified houses in a city of great buildings, whose design is worth studying on its own merit outside of its process of decay. I wish I had more pictures of this one from this period.

 

Formally this building is pretty fantastic for a youngster and either indicates the strong hand of someone guiding him or a lot of innate talent (probably both). I like the massing of it - this isn't a huge house but pulling the stonework (terra cotta?) up into the dormer and tower along with the steepness and height of the roof bump up the scale, while the asymmetrical arrangement of symmetrical elements shows that it doesn't need to be too serious. The delicate flare at the eave, marked with the punctuating brackets on its half round gutter is perfect base and counterpoint to the steep hip roof - takes the massive scale of the roof and ties it to the articulation of the building below where they meet, while allowing you to feel the weight of the slate (push down a big heavy pyramidal shape onto a big stone block and it should flare out at the bottom). I love that the house is focused forward - both the tower and dormer stack have sets of paired windows pointed in the same direction looking at you - they make the house seem confident and comfortable with its location as a mid block house. I like the way the steps spill out around their blocky piers. The stone vertical and horizontal bands and columnettes keep your eye engaged, as do the slight shifts in window sizes around the main elements, and the fact that the four pairs of dominant window banks have stone meeting rails. The tiny window in the field of brick above the entrance is brilliant and is great tension with the massive chimney on the opposite side and the thickening foundation in the base. Why the little tiny patch of brick that is nowhere else on the front? Love it. Would be great to see the architectural drawings for this if they exist.

 

Originally this building sat on Eliot Street in Brush Park, Detroit, but was moved one block east in I think the 1990’s. At that point the building was abandoned, and perched on its substandard foundations it gradually began to slump and become derelict. After the collapse of its façade in the summer 2007, the building was demolished on September 15th.

 

I took this photo in 1983 when it still sat on Eliot. As far as I know the only other photos of the building from before the move are the one in W. Hawkins Ferry's book "The Buildings of Detroit" and one taken in 1991 by Smartee Martee -

 

www.flickr.com/photos/smartee_martee/264104706/

www.flickr.com/photos/southofbloor/4129955586/in/set-7215...

 

1976 - www.placepromo.com/display.php?id=3128&built=&add...

 

For an update on this building go here.

 

www.detroitfunk.com/2007/04/10/and_all_the_kings_men.htm

 

and here

 

www.detroitfunk.com/2007/09/16/the_death_of_slumpy.htm

 

Equinox27 has a great round of photos on his site that show some of the other sides of the building here:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/50788895@N00/3206339126/

 

Whitewallbuick has a really good 3/4 view here:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/37603091@N02/3505706790/

 

and ejosrq has the opposite 3/4 here:

 

www.flickr.com/photos/55726612@N00/138732202/

 

A number of houses of similar form remain throughout the city though maybe not as refined as this one. Two Indian Village examples are here

 

www.flickr.com/photos/southofbloor/4087894907/in/set-7215...

 

and here

 

www.flickr.com/photos/southofbloor/4102774183/in/set-7215...

 

Old Slumpy, RIP.

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Taken in February 2006