by Jeanne Brei
Faithful readers know how partial I am to historical Art Deco architecture, live music featuring the Great American Song Book and all things swanky. In downtown Detroit, nothing comes swankier than the Whitney mansion, one of the last standing of the many impressive homes on Woodward Avenue. The structure, completed in 1894, was designed for lumber baron David Whitney, Jr. and described by one newspaper account at the time as “the most elaborate and substantial residence in this part of the country.” Built in a Romanesque style of South Dakota Jasper, a rare variety of pink granite that originally provided the outside of the house with a striking rose hue, the exterior features a multi-gabled roof and arched windows that add drama to the already luxurious facade. The 21,000 square foot home originally had 52 rooms, 10 bathrooms, 218 windows, 20 fireplaces, a secret vault in the original dining room and an elevator. Construction took four years at a cost of $400,000.
With its gorgeous granite arches, crystal chandeliers and stained glass windows, the Whitney now has a new life full of grandeur as a fine dining restaurant and upscale lounge. Traditions of elegant tea parties and dinners, as well as sightings of David Whitney Jr.’s ghost, are alive and well. The third floor Ghostbar’s eclectic spirits make any evening spent in the dining rooms or garden an enchanting one—and possibly haunted one as well.
From the painted glass windows done by Mr. Tiffany himself to the light fixtures created and signed by Thomas Edison, it truly is a historic masterpiece. They offer free guided tours of the mansion throughout the night to learn more about what went into making this home. There are several parlors with beautiful fireplaces and fabulous mantles. One of the parlors has a collection of tapestries of mischievous cherubs and there’s also a dramatic stairwell that harkens a “Hello Dolly” or “Gone with the Wind” moment.
Tucked in on the top floor next to the Ghost Bar, The Woodward Room is a hidden gem in the restaurant. A small room facing Woodward (hence the name), it offers an intimate spot to dine. And many online reviewers mention that the live pianist is one of the highlights of an evening spent at the mansion.
The Whitney Mansion, 4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48201, (313) 832-5700, thewhitney.com.
This story originally appeared in the November/December issue of Exhibit City News, p. 83. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecntears_novdec_2019_copy