A lone Victorian mansion – circa 1876 – stands out amid the 21st century condominiums and lofts lining the block. Only a stone’s throw away from the new Little Caesar’s Arena, 97 Winder holds its own with gables, bay windows, an octagon turret and mansard roof. This Brush Park beauty stands ready to greet new guests as a boutique hotel.
The property has been empty four years awaiting a new lease on life and a fresh surge of guests.
“The exterior was imposing to any passerby but the interior was a labor of love. So much effort went into preserving history, the reconstruction ingenious,” says Robert Johnson, director of operations for the 10-room, 11,000-square-foot bed and breakfast. His firm purchased the property for $2.4 million in the fall of 2016, paying an estimated $300,000 for centuries of art, furniture and sculpture inside.
Once one of the grandest homes in the city, the inn is now the jewel of Detroit investor Gerardo Pecchia and his team. Nearly everything was already done. The new owners didn’t even need touch up paint. Their efforts now focus on fine-tuning an administrative system to accommodate guests and their culinary needs when it reopens around the time the first fastball sizzles through Comerica Park.
Johnson calls the property a triumphant survivor after years of neglect as an orphan of a neighborhood forgotten for decades.
Somewhere, John Harvey, the pharmacist and philanthropist who built the mansion in a neighborhood transformed from brush farm to an enclave for the wealthy called “Little Paris,” must be breathing a sigh of relief.
Over the years, Harvey’s signature home with 8 marble fireplaces, 11.5 bathrooms, 24 chandeliers, and a carved mahogany staircase, became one of the last Victorian buildings left standing. Barely standing. A chain link fence around the perimeter saved it from scavengers, according to Detroiter Dan Mullan, associate broker of RE/MAX of Novi who brokered the mansion deal.
“This is a jewel of Detroit . . . I couldn’t find a Detroiter who would appreciate this rambling mansion as much as I do,” Mullan says, sitting on a velvet Chippendale settee in one of the three parlors.
Ghassan Yazbeck, a fine artist and designer, and wife Marilyn Nash-Yazbeck, a pharmacist, visited the Harvey mansion on a real estate bus tour in 1986, and became enchanted by dreams of a lively dwelling where wine and conversation flowed endlessly into the night.
Upon purchase of the large but decrepit house for an estimated $60,000 they poured themselves into architectural studies, antique catalogs, and construction tips. They made numerous trips to find sumptuous fabrics from New York City and Europe. They used local and national resources for antiques, museum-quality pieces of art, and comfortable yet eye-catching furniture, doubling up on work for their day jobs to afford their passionate Victorian.
By the time Comerica Park opened in 2000, just a couple blocks away, they were fully immersed in the renovations.
Their contractors tore the building down to the studs, and installed six zoned furnaces/air conditioning units. The team tucked the ductwork in closets, installed custom Thermopane windows fitted to the bay window frames on all three floors, and added modern zing with glass shower doors, Pewabic and premium ceramic tiles, and abundant chandeliers in all the guest bedrooms.
The inch-thick pocket doors closing off both front parlors survived years of wear. But molding around the windows had to be replaced and stained to match the dark wood finish. The couple replaced floorboards in both the light and dark diagonal wood. They ordered hinges to match the filigreed brass hinges and door knobs throughout the bed and breakfast.
A love of chandeliers − alabaster, glass, Lucite and crystal − prompted Ghassan Yazbeck to mount a spectacular, two-story fixture below the stairway in the registration area. He put it on a pulley so the caretaker could bring it down easily for cleaning all the delicate crystal pieces.
Strolling through the house a visitor finds African, Asian, Early-American, Victorian and modern styles brought together with a flourish. The basement party room has bamboo chairs painted gold and rows of gold curtains to house party materials between events.
“The Yazbecks bought what pleased them. The scale is perfect, a marriage of fine furniture and exquisite design,” says Frank Kaszynski, senior appraiser for Detroit-based Edmund Frank & Associates estate dealers, as he wandered the home in awe of how skillfully the previous owners mixed periods, colors, and fabrics for an eye-catching “wow” factor in each room.
The three downstairs parlors share a theme of striped silk drapes with tassels, paying homage to the Brush family, one of the original French settlers of Brush Park. Eight and nine-foot-wide wood armoires conceal flat screen televisions and magazines for parlor guests and upstairs rooms have elegant armoires instead of closets for clothes.
“We’re so happy the previous owners kept all the furnishings intact. We could never duplicate the same taste, the same style if we started over again,” Johnson says. Even with the house lingering on the market for years, the Yazbecks refrained from displacing its treasures.
Yazbeck left several of his giant oil paintings for the enjoyment of future guests. He framed old master’s art in Lucite, hung giant, gold leaf mirrors in every room, and augmented the necessary couches with 19th-century, four-foot painted statues from Thailand, as Fancy Ormolu accents graced burled wood commodes, dressers and China cabinets.
Each guest bedroom has splendid touches. No two are alike. The turreted master suite has a spiral staircase leading to a loft with windows overlooking Ford Field, Little Caesar’s Arena, and Comerica Park. With a pair of binoculars, a guest just might be able to keep up with the game.
One room has a black Chinese screen turned into a headboard and is paired with ‘40s leather chairs in bold turquoise. Another has a chrome poster bed from the Design Institute of America illuminated by Noguchi and Lightolier chandeliers.
The dining room won Kaszynski’s heart. A high gloss Chippendale dining set with rich carving is joined by Empire side tables. Imari porcelain chargers are mounted on the wall while four-foot Imari vases stand by the doorway. A late 19th-century Chinese rug graces the floor.
No need to pay homage to Victorians when cooking is a very modern and immediate art, especially for themed dinners and culinary pop-up meals. The ultra-modern kitchen has granite counters, maple cabinets and a 10-foot Thermador stove and chrome Thermador hood. Above the cabinets, the designer placed art deco samovars and coffee pots. A free-standing shelf offers a rare teapot collection.
The kitchen nook has mid-century white tulip chair and table set, along with a giant mirror and antique bas-relief bronze pictures of newborn babies. “This is a perfect mix of pop and modern, old and new,” Kaszynski says.
“The house has such great bones, it accommodates the furnishings with great elegance,” Johnson says, relaxing on a Chinese Chippendale settee in the parlor. History is about to come back with panache.