Hill Historic District
The Hill Historic District is comprised of nine meandering thoroughfares, some of which intersect one another at various points. The district is residential, consisting of 108 single-family homes and two public parks.
The Hill Historic District is part of an area that was built as the premier residential subdivision in the City of Huntington Woods. It is significant for its well-built, substantial houses, the majority of which were built prior to 1940, most during the 1920s and 1930s. Homes designed by some of the most well known Detroit-based architects of the 20th century are in the district; i.e. Eero Saarinen, Albert Kahn, and Minoru Yamasaki.
Rare blueprints from these architects are archived at Yale University, Cranbrook Institute of Art and Science, and the Bentley Library at the University of Michigan. These documents are held as some of the finest examples of architectural design. In addition, interviews and personal collections from these individuals can be found at the Smithsonian Archives in Washington, D.C.
A 1908 Atlas map from the Tract Index Office in Pontiac, Michigan shows ten houses existing in what is now the City of Huntington Woods, two of which were on the 320 acre Black Meadow Dairy Farm owned by prominent Detroit-area attorney and business leader Fred A. Baker. In 1916, two land developments were formed in the area essentially to the east of present day Scotia. The Baker Land Company offered lots for sale in the 320-acre Black Meadow Dairy farm, referred to as the Bronx Subdivision. At approximately the same time, George Trowbridge Hendrie offered properties for sale on his 431 acre holding, having acquired the land from Mathews, Dorr, Lewless and others. Hendrie's land included what is now the Hill Historic District.
Mr. Hendrie was a large landowner in Detroit. His holdings included properties along East Jefferson Avenue. A veteran of the Spanish-American War, Mr. Hendrie was associated with his father George Hendrie in business in Detroit beginning in 1896. He was secretary and treasurer for the Grosse Pointe Lands Co. Fairview Improvement Association and director of the Wyandotte Savings Bank. Mr. Hendrie ultimately sold the majority of his property to developers Charles W. Burton and I.C. Freud who planned to subdivide the land and sell the lots. Excepted were 100 acres that had been pledged by Mr. Hendrie to the Detroit Zoological Society and on which much of the present zoo now stands.
Upon returning from a trip of Huntingdon, England, Mr. I.C. Freud brought the idea of patterning a meandering street layout on the ridge area of Huntington Woods after this quaint town of Huntingdon, England, the city's namesake. He and partner Charles Burton, president of the Huntington Woods Company, agreed and submitted the plans for the new Huntington Woods Subdivision to its residents. The British influence extended to the design of many of the area's houses and some of its original street names such as York, Hereford, Huntington, Salem and Dundee. One early resident, Fred Hathaway, was a school superintendent and executive with the Michigan Sugar Company. He was the first to build a home in the new subdivision. In 1916, he enlisted the expertise of an architect from Huntingdon, England to build his home at the highest point on the city's ridge.
Beginning in the early 1920s, the Huntington Woods Subdivision quickly became home to many of Detroit's upper-level executives who were building elegant English-influenced homes in a style similar to two of Detroit's established neighborhoods; Sherwood Forest and Palmer Park (both are now historic districts). The city was home to advertising executives, automobile designers, bankers, and architects along with other executives and business owners.
"Among the many subdivisions that have been marketed in Detroit during the past few months, few have deserved the characterization of 'subdivision deluxe'. Among these is the famous Huntington Woods Subdivision," wrote the Detroit Times, January 25, 1925.
As was common with many subdivisions, the residents of the Huntington Woods Subdivision were to adhere to certain building restrictions and conditions. Residences placed on the smaller lots were required to build at a cost of at least $6,000, while larger lots had a $7,500 minimum construction cost requirement.
All dwellings were required to be single-family and built with pressed brick fronts or cement block covered with stucco. Flat roof dwellings were not to be erected on any lot in the subdivision. Garages could be erected, but only for the private use of the homeowner and only after the permanent residence was constructed. All garages were required to correspond in architecture and material to the main residence. Each street had specific stipulations as to the placement of buildings on the lots. All boundary lines were to be designated by hedges or woven wire fences with iron posts of an approved pattern. None were to exceed four feet in height and had to be set back fifty feet from the front line.
All lots were to be used for private residences. According to the original deed restrictions, "No saloon shall be erected or maintained at any time upon said premises and no lots in said subdivision shall be sold or leased to or occupied by any other person than of the Caucasian race."
The platting of the Huntington Woods Subdivision was completed by surveyor Sylvester N. Howard of Chicago, Illinois on July 12, 1916 and approved by the Oakland County Register's Office on January 6, 1917. During this period, construction on the Fred and Harriet Hathaway home at 8736 Borgman was begun. Between 1924 and 1939, 65 more structures were erected. The last single-family house to be constructed in the historic district was completed in 1995. Only 8 of the 108 homes in the district were constructed after 1960.
The streets of the Hill Historic District are curving avenues, in contrast to the common grid pattern found in many early 20th century neighborhoods. As a result, many of the lots are irregular in size and shape. The subdivision is easily reached from all of the bordering streets. The residential buildings of Huntington Woods Subdivision are predominantly Tudor, based on English and early Renaissance architecture. This style, very popular in Detroit and surrounding early subdivisions, is typified by features that include steeply pitched roofs, battlements, decorative half-timbering, arches in entry doors and windows, facades dominated by one or more prominent cross gables, and decorative leaded glass windows, usually in groups with multi-pane glazing and cut leaded glass.
The homes in the district are extremely important but the garages are significant as well. Based on the subdivision's building requirements that garages correspond in architecture and material to the main building, nearly all the original garages contribute to the significance of the historic district.
The small triangular park bounded by Pembroke, Nadine and Salem at the south end of the district is a contributing landscape feature. The second park is completely bounded by residential properties on the north end of York Borgman and Huntington and is accessible only by two narrow foot paths on either end of the park. It is one of only two undeveloped parks in the city and adds to the district's unique character.