The historic Edsel and Eleanor Ford mansion in Grosse Pointe Shores is known for hosting wedding photo shoots, fancy car shows and tours of the home and sprawling grounds of the auto scion.
Now, it’s poised to become a major tourist attraction and community gathering place with Wednesday’s grand opening of a new 40,000-square-foot Visitor Center and 17,000-square-foot Administration Building.
The expansion is one of the largest in over 90 years, according to a news release. To continue sharing the Ford family’s legacy, the Ford House opened to the public on the anniversary of Edsel Ford’s death.
The Visitor Center includes a new café area in The Continental restaurant, four event spaces for business meetings and gatherings, exhibition spaces with virtual footage of the Ford family, and expanded educational program offerings.
Edsel Ford was the son of Henry Ford and Clara Jane Bryant. He took over as the president of Ford Motor Co. after his father in 1919 until he died on May 26, 1943, at age 49. The iconic Edsel automobile was named after him and was marketed by the Ford Motor Co. from 1958 until 1960. He had four children with Eleanor — Henry Ford II, William Clay Ford, Josephine Clay Ford, and Benson Ford.
“This is our family home and we are happy to open these new buildings
to our community,” said chair of the Ford House board of trustees, Lynn Ford Alandt, during the opening remarks. “Our grandparents wanted their estate to be a place where people feel welcome. We look forward to welcoming visitors from all over the world to enjoy the expanded amenities and what these new buildings will offer.”
As early as 2012, the Ford House went through a process called the “master site plan” to determine what changes and updates are needed, said President and CEO of Ford House, Mark Heppner.
It was identified that the earlier Activity Center was too small and didn’t have the amenities or the dedicated space for educational programming, events, gatherings and exhibits. In 2017, the project began developing.
The new buildings will allow the Ford House to tell their “story in a consistent way,” Heppner said.
Visitors can stroll through the estate, view some of Edsel and Eleanor Ford’s belongings, historic Ford cars, electronically design their own estate features, and more.
“The Ford Family Story is a permanent exhibition that introduces visitors to Edsel and Eleanor Ford’s estate, demonstrates how the Fords built a life and home that paid tribute to the property’s natural environment, the arts and interior design,” according to the release.
The Ford House was set to open to the public in spring of 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic caused some setbacks within the project.
“We were all ready, it was going to be the big celebration, a new era, cultural change — and then the pandemic hit,” Heppner said. “We ran into issues like delays in some materials such as steel, so even that was a real big problem and slowed down the project.”
A large part of the new building is the educational wing that is suitable for hosting workshops and classes.
“There are two designated indoor spaces, The Jensen and The Kahn Rooms, with access to a tented patio,” according to the release. “These rooms can be rented separately or combined to create a larger space. Following the opening week events, Ford House will kick off the summer 2021 season with a variety of activities including a live concert series, classes, workshops, lectures, picnics, yard games, the EyesOn Design Car Show, and many more.
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Education coordinator Emily Sullivan, is in charge of humanity programs at Ford House.
“We’re very excited to bring in a variety of audiences ages, interest levels, into these spaces, now that we have them,” she said. “We can expand programming for art, and science education and bring in larger groups.”
Director of Culture and Community at Design Core Detroit, Kiana Wenzel, attended the opening ceremony as community partners with Ford House. She said the education section will benefit their business.
“For designers, the gallery space, an exhibition space and having more ways to increase awareness about the skills and services that designers and creators offer” will be beneficial, Wenzel said. “It is increasing the value of design for business and neighborhoods.”
Beyond enjoying the nice architecture of the buildings and learning about the history of the Ford family, the expansion aims to bring the community together.
“These buildings are simply buildings, beautiful buildings and works of art, but they are just physical things,” Heppner said, “The real important thing is what’s inside them and what we do.”
Luci Creative provided exhibit design services in partnership with Ford House, SmithGroup, Frank Rewold and Son Inc., Ravenswood Studio, Inc., Richard Lewis Media Group, and Creative Technology on the updated Visitor Center to Edsel & Eleanor Ford House.