It was 1967 and the home at 918 W. Boston Blvd. came with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, two bowling alleys, and 10 bedrooms for musicians and guests. He lived there for only a few years, then moved to Los Angeles.
When lawyer Cynthia Reaves moved back to Detroit from Washington, she decided to invest in her hometown. It was 2001, and she wanted Gordy’s 10,500-square-foot Italian Renaissance home. She had lived in the neighborhood as a child, watching celebrities pull up for parties and the Jackson 5 playing golf out back.
Now Reaves said she hopes the “Motown Mansion” sings to the heart and wallet of one buyer who will pay her $1.295 million asking price. The price would be a bargain if the elegant limestone home were in New York or Chicago, but only one other residence in the city of Detroit has sold for more than $1 million since 2006, according to real estate experts. (That was the Alfred J. Fisher Mansion, a 16,500-square-foot beauty that last year sold for $1.6 million.)
The Gordy home was built in 1917 for lumber baron and home builder Nels Michelson, and filled with marble, intricately carved wood mantels and adornments. Windows of stained and beveled glass overlook expansive lawns. Its second owner added the 4,000-square-foot pool house, which houses the gymnasium, billiard room and bowling alley. Passageways link the buildings, including one that is lined with Motown star photos.
It takes two hours to tour the home, Reaves told The Washington Post, adding: “After 10 or 15 years, I still discover different things that delight or that I forgot about, like beautiful light fixtures.” Reaves lived in Foggy Bottom then Dupont Circle while working as a health-care lawyer and partner at Epstein Becker & Green before returning to her native Detroit in 2001. “The price of my condo [in D.C.] was a lot more than the homes in this neighborhood at the time,” she said.
She bought the home in 2002 for $250,000, according to the Detroit Free Press, after convincing Gordy she was the right owner. She wrote him a letter that said: “A home like this needs to be a part of the city, the fabric of the city.” Reaves said, “He said, ‘You wrote a letter that spoke to my heart.’ ”
Reaves used historic preservation tax incentives to restore the home. Her favorite room, she told a Detroit television station, is a small bedroom with a Wedgwood chandelier and sconces that she had painted Wedgwood blue. “It’s a beautiful little tea-box of a room,” she told WDIV.
Gordy threw many parties, where Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin sang, or Stevie Wonder played a grand piano. Reaves also used the home for celebrations and fundraisers for the White House Project, with actress Geena Davis as the draw, and for then-Sen. Barack Obama, and various Detroit causes. Once, the Vandellas and some of the Temptations played at a fundraiser for older Motown musicians. “That was the best party we ever had,” Reaves said.
She tried to sell the home in 2010 for $1.39 million. Since then the housing market in Detroit has warmed up considerably. So at the end of May, she put the home up for sale again, and it has already had many showings. “People are interested in moving into the city,” Reaves said. “I hope that the purchaser will love the city of Detroit as much as I love the city of Detroit” and honor its history and architectural details.
Gordy’s home is “a trophy property, ” said Detroit real estate broker Austin Black of City Living Detroit. It sits in the Boston-Edison neighborhood amid mansions built for automotive executives and the founder of the Kresge discount chain. Yet not every buyer will be ready to take on the complexities of maintaining a sprawling, 100-year-old home, Black noted.
“We have some pretty serious interest,” said listing agent Deborah Smith.
Those who want to live with a smaller piece of Motown history could look up the homes once owned by Robinson, lead singer of the Miracles, or Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin. Most of the Motown stars lived in much smaller, more modest abodes, according to the book “Home in Detroit” (Shaking the Tree Publishing), and they’re valued at $60,000 or less.
Vickie Elmer is a freelance writer.