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Grosse Pointe Shores will soon have a newly renovated Visitor Center and Administration Building at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House estate. 

Large windows and a balcony on the second floor of the Visitor Center will give event attendees a breathtaking view of Ford’s Cove and Lake St. Clair. And the tall Administration Building will give employees the option to look at the view, or go outside to experience the native plants and water. 

The historical landmark’s Ford House Forward groundbreaking took place in 2017, and now the buildings are about 75% finished. It is set to open on April 10. 

“What these buildings also do is allow us to really start focusing on three main pillars of our focus on moving forward,” said Mark Heppner, Ford House president and CEO. “One is our stewardship. Ford House is all about preservation stewardship, or stewardship role.

“That is a commitment that was really defined by Eleanor Ford in her will and by the board today, that we will continue to preserve this national historic landmark for future generations.”

Construction crews continue work on the interior the Ford House Visitor Center in Grosse Pointe Shores on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. W (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Construction for the original Ford House estate began in 1926. It was designed by Albert Kahn. The construction finished in 1929. Inspired by Georgian and English designs, Kahn created a 30,000-square-foot house with 60 rooms, which has had hundreds of thousands of visitors over the decades. 

 The new 40,000-square-foot Visitor Center will include multiple event venues for corporate and personal gatherings, a store with unique Ford items, an exhibition space with the Ford family story, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and an education wing. The 17,000-square-foot Administration Building will hold offices, a library resource center and more event space. 

Visual and interactive learning opportunities will be available in every room, allowing for a focus on the visitor experience and providing education throughout the facilities. The Ford family exhibit will feature a 1932 Speedster and a 1934 Speedster, both designed by Edsel Ford, along with a 1939 Lincoln Continental prototype. 

The buildings were designed by Detroit-based SmithGroup, which has incorporated many sustainable options that makes the Ford House one of the few Michigan net-positive buildings. 

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Sustainability a priority 

Staff have been working in the Ford House for many years, and in 2012, a master plan was put in the works to move the employees into a new building. This would assist with the wear and tear on the original home of Eleanor and Edsel Ford, said Kevin Shultis, vice president and studio leader at SmithGroup. 

 The Visitor Center and Administration Building are operated by solar power, allowing for energy net-zero to net-positive. 

Shultis added: “There will be changes in place that are probably minor and most people won’t understand them or notice. But the impact on the amount of energy that the buildings use will be significant. That was a very collaborative effort. It was definitely germane to the design and to meet the goal for zero energy.”

In addition, the large windows in the Administration Building are smart windows, which track sun movement and create shade when needed. Bird-safe window glass can be found throughout both facilities as well. 

Underneath the parking lots, there are 300-foot wells that will help with the building’s heating and cooling support, while reducing its carbon footprint. The parking lot is also built to preserve the wetlands and it has a runoff water sanitary system that will send clean water into the lake. 

Wood from the trees that have been cut down on the estate has been milled and used for restaurant tables. 

The sustainability committee that was formed about three years ago knew that the buildings were going to be the foundation of how the Ford House could change, said Heppner. 

“This isn’t just a new phase of Ford House’s history,” Heppner said. “It’s not just a new era. This is fundamentally changing who we are. I think that’s the most important thing. It’s up to us to take advantage of that and leverage these buildings to make sure that we are a better organization.”

Contact staff writer Chanel Stitt on Twitter: @ByChanelStitt. Become a subscriber.

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