By Andrew Jameson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
 

The house at 918 West Boston Boulevard, also known as the "Motown Mansion," is located in the Boston Edison neighborhood of Detroit. The mansion is most famous for being owned by Berry Gordy, Jr. of Motown Records between 1967 and 2002.  By address, the map defaults to showing only one of the buildings, the main house, situated near the East border of the 2.2 acres which extend North to Glynn Court and West to Hamilton Avenue.

History:

            The Michelson Estate, more commonly known as the "Motown Mansion" (a/k/a the "Berry Gordy Mansion" or the "Gordy Manor") was built in 1917 by Nels Michelson, a Danish immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1866 and established several successful lumber and timber companies in Michigan. Constructed in an Italianate or Italian Renaissance Revival style, the original mansion was approximately 8.500 square feet, with nine bedrooms, five full baths, four fireplaces, and a carriage house large enough to accommodate five cars and house two apartments above it.

            In 1925, Leonard Augustus Young purchased the house from the Michelson family. Young significantly renovated the house and property. He added ornate, carved marble mantelpieces to the fireplaces and installed custom light fixtures and bronze doors in each room.  Young upgraded the house with state-of-the-art technology, installing a theater to screen the latest movies from MGM studios, a company in which he was also an investor. The most impressive addition to the two-acre estate, was a 4,500 square-feet, athletic building, 924 West Boston Boulevard. The facility includes an Olympic-size swimming pool, bowling alley, gymnasium and billiards room.

            Pablo Davis, a nationally-recognized artist who worked with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Pablo Picasso, purchased the property in 1964.  Davis currently has works on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  Upon purchasing the property, Davis split the property into two parcels. Davis owned and lived in the main house while Max Gozesky owned and lived in the athletic building1.

            The property's most famous resident, Berry Gordy Jr., bought both parcels in 1969, reuniting the estate. Gordy, Jr.'s acquisition of the property happened only ten years after he borrowed $800 to form Motown Records. His ability to purchase this impressive property within the span of a decade attests to the meteoric rise in popularity and bankability of Motown music and those running the operations. Gordy, Jr. hosted many Motown stars at his home for parties and private concerts.

            In the 1970s, Motown Records moved the majority of their operations to Los Angeles, but Gordy, Jr. still retained ownership of his Detroit residence for visits. In 2002, after being virtually unoccupied for almost 20 years, Mr. Gordy sold the residence to corporate-tax attorney Cynthia F. Reaves.  Ms. Reaves is a nationally-known tax attorney who has written several books on tax law and is a national speaker on exempt-organization law.  Ms. Reaves is a former advisor to President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter and Governor Doug Wilder (Dem. VA.).  Over a period of two years, Ms. Reaves restored the Motown Mansion.  In 2006, Ms. Reaves received the State of Michigan Historic Preservation award from the Governor of the State of Michigan for the "meticulous" and substantial restoration of the Motown Mansion, including a major restoration of the athletic building.  Ms. Reaves is the only individual to be granted such an award, which is usually reserved for architectural and engineering firms and local governmental units.  As part of the restoration, Ms. Reaves re-acquired all of the original lighting fixtures for the residence and restored the ornate, decorative plaster throughout the property.  In 2010, the home was temporarily placed on the market, but was taken off the market soon thereafter, leaving Ms. Reaves as the current owner of the property.  

            During her ownership, Ms. Reaves restored the home and allowed it to reclaim its status as one of the residential "jewels" of the City of Detroit.  She often hosts fund raisers for charities and political candidates adding to the vibrancy of the neighborhood and enhancing the reputation of the City of Detroit.  During her ownership, she has held fund raisers for major Democratic candidates, and hosted numerous "political thought leaders," including President Barack Obama, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Congressman John Dingell, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, among others.  In the entertainment industry, the Motown Mansion has welcomed many Motown Records' performers, Robert Ritchie (a/k/a Kid Rock), jazz-artist Kem, movie-producer and actor, Johnny Knoxville and Geena Davis, among others.  Ms. Reaves has had a hand in raising millions of dollars for local and national charities, including the United Way, Big Sisters/Big Brothers, PAL, the White House Project and other notable organizations.

            The "Motown Mansion" at 918 West Boston Boulevard has been owned by self-made millionaires, artists  and other influential individuals since its construction. The house's most famous connection is with Motown founder, Berry Gordy, Jr.  and the world-renowned artists and musicians who visited the home and lived within its walls. Parties and meetings there determined career trajectories for artists and also determined in what directions the company and the genre went. The mansion still looms large in the popular imagination as the "Motown Mansion" and it is an important site for music fans, archaeologists and historians in telling the history of Motown music in the city. Thanks to the Boston-Edison Historic District's designation as a National Historic Site and the dedication of all of the former owners, including Berry Gordy and Cynthia F. Reaves, the house retains its original architecture and design as it did when it was originally built by Nels Michelson in 1917, ensuring that each successive generation of fans will be able to recognize it and to feel close to history.

 

Sources:

1. History of the House: http://detroit1701.org

2. Taken from June 8, 2010 article in the Oakland Free Press about the home being put on the market

 

Additional sources:

A) Free Press Gallery of Photographs inside the home

B) Berry Gordy Jr.'s Motown Timeline from the Detroit Free Press

C) Youtube video for the  "Making Music in Detroit" project

D) Geostoryteller