If Tudor-inspired homes are exceptionally appealing to you, this location may be among the first you will want to visit in the city of Detroit. You will also want to see the Palmer Woods home that the Fisher brothers built for Bishop Gallagher.
Andrew Fisher emigrated from Germany in 1835, moved to Norwalk, Ohio and became a blacksmith. His sons and brother-in-law later established a carriage manufacturing works in that north central Ohio community. One of Andrew’s sons, Albert moved to Detroit in the late 1880s and created his own firm to build carriages and wagons, The Standard Wagon Works. Two other Fisher Brothers—Fred and Lawrence—moved from Norwalk to Detroit for employment at the C. R. Wilson Company, the nation’s leading builder of horse drawn vehicles. In the early years of the Twentieth Century, the Wilson firm began making bodies for Detroit’s emerging auto industry: Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Peerless and Ford.
Fred and Lawrence left Wilson in a dispute over wages to work with Albert in his Detroit carriage works. The demand for auto bodies escalated and, in 1908, Albert, Fred, Lawrence and Charles Fisher established the Fisher Body Company. The firm quickly prospered by producing bodies for many different manufacturers. Eventually seven Fisher brothers worked for the firm: Alfred J, Charles T.; Edward F.; Frederick J.; Howard A.; Lawrence P. and William A.
Early cars were open. Indeed, they resembled wagons that might be pulled by horses. For an extra price, you could sometimes buy cumbersome equipment that would let you laboriously enclose the car using isinglass and leather. Open cars provided a dirty ride for their passengers and an unpleasant one if the weather were inclement. Some early manufacturers considered producing enclosed cars but realized that the skills of many craftsmen and carpenters would be needed to build an attractive body, thus adding greatly to the cost of the car.
Walter Flanders, working with Bill Metzer and B. J. Everitt, created the highly successful EMF firm, the producer with the very large plant at Piquette and John R. that burned to the ground in June, 2005. Indeed, their sales trailed only those of Henry Ford in the last years of the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Flanders recognized the benefits of adding an all-steel enclosed body to the cars he was selling in great numbers and approached the Fisher Brothers. They designed such a body and, in 1910, began selling it in large quantities to both EMF and Cadillac.
The Fisher Brothers quickly became a very successful producer of auto bodies. Recall that at this time, the auto firms lacked capital, so they produced few of their own parts. Rather, they assembled parts purchased from suppliers who were also expected to do much of the engineering and design of better parts. The Fisher Brothers quickly adopted the production techniques that allowed them to turn out huge quantities, but with precise specifications. By 1914, the Fisher firm had 10 plants in the United States and Canada turning out 370,000 bodies annually for a variety of car companies.
After World War I, three of the largest producers—Studebaker, GM and Ford—competed to buy the Fisher Brothers firm. By 1919, Pierre DuPont and Alfred Sloan were running GM. They successful purchased 60 percent of Fisher Body for $27 million while allowing the Fishers to continue to manage their former firm. In 1926, GM purchased the remaining 40 percent for $208 million.
I do not know what propelled the Fisher Brothers strong interest in architecture. However, they used their wealth and the proceeds from the sale of their firm to construct a variety of memorable buildings in the Detroit area. Their office building, The Fisher Tower, ranks as one of the three great examples of Art Deco styling as applied to office buildings in the late 1920s—the other two examples being the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit and the Chrysler Building in New York. The Fisher brothers built what is still the largest residence in Detroit: the Bishop Gallagher. This is also a Tudor style mansion and is located in one of the finest neighborhoods you will find in a large American city—Palmer Woods. An enthusiastic and favorable critic might favorably compare Lawrence Fisher’s residence in the far northeast corner of Detroit to the San Simeon castle that Hearst built on the California coast.
For his home, Charles Fisher turned to one of Detroit’s most well established and acknowledged architects, George Mason who used the Tudor style throughout in the design of this magnificent home. In 2002, the city’s property tax assessor listed a market value of $624,700 for this residence.
Unless you are an expert on family trees, it is easy to confound the many Fisher who have played a prominent role in Detroit’s development and who helped to create its architectural heritage. Charles Fisher’s son—also Charles Fisher—served as president of the National Bank of Detroit and had a magnificent home constructed for his family in Grosse Pointe.
Architect: George D. Mason
Architectural Style: Neo-Tudor
Date of construction: 1915
Use in 2005: Private Residence
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Boston Edison Historic District listed
January 1, 1974
State of Michigan Register of Historic Places: Boston-Edison Historic District
Listed December 11, 1973; #P4477
National Register of Historic Sites: Boston-Edison Historic District listed:
September 5, 1975; #75000965
Photograph: Ren Farley; July 7, 2005
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