William Livingstone contributed significantly to the development of modern Detroit and Great Lakes shipping. He was born in Dundas, Ontario, Canada in 1844, but moved to Detroit to pursue his simultaneous careers in banking and in the transportation industry. He founded the Dime Savings Bank in Detroit in 1900, and rose to become president of the Michigan Navigation Company and the Percheron Steam Navigation Company.
He helped organize and then served—for about 25 years—as president of the Lake Carriers Association. In that role, he promoted the efficiency and safety of commercial shipping on the lakes. This was a time when developments in nautical engineering and the use of telephones and then radios substantially improved the ability of captains to either avoid threatening storms or ride them out safely in harbors. The association that Livingstone’s headed encouraged the Coast Guard to create and then maintain the channels on the Detroit River that permits ships to safely and readily pass into and out of Lake Erie—channels that still bear his name. In commemoration of his many contributions to Great Lakes shipping, the association asked Albert Kahn to design the William Livingstone Lighthouse that stands on Belle Isle facing Lake St. Clair, the nation’s only marble lighthouse. It is also, so far as I know, the only lighthouse in the city of Detroit.
A prosperous family in Detroit in the 1890s likely wanted to build a home in one of the city’s most elegant neighborhoods. The two most prestigious, arguably, were Brush Park with its numerous mansions or Woodward Avenue where David Whitney and Colonel Hecker had built their castle-like mansions. William Livingstone selected Eliot Street in Brush Park and then employed a very young Albert Kahn who was working for the George Mason-Zachariah Rice firm. When he obtained this commission—presumably with Mason’s help; Kahn was only 22 or 23 years old and had just returned from spending 1891 in Europe studying the classical architecture of the Old World.
Albert Kahn designed in a French Renaissance mode for the home you see, perhaps reflecting the time he spent sketching the best Gallic architecture. Currently, it takes a great deal of imagination to understand what this once-impressive home looked like in 1893 when Kahn completed it. You can see an interesting array of windows, an appealing tower with its conical roof along with an impressive entryway. This residence was originally built about one block to the west of its present location to the west of John R. The Red Cross intended to demolish this home for their new building. Preservationists succeeded in successfully moving the Livingstone Home about one block to the east. Hence, you see this home now sitting on a structure that appears to be a possible new foundation. There is a sign outside the Livingstone Home identifying the construction firm involved in this restoration. However, to the best of my knowledge no renovation work has been carried out in recent years. This home might fall into smithereens if Detroit experienced an earthquake that registered as little as 1.0 on the Richter scale. If you walk throughout Brush Park, you may be tremendously elated to see all of the renovations of old structures and construction of new ones now underway as this becomes a prestigious location for condo living in the city. Or you might be tremendously discouraged by all of the classic Victorian era structures that are at the precipice of ruin. Quite likely, some of them, but not all, will be restored to the glory that typified this area in the last two decades of the 19th century.
Architect: Albert Kahn while working for the George Mason-Zarchariah Rice
Date of Construction: 1893
Architectural Style: French Renaissance
City of Detroit Local Historic District: The Livingstone home is within the Brush Park Local Historic District that was established January 23, 1980.
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; June 16, 2005
Use in 2005: This is a once impressive home that was moved one block in preparation for its refurbishing, but that process has yet to be completed.
Date prepared: August 22, 2005
Return to Historic Residences
Return to Home Page