Focus on the Berry Subdivision Historic District
By Daphne Hughes
One of Detroit’s most historic and impressive neighborhoods is located on the city’s lower east side. The Berry Subdivision Historic District is bounded by East Jefferson Avenue, Fiske Avenue, the Stanton Canal, and the Detroit River. The community is small with only about 100 houses, and it’s home to one of the city’s most famous residents, Mayor Mike Duggan.
The Berry Subdivision was developed beginning in the mid-1890s, when it was known as Parkview. In 1914, the two daughters of businessman Joseph Berry inherited the land from their father and began planning a subdivision with high quality, single family homes for the upper middle to upper class.
Today, this historic area still boasts some of the city’s largest and most expensive homes. It also offers easy access to the revitalized downtown district and popular attractions, such as Belle Isle, the Riverwalk and Eastern Market.
“It’s a nice, quiet neighborhood,” said Michael Myckowiak, immediate past president of the Berry Subdivision Neighborhood Association. “It’s been close to work for my wife and I, and close to all of the amenities of the city that we enjoy. And, we found a school for our kids that was close by, so that kept us anchored. And, there are great neighbors and the river is close by. So, all of that combined makes it a wonderful place to live and raise a family.”
Myckowiak has lived in the Berry Subdivision for 28 years, but a few of his neighbors have been there since the 1960s. Myckowiak attributes the low turnover in the area to good neighbors, a convenient location, and great housing stock. While the area had some foreclosures during the recession — like many other Detroit neighborhoods — several of the homes that had fallen in disrepair were purchased and renovated by the new owners.
“I think one of the reasons it’s remained a good neighborhood is that it’s designated as a local historic district,” he explained. “So, there are regulations and restrictions on what people can do to the exterior of their home. So, if you keep up the appearance of a neighborhood then that tends to keep up property values and it tends to attract neighbors that want to be there and want to be good neighbors. That’s what we’ve had.”
Since the community is relatively small, the neighborhood association is rather informal. The group advocates for its residents at City Hall, which has led to improved lighting, street resurfacing and infrastructure repairs in the area.
The association also hosts occasional events, such as a holiday party, potluck meals, and an annual get together in one of the neighbor’s backyards to watch the hydroplane races on the Detroit River.
And, of course, there’s that famous residence on the river — Manoogian Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of Detroit. “It’s a lovely home,” Myckowiak says of the Manoogian. “It’s
been renovated a few times over the last 20-something years, but the latest things that have been done are very nice. It’s a beautiful home. It’s a good amenity for the City. It’s something that’s useful for the Mayor to use to showcase the city and host important people and events. It’s a good thing for everybody.”
The History of Manoogian Mansion
By Daphne Hughes
Perhaps the most notable house in the Berry Subdivision Historic District is the Manoogian Mansion, the official residence for the Mayor of Detroit. Located at 9240 Dwight Street, the Manoogian was built in 1928 at a cost of $300,000. The original owner lost the house during the Great Depression, and it sat vacant until Alex Manoogian, founder of the Masco Corporation, purchased the home at auction in 1939 for a mere $25,000.
By 1965, with his family grown, Manoogian offered to donate the 4,000 square-foot mansion on the Detroit River to the City of Detroit. Detroit Common Council, as it was known then, voted to accept the gift early the next year and to make it the official mayor’s residence.
“Jerry Cavanagh moved in almost immediately,” said Detroit author and historian Ken Coleman. “The Cavanagh family was the first mayoral family that moved into the Manoogian. And, if you think about that timeline, Jerry Cavanagh left office in January of 1970. So they were only there for a short period.”
Cavanagh’s successor, Mayor Roman Gribbs, chose not to move into the Manoogian. He and his family remained in their Rosedale Park home during his four-year tenure. But the city’s next mayor, Coleman Young, immediately moved into the mansion after being elected.
“Coleman Young maintained a townhouse in Elmwood Park too,” said historian Coleman, “but he moved into the Manoogian full-time, to the extent that he had a private chef that was hired and a caretaker that sort of managed the home. And, Coleman used it in a very robust way. He had a second office there and often had city government meetings at the Manoogian.”
In addition, the mayor welcomed his neighbors in the Berry Subdivision Historic District to the mansion. “When Coleman Young was living there all by himself, the basement was set up as sort of a community room,” said Michael Myckowiak, immediate past president of the Berry Subdivision Neighborhood Association. “There would be a lot of city meetings there sometimes, and we would have neighborhood meetings there, which was nice. Over the years, after Coleman Young left office, the next mayors sort of made that into a family space because they had family. So, we don’t get there as much as we used to. But, they still host occasional events there.”
Mayor Young also used the mansion for social gatherings and receptions where he entertained visitors from far and wide. “When the World Economic Summit came to Detroit in 1974, he hosted foreign dignitaries there,” said Coleman. “President Ford and Mayor Young co-hosted the summit, but there was one notable reception that was held with world leaders at Manoogian.”
With its spectacular views of the manicured grounds and the Detroit River, the mansion was the site of several weddings during Mayor Young’s tenure. Perhaps the most famous ceremony
took place in 1975 when recording artist Gladys Knight married Barry Hankerson, who worked for the mayor at the time.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Manoogian Mansion becoming the mayor’s official residence. There aren’t many other big cities that have this housing option for its mayors. “I think it can be a benefit in the sense that if you use it in the way for example that Coleman Young did, you share it in a real sense with the city,” said Ken Coleman. “What I’ve always read and heard about the mansion is that it has always really been sort of a community place, and I think that’s a good thing for the city. After all, Mr. Manoogian gave it to the City. He didn’t give it to a particular Mayor or a particular individual.”
In fact, the mansion’s donation was not only a generous contribution from the Armenian immigrant, but it was also a way of thanking his adopted hometown of Detroit where he found success as an engineer, businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist.