Forward Design

The new visitor center at the Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores balances classic architecture with green technology.
automotive arcade The new visitor center at the Ford House, set to open by June, will offer a restaurant, event and exhibit space, and a gift shop.
Automotive Arcade – The new visitor center at the Ford House, set to open by June, will offer a restaurant, event and exhibit space, and a gift shop.

Beginning in late May, guests of the Ford House, Edsel & Eleanor, in Grosse Pointe Shores, will be greeted by a new visitor center that balances the classic Albert Kahn architecture of the main manor with the latest green technology.

The 40,000-square-foot visitor center (the Ford House itself is 31,000 square feet) and a 17,000-square-foot administration building were designed to reflect the architectural principles of the Cotswold style of the main house.

The new structures, which feature a limestone exterior and a slate roof with steep arch gables and prominent chimney features, hide solar panels from view. High-efficiency, smart windows imported from Germany — designed to keep birds from flying into them — will contribute to the buildings’ energy-efficiency.

Between the solar electric power and the geothermal heating and cooling system in the new buildings, the facility expects to save $30,000 per year on energy costs.

“The board of directors’ goals for the project include a commitment to sustainability, the environment, respect for the legacy of Edsel and Eleanor Ford, maintaining the architectural style and interior design, (and ensuring) that it’s high-quality and done thoughtfully,” says Mark Heppner, president and CEO of the Ford House. 

Although the cost of the project, which is near the main Ford House, is kept close to the vest, it’s obvious to any visitor that no corners were cut, and no cost was spared. Guests will be able to walk or take a shuttle to the main house.

“Our (previous) visitor center was designed in the ’90s and didn’t meet the needs of a growing 21st century historic site. The amenities just weren’t there,” Heppner says. 

The new facility includes a lobby with a ticketing and information desk, a gift shop, and the Continental restaurant, which will seat 80 people indoors and another 40 on the patio overlooking neighboring Ford Cove. The menu will consist of American bistro-type cuisine.

In addition, visitors can explore interactive, multimedia, and hands-on displays that detail the Ford family legacy, Edsel Ford’s role at Ford Motor Co., and the design of the Ford House.

The new center has three flexible meeting rooms for public rental, with overall seating for 240 people, or 176 people for dining. Another feature is an exhibition gallery that will initially showcase three vehicles designed by Edsel Ford: a 1932 boat-tail Speedster, a 1943 Model 40 Speedster, and a 1939 Lincoln Continental prototype.

“One of the things that was really important to all of us was to make sure we’re able to tell the family story,” Heppner says. “Nobody is going to look at Edsel the same after they visit this building.”