Campbell Symington House

3977 Second Avenue

One of the great assets of Detroit is that you find architecturally significant homes and buildings throughout the city, frequently in places where you might not expect them. This is a result of the tremendous economic prosperity of the city between the Civil War and the Great Depression and the ingenuity of the nation’s architects.

Henry Hobson Richardson, a leading architect of the 19th Century, was born in 1838, then studied extensively in Paris until he returned to American shores in the year of President Lincoln’s death. He quickly established a reputation with the large churches he designed, but devised his own style by using rusticated large stones in his buildings, while combining them with his rounded arches. Later in his life—Richardson died in 1886—he incorporated influences from the Arts and Crafts movement and from the emerging Shingle style. Apparently, the only authenticated Richardson design in Detroit is the Bagley Memorial Fountain. However, his important ideas influenced the designs of other architects of his era. There are Richardsonian influences in both First Congregational and Trumbull Avenue Presbyterian.

J. L. Hudson is known for building the department store chain that typified elegance in Detroit for several generations, and to a lesser degree, for dipping his toe into the automobile industry in collaboration with Ray Chapin. Campbell Symington was born in Scotland around the middle of the 19th century, but came to Detroit early in life. By age 20, he was working at Michigan Bolt and Nut Works. I infer that entrepreneurial activities appealed to him much more than becoming an expert machinist. Along with J. L. Hudson in the 1870s, he established a retail trade store at the intersection of Woodward and Campus Martius. Later, the partners purchased a carpet retailer and moved their store a bit north along Woodward close to where the Hudson Department store would be located. Eventually, the Hudson-Symington partnership was dissolved, but Symington had enough wealth to ask Donaldson and Meier to design a magnificent home for his family at this location on Second just west of downtown Detroit.

The architects designed a beautiful two-and-one-half story home using red sandstone in the style of Henry Hobson Richardson. Note the spectacular treatment of the various dormers at the upper level. Each of them differs from the others. At the entryway, you will see an attractively recessed porch. The wood trim at the upper level has been painted an attractive maroon, matching the woodwork near the entrance. If you are visiting Detroit and wish to sample a variety of its remarkable structures, this is a residence to see.

Apparently, Campbell Symington lived in this home until 1928 and his surviving wife resided here for another 13 years. Their daughters sold the home for use by the Dry Cleaning Institute, but in 1973, the home was sold to Wayne State University. Within a year, that university sold this home so that it could once again be used as a residence.

This home has been very well maintained with excellent landscaping. It is located in an area of the city where you might not expect such elegance. If Detroit regains its glory and once again becomes the location of choice for Michigan’s elite, will homes such as this one serve as foci of urban redevelopment?

Architects: Donaldson and Meier
Architectural Style: Richardson Romanesque
Date of Construction: 1881 (?)
City of Detroit Local Historic District: JIC 3012 14; Effective December 28, 1978
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Use in 2005: Residence (?)
Photograph: Ren Farley; April 25, 2005

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