August 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

Trash or Treasure?

Photos may show 'Detroit's Downton Abbey'

Janice Anschuetz of Ypsilanti with book of photos of the Whitney mansion. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

“Was this the Downton Abbey of Grosse Pointe?” Janice Anschuetz of Ypsilanti asked Libby Nolan at a recent Trash or Treasure appraisal session held at downtown’s DuMouchelle Art Gallery and Auction House.

She told the appraiser how her family came about having the 11- by 15-inch leather photo album filled with more than 20 beautiful and detailed architectural and interior photographs. It was purchased at a garage sale in Ypsilanti from someone who was a collector of things related to the early automobile.

“My son bought it. … It was sold for the pictures of the horseless carriages, among others. I identified it as the David Whitney mansion, which was built in Grosse Pointe in 1906. It was indeed the Downton Abbey of Grosse Pointe. It was torn down around 1956. The pictures are not pasted in but a part of the linen-like paper with golden edges. Besides the amazing interior and exterior photographs, there are several family photos, including a charming one of the family and their dog, distributed throughout, four of their horseless carriages and several of a young David Whitney III with his pony. The grounds and the family farm, complete with cows and chickens, are also pictured. Sold with this amazing book were three other vintage photographs of people in horseless carriages as well as a tintype.”

More information on the house, known as Ridgemont, was found on the Grosse Pointe Historical Society’s website (gphistorical.org/ridgemont.html), which dates the house to 1902. An example of the Colonial Revival style, it was designed by Walter MacFarlane and inspired by the executive mansion in Washington, D.C.

It was built not for the David Whitney most people think of — the lumber baron who built downtown’s Whitney mansion on Woodward Avenue, now home to the Whitney restaurant — but for his son, David C. Whitney, a real estate developer. According to Internet research, Ridgemont housed David C. Whitney’s collection of Asian art and artifacts and an exact replica of Marie Antoinette’s boudoir at Versailles, built for David’s wife, a noted Francophile. David C. Whitney died in 1942 (more information on the fascinating Whitney family is online at thewhitney.com).

Anschuetz says her son paid $40 for a stack of items with the intent of selling things on eBay. He “made a lot of money off that stack,” she said, but they were unsure of what the photographs were worth. Nolan said that DuMouchelle’s had a connection with the house, as they had auctioned its contents off in 1956 when the house was torn down.

Nolan said putting a value on the album was difficult, but that it had a definite local interest. At auction, she estimated it would bring at least $300-$500, maybe more. “With a local item like this, there’s always the possibility it could go a lot higher,” she said. “It’s really hard to tell, but it was an excellent buy, and it’s probably one of a kind.”

About this object

Item: Photo album of David C. Whitney estate

Owner: Jan Anschuetz, Ypsilanti

Appraised by
: Libby Nolan, DuMouchelle Art Gallery and Auction House, Detroit

Estimated value: $300-500, maybe more

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 615 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to trashortreas@aol.com. If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.