Palmer Woods tour offers rare glimpse of Bishop’s home

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Detroit’s beloved Palmer Woods winds down a yearlong celebration of its centennial Saturday with its annual Holiday Home Tour and Soiree, which will include a rare glimpse inside the city’s largest private home: the Bishop’s Mansion.

Bishop's Mansion in Palmer Woods Detroit Mi

Built in the mid-1920s, this 35,000-square-foot Tudor Revival was built by the Fisher brothers for the Archdiocese of Detroit to serve as the home of the presiding bishop. Now owned by Great Faith Ministries International, it’ll serve as party headquarters at the end of Saturday’s tour, where ticketholders will be able to see the first floor.

“I think it’s the most significant residence in the city of Detroit, so it befits our whole centennial celebration,” said Craig Vanderburg, president of the Palmer Woods Neighborhood Association, who said the Bishop’s mansion was last on the home tour eight years ago. “I don’t know of any other residence that is of that size. When it was built, it just had all the architecture detail and the grandeur that goes along with the house.”

The Bishop’s Mansion, or Bishop’s residence as it is also known, is one of five homes on this year’s Holiday Home Tour and Soiree, which runs from 6-9 p.m. The home of Palmer Woods developer Charles Burton Woods also will be on the tour. Tickets are $85 (see box for details).

“The (Burton) house was the first house built in Palmer Woods in 1915,” Vanderburg said. “That house has never been on tour ... It’s very appropriate that we have this house (on the tour) in our centennial year.”

Palmer Woods, north of 7 Mile and west of Woodward, is Michigan’s first platted subdivision. Situated on land once owned by U.S. Sen. Thomas Palmer, his estate sold the land that would become Palmer Woods to developer Charles Burton in 1915 to create a first-class subdivision.

The 188-acre subdivision is known for its winding streets, canopy trees and regal homes that reflect a variety of architectural styles, with Tudor Revival as it the most prevalent style. Some of the biggest names in architecture — Frank Lloyd Wright, Minoru Yamasaki and Albert Kahn — built homes there for some of the biggest names in Detroit industry. Two of the seven Fisher brothers called Palmer Woods home.

Built in the mid-1920s, this 35,000-square-foot Tudor Revival was built by the Fisher brothers for the Archdiocese of Detroit to serve as the home of the presiding bishop.

The Bishop’s Mansion, on Wellesley, was designed by Boston-based architectural firm Maginnis & Walsh. Once home to Bishop Michael Gallagher, it also was briefly home to Detroit Piston John Salley. Bishop Wayne T. Jackson and his wife, Beverly, senior pastors of Great Faith Ministries International, bought the house from Salley in 1995.

The 62-room mansion has 10 fireplaces, 14 bathrooms (many with Pewabic tile), stained glass, black Sicilian marble columns, black walnut trim from Germany’s Black Forest. Religious references abound, including hand-carved Franciscan monks in prayer. The party, arranged by Birmingham floral company Blossoms, will be held on the first floor, including the grand salon.

“Our guests will be able to freely flow through those spaces,” Vanderburg said. “... For us to have a structure like that in Detroit is just phenomenal.”

Burton’s house, meanwhile, is a brick and stucco colonial built in 1915 and designed by architect Richard Marr. Originally on another street, it was moved to Lincolnshire in 1930 so Alfred and Alma Fisher could expand their gardens, according to Palmer Woods historians.

Vanderburg said three other homes on the tour were built in 1923, the start of the building boom in Palmer Woods. Another house is more contemporary.

“The tour will really give our guests a feel for what was going on in Detroit in terms of building first-class homes,” Vanderburg said.

Palmer Woods Holiday

Home Tour & Soiree

Tickets are $85 and selling quickly for this tour, which runs from 6-9 p.m. Saturday. They can be purchased online at or at Blossoms Birmingham, 33866 Woodward. Call (313) 891-2514. Ticketholders begin the tour by parking at the 12th Precinct Detroit Police Station and boarding motor coaches. The tour ends with the soiree, which runs from 8 p.m. to midnight.