Indian Village: A Detroit dream fulfilled

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Walter Garrett, the oldest of five children who grew up in Ecorse in the 1940s and 1950s, was 16 when he asked his mother, a maid, about his future.

Seeing the big houses she cleaned in Grosse Ile, the Grosse Pointes and especially Detroit’s Indian Village, he asked if they’d ever live in one of those big homes.

“She said, ‘Well boy, if you live long enough and God blesses you to make that type of money and you save that kind of money, you’ll be able to own one too,’” remembers Garrett, now 72.

It took nearly 60 years but Vernice Garrett, Walter’s mother, was right. Five decades after driving through the streets of Indian Village as a teenager and staring in awe at the magnificent houses, Garrett, a retired mortgage banker, finally owns one himself, an Arts & Crafts style house he bought in 2013 after living in California for nearly 40 years.

“I prayed about a house like this since I was 16,” says Garrett, sitting in his spacious dining room. “It took almost 60 years, but he (God) did come through, like he always does.”

The five-bedroom, 21/2 bath house, which spans 4,260 square feet, will be featured on this weekend’s Indian Village home tour, which runs both Saturday and Sunday (see box for details).

Originally built in 1910 for attorney Henry Allyn Haigh and his wife, Caroline, the daughter of a lumber baron – a picture of Caroline on her wedding day now hangs in Garrett’s foyer – it has three stories, a light-filled sun porch, and spacious third-floor ballroom that Garrett has spent extensive time renovating, painting and restoring.

The kitchen, which features a massive tiled island bigger than most dining room tables, is so big that Garrett’s living room, kitchen, and bedroom in California would’ve fit in it.

“In Los Angeles, my apartment was a two-bedroom, two-bath,” says Garrett.

When Garrett moved to California in 1976, he had no intention of moving back to the Detroit area – ever. Not long after he moved to Los Angeles, he got a job with Motown Records as a facilities manager (his mom, Vernice, had worked for Berry Gordy’s former in-laws). There, Garrett worked with everyone from Diana Ross to Smokey Robinson. He has a wonderful story about a cold concert in Chicago and a request from Ross for her diamond-studded ear muffs.

Garrett eventually left Motown to work in the insurance industry and later mortgage banking. He came back every year to visit family in Detroit, but it wasn’t until after he’d retired a few years ago that he looked at how much he was spending on a Sherman Oaks apartment.

“I said, ‘The money that I’m paying out I can very well buy a home,’” says Garrett.

At first, he looked for a house in California, but it was too expensive. Garrett wanted a home. So after three months of looking out west, “I decided I’m going home,” he says – to Detroit.

He narrowed his search to four Detroit neighborhoods: Sherwood Forest, Boston-Edison, Indian Village and Palmer Woods. “My No. 1 choice was Indian Village,” he says, who started looking in 2012. But after he looking at a few houses, he narrowed his search again. He only wanted to live in one place: Indian Village.

“It’s close to everything in the city – restaurants, the theater, the opera house,” says Garrett.

Still, finding a house wasn’t easy. He bid on three houses and was out-bid. “It was like being on a roller coaster,” he says.

So when his house on Seminole was listed in the spring of 2013, Garrett didn’t hesitate. Six minutes after he saw it listed online, “I told my broker this is the house that I want,” remembers Garrett.

When his broker told him his loan wasn’t enough, “I said you don’t know my banker. I said my banker is G-O-D. That’s the ultimate banker.”

His prayers worked. A day later, the former owner, Bob Dege, accepted Garrett’s offer. And when he saw the house for the first time in person in early May 2013, he knew he’d made the right decision.

“I saw the outside and I just loved it,” says Garrett.

Still, there were some surprises. The living room is painted black. Garrett considered repainting it but within a day, the color grew on him. It works well with his collection of art and accents. Original Pewabic tile covers the fireplace hearth.

Two of Garrett’s favorite rooms are the parlor – which he uses a lot in the winter – and his sunroom, where he watches TV in the summer. African masks and other art collected during Garrett’s travels to Ghana, Tanzania and Australia cover the walls in the parlor.

But moving from a 1,400-square-foot apartment to a large house required a considerable amount of furniture. Luckily, not long after he bought his new home, a longtime friend, Bertha Bass, offered to give him as much furniture as he’d like from her family’s ancestral home in Decatur, Michigan.

One of the house’s most unique features is the third floor ballroom, where Garrett has done the most work. He had the floors redone, restored the drywall and painted the walls. It has a built-in stage for performances.

The back deck holds another fun surprise: a hot tub Garrett won on “The Price Is Right” in January 2013. He won the showcase showdown, which included a hot tub, WaveRunner and Vespa.

Garrett says the only time he’s ever regretted his decision to come back to Michigan was during the record-breaking winter of 2013. But that’s it. And if his mom could see him now, she’d be proud.

“It’s all about God’s timing,” he says. “Wait on the Lord and see what will happen.”

(313) 223-4686

43rd annual Historic Indian Village Home and Garden Tour

■10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 12:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday

■10 homes and two gardens, schools, churches, antique car show and art lot.

■Advance tickets for one day are $22.50 or $40.50 for a two-day tour. On-site tour tickets are $25 for one day or $45 for two days. Go to Nichols School, 3000 Burns.

■Go to or call (313) 922-1736.