Michigan developer pledges to 'revitalize' Aretha Franklin's former Detroit home

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
Anthony O. Kellum, president of Kellum Mortgage, stands in the former bedroom of Aretha Franklin, decorated in pink.

Michigan developer Anthony O. Kellum can still hear his mother, Joanne, playing the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin when he was growing up as a child in Detroit.

So when the opportunity presented itself earlier this fall to purchase Franklin's former home on the Detroit Golf Club after her death in August from pancreatic cancer, Kellum, the president of Kellum Mortgage, jumped at the chance.

"It’s a very touching project for me," said Kellum, who paid $300,000. "When she (Aretha) passed, it hit me hard. So many memories went through my mind. My mom used to listen to Aretha Franklin all the time. She’d be around the house singing it. It took me back to that time."

Kellum plans to start renovations to the 6,200 square foot house, located on the seventh hole of the club, in January and wrap up the project in late May, just in time for the PGA Tour at the Detroit Golf Club at the end of June. He hopes to rent the house out for the tournament.

Multi-colored tiles cover an entire second-floor bathroom in the former Detroit home of Aretha Franklin.

"I see this as an opportunity to not only revitalize an iconic property in the city I love but knowing how proud my mom would be if she were still here, makes this even more amazing."

And while some have suggested he turn into a museum of some sort, Kellum has other plans. He wants to put the house on the market to be sold as a private home after the PGA tournament.

"I think it’ll be great to get this house into the hands of a homeowner," said Kellum, who is based in Detroit and also passionate about creating more home ownership in the city.

Built in 1927, the Franklin mansion has five bedrooms, six bathrooms, nine-foot ceilings and a heated three-car garage. And while it's architecturally sound, Kellum said it needs extensive work, including new water pipes and a slate roof. 

Anthony Kellum, president of Kellum Mortgage in Troy, is the buyer of the recently sold house.  He stands in the grand living space, adorned by a giant rose, in tribute to the singer's collaboration with Lauryn Hill on the 1998 album "A Rose Is Still a Rose."  The house became known as the Rose Estate.

It's been vacant for at least 10 years. Kellum estimates renovations will cost at least $350,000. He isn't sure why the house was vacant for so long.

"She had several properties, and she’s an entertainer, and I just think she moved around," said Kellum, who has 28 years of experience in residential and commercial financing. "... She got out of sync with the property."

And while some have suggested he got a deal on the house, Kellum calls the price fair. He toured it briefly before he bought it on Halloween.

The rear of Aretha Franklin's former home is a mix of brick, masonry and glass, with a broad area of brick pavers.

"I did a quick walkthrough, and I realized it was going to be a massive undertaking, but I realized it was something I wanted to be a part of it," he said. "...It needs a lot of work. I think the family understood and was fair. And I really appreciate them. They understand what we’re dealing with. They understand her legacy." 

Kellum views the house as a metaphor for the city itself. It's seen its ups and downs, but it's on its way back.

"This is an iconic Detroit property," he said.