Castle-like James Scott Mansion reborn with nod to past
Detroit developer Joel Landy said no one believed he could save the historic James Scott Mansion when he bought it from the city in the early 2000’s.
The castle-like, Romanesque-style building at 81 Peterboro sat empty for decades, opened to the elements and its interior caved in after numerous fires.
On Thursday, Landy opened the doors for a look at the renovated mansion-turned-apartment building.
“I love doing things that everyone says are impossible,” Landy said.
It cost nearly $6 million to rehab the mansion into a 26-unit apartment building. The project was funded by Landy; community development lender Capital Impact Partners; historic tax credits; and brownfield credits, according to Midtown Detroit Inc. Invest Detroit was also an early lender in the project.
The Scott Mansion was built in 1897; an addition as constructed about 15 years later. At some point, the historic building was converted to a single-room occupancy hotel and apartments.
The building is significant for its history, said Elise Fields of Midtown Detroit Inc., the organization that helped Landy secure financing for the project. It is one of the remaining castle structures in the Midtown neighborhood, she said.
“We felt it was critical to the growing district to preserve the history,” she said.
The original owner, James Scott, the son of a real estate investor, was known as a playboy millionaire in the late 1800’s, according to historians. In his will, he left money to the city of Detroit to build a fountain. The fountain on Belle Isle that bears his name was complete in 1925, 15 years after his death.
Landy said one of the most striking things about the building were the large moldings, the baseboards and casing. Another notable feature were the variety of windows in the front façade, ranging in shape and size.
“That is such an important part of the architecture,” Landy said. “So of course the windows were duplicated. They were in such bad shape there wasn’t a single one that could be restored.”
Landy said he was able to save some of the framing and molding.
“I used the building code in a unique way to ... restore the building and make it very safe but look like it did in 1897,” he said.
Landy said a mason restored stonework and a stone foundry cut decorative stone.
“Every year, stone would fall off the building and I would go and collect it, preserve it,” he said. “I preserved everything I could.”
Fields said Landy balanced the old and the new. The rooms range from 430 to 730 square feet and vary in layout.
“It definitely has a warm feel when you walk in,” she said. “It’s fitting to the structure itself. It’s not like what you’d see in a brand-new construction … The renovations are modern, but yet fit the historic nature.”
Landy has a long history of renovating in Midtown, once known as the Cass Corridor. He bought a home in 1978, and over time, bought buildings in the area, renovating them at a time before Midtown was buzzing with developers. He has about 60 units in the area, he said.
The Scott Mansion fell into disrepair after a fire in the 1980’s. It was eventually put on the city’s demolition list.
Landy said he approached the city numerous times requesting that the city take the building off of the list. He finally succeeded and purchased the building in the early 2000’s. He was prepared to submit a permit for work on the building when the economy took a dive in 2008. Coupled with health issues, Landy said it wasn’t until 2015 that he was able to return to the project.
Renovations were completed in December. The building has six occupied apartments leased within the first four days. Rates are about $850 a month with parking included.
Ernie Zachary of consulting firm Zachary and Associates, said Landy is an imaginative and pioneering developer in the city who is "largely unrecognized."
“Much of what was done in the Woodward corridor can be tracked back to his early efforts to redo buildings and occupy buildings," Zachary said. "He’s been a quiet hero in the city of Detroit.”
“This project itself, it’s an impossible project,” Zachary said. “What he decided to do by his own efforts and his own will is really extraordinary. Joel is a very special guy who doesn’t know how to quit on anything. The Scott Mansion, if you knew it before and what it had fallen to, you’d see exactly what he’s made out of.”