A dip back in time: Ford House unveils newly restored pool, lagoon

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Shores — Lynn Ford Alandt has fond memories of swimming in her grandmother’s pool in Grosse Pointe Shores every summer and then having lunch in the nearby Albert Kahn-designed pool house.

"She loved hearing the sounds of her grandchildren having fun," said Alandt, referring to her grandmother, Eleanor Ford, Henry Ford’s only daughter-in-law. 

Now, the same 95-year-old pool that Lynn and her cousins took a dip in every summer has been given a new beginning after an extensive three-year restoration project at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House. Contractors and Ford House staff not only completely redid the pool and surrounding lagoon that overlooks Lake St. Clair but brought it back to the way it was when the Fords lived there. The completed project was unveiled during an opening celebration ceremony Monday.

Guests view the newly restored pool at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House. August 1, 2022, Grosse Pointe Shores, MI.

"We've turned back the hand of time," said Mark Heppner, president and CEO of the Ford House.

Sunlight glistened off the 185,000-gallon kidney shaped pool, which is nine feet in the deep end, but it won't be used or open to the public, said Heppner. But guests who tour the former home of Edsel, Eleanor and their four kids will get to see it. And it's about bringing back the historic estate to how it once was, officials say.

The updated pool and lagoon mark the latest extensive restoration at the 87-acre estate, which was named a National Historic Landmark in 2017. A new visitors' center and administration building were unveiled last year. Heppner said the pool and lagoon project were "self-funded" and declined to put a price tag on the cost.

L-r, Family and board members, Edsel Ford II, his wife Cynthia Ford, David M. Hempstead, Secretary, Lynn Ford Alandt, Chair of Ford House and Mark J. Heppner, President & CEO Ford House, pose for a photo in front of the restored pool at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House. August 1, 2022, Grosse Pointe Shores, Mi.

The pool was in "rough condition" before work began in 2019, said Stephen White, principal and director of Landscape Architecture & Urban Design for Albert Kahn Associates, who worked on the project along with Ford House staff. And the landscaping, originally designed by the renowned Jens Jensen, who worked hand in hand with Kahn in designing the 1920s estate, was overgrown, blocking the view of Lake St. Clair. 

To bring it back the way it looked in the mid-1930s, White and his team relied on historical photos, architectural drawings, historical records, even family films. They also used 3D models and imaging.

"At every turn, we were looking at a photograph" to make sure they were on the right track, said White.

One of the most unique features of the restored pool is its 14-foot wooden diving board, modeled after the one the Fords used in 1936 that was designed by A.G. Spalding. To create just the right replica, Ford House staff searched all over the world to find someone who still made wood diving boards. They finally found a vendor, Mikel Tube, in Belgium. It's made of four pieces of Douglas fir.

Benson Ford sits on the diving board of the pool in 1934 at his parents' house.

"There was one contractor we could locate," said Rebecca Torsell, the Ford House's director of historic preservation. "...It has been a challenge."

Still, looking at the pool where the Fords once had so much fun — historic family photos show Benson Ford, Alandt's father, sitting on the diving board in 1934 and another with young family member rowing around the pool in a small boat — Alandt, now the chair of the Ford House Board of Trustees, is thrilled with how it turned out.

"It's awesome," she said.