the Whitney NEWS
Award-winning Cuisine

The Whitney offers award-winning cuisine that is elegantly American. Inside The Whitney in Detroit, the historic home of one of Michigan's richest families
November 09, 2015

DETROIT - It's noisy on Woodward Avenue in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood.

Construction for the M-1 Rail kicks up dust and slows traffic to a frustrating lurch-and-stop, bus engines roar, somewhere pavement is shattered by a breaker hammer. 

But inside the historic David Whitney House — now a fine-dining restaurant called The Whitney — at 4421 Woodward Ave., the pink jasper exterior, Tiffany glass windows and massive, thick wooden doors keep things quiet and preserved.

The 1894 Romanesque Revival mansion was built by David Whitney Jr., who, at the time, was a successful lumber baron. The home was constructed for around $400,000. That's about $10.5 million today.

Woodward Avenue at the time was residential, packed with ornate homes. The Whitney would have been the grandest on the avenue, according to Robert Hunter, who gives tours at the home.

The 21,000-square-foot, three-story mansion now has 23 rooms, more than 200 windows and around 20 fireplaces. It's the first residential home in Detroit to have had an elevator inside. Today, much of the original artistry remains.

The first floor features an ornate mosaic design, which took workers years to layout, and is still intact. Intricate woodworking can be found throughout the house. 

Whitney having been a lumber baron, only the best pieces of wood made it into the home, Hunter said. Much of the most beautiful molding and cornice work around the home was carved from one giant piece of wood.

Parts of the decor carries a similar theme revolving around specific rhinestone-like shapes present in the Tiffany glass on the west-facing side of the house, though each room on the first, second and third floor seems to have a story all its own.

Today, guests can dine in the parlor, music room or library on the first floor. Each room offers a different aesthetic twist on the home. What's fun is that much of the old-style design from the 1890s is still present. Massive pocket doors, oversized shelves for sheet music and a back staircase for what would have been servants all still exist.

Hunter hypothesized what is now used as a linen closet on the second floor once served as a hideaway room with a secret entry where Whitney's male guests might have mingled with servants after having their brandy. 

And though all of the bedrooms have been in some way or another converted into dining rooms for parties of various sizes, it's known that the southeast corner on the second floor would have been Sarah Whitney's morning room, where she might have sat before venturing out into the house for the day.

On the first floor, Thomas Edison wired the mantle for electric lightbulbs. The lanterns can be switched back to gas lamps, though, as the Whitneys would have simply flicked the lightbulbs on to show off for a minute before turning back to the way things were.

The first floor dining room has a fake wall that swings open to reveal a locked vault.

There are even remnants of the days where the house served as a Tuberculosis ward.

Much of grandeur has been restored, and guests can take The Whitney in on different levels during private events, evening dinners, brunch or a drink and a snack at the third-floor Ghost Bar.

Hunter said staff at The Whitney is waiting for construction to die down so that service will pick back up. For now, The Whitney is open seven days a week from 5-10 p.m.

Sunday brunch is open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and High Tea is served daily at 2 p.m.

The Ghost Bar opens at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Ian Thibodeau is the business and development reporter for MLive Media Group in Detroit.