A Home With A Spectacular Library Is Offered For Sale

- by Michael Stillman

The library (Sotheby's photos).

If you've always dreamed of a home with a magnificent library, the home of your dreams is now on the market. Is Detroit okay? Actually, it is not in Detroit proper but the toney suburb of Grosse Pointe Park, often called simply “The Park.” This house is located in the Windmill Pointe neighborhood of “The Park,” which perhaps puts the rest of The Park to shame.


Offered by Sotheby's International Realty, the house was built by attorney Hal H. Smith. Smith was an attorney, partner in a prestigious law firm which, we can safely assume, was quite successful. The home was built in 1929, and one hopes Smith didn't plan to pay for it with the proceeds of stock sales. Smith evidently continued to do well after that date, so we imagine he wasn't too badly damaged by that terrible year.


Smith's house has a comfortable 14,547 sq. ft. of space on a 1.9 acre lot. It fronts on Lake St. Clair, having 200 feet of water frontage. Sotheby's listing points out that it has “panoramic views” of the lake.


From the outside, you would hardly describe it as a “house.” A mansion would be more appropriate. You might well mistake it for some sort of institution, such as a university building. It is described as colonial revival, featuring brick with a slate roof. Inside, it contains five large bedrooms with individual baths. There is a formal dining room, large living room, and whatever else you can imagine, including a heated swimming pool, greenhouse, theater, art gallery, and a four-plus car garage, “for all your sports cars,” as Sotheby's points out. And then...there is the library. As spectacular as is the rest of the house, no one disputes that the library is its piece de resistance.


Since they know it best, we'll let Sotheby's describe the library: “Stunning unique, two story Library made from select grade Walnut, 21' ceilings, 2nd floor walk-around, natural fireplace, and over 1000 square feet!” If this isn't sufficient, look up. There is an amazing mural painted on the ceiling by Michelangelo. Not quite, but it was painted by Detroit artist Andrzij Sikora, and you might be confused. It reportedly took him a year to complete and it contains angels, clouds, and a depiction of the seven deadly sins. If you don't live in the Sistine Chapel, this is the next best thing. This was a later addition, commissioned by a more recent owner.


Hal H. Smith must have been a serious collector. The library can hold a great many books on its two-story built-in shelves. He was actively involved with the Clements Library at the University of Michigan and was a founder and President of the Friends of the Detroit Public Library. Oddly, he doesn't show up among any lists of notable collectors I have been able to find. I can't even tell you what sort of books he owned. He wrote a sizable number of books and articles himself, mostly law related, though there was one about Lake St. Clair, and most notably, one entitled On the Gathering of a Library. According to Amazon, among the chapters are "Why Gather a Library?," "Shall it be a Large or a Small Library?," "Books on Books," and "Buying in Bookshops and buying from catalogues." There is nothing about buying online, but this was published in 1943, the year before Smith died. Still, his obituary in the Detroit Free Press mentions this book and his public library association, but nothing about his own collection of books.


The listing price for this mansion is $4,750,000. That might put it out of your price range, but considering what you would get for that in New York or San Francisco, the house is a steal. You just need to be able to go south for the winter, but if you can afford this house, you can probably afford that too.