On June 19, 2009, around 6:20 a.m., the 10,600-square-foot Tudor revival mansion known as the House in the Woods was struck by lightning and burned. It was later demolished.
C & G Newspapers reported at the time that three people escaped unharmed. The house suffered a collapsed roof and extensive fire and smoke damage and was subsequently demolished.
“The early morning storm shook southeastern Michigan, but thunder from one bolt of lightning in particular awoke many in the area of the House in the Woods,” the newspaper reported.
“’It blew the windows out,’” reported Lathrup Village City Administrator Jeff Mueller, who was on the scene as firefighters fought to put out the blaze. He said neighbors had heard the sound of what they assumed was the house being struck by lightning.
“’When our guys got here, three occupants had exited themselves, and the second story was engulfed to the point that we could not attack the interior of the house,’” said Southfield Fire Chief Peter Healy, whose department handles firefighting duties for Lathrup Village. “Fortunately, it occurred during a shift change, and we had (all our guys) respond. We had five pumper trucks and the aerial tower, four life support units, an ambulance, the squad truck and command car.’”
In addition to fighting the blaze, firefighters had to contend with a live wire downed by a fallen tree behind the house and a lot of overgrown brush all around the mansion. Still, historic records contained within a collection of file cabinets were rescued and eventually donated to the Historical Society.
“In the early days of the city, everything happened there,” Mayor Frank Brock told the newspaper. “It’s a historic symbol, not only for our city, but architecturally. It was a very beautiful structure.”
The house was designed in the 1920s by prominent Detroit architect J. Ivan Dise for the founder of Lathrup Village, Louise Lathrup. The contractor for construction was The Jacob Kehrer Co., Inc. of Detroit. The house reportedly included seven bedrooms, five full baths, two half baths, five fireplaces, and an attached three-car garage.
Louise Lathrup married newspaperman Charles Kelley in 1929. The 1930 Census shows them living in the mansion. Sadly, the mansion served as the family home for only a few years. On May 5, 1936, the couple and their daughter Louise moved to an apartment in the Town Hall Sales Office on Southfield Road. Louise and Charles would never occupy the mansion again, living out their days upstairs in the Town Hall. But their adult daughter, Louise Driscoll, and her family would later live in the house.
During the Great Depression, Louise was significantly burdened with the debt she single-handedly took on to finance her 1,000-acre development. Lot sales and construction came to a halt, and even getting lot owners to pay on their land contracts became difficult.
Our archives show that she tried to sell House-in-the-Woods in the 1930s and 1940s, along with the surrounding 250 acres of unplatted land. The house itself was advertised at one point for $125,000; in 1939 the price had dropped to $75,000.
Louise tried to find a use for the house that would pay for itself: a private school, a city library and a country club were among the ideas floated. But by 1936 the Kelleys had taken out a land contract on the house and several other properties. After falling seriously in arrears, they eventually received an FHA mortgage and paid off the land contract. The mortgage itself was paid off in 1953.
During the years the house was unoccupied, it was used by the Lathrup Village Woman’s Club, and it served as the first Lathrup Village city hall (1953-1962). Today the land is vacant and overgrown as the city tries to find a buyer to redevelop it.