As a child, I was obsessed with the book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It invoked a childhood trifecta for me-runaways, mysteries to be solved, and library science (yes, I was a dorky misanthrope)-but the real kicker was that the protagonist, Claudia Kincaid, decides to run away in comfort, and chooses for refuge the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Life in a museum. Truly, nothing sounded better to this dorky misanthrope.
Stepping for the first time into the Benjamin Siegel House, built in the historic Boston-Edison district of Detroit in 1914 by the founder of Siegel’s department store, it turns out that my secret love of life at the museum has never left me. The mansion’s owner, kind enough to indulge me in a brief photographic spree, is a kindred spirit in the appreciation of the historic significance and unequaled beauty of old-fashioned things.
The Siegel House has been through several transitions, having passed from the original owners in 1957 into a foundation for religious brotherhood, perhaps a reflection of the Siegel’s efforts as a Jewish family to find acceptance with and connection to their Boston-Edison fellows. Eventually the foundation was sold back into private ownership, and the current owner is a remarkable example of a special kind of Detroiter, one who can look through decades of attrition and still see beauty, potential, and most importantly, a history worthy of preservation. That he is additionally devoted to sharing his beautiful home with like-minded people is the icing on the cake.
For an inveterate estate sale-hopper and amateur antique trader, the Siegel House is a wonderland of details; everywhere you turn in this spacious residence, you find another remarkable work of art, beautiful piece of furniture, or item far too beautiful and consciously-placed to be considered a proper “knick-knack.” Truly, it is like nothing so much as a museum, from the vaulted butler’s pantry with original silver safe and an array of china collections, to the dining room, featuring a table that once belonged to the Archbishop of Detroit and served visiting Popes, to the velvet-lined elevator, featuring a ceiling mural in a cherub motif (echoing another mural on the dining room ceiling, a product of the previous owner).
But in this case, a picture is worth a thousand words. I hope you take as much joy as I do in knowing that right here in Detroit, history is alive, well, and beautiful.