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Walk In The Footsteps Of Detroit's Historical and Important Figures

When Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac founded Fort Détroit in 1601, building materials were hewn from wooden logs - and all remnants of that historical city were consumed by the Great Fire of 1805. Today, the skyscraper at 150 West Jefferson stands atop Cadillac's original settlement. But subsequent to Cadillac's days, Detroit has reinvented itself many times over so there are a constellation of founders who lent a hand in rebuilding the city to its present incarnation. These are some of the places near and dear to their hearts.
Ossip Gabrilowitsch
Ossip Gabrilowitsch with his wife Clara Clemens (credit: George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress)

Ossip Gabrilowitsch

Gabrilowitsch was the founding director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. His place of refuge was the French and Mediterranean villa at 611 West Boston Boulevard in Detroit. The villa was originally constructed for Charles Lambert, president of the Regal Motor Car Co., but the home flourished as a place of culture and arts when Mr. and Mrs. Gabrilowitsch called it home. Here, the maestro composed beautiful scores which were performed by the symphony. His wife was a noted contralto opera performer who obsessed over perfection. Mrs. Gabrilowitsch, also known as Clara Clemens, was the only surviving daughter of the founding father of American literature, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens). Clara managed the Mark Twain estate and guarded his legacy after his demise; she wrote Twain's biography and was the chief benefactor of the Mark Twain Free Library. Twain made many visits to Michigan while traveling his lecture circuits and this area of Detroit was an oasis of serenity for him. Back in his days, Detroit was known as "The Paris of the West."

Related: Best Language Classes In Detroit

Henry Ford Estate

Henry Ford

Henry Ford was the founder of the Ford Motor Company and he was an avid collector of Americana. The billionaire's curio includes the limousine President John F. Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated, the authentic, relocated Dayton home of the Wright Brothers, President George Washington's bed used in army camps, President Abraham Lincoln's rocking chair from the night he was assassinated and the Logan County, Illinois courthouse where Lincoln practiced law. These fascinating artifacts and more are on display at his personal playground, now called the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. His stately mansion, called Fair Lane, is south of the museum complex and his front yard is now the location of the University of Michigan at Dearborn.

S.S. Kresge

Sebastian Spering Kresge founded a retail empire in 1899 known today as Kmart (and Sears Holdings Corporation). His Mediterranean villa-style mansion, located at 70 West Boston Boulevard, occupies the largest lot in the Boston-Edison neighborhood. His lifelong, obsessive abstinence from alcohol and tobacco complemented his goal to live to age 100, which he fell short of reaching by a few months. He pioneered the concept of the "smoke-free home," long before it became vogue.

Berry Gordy
(credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Berry Gordy Jr.

Gordy is the founder of Motown Records, a brand that reinvented Detroit as a music powerhouse in the 1960s. He is the genius behind Diana Ross and The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson (The Jackson 5). His Italian Renaissance mansion at 918 West Boston Boulevard in Detroit hosted music royalty from around the world. Formerly a trimmer at a Henry Ford assembly plant, Gordy was convinced there was more to life in Detroit than just working in the automobile industry. Like Aretha Franklin, Gordy gave Detroit a significant plug through arts and culture.

Madonna Sticky And Sweet Tour
(credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)


Pop music's longest-reigning provocateur, Madonna, completely changed the course of the music industry as it was known in the days of Clara Clemens. No longer was a perfect voice the principal drive behind success. Now success is the backseat passenger of an artist driven to succeed - it's the driver who navigates the journey to success. Guinness World Records recognizes Madonna as the world's top-selling female recording artist of all time; her strategy centered upon retaining a standard of autonomy within the music industry. She began her career featuring the songs made famous by Berry Gordy, Jr., but changed to focus mostly on her own creations, her own choreography and her own persona. Like Detroit, she has reinvented herself consistently. As a cheerleader at Rochester Adams High School, she learned the secret of influencing others: make them feel good. As a native of the Detroit automotive culture, she naturally understood and implemented the concept of coming out with a brand new model or feature every year. Near and dear to Madonna's heart is the University of Michigan, the place that recognized her drive and potential, awarding her a dance scholarship right out of high school.

Related: 5 Must-Read Books By Detroit Authors

Romero Anton Montalban-Anderssen is the winner of the 2009 first prize in journalism from the Detroit Working Writers Organization. He earned a Juris Doctor degree from Wayne State University School of Law. He has seasonal residency in Detroit Michigan, The Italian Riviera, and Honolulu Hawaii. His work can be found at

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