Photo by Kathleen Conklin
I love it when the travel section of my local (non-Michigan) paper teaches me something new about my great state. The headline from last Sunday’s paper reads: Whimsy resides in Michigan with a hobbit-esque house pictured above it. This lovely stone bungalow has caught my attention and a historical mystery unfolds. Where are they located? Who created them? And when I can visit?
Turns out there’s a whole collection of these architectural gems in northern Michigan—Charlevoix to be exact. The delightful, fairytale buildings were designed and built by Earl Young between the 1910s-1950s. He grew up in Charlevoix, moving away for just one year to study architecture at the University of Michigan. He built a total of 30 altogether, many considered to be works of art.
The buildings, also known as mushroom houses, are located in the triangle block of Park Avenue, Grant Street, and Clinton Street. Young once told a write for the Ludington Daily News, “I always build the roof first, and then shove the house under it.” I suppose every architect has a strategy and a process. A stroll through the neighborhood will give you a glimpse of these quirky structures. According to the newspaper article, busloads of tourists can be seen doing exactly that, plus snapping photos and ringing doorbells. (Wouldn’t you?)
Photo from http://www.weathervane-chx.com/
The Charlevoix Historical Society held the first interior home tour in the summer of 2010. Almost 800 people walked through eight of Young’s houses, with nearly the same number disappointed to not make the cut of this special experience. The hope is that the tour will return in 2012 with special permission of the homeowners, of course. (By the way. Kudos to the historical society for creating a great opportunity for those curious in architecture and design. It’s tough to market history in our fast forward world.)
The article suggested viewing Young’s homes in the off season as this Lake Michigan town gets a little crowded in the summertime. Or better yet, stay in one. Some of them have been turned into vacation rentals. Check out www.vrbo.com (the rental numbers are 128652 and 059312) for specifics. You might also want to see the unique details of the Weathervane Terrace Inn and Suites and the Weathervane Inn – both on Pine River Lane.
Michigan is home to so many great (and hidden) pieces of art. And the Charlevoix community is happy to share their piece of Park Avenue. Happy house hunting.