Restored lumber baron’s mansion celebrates owner’s love of Detroit Tigers
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on May 05, 2018 at 7:30 AM, updated May 07, 2018 at 8:39 AM
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Eric and Tracy Lanning have poured their love of old homes and the Detroit Tigers into their Greek Revival mansion in the city’s South Hill neighborhood.
Originally built in 1903 by lumber baron Alvin L. Dennis, the prominent home at 703 Madison Avenue SE is one of the stars of this year’s Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association’s 2018 Tour of Homes. The tour, with seven private homes and three institutional buildings, will be open on May 19 and May 20.
After Dennis built the house, it stayed in his family until 1954, when it was donated to the Grand Rapids Child Guidance Clinic, which used it as its headquarters through the 1980s.
Though the clinic had replaced the home’s original lighting fixtures with fluorescent lamps, the original wood paneling and layout remained largely unmolested — a rarity for the neighborhood where most of the older large homes were divided into apartments during the 1960s and 1970s.
Tracy Lanning, a lover of old homes, bought the house from the estate of former City Commission Lew Meriweather in 2005, who died before he could complete repairs to the old house. Since then, the Lannings have restored much of the house to its original splendor.
To celebrate Eric Lanning’s dedication to the Detroit Tigers, the third floor attic space was finished in Tiger memorabilia and the widow’s walk on the roof outfitted with seats from the old Tigers Stadium.
“We call it the upper deck and the skybox,” he said. “It’s a great vantage point for sunsets.”
As one might expect of a lumber wholesaler who specialized in oak, the home was trimmed in the finest quarter-sawn oak — most of which has remained intact and retains the original varnish.
“It doesn’t look perfect and I love the way it looks,” says Tracy Lanning of the millwork.
The entrance hall is lined with rich paneling, fluted columns, beamed ceilings, pocket doors and an elegant double staircase that connects into a single staircase on a landing with a large window. The original oak flooring was reconditioned.
Between the two staircases, there’s an staircase that leads to a side entrance that was once used to receive guests in carriages, and later, automobiles.
The mantel on wood-burning fireplace in the living room is a masterpiece of millwork with the original green glazed tiles. Although the light fixtures are not original to the house, they are period correct lamps that Tracey Lanning has found while scavenging older homes or salvage houses.
The beamed and paneled dining room includes a secret pane that can be removed — perhaps a remnant of the Prohibition Era, where booze was illegal but still found its way to the tables of the upper crust.
The kitchen is deceptive. It has all of the features and space of a modern gourmet kitchen. But the cabinets appear to be vintage thanks to the doors they salvaged from the original kitchen and salvage houses. The vintage farmhouse sink was found at a garage sale.
The decorative hutch above the wet bar is framed with two columns they salvaged from an old piano that had been set on a curb.
The first floor includes a den in the home’s original front parlor and a home office with original French doors that lead to a sun porch that the Lannings recently restored.
Upstairs, there are the home’s six bedrooms, including a master suite the Lannings created by combining two of the home’s original bedrooms and moving a wall into the over-sized landing at the top of the stairs.
The result is a large master suite with a gas fireplace and ensuite bathroom that includes a clawfoot tub, a double vanity and walk-in shower.
The second floor includes five other bedrooms, three more bathrooms and a laundry room — features one might not expect in a 115-year-old home.
The second floor also includes a sun deck over a two-stall garage the Lannings added to the property several years ago.
Although their house not technically in the Heritage Hill Historic District, the Lannings have adhered to most of the district’s rigid standards for historic preservation.
“We’re honored that they asked us to participate,” said Tracy Lanning.
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