Past Presence


Published:

 Brian Hurttienne’s home — a former 19th-century meat market on Bagley — has been on the Corktown historic home tour five times since he purchased it in 1996. Each time, he says, he’s been surprised by visitors who comment on the multiple layers of peeling wallpaper in his den.

“I expect them to remark on the furniture, the before and after, or even to say they can’t imagine living here, but the number who comment on the wallpaper always surprises me,” the architect says. “I think they’re fascinated by the many layers of history.”

It’s an apt metaphor for the surrounding neighborhood, which dates to the 1840s. Like many homes in Detroit’s oldest enclave, Hurttienne’s Victorian is a work in progress, a task he’s been chipping away at for two decades. Before joining Hamilton Anderson Associates architects two years ago — where he, not surprisingly, specializes in rehabbing older city buildings — he lived above the street-level office, which housed his architectural firm.

“I did the opposite of what my parents told me to do,” says Hurttienne, who grew up in a 1960s ranch near Romeo. “I left the suburbs and moved to the city.”  

He headed downtown after graduating from Lawrence Tech. “Everyone I graduated with was going to Dallas or Baltimore to build new office buildings,” he says. “I wanted to work with old buildings. I saw some of the interesting projects going on in Corktown and thought, ‘I could do that.’ ”

His brick home has a colorful if somewhat sketchy past. Hugh L. Gamble’s meat market closed in the 1920s. From the 1930s forward, the retail space operated as a grocery store, a flower shop, a space for a neighborhood eccentric known as Dirty Dave (a packrat worthy of A&E’s hit show Hoarders), and the headquarters of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club.

ARTICLE TITLE
Photographs by Justing Maconochie

When Hurttienne took possession, he added new doors, floors, heating and cooling, electrical, and plumbing on the first floor. Upstairs, he remodeled the small kitchen, renovated the dining and living room (including stripping years of paint from the soapstone fireplace), updated the bathroom, and added a rooftop deck.

“I have no yard,” he says. But the third-floor terrace, which overlooks downtown, has been the site of some “great parties.”

Though he grew up in the suburbs, Hurttienne’s family has Detroit ties. His French/German ancestors were Macomb County potato farmers who operated a stall in Eastern Market. A sign from that stall now hangs in his dining room. Driving the five minutes from Corktown to his Harmonie Park (Paradise Valley) office gives him time to admire (and fret about) Detroit’s vintage buildings. He allows a special admiration for works by architect Wirt Rowland and dreams of getting his hands on some of downtown’s neglected structures, including the at-risk Metropolitan Building on John R.

For now, work goes on in Corktown. He’s currently converting his lower level to living space, which he plans to rent out. After nearly 15 years, his affection for his home and his neighborhood hasn’t dimmed.

“I love Corktown’s location, its proximity to downtown freeways, and maybe the biggest thing, the mix of people, houses, and commercial buildings,” he says. “Sometimes I’m without a car for a week, but I can ride my bike everywhere.

“Something came over me when I saw this building. It told me I had to do this.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

If You Build It Right, Millions Will Come

How an arms race architect named Dave Dombrowski has taken the Detroit Tigers from helpless to heroic

New Year’s Eve, Brooklyn Style

Tips for celebrating 2019 from the pros at Brooklyn Outdoor

The Makings of the Shinola Hotel

When the Detroit brand’s first foray into hospitality opens its doors, it’ll offer customers a more intimate way to connect with its products and experience the values central to its mission

It’s a #WonderfulLife

Powered by likes and public approval, how social media is squandering the holiday spirit

2018 Candy Cane or Coal?

Santa has been keeping tabs on who’s been naughty and nice over the past year. He’s his jolly old self when awarding candy canes for good deeds but look out — he’s got an icy-cold North Pole attitude when punishing bad behavior.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Makings of the Shinola Hotel
    When the Detroit brand’s first foray into hospitality opens its doors, it’ll offer customers...
  2. My Two Christmases
    An Armenian-Iranian, Detroit-based writer reflects on transposing the holiday across continents
  3. New Year’s Eve, Brooklyn Style
    Tips for celebrating 2019 from the pros at Brooklyn Outdoor
  4. Main Review: SheWolf
    Born in Detroit but inspired by Rome, SheWolf takes diners on a culinary journey
  5. The Art of Gifting
    Metro Detroit tastemakers from all walks of life offer a glimpse of what’s on their holiday...
  6. Comeback Catering
    Dish, in Detroit, pushes through hard times with consistently delicious food
  7. Meet the Makers: Tait Design Co.
    How an after-work hobby ascended to a booming business
  8. Precious Metals
    Layering necklaces, stacking rings, and placing bangle upon glitzy bangle: a definitive guide to...
  9. Food Recipe: Braised Beef Brisket
    Chef Aaron Lowen, of Empire Kitchen & Cocktails, shares one of his favorite holiday recipes
  10. An Hour with ... Ricki Friedman
    Founder, Break the Weight