Rescuing a Landmark


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(page 1 of 2)

Norm Silk and Dale Morgan make a living creating centerpieces and designing social spectacles.

But their decision to buy and restore a famous-pedigree house in Detroit brought a role reversal of sorts: Suddenly, they were in the spotlight.

“It’s not unusual, if you’re out in the yard, that people stop,” Silk says. “I came home one day, and there was somebody on the sidewalk looking. He was from out of state on a tour of Wright houses. Another day, a woman and her adult son came from out of state.”

Camera-carrying sidewalk sightseers are commonplace. Others devise creative ways to gain entry. “A musician from the St. Louis Philharmonic gave us a private concert in exchange for a house tour,” Silk says. “He did a violin piece for us.”

Morgan and Silk’s house is an FLW, which sounds like an airport code — appropriate given that the Seven Mile Road address is a travel destination for devotees of Frank Lloyd Wright — the world’s most famous architect.

Silk and Morgan’s home, known as the Turkel house (they’re always named for their first owner, Morgan says), is an example of Wright’s Usonian designs. Specifically, it’s a Usonian Automatic.

Usonian, which Wright said was short for United States of North America, was a style the architect hoped would reflect the American spirit. Usonian Automatics were conceived as inexpensive homes for middle-class homeowners. The Turkel house is the only two-story Usonian Automatic ever built.

The rare residence has become more than a dwelling for the men, it’s almost a calling. They attend conferences, including one this month in Cincinnati, and created a website: turkelhouse.com.

Despite its architectural and cultural significance, the Turkel home languished and nearly fell into total disrepair before the pair bought it in 2006. When the systems stop working, a house dies, Silk says. By that standard, the home was almost beyond resuscitation. “The furnace didn’t work, the plumbing had failed, and the electrical sparked; you couldn’t safely turn on the lights,” Silk says. “The roof leaked. The carport had a sag.” Given that condition, it’s not surprising that Silk and Morgan are nearing
$1 million in restoration costs.

It all began innocently enough. The couple were living in Palmer Woods in a 1923 Mediterranean-style home with a red-clay tile roof and arched windows. Like other homes they had owned — from Detroit’s Canfield’s historic district to Chicago Boulevard — it had been run down and in need of repair.

“That has to be some of the attraction,” Silk says. “We see what could be.” As co-owners of a floral business (Blossoms Birmingham), they’re accustomed to seeing things bloom.

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