• By
    Alden B. Dow FAIA, 1932

The Dr. Harry Towsley Residence, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Alden B. Dow’s younger sister provided his first residential commission, which he designed as an associate of Frantz and Spence Architects in Saginaw, Michigan, as he was not yet registered to practice architecture.  Newlyweds Margaret Dow and Harry Towsley, a medical student at the University of Michigan, were just setting up their household and purchased a lot on Berkshire Road in Ann Arbor. Preliminary plans of May 1932 show a modest house with two bedrooms on the first floor and a study and bedroom in the basement, with an attached garage facing the street.

The contract for construction specified the three materials that dominate the design: red common brick painted white, diamond-paned windows, and verdigris copper roof.  A passage behind a line of square brick piers links entry, kitchen, and garage.  Interior wall surfaces were enlivened by painted brick and four-foot squares of textured Acoustex panels, divided by battens of clear white birch.  The interiors were enriched at the ceiling by wood patterns over the hearth and along the diamond-paned windows.  Lighting was concealed behind frosted glass over the fireplace and a built-in cabinet opposite the kitchen.

The architect’s intention to keep the house low under the standing-seamed roof was frustrated, however, by the local building code, which required eight-foot ceilings.  After much argument, he raised the height but documented the fight in a humorous strip of plaques set into the wall by the entrance that depicted the obstacles encountered in achieving his plans.

Mr. Dow returned over the years to enlarge the house without altering its compact appearance from the street.  The Towsleys lived in and enjoyed their home for six decades.

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