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The Michigan Governor’s Mansion by Alden B. Dow

The Michigan Governor’s Mansion by Alden B. Dow

In 1946, Alden B. Dow was selected to design the first official residence for Michigan’s governor in the state capital of Lansing.  In a letter to the director of the Division of Building Construction, the architect described in detail the residence he envisioned:

“The general appearance of the building should not be a stiff and domineering type but rather a fine example of naturalness in living.  Visitors leaving this home must take with them the realization that they have been in Michigan and that it is a beautiful and friendly state.”

 By the summer of 1946, Mr. Dow had preliminary plans and drawings in colored pencil of a one- and two-story brick house with a copper roof.  The architectural drawings and a realistic model of the residence, complete with miniature furniture and pictures on the wall, were placed on display for public comment in Lansing during the Michigan Press Association meeting.

Responses regarding the model on display were less than enthusiastic.  According to a newspaper account, one spectator remarked, “It looks like the Taj Mahal in a cabbage patch.”  The red walls and green roof did not sit well with some people, while others felt the design was better suited for California.

In addition, cost estimates for the 300,000 cubic foot house had reached $370,000 with furnishings, an exorbitant sum for a state building in the post-war years.  Administration officials pointed to other building priorities, including a housing shortage for Michigan veterans.  And, it also did not help that state policy dictated that the architect’s fee was fixed at 5%, half the fee Mr. Dow usually would receive.  Even though these factors ultimately doomed the project, the Governor’s House remains one of his more impressive unbuilt structures.

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