Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Whitney, Jr. David.

David Whitney, Jr. was a prominent Detroit lumber baron who built the David Whitney House in Detroit, and for whom the David Whitney Building downtown was named. He was born October 9, 1830 in Watertown, Massachusetts, to an established New England family.

In 1857, the 27-year-old Whitney moved from Massachusetts to Detroit to join his brother Charles in the firms of C. & D. Whitney, Jr. and Skillings, Whitney Brothers and Barnes to manage the western business of the two east coast lumber companies, expanding the business into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

Whitney soon took his place among Detroit’s wealthiest and most respectable families. He was not only interested in buying large tracts of lumber forests but became involved in the ancillary business of shipping, to move not only lumber but iron ore from the Upper Peninsula to manufacturing sites in lower Michigan.

Due to his keen interest in real estate, and his instincts regarding land values in Detroit, he earned the nickname “Mr. Woodward Avenue.” Whitney began buying property in Detroit, and in 1887 built the Grand Circus Park Building, which would later be replaced by the David Whitney Building, built by Whitney’s son after his father’s death. That building, on the corner of Woodward and Park avenues, now hosts an upscale hotel.

His involvement with the exclusive Detroit Athletic Club (DAC) influenced his decision to build his famous 21,000-square-foot mansion on the corner of Woodward and Canfield Street, overlooking what was then the grounds of the DAC.

Built between 1890 and 1894, the David Whitney House was estimated to cost around $400,000 (over $12,000,000 with inflation). It was constructed of rose-pink South Dakota Jasper stone and numerous Tiffany glass windows, and was the first residence in Detroit to have a functional elevator. The Whitney family continued to live in the mansion after the death of David Whitney, Jr., on November 30, 1900, until the 1920s.

Following the departure of the Whitney family, the house became the headquarters of the Wayne County Medical Society. In 1972, the David Whitney House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After changing hands several times, the mansion was eventually reopened as an upscale restaurant in 1986 and remains so to this day.

David Whitney, Jr. left a lasting legacy in the city of Detroit, through his participation as stockholder and board member of various banking and other companies, through his acquisition of real estate, and by the two significant buildings that carry his name. He is remembered as one of Detroit and Michigan’s wealthiest citizens.



The David Whitney House, 1960 - 2008.033.602

Woodmere Cemetery sales sheet including David Whitney Jr., 1897 - 2014.003.305

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