Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Whitney, Jr. David.

David Whitney, Jr. was a famous Detroit lumber baron who constructed the David Whitney House in Detroit, and for whom the David Whitney Building is named. Born in 1830 in Watertown, Massachusetts, Whitney, through his work as a lumber baron, became a Massachusetts millionaire at a young age. In 1857, 27 years old and already established as a millionaire, Whitney moved from Lowell, Massachusetts to Detroit. He soon became involved in a joint venture with his brother Charles, in which he expanded his lumber business into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

Upon his arrival in Detroit, Whitney quickly took his place among the wealthiest and most respectable families in the city. Due to his keen interest in real estate, and his sharp instincts regarding land values in Detroit, he soon earned the nickname “Mr. Woodward Avenue.” Whitney began buying property in Detroit, and in 1887, he built the Grand Circus Park Building, which would later become the David Whitney Building, on the corner of Woodward and Park Avenue. His involvement with the Detroit Athletic Club (DAC), an exclusive social club, influenced his decision to build his famous 21,000-square-foot mansion on the corner of Woodward and Canfield, which overlooks the grounds of the DAC.

Built between 1890 and 1894, the David Whitney House was estimated to cost approximately $400,000 (approximately $10,500,000 by today’s standards). It was constructed out of rose-pink South Dakota Jasper stone and numerous Tiffany glass windows, and it was the first residential home in Detroit to have a functional elevator for personal use. Originally established as a private residence, the Whitney family continued to live in the mansion after the death of David Whitney Jr. in 1900. After the Whitney family moved out of the mansion in 1920, it 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 it remains so to this day.

Through his construction of both the David Whitney Building and the David Whitney House, David Whitney Jr. left a lasting legacy in the city of Detroit. He is remembered today, not only as one of Detroit’s wealthiest personalities, but also as one of Michigan’s wealthiest citizens. Today, many of Whitney’s descendants reside in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

Written by Julia Teran



The David Whitney House, 1960 - 2008.033.602

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

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