Edsel and Eleanor Ford House Visitor Center

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Summer is here, and it’s vacation time! Come along with SEGD as we visit the historic Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. The new Visitor Center introduces the public to the lives of Edsel and Eleanor Ford through interactive exhibits designed by Luci Creative and the Richard Lewis Media Group.

Contributor Franck Mercurio learns more about this house museum designed for 21st Century audiences.

Located 20 minutes north of downtown Detroit, the historic Ford House once served as the family home of Edsel Ford (1893–1943), Eleanor Clay Ford (1896–1976) and their four children. Edsel was heir to the Ford Motor Company after his father, Henry Ford, passed away. Today, Edsel’s and Eleanor’s house and gardens are opened to the public as a museum.

The mansion, designed in the 1920s by noted architect Albert Kahn, sits on an 87-acre estate designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen. The Fords were a philanthropic couple, donating to many charitable and arts organizations, and when Eleanor died in 1976, she requested that the house and grounds be “preserved for the future.” Shortly after,  the estate became a museum: the Ford House.

Today, a new structure on site helps interpret and express that legacy: the Visitor Center, a key component of the Ford House’s larger expansion initiative.

“It was Eleanor Ford’s desire to preserve the estate and open it to the public,” Ford House President and CEO Mark Heppner said. “The Visitor Center gives us the opportunity to show how we continue that legacy today, through conservation of the estate, our sustainability and environmental efforts, our educational programming, and support of the local Michigan community.”

Opened on May 26, the new Visitor Center contains 6,500 square feet of interactive exhibits and displays. Luci Creative led the interpretive planning and exhibition design in collaboration with digital interactive designers Richard Lewis Media Group (RLMG). The two firms worked alongside SmithGroup (architects), Ravenswood Studio (fabricators) and Creative Technology (A/V specialists).

The Center’s permanent exhibits introduce visitors to Eleanor’s and Edsel’s lives, legacy, and love of art. (In 1932 the Fords donated $20,000 to the Detroit Institute of Arts to help commission Diego Rivera’s famed Detroit Industry Murals.)

The Center invites visitors into the Ford family’s private lives through a living room-inspired gallery featuring memories of the family at the property. The gallery also includes a deep dive into the creative processes and influences that went into the design of the house by architect Kahn, as well as the planning and design of the estate’s gardens by Jensen.

Luci Creative and the Ford House teams also integrated interpretation throughout the estate and Visitor Center, celebrating the intersections of science and design. Featured stories include sustainable design practices adopted early in the development of the property which continue today in the planning and design of the new buildings.

“We knew the Visitor Center could never replace the authentic experience of touring the house and gardens,” said AJ Goehle, CEO of Luci Creative. “Instead, (the Center) is a new way to inspire visitors with the warm family life Eleanor and Edsel led at Gaukler Pointe through their letters, home movies, and stories from their children. The design of the exhibits is inspired by the detailed architecture and craftsmanship of the main house, serving as a contemporary extension of Eleanor’s and Edsel’s home.”

Visitors to the new facility are introduced to the Ford family through a media collage of home video clips, a digital family scrapbook, and a seemingly magical dimensional model all developed in partnership with Richard Lewis Media Group (RLMG).

“The family archives at Ford House are a treasure,” notes Richard Lewis, Principal of RLMG. “We had an incredible opportunity to create layered interactive experiences that combine historic photography, oral histories, and family memories to bring the legacy of the Ford family to life.”

And the new Center’s rotating exhibition gallery provides the Ford House with space to host temporary and traveling exhibitions. The inaugural show, “Driven by Design,” (also created by Luci Creative and RLMG) features stories behind the design and creation of three extremely rare Ford automobiles: the world’s only 1939 Lincoln Continental prototype, the 1932 Ford Model 18 Speedster, and the 1934 Ford Model 40 Special Speedster. “Driven by Design” not only showcases these three vehicles, but also tells the story of Edsel Ford as a car designer.

To learn more (and see more) of the Ford House Visitor Center and expansion project, watch the video here. Or, better yet, hop in your speedster, and we’ll see you at the Ford!