Backstory and Context
This home was commissioned by Donald Coyner Wilson (1885-1947) and designed by architect Joseph Ivan Dise (1887-1969) of Detroit in 1928. Lawnridge Hall was most likely completed by 1929, as indicated in a Detroit Free Press item of July 22, 1928:
The first of the year will probably see the completion of another fine home on the Dodge road, that of the Donald Wilsons'. Mr. Wilson is a brother of Alfred G. Wilson, and the new structure is just one mile south of the Meadowbrook farm, on the corner of Crooks road. Built on the side of a hill, of red brick and stucco and flat board trimmed, it is Colonial in style and stands on an estate of 30 acres. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson are living meanwhile in their old house close by. They are trying to decide upon the right name for their new home.
The home was located on a large lot adjacent to farmland belonging to Meadow Brook estate, owned by Mr. Wilson's brother Alfred and his wife, Matilda R. Dodge Wilson. Mrs. Donald Wilson named the estate "Lawnridge," after her childhood summer home in Lawnridge, Illinois. Born in 1885, in Valparaiso, Indiana, Donald Wilson, was a prominent Detroit lumber manufacturer and insurance broker. He entered into a partnership with his brother Alfred G.Wilson in the wholesale lumber business in 1919, and it was through the lumber boom in Michigan and Wisconsin that the brothers gained most of their wealth. Donald Wilson remained in the firm until 1942, when it was dissolved. Six years after Lawnridge was built, business dealings prompted Donald Wilson to move his family to Florida, and sell his thirty-acre estate and home to his brother Alfred. Alfred Wilson purchased the estate with the intention of making it a home for his stepson Danny Dodge and his bride. However, Dodge (1917-38) was killed while on his honeymoon, and never resided in the home, nor did his bride who inherited an estate valued at the time of his death at more than $9,000,000.
In 1957, after it was announced that the Wilsons had donated their estate, Meadow Brook, for the formation of a new university, the Presbytery of Detroit acted on plans to establish a church in the Rochester-Lake Orion-Oxford area. Lawnridge Hall, along with eighteen acres of land were purchased from owners Charles and Ann Burgess. The first worship service of the church, called The Presbyterian Church in Christian Hills, was held in February 1958 attracting a crowd that filled several rooms on the main floor of the building. The first official service of University Presbyterian Church was held on October 5,1958, in Meadow Brook Hall at the invitation of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. A chapel was constructed by the congregation in 1963. In 2020, Lawnridge Hall houses the offices of University Presbyterian Church.
Architect J. Ivan Dise (1887-1969) earned his degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1909 and worked for a short time for renowned New York architect Cass Gilbert. He came to Detroit in 1919 to join the architecture firm of Albert Kahn. He started his own firm in 1922, and was the architect of many luxury homes in the Grosse Pointes.
Martha M. Bigelow to Billie Ireland, letter, 27 October 1989, 1835 S. Adams, Rochester/Rochester Hills Historical Homes/Sites Box 1, Rochester Hills Museum Archives.
Michigan. State Historic Preservation Office. Intensive Level Survey, Rochester Hills Historic Districts Survey [prepared for the City of Rochester Hills by Jane C. Busch], 2002, p.215.
"Oakland estate new church site," Detroit Free Press, January 25, 1958, p.8.
"The first of the year will probably see the completion of another fine home on the Dodge road...," Detroit Free Press, July 22, 1928, p.38.
"J. I. Dise, Art Institute Designer, Dies," Detroit Free Press, October 24, 1969.
Bryson, Craig. "Plans underway to restore stately Lawnridge," Rochester Clarion, February 23,1989, p.1.
"United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XQ1V-GHF : accessed 13 July 2020), Donald C Wilson, Rochester, Oakland, Michigan, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 4, sheet 2A, line 46, family 31, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 1016; FHL microfilm 2,340,751.