Need a mansion? An office? Or both?

Posted on August 10, 2011

Reporter Dan Duggan featured the Historic Hecker-Smiley Mansion in this week’s print and web edition of Crain’s Detroit Business.

“To have to sell this is something we do with great sadness,” J. Douglas Peters, a shareholder in theCharfoos & Christensen, P.C. law firm said while giving me a tour of the historic Hecker-Smiley mansion in Detroit recently.

It’s perhaps the most eccentric of any law office I’ve ever toured — and the only one with Pewabic tile fireplaces in the attorneys’ offices.

The building, at 5510 Woodward Ave., that’s become Peters’ labor of love goes back to the completion of its construction in 1892 for Col. Frank J. Hecker. An early industrialist in Detroit, Hecker built a fortune in the railroad supply business and later in the ship-building business.

Walking through the mansion, which is complete with more nooks and crannies than can be counted, where history seeps from the rich wood walls, the dual gas-and-electric lights and the ornate carpets.

I was on a recent tour of the mansion with Peters and Steve Eisenshtadt, the broker with Friedman marketing it for sale.

My first thought was how much it seems like the Whitney, the historic mansion across the street now used for a restaurant.

“That’s because Whitney and Hecker were friends,” Peters said.

Apparently after Hecker had his home built, Whitney saw the need to one-up his buddy, with a more ornate mansion.

The home was later sold to Paul Smiley in 1947 who purchased the house and used it as the headquarters for his Smiley Brothers Music Co. The house was used for the sale and servicing of pianos.

And the carriage house was used as a small venue for musicians who were in town to perform.

That space is now a mock trial space used by the Charfoos law firm.

Peters said the mansion has served the firm well over the years, and they’ve put their heart and soul into the building.

The firm bought the mansion after Smiley died, for $660,000 in 1991. They put $1.2 million into a series of initial renovations, then another $400,000 into it later.

Fully restored, and with just three owners, Peters remains a little melancholy about selling the place.

But as the firm has paired its number of attorneys down over the years, now at six, compared to 18 at its peak, Peters said the age of the shareholders in the firm and the amount of time they can dedicate to keeping-up their offices means its time to sell.

And when he says they’re sad about it, you can tell, they really are.

I’ll be curious to see what becomes of this chunk of Detroit history.