Diners at Henry Ford Estate's and visitors to the popular historic landmark took in one last look, and meal, on Dec. 17.
An ownership exchange has closed down the estate – located on the campus – until 2013, when the property will begin to reopen in phases. The restaurant, however, will remain closed permanantly.
Sister historic site, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, will take official ownership of the property in July 2011 from UM-Dearborn. The Ford House, of Grosse Pointe Shores, also is a Ford family home.
The UM Board of Regents approved the ownership change back in April, said Ken Kettenbeil, executive director of marketing and communications at the university. Changes to the property will aim to restore the grounds and estate, as well as renovate the property to turn it into a more museum-like locale, Kettenbeil explained. The end product aims to add more of an interactive flair to the estate.
He compared the changes and lengthy shutdown time to the overhauling of places like
"The estate is in need of extensive renovation," Kettenbeil said of the years-long overhaul. "It just takes time."
Phases of reopening are set to continue until 2017, hitting historic milestones that include the 15oth birthdays of Henry and Clara Ford as well as the estate's own 10oth anniversary in 2015.
Edsel and Eleanor Ford House President Kathleen Mullins explained the future goals for the two properties, noting that acquisition of the estate is just one part of the Ford House's long-term plans.
"For Ford House, bringing the estate into its management and interpretive operation reflects a key vision in Ford House's 2010-2015 strategic plan: increasing accessibility to the Ford family story through preservation of the family's historic resources, as well as the family legacy itself," Mullins said. "The capstone of our plan is to bring to life the story of this great American family."
The legacy of the Ford family is one of Dearborn's points of pride; the city even touts itself as "the birthplace of Henry Ford"—and Ford's childhood home is located within the city, too, on the grounds of Greenfield Village.
As for the Henry Ford Estate, Henry and Clara Ford first settled there in January of 1916 after leaving their home in Detroit. Dubbed "Fair Lane" after the Ireland birthplace of Henry Ford's foster grandfather, the main house had 56 rooms in it.
A summer house, man-made lake, staff cottages, gatehouse, pony barn, skating house, greenhouse, vegetable garden, 10,000-plant rose garden, 500 birdhouses and more rounded out the 1,300-acre Fair Lane Estate.
Henry Ford lived there until his death in 1947; Clara stayed until her death in 1950. Ford Motor Company bought the estate two years later and established its corporate headquarters, Ford Archives, there until 1957.
Ford Archives then donated the residence, powerhouse, 210 acres and $6.5 million to the University of Michigan to create its Dearborn campus. The estate and 72 of its original acres were designated a National Historical Landmark in 1966.
Tours resumed in the '70s, and since then a small staff, monetary contributions and a few hundred volunteers have kept the estate running. Recently, the property's uses have expanded to include special occasions, Halloween tours, and the running of a restaurant within the estate's pool room.
Because the core mission of the university is academics, Kettenbeil said, the owning and operating of such a project no longer supported that mission. Still, the new partnership between the estate and the Ford House is expected to create many opportunities for volunteers and UM-Dearborn students.
And, Dearborners used to strolling along winding nature trails on and near the estate property need not yet worry about getting closed out. "All of that is expected to remain unchanged," Kettenbeil said. "You won't be seeing large fences going up around the estate."
Spokespeople say that the uniting of these two properties is expected to gain national attention from both museum and historical preservation communities.