Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reader Question: Why is That Street North Off Forest Ave. Called "Twin Towers"? Answer: Because a Farmer Fancied Himself a King

Or so it would seem--in 1893, farmer Fred E. Fisher built himself this magnificent palace at 725 E. Forest Ave.

Its impressive paired towers were such a sensation that they gave the adjacent street its name. (Click for larger image).

Fisher is a mysterious figure. There is no family Fisher file in the Archives, and his obituary card says only he was born in the 1870s, but the directories give us some clues. He lived in the house until 1896. The 1897 directory then says he "removed to Detroit."

The house had several other owners, the last of whom was Frederic Zeigen from at least 1918 until 1930. A distant relative of the composer Frederick Weber, Zeigen was the president of the Banker's Land and Investment Corporation in Detroit, later known as "The Million Dollar Housing Corporation," one of the largest real estate companies then in Detroit. Twin Towers was his family's "country home."

A 1900 graduate of EMU, Zeigen had been class president and class poet, and was noted for his poem "The Owl and the Frogs." He went on to write several novels and over 20 popular songs, and was recognized as a contributor to the artistic legacy of Michigan. In whatever free time was left, Zeigen also developed several new varieties of his favorite flower, the elegant yet flamboyant gladiolus, at Twin Towers' colorful and extensive gladiolus gardens.

He was a powerful magnate with a poet's heart.

In the 1931 directory, Twin Towers' address, 725, is listed as "Vacant." In the 1933 directory, the street address number disappears. Vanished. The house burned down.

But oral history has a slightly different tale. According to James Mann, a lifetime resident in the area said that the home was "firebombed." Why? By whom? Why did this palatial edifice fall to cinders during the Depression? Was it arson? Mr. Mann also mentioned that there were rumors about alleged gambling problems involved. Dusty D is eager to scour the papers tomorrow to see if I can find a newspaper story. I'll post an update if I do.

Today on the site, a space remains at what once was 725 Forest. The gladiolus gardens are gone. There are some mysterious buildings at the back of the lot that appear to now be owned by the charming brick house on the corner. There are also immense maples lining the sidewalk on what would originally have been the 725 property.

Interestingly, the then-adjacent home at 701 Forest was of a similar scale and style. Dusty D in fact loves this house more than the grandiose Twin Towers. Its asymmetry is appealing, it's full of stained glass, and look at those darling twin dormers and exquisite circular porch! It is a gem. It too is sadly gone.

But I leave you with an undated image of happier times: a lovely garden party at Twin Towers. There are Japanese lanterns strung in the trees and elegant folding wooden chairs dot the lawn. Like as not there were dainty refreshments and lemonade, one glass of which DD offers, along with a virtual bouquet of gladioli, to the kind reader who asked such a terrific question!
Sources: Ypsilanti Archives, James Mann, and The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922 by Clarence Monroe Burton


Building Place said...

Thanks for posting this! I've been curious about the "Twin Towers" name for awhile!

jml said...

At some point, Frederic Zeigen moved to Miami, FL., where he helped found the University of Miami in 1925. He served as Regent until 1929.

Who's Who and What To See in Florida, 1935

Dusty D said...

Building Place: You're certainly welcome; I was interested to find it all out too. JML: Zeigen does seem to have been an interesting character. I wouldn't mind finding out more about him, especially the gambling rumors. It also seems that he had a profitable business here, with multiple homes in Detroit and Ypsi, so his (apparently) precipitous move to Florida is a bit of a mystery.

BF said...


Thanks for that. I used to go for walks along Twin Towers, and think how nice it would be to own one of the properties along the street - relative calm, and huge lots.

Nice to know the background.

Dusty D said...

BF: You're quite welcome, Yes, it's a nice area. Funny to think it was all farmland, with the opulent 2 houses pictured along Forest. I *think* I can see corn in the left background of the Twin Towers picture. (?)

It's funny...such a grandiose structure, plopped in a cornfield.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such an interesting response to my question! I will have to walk by that part of Forest soon.

Dusty D said...

Anonymous: You're most welcome, and it was fun to research, so thank you for such a good question!