BY DENISE SOBH
Summertime is here again, along with fun festivals and events to kick the season off. On Sunday, June 4, the Pagodahouse, a historical landmark on Grosse Ile, will be the location of the “Islandfest Afternoon Tea” event.
“We will celebrate the glorious blooms of Mrs. Ford’s beloved peonies with an edible flower tea,” said Connie Clark, owner of the Ford Pagodahouse Harry Bennett Boathouse. “The tour will begin with a mini-tour of the 4,000-square-foot upper level, including the formal hallway, gathering room, recently-restored stucco upper deck, library and servants hallway. We will end our tour with high tea in the formal dining room. The tickets, if still available, cost $35 per person, which includes several kinds of tea sandwiches, sweet and savory scones with Devonshire cream and lemon curd, two types of tea and many delightful miniature desserts. Guests always leave with a Gift Bag to remember the day.”
The “Afternoon Teas” have been held for six years as a fundraising event and throughout the year with different themes. Some of them include Mardi Gras with the flavors of the south, a Chinese New Year’s tea, a lovely Mother’s Day tea with a harpist, Autumn afternoon with an apple cider demonstration, a silly end-of-summer “Pagoda-palooza” and some Christmas teas. Reservations are required because the event sells out weeks before the event.
“We had been asked many times to hold events and fundraisers over the years, and many people stopped by while taking an afternoon drive on the island, thinking it is a Teahouse,” Clark said. “So after our two sons graduated from college and started their careers, we agreed to have open houses, private tours for educational and church groups, political and non-profit fundraisers —family friends even wanted to have their wedding here later in the year. We do all our custom design work for our AllAmericanflag.com Custom Studio (by appointment) from the Pagoda also.”
Although there is no membership or formal organization, the Clarks encourage people to follow and ask questions on their Facebook page — Ford Pagodahouse Harry Bennett Boathouse, to stay up-to-date on restoration progress and to suggest events.
So how did this historical site come to be? The Pagodahouse and its architecture have been Great Lakes treasures since its inception in the 1930s and a fascination to many individuals. The Clarks purchased this property for the boathouse and to use as a weekend retreat to work/build boats. Connie and her husband took on this project as a long-term restoration, having been volunteers and on the staff at the Fair Lane Estate in Dearborn and rehabbing/restoring numerous small properties since the 1970s.
“Having been built by the Ford Motor Co. we could see the quality craftsmanship evident everywhere at the Pagodahouse. From giant supports sunk into the bedrock of the Detroit River, to the Mahogany paneling and ‘secret passages,’ to the fanciful gold-leaf dragons, goldfish, lotus and the beautiful faux finish ‘stone’ (Cut Plaster) in the Formal Hall, all done by professional Ford Motor Artists and Artisans,” said Clark.
“We sincerely appreciate the donations of fine china and tea cups that people know we will put to good use. We have received creative suggestions over the years. With our love of wooden boats and Paddleboarding, we could even have a classic boat blub. We appreciate the tremendous amount of interest and the Downriver community’s support of our efforts.”
Can’t make it to the event but still want to be involved? On Saturday, June 3, volunteer to walk with the Clarks in the Islandfest Parade and receive a Pagodahouse t-shirt. For more information, visit www.face-book.com/events/445811-629095047/.