By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
DEARBORN – The historic Dearborn Inn’s architecture, appointments and one-time airport are as important to its reputation as the cherished memories of dances, wedding receptions and the weekend family brunch buffets.
While Henry Ford honored the past with his collection of Americana at the museum bearing his name, and at Greenfield Village, he and his son Edsel Ford looked toward the future with aviation, and in 1924 established the Ford Airport, which operated until 1933.
With dignitaries like President Herbert Hoover, Orville Wright, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Madame Curie arriving in Dearborn in the 1920s by plane, Henry Ford realized he needed a full-service hotel closer than 10 miles away in downtown Detroit.
While Edsel Ford helped ensure that the airport was very modern, with the first paved runways, radio signals, and air mail, Henry Ford decided that the Dearborn Inn, which opened July 1, 1931, would have traditional Georgian-style architecture and New England inn charm.
Dearborn native Jennifer Czerwick Ganem, who wrote “Images of America: Dearborn Inn,” said that despite the wording on the Ford Airport historic site marker, the Dearborn Inn was not the first modern airport hotel, having been eclipsed in 1929 by the Oakland Airport Inn in California. Ganem said several other airport-based hotels operated prior to the Dearborn Inn opening, but none were as finely appointed.
Ganem believes the inaccuracy began with an article in “Aero Digest” in October 1931 that said the Dearborn Inn was “probably the first modern hotel to be located adjacent to an airport.”
The inn was a pioneer in other areas: it was the first air conditioned hotel (in 1934), the first to replicate historical homes as guest cottages (in 1937), the first to use guest room direct dial telephones, and the first exhibit and banquet facility with an indoor parking garage.
When the inn opened during the Great Depression, Ganem said Henry Ford was not concerned about the inn’s profitability, which allowed it to continue during its early years of documented financial losses.
The inn, designed by noted architect Albert Kahn, was Henry Ford’s way of welcoming business travelers and tourists to his vision of a modern hotel.
Ganem’s interest in the inn began when her mother and her future husband bought a bed frame in 1987 from the hotel’s remodeling sale held in the Dearborn Civic Center Dome Room.
“We were engaged and we needed a bed,” Ganem said.
A brass plaque on the footboard proclaimed it to be a replica of an original in the Barbara Fritchie House of Frederick, Md., one of five historical homes recreated on a 23-acre wooded site during a 1937 expansion behind the main inn.
Fritchie was immortalized by poet John Greenleaf Whittier when, at age 95, she is credited with waving a Union flag at passing Confederate troops.
When Ganem’s friend Susan McCabe called from an antique market to say she found four Dearborn Inn plates featuring historic buildings, Ganem’s interest in writing a book about the inn began.
Ganem owns 12 of the 13 plate designs, which feature 11 buildings at The Henry Ford, Botsford Inn in Farmington Hills, and the Dearborn Inn.
While images on the inn’s plates piqued her interest in writing the book, the historic photos she discovered while researching tell the real story behind the inn’s construction, growth, and events.
Ganem’s father, Henry Czerwick, helped her find key information in the Ford history collection, while Ganem found valuable photos and information at THF’s Benson Ford Research Center, Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, Henry Ford Centennial Library, the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, the Dearborn Historical Museum, and the staff of the Dearborn Inn.
The nearby airport made aerial photos of the 1930 construction a reality, while celebrity autographs from the guest book offer a glimpse of the famous in an era predating social media.
Photos of celebrity guests, from Orville Wright to Lassie, dining room menus, postal first day covers, floor plans, and guest rooms show the evolution of the inn, as well as renovations through the years.
Isamay Osborne, a lifelong Dearborn resident, said she spent her honeymoon night at the Dearborn Inn, and her son and daughter-in-law had their 1987 wedding reception in the inn’s Alexandria Ballroom.
Osborne said the Dearborn Inn hosted a champagne reception book signing in its lobby when Ganem’s book debuted.
“It was awesome,” Osborne said. “The Dearborn Inn is classic. They have maintained that integrity, and the Ford connection. It has always been special to me.”
Ganem said one of the ultimate compliments to the Dearborn Inn is when business travelers look forward to staying there when coming to town.
“They travel all around the world on business, and they told me when they come to the Dearborn Inn, they feel like they are coming home,” Ganem said. “It says so much about the people who work there and care for it.”
Ganem said when the Ritz-Carlton, Dearborn, opened in 1989, it was opulent, but visitors knew the marble floors were made of relatively thin tile, not like the traditional marble used at the Dearborn Inn.
“It’s not the same as walking on that floor (at the Dearborn Inn), seeing those delicate cracks, and knowing Eleanor Roosevelt stood here,” Ganem said. “And Norman Rockwell was here, and Lassie the dog was over there.”
She said she hears many local stories about family holiday dinners there.
“The Dearborn Inn was more of a town center,” Ganem said. “People would go for a car ride and end up at the Dearborn Inn. There would be music in the lobby.
“The adults would go inside and sit and listen to a trio playing. The children would go outside and play out back at the playground, chasing fireflies. People tell me stories of how special those times were.”
“Images of America: The Dearborn Inn” may be bought online at arcadiapublishing.com, and locally at the Dearborn Inn, the Henry Ford, the Dearborn Historical Museum, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Allen Park.