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Weinberg's Peony Garden

Grace Shackman

On Ann Arbor's west side, there once flourished an amazing garden which, from 1920 until 1952, was one of the city's notable beauty spots. Weinberg's peony garden, as it was known, also included poppies, irises, and lilacs. Its landscaping included many favorite picturesque features of the 1920s: a sunken garden, a rock garden, and a fish pond with water lilies. Owner Carl Weinberg had started the garden behind his house at 514 South Seventh and gradually extended it until it covered an area bounded by Jefferson Court to the north and Lutz to the south, stretching from Seventh all the way to Eberwhite.

Peonies were Carl Weinberg's favorite flower. He grew many species, including some exotic specimens like a Japanese tree peony and an Alice Harding peony from Nice, for which he is said to have paid $250. Weinberg himself developed some new peony strains, which he named for friends and relatives. A double white peony is named after his wife, Elenora; another is named after his nephew, Bobby Faust, and a third after Andrew Muehlig, his friend. A dark red poppy he named after himself.

The garden's main commercial activity was selling cut flowers to florists like Nielsen's. Roots for planting stock were also sold. But the garden was much more than a business. It was an Ann Arbor landmark and a passion for its owner. People often came to the garden just to enjoy walking through it, especially on weekends. Friends recall Weinberg giving away more flowers than he actually sold. Flowers often appeared at Bertha Muehlig's store and at her brother's funeral parlor. Weddings were sometimes held in the gardens, and neighborhood teenagers earned pocket money by weeding and spraying there.

Carl Weinberg could afford to be generous. His main source of income was a successful contracting business. He grew up in the house at 514 South Seventh and at first worked as a foreman for his older brother, Fred, a contractor and also proprietor of Weinberg's skating rink (now the U-M Coliseum) and swimming pool. When Fred died in 1917, Carl, then thirty-seven, went into the construction business for himself, joining with mason Walter Kurtz. Their firm was on Jefferson Court, behind Weinberg's house. (The old block buildings now house Butcher and Willits Construction.) The horses that pulled the equipment were stabled in the big stone barn behind Kurtz's house at 520 First Street. Later, Kurtz moved to 500 South Seventh to be nearer his work, and Weinberg built himself the unusual brick house at 2 Jefferson Court.

Weinberg and Kurtz sold building supplies and built homes and commercial buildings. When winter put an end to the construction season, the staff kept busy making stone decorations like bird baths, planter boxes, and ornamenta1 benches. The project they were proudest of was the home of optician Dean Meyer at 1917 Washtenaw, today converted into part of the Unitarian Church. For years, a picture of the Meyer house dressed up Weinberg and Kurtz's checks.

In 1940, Weinberg sold his share of the construction business and devoted the rest of his life to gardening. Today a small remnant of the original garden survives next to the house at 1114 Lutz. It is a sunken area, with peonies and a number of stone ornaments. Weinberg's nephew, Rudy Golz, who built the house in 1942, still lives there and cares for the remaining part of the once vast garden.

In June, some of Weinberg's peonies can be seen in bloom in the Arboretum, in the part near Mary Markley Dormitory. Weinberg traded and consulted with the university's horticulture experts, and they have preserved this large selection.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: In its heydey, the garden was extensive.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Elenora and Carl Weinberg with spaniel puppies.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: Picturesque concrete ornaments like these rustic seats were made by Weinberg and Kurtz's building crews in the off-season. This shady nook in the side yard of 1114 Lutz is basically all that remains of the garden.

[Photo caption from original print edition]: View of part of the rock garden. In the rear, the concrete block headquarters of Weinberg and Kurtz contractors on Jefferson Court (now occupied by Butcher and Willits Construction).

Rights Held By
Grace Shackman