A heroic rescue saved the owner, but this historic home may be doomed.
In October, Ann Arbor fire chief Mike Kennedy presented commendations to five people who'd rescued an elderly man from a burning house in September. The "civilian lifesaving awards" recognized three young men touring the town after a U-M football game, and a father and daughter on their way to the airport. Both groups spotted the fire on S. Main and stopped to help.
According to the Ann Arbor News, the men entered the home at 1006 S. Main and found Mike Gray unconscious. They dragged him outside, where the woman, a medical student, checked him out. Though the fire department was on the scene within four minutes of getting the call, Kennedy said, "had it been up to us to rescue Mr. Gray, I don't know that he would be with us here today."
The home had been in Gray's family since 1924, and he had lived there all his life (the paper gave his age as seventy-two). But its tall corner tower had looked out on S. Main for more than sixty years by the time the Grays arrived, and its deep setback from the street testifies to its antiquity: it was originally the country home of Emmanuel Mann, one of the founders of the Republican Party.
Most likely built in 1866, the house is one of only two surviving local examples of the "Italianate villa" style: an L formed by two rectangles, with a square tower rising where they meet. Mann's was almost certainly inspired by the other--"Woodlawn," which his cousin and business partner, Christian Eberbach, had built a few years earlier off Packard.
Though not as grand as Eberbach's brick home, Mann's "was a beautiful house, lovingly cared for," recalls Tricia Kirkwood, who grew up nearby on First St. and was best friends with Mike Gray's sister Ellen. She remembers a huge fireplace in the basement, Victorian turned-wood trim, and "seeing the staircase to the tower, when I was upstairs playing in Ellen's room." She would have loved to explore it, but as far as she knew the family never went up there.
Another Mann legacy, the enormous lot, was more useful: every fall, the Grays rented it out for football parking. Though Ellen had a career in financial operations at the U-M, game days would find her out front, with "her little money belt on, handling the cars and handling the crowd and making sure everyone got in and out safely," Kirkwood recalls. The family made enough money during the football season to pay their property taxes for the entire year.
Mann's and Eberbach's homes reflected their prominent roles in business and politics. Their business, Eberbach & Co. (on Main St. where Vinology is now), was a meeting place for politicians and the entire German community. Mann served on the school board, as an alderman, and in the state senate.
Eberbach was elected mayor, though only for one term. According to a memorial quoted in a 1994 Observer article, after his election in 1868 he made "a gallant fight to drive the hogs and cows from the streets, but the people believed the experience was contrary to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."
Both took part in founding the Republican Party; Mann was the new party's vice president at the "Under the Oaks" convention in Jackson in 1854. In 1860, Eberbach was a member of the electoral college that confirmed Abraham Lincoln's presidential victory.
Mann was just sixteen when he arrived from Germany in 1830 with his parents, Jonathan and Louise Mann. Trained as a tanner, he opened the city's first steam-powered tannery; after it was destroyed by fire, he went into business with Eberbach to manufacture pharmaceuticals and medical apparatus. (Eberbach Corporation, now based in Belleville, makes laboratory equipment to this day.) After some years he purchased a drugstore on Main St. that eventually passed to his sons, Albert and Eugene. As the Mann Brothers Drug Store, it operated well into the twentieth century.
In 1850, Mann built a stucco-over-brick Greek Revival house at the corner of Division and Liberty for himself and his wife, Anna Niethamer, and their children. Sold when they retired to the farm on Main, it still stands, though under threat of redevelopment.
Mann died in 1888 and is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery. A special notice in the Ann Arbor Register described him as "our long-time associate on the [cemetery's] Board," and lamented the "serious and great loss" of a "valuable and much esteemed associate."
Mann's widow, Anna, and daughter Emilie remained in the house until 1896, when the Ann Arbor Argus reported its sale to David Laubengayer for $6,000. In 1898, the year the city directories started listing house numbers, the address given was 1044 (the numbering system for S. Main seems to have changed many times.)
Laubengayer died in 1915. After his death, the address appears as 1006, with Frederick Levlitt, carpenter, in residence. Ora Gray and his wife Ida arrived in time for the 1924 city directory; Gray was listed as a salesman for the Hammond Beef Company, and later as assistant manager.
The 1940 census found Ora (listed as Orna) and Ida (listed as Iva) living at 1006 with their children Wyman, Willis, and Howard. Wyman and his wife Mary (Venton) Gray were the parents of Mike and Ellen.
"Ellen took care of her family," recalls Kirkwood, who's lived in Texas for many years but came back to Ann Arbor frequently until her mother's death four years ago. "She never married. She wanted to but she was so involved. First her father got sick, then her mother needed help--severe arthritis, I think, and maybe Alzheimer's, too."
After Gray's parents died, Kirkwood says, Ellen looked after her brother. "They didn't know what was wrong with him, they just said he was slow," she recalls. "He always worked, at laborer types of jobs, but Ellen told me in 2017 at my mom's funeral that he probably would have been diagnosed with Asperger's" today.
"He wasn't much for cooking and using the stove. He usually bought food and brought it home. So I was surprised [at reports that the fire] started in the kitchen. I'm kind of concerned about what happened to him."
Asked if he can share anything about Mike Gray's situation, fire chief Mike Kennedy messages, "I spoke with him, and he was recovering from injuries sustained during the incident. He has a social network that is assisting him, and he has living arrangements."
City records still list both Ellen and Michael Gray as owners of 1006 S. Main. The home, sadly, appears to be beyond repair.
"I'm sure that big lot is worth a lot of money," says Kirkwood. Given recent trends in the neighborhood, instead of game-day cars, it may one day house game-day condos.
If that happens, Ann Arbor will be left with just one Italianate villa. Most of Christian Eberbach's country property, like Emmanuel Mann's, was subdivided long ago, but his grand home still presides regally over what is now a hectic student neighborhood on Woodlawn Ave.