Garwood Mansion

The GarWood mansion on Grayhaven Island was home to an experiment in communal living from 1969 to 1972. Its residents coalasced around a rock band called Stonefront. (Photo: John Collier)

Two American musicians chance meeting on the Vietnam front, led to the formation of one of Detroit’s most prolific jamming bands during the revolutionary musical era of post Vietnam. Detroit’s historical and utopian GarWood Mansion was their home and creative haven. Both became national and front page news in the mid seventies, when the band were embroiled in a string of turbulent events caused by; local prejudice, political dogma, busts and arrests, a shelved movie deal and the loss of their master tapes, which ultimately, led to the collapse of the band.

Built in 1924 by designer, industrialist, manufacturer and champion speedboat racer GarWood, this palatial 43-room manor was situated on an island (Keelson) on the Detroit River. The mansion was large enough to have its own ballroom (with not only a grand piano but also the world’s largest pipe organ) and an indoor swimming pool (in the basement).

garwood mansion

Guitarist Peter Walker, right, plays a tune as civil rights attorney William Kuntsler chats with an unidentified woman at the Gar Wood mansion. (Photo: John Collier)

By the late ’60s, countercultural youth had taken up residency there. The house band, Stonefront, were considered to have been one of the finest rock jam bands in the land. They hosted many a Grande Ballroom musician post-gig, partying and often jamming with such performers as Joe Cocker, Van Morrison, Johnny and Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Leon Russell and Rita Coolidge. The estate became a sort of utopian creative commune, and award-winning photojournalist John Collier documented the inhabitants and visitors to the manor.

In the 1970s, the Outlaws Motorcycle Club held a bash in which they and guests trashed the building and toppled the grounds’ figural statuary. It then remained abandoned for years, finally destroyed in a fire some attributed to a bolt of lightning. Garwood is finally gone — but now there’s talk of an upcoming book of photographs by Collier, as well as a film documentary and audio recordings of Storefront. Until those projects pan out, you can still see footage of the grounds and interior in George Barry’s humorous cult horror film Death Bed: The Bed that Eats, shot at Garwood in 1972.

The resident band Stonefront kept its equipment set up in the ballroom of the Gar Wood mansion. One morning, Iron Butterfly showed up unannounced and launched into “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, waking the house’s residents.(Photo: John Collier)

Detroit’s historical and utopian Garwood Mansion was their homebase and creative haven during the mid 70’s. It became front page news as it embroiled the band in a string of turbulent events caused by a number of factors including local prejudice, greed, political dogma, drug busts, arrests, a shelved movie deal, the loss of their master tapes and home base, and ultimately, the collapse of the band.

(Images via Detroit Free Press)


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