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Maxon Estate

Maxon Estate


The Maxon Estate

Detroit advertising executive Lou Maxon built what is now Gallaher Center on the campus of Rochester University in the early 1940s as a country home and location for entertaining clients and friends. Previously, the Eureka Fruit Farm operated on the site during the late 1800s. A gravel pit in what became Lake Norcentra provided gravel and sand to contractors during the early 1900s.

Maxon founded his advertising firm in 1928. Initially attracting customers by providing direct-mail services, he eventually landed such accounts as General Electric, Heinz, Packard, Pittsburgh Glass, and Gillette. A Time magazine article from 1940 named his agency the largest in the Midwest and pegged his personal income as the 53rd highest in the nation.

Maxon spared no expense while developing his estate. He finished the interior of his house with walls of oak and knotty pine, dramatic cathedral ceilings, five fireplaces, and five bathrooms. He elaborately landscaped his 37 acres with beautiful gardens and imported large trees to expedite development of the property, investing an estimated $500,000 on the house and grounds.

In 1957, Maxon decided to sell the estate and a board of directors purchased the property for $200,000 to establish a Christian college. In a news story about the purchase, the Detroit News hailed the property as an “Oakland County beauty spot.” With very limited resources, the founding board acted with tremendous faith by committing the equivalent of $1.5 million in today’s economy.

When the college opened in 1959, the home, commonly referred to as the mansion, became a center for activity. It housed the library, reception areas, chapel, and for a time the college president and his family. By 1971, when the college named the facility for benefactors James and Bessie Gallaher, the building had been transformed to its current use as offices and classrooms.

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