Varner House

According to the OU History online website the house, built around 1938, was originally used as the poultry manager's home on the Meadow Brook Farms.

Later it was remodeled and served as the residence of Durwood (Woody) Varner, Oakland University Chancellor from 1959 to 1970.

For a brief period starting in 1974 it provided housing for a Residential Center for Retarded Children and Adolescents.

Formerly located on the corner of Butler and Adams Roads, Rochester Hills MI the house was razed by the University in August 2010.


Varner house from the east


Varner house from the west


Varner house from the south


Varner house from the north

The original house footprint was approx. 30’ x 48’, based on the size of the basement. (There was no basement under the former back entry porch on the northwest corner of the original house.)

Original house appears to be an American four-square style with a central hallway.  The front entry foyer had stairs going up on the left and a hallway leading to the back of the house on the right.  On either side of the hallway were rooms, the large living room (29’ x 16’) on the west,  dining room (14’ x 10’) and kitchen (16’ x 13’) on the east.  The basement stairs correspond to the stairway going up with access at the back of the house.  There was originally an unenclosed entry porch on the northwest corner of the house. This was enclosed when the two entertainment room additions were constructed and a large closet was added on the west side of the back hall.  

Main Entry

varner house entry



On the south side of the house, a double door led to the brick paved main entry hallway with access to the south entertainment room, the main hall, a large coat closet and a small bathroom. .

First Floor

The two additions to the original house were presumably made in 1957 to provide Varner adequate room to entertain. These large living spaces were added to the north and south sides of the house and featured fireplaces and vaulted ceilings.  Large floor to ceiling windows on the east and west sides provided natural light for both additions

North Entertainment room
 The north addition measured 16’ by 20’, had a paneled vaulted ceiling, a wood paneled south wall and a full brick wall on the north side, with a fireplace and what may have been a  TV alcove.

varnerhouse varnerhouse

South Entertainment room
On the south side of the house the addition measured 17’ by 26’ and featured a center fireplace on the south wall with a floor to ceiling gray pebble mosaic. .

varnerhouse varnerhouse
varnerhouse varnerhouse

It is likely the kitchen was renovated at the time of the additions (a built in oven in turquoise has a 1950’s flavor). A half bath was located off the kitchen.   The kitchen included a good sized pantry and a built-in linen closet in the area leading to the hallway.

varner house kitchen

varner house kitchen


varner house kitchen


Living Room / Library.  

A wood paneled room on left of hallway with bookshelves.

varner house library


Downstairs bathroom

To the left of the entrance, a closet and full bath were added.  The bath featured a built-in sink with a pink 4” tiled surface, a toilet and  a small shower with white 4” tiles. 

varner house bathroom

On the east side of the house was a covered portico with door walls leading out to it from each of the great rooms which extended beyond lines of the original house and thus formed an enclosure for the portico. 

varner house portico varner house portico

Second Floor
Second floor consisted of a landing with a linen closet (7’ x 3’)  and a small telephone alcove, three bedrooms and  2 bathrooms. 

Bedroom 1

varner house bedroom

Bedroom 1 on the southeast corner: 17’ x 14’, with 2 closets on either side of the centered east window, 2 additional windows on south; window seat below the east window.



Bedroom 2 (closet detail)

varner house closet

Bedroom 2 on southwest corner: 13’ x 17”, two closets flanking south-facing window, one of the closets was completely paneled with beadboard paneling. 

Bedroom 3
Bedroom 3 on the north east corner:   12’ x 15’, with a 9’ x 3’ closet. 

varner house bedroom varner house bedroom

Bathroom 1
 Ensuite bath with bedroom 3, (9’ x 5’) with pink fixtures, brown 4”x4” tile in the large walk-in  shower,  multicolored mosaic tiles on floor.

varner house bathroom 1

Bathroom fixtures

varner house bathroom floor

Bathroom ceramic tiled floor

varner house shower

Walk - in shower



Bathroom  2


Bathroom on northwest corner:  9’ x 7’, original 4” x 4” brown tile forming tub surround; other fixtures were replacements. 

varner house bathroom


varner house stairs

First floor landing

varner house stairs

Second floor landing




Approx. 30’ x 48’, with center stair.

Clearly used at one point for children's activites.

varner house basement varner house basement

Windows and Doors
The original windows were 6 over 6 double hung sash, several of the originals were still in place.  Interior doors were 2 panel wood.

varner house window varner house door
Two car Garage on north side of house. varner house garage


September 18, 1959

It is recommended that the Board approve the following recommendations that have been worked out in cooperation with Chancellor Varner with reference to a house for the Chancellor at Michigan State University-Oakland. It is proposed to remodel the poultry farmhouse with the following provisions:

a. That the University retain title to both house and grounds and that no lease arrangement be involved.
b. That Mr. Varner proceed with such remodeling and addition needed to make the house suitable for his purposes, but the cost is not to exceed $15,000.
c. That Mr. Varner assume the responsibility for paying for this or arrange the financing on a personal basis by whatever means he can devise so that the University assumes no obligation for the cost of the remodeling. The basic notion is that he will allocate $2,000 per year from his housing allowance to the purpose of covering the costs involved. This would mean that at the end of 7 ½ years the annual $2,000 contribution would have covered the costs involved. He is agreeable to ignoring the interest costs.
d. That, if for any reason Mr. Varner should not occupy the house for a minimum of 7 ½ years, then the University will reimburse him at the rate of $2,000 for each of the years less than 7½.  For example, if he should move out of the place after 5 years, the University would be expected to reimburse him at the rate of $2,000 per year for the next 2½ years or in a lump sum of $5,000.

The advantages of this plan are that it retains full control of the property and the house for the University; it would provide the Varner’s an adequate place to live until Sunset Terrace becomes available; it involves no financial involvement on the part of the University; and it would provide for the University a very useful building for visiting professors or other purposes after the Varner’s are provided for elsewhere.

It is understood that the use of the small office building is a part of this plan since it is proposed to use it either as a guest cottage for visiting dignitaries or for possible use of domestic help. The Varner’s would assume whatever costs are involved in getting this ready for domestic use also.

On motion of Mr. Stevens, seconded by Mr. Harlan, it was voted to approve the above item.


University Relations

Oakland University

Rochester, MI 48063

News Services
Jim Llewellyn

March 1974


Two agencies of the State Department of Mental Health have combined to estab-

lish at Oakland University a Residential Center for Retarded Children and Adoles-

cents. Students from outs Department of Psychology will assist the full-time staff.

The center will be located at Adams and Butler Roads in a two-story farm home,

the former residence of Durward Varner, OU’s first chancellor. The university is

leasing the residence to the program sponsors.

Cooperating in the program are the Macomb-Oakland Residential Center and the

Community Living Centers, Inc. Program cost for the first year is $64,000. Funding

could be renewed for two additional years.

Ken Coffman, OU’s vice president for student affairs, said the center should

be in operation by the end of March. Approximately 10 children or adolescents,

ages 7 to 17 years, will be housed in the center. They will be selected from the

Oakdale Center for Developmental Disabilities in Lapeer or a similar center at


The new residential program provides an opportunity to develop an innovative

approach to the treatment of emotionally disturbed-retarded persons. Basic and

applied research will be conducted relevant to the achievement of therapeutic goals

of the center, and the program's effectiveness will be evaluated, sponsors said.

Staffing will I include house parents and a program director.

The participants will receive help at the center and attend schools in the Avon

Township School District in accordance with the 1971 Mandatory Special Education

Act. That act requires school districts to provide appropriate programs and ser-

vices for all handicapped children.


Created by DPE, Copyright IRIS 2005
Page 2
Center for the Retarded

Following intensive therapy, it is anticipated that the center residents can

be placed in the larger community with a minimum of professional supervision and

support, program sponsors said.

The State Department of Mental Health is encouraging the development of alter-

native community living for all mentally retarded persons who can benefit from it.

For many retarded individuals, however, placement in the community is precluded

because of emotional disturbances and developmental difficulties. The center will

speak to these problems, Coffman said.

Oakland University students also stand to benefit from the center program,

Coffman pointed out. Graduate students in psychology will obtain training: in con-

junction with their graduate courses in psychological assessment and techniques of

psychotherapy; as part of their field placements during the assessment and psycho­-

therapy practicums; and/or as part-time counselors employed by the center. The ac-

tivities will be conducted under the supervision either of Psychology Department

faculty or the program director of the center.

Undergraduates enrolled in a community services course will have an opportunity

to learn skills involved in the supervision of residents during recreational and

leisure-time activities. In addition, psychology students enrolled in an under-

graduate behavior therapy course and practicum will be able to work with a resi-

dent In a limited program of therapeutic intervention under faculty supervision.



Board of Trustees Minutes, September 18, 1959. Motion to approve the remodeling of the poultry farmhouse.

Coffman, Kenneth. Memo to Glen Brown concerning the lease of Varner Home to house the Continuum Center. January 10, 1974.

"Despite efforts, OU house to be razed." Click on Detroit, July 19, 2010

"Farewell to a landmark, by Gina Damron, Bill Laitner, Slati Meyer. Detroit Free Press, July 19, 2010. p. A-3

"House on OU campus to be home for retarded. Detroit News, March 13, 1974.

"Old Varner House to be home for retarded at OU." Daily Tribune, March 21, 1974.

OU urban farmers fight to save historic home," by Linda Shepard. Rochester Post, July 15, 2010.

"Tearing down the house: Varner House 'razes' its roof despite effot to save it,"by Mike Sandula. Oakland Post, July 14, 2010. p. 10-11

University Relations News Services. Press release. March 1974?


Created on 9/20/2010 by Linda Hildebrand / Last updated on 9/30/10 by Linda Hildebrand
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