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Buildings @ Oakland University


Sunset Terrace

Built: 1953 | Type: Meadow Brook Estate


SunsetTerrace_Last Batch

 

Quick Facts

  • Building Completion: 1953
  • Architect: William Kapp - Smith, Hinchman, & Grylls
  • Contractor: Frank Rewold, Rochester
  • Specifications: 11,400 sq. ft., 20 rooms
  • Namesake: The residence was built on an optimal location on Meadow Brook Estate to take advantage of the grounds of the estate but also the evening sun setting over its hills.

History

The terrace was designed to serve as a retirement home and guest house for Alfred and Matilda Wilson, Oakland University's greatest benefactors. Matilda Wilson occupied the house from 1953 to 1962 and left the Terrace following her husband's death in 1963.

Her vacancy made room for OU's first chancellor D.B. "Woody" Varner who used it to entertain and as a guest residence from 1963 to 1969. Sunset Terrace was also used for entertainment and then family living by President O'Dowd after 1970 and President Champagne in 1981-1986. In 1986 the Champagnes moved to an off-campus home and Sunset Terrace was used as a conference center until 1992. In 1992, new president Sandra Packard and her husband chose to reside at Sunset Terrace and gave it back its official status as the on-campus presidential residence.

The Terrace features a prairie home design, modeled after houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The extensive use of glass and the design in a series of arcs and circles allow the residents and visitors to appreciate the surrounding country atmosphere and historical grounds of what was once Meadow Brook Estate. The home is characterized by its curvilinear design and a 40-foot round living room intended to host receptions for up to 200. The dining room itself is in the shape of a horse shoe.

Architectural features include brick and Tennessee marble fireplaces, slate floors and trim, and a brushed aluminum staircase with glass panels etched with images of the Wilson's family pets, horses and air plane.

In 1969, pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy lived there with his family while he performed at the Meadow Brook Music Festival and gave master classes at Oakland University.

Sunset Terrace was refurbished by interior designer Pipsan Saarinen Swanson in 1974, when the it became the official residence for university presidents. In 1986, after President Champagne moved out, a complete restoration in the 1950s style was done by the Historic Preservation Committee of the American Society of Interior Designers.

 

SunsetTerrace_Last Batch (2) Aerial view of Sunset Terrace

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 Sketches of the living room, Sunset Terrace


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Photos courtesy of the Oakland University Archives.

 

 


Created by Mariela Hristova / Updated on September 26, 2017 by Mariela Hristova

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