Blending past and present


Foley & Mansfield celebrates centennial of office building

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In its 100-year history, a building at 130 E. Nine Mile Road at Woodward in Ferndale has served as a school, the first Ferndale Public Schools administrative office, a library, and office space - and as home to the law firm of Foley & Mansfield.

The firm, that also has offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and St. Louis, hosted a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres reception on Sept. 3 to celebrate 20 years of serving Ferndale and the greater Detroit community, and the centennial of one of the oldest buildings in Ferndale.

Foley & Mansfield founder Kyle Mansfield and Chief Operating Officer Mona Nore, flew in from Minneapolis, Minn., and Oakland, Calif., respectively, to join attorneys, staff, family, and friends for the celebration.

Mansfield kicked off the event with introductions and recalled how, having worked with litigator Gary Sharp in the national asbestos community, he learned that Sharp was planning to move to an in-house position. Instead, Mansfield proposed that Sharp and his team join the firm, and Foley & Mansfield's first branch office was born. Since its beginnings, it has continued to grow and is among the firm's most profitable and productive offices, serving local and national clients.

Guests enjoyed refreshments on all three levels, and tours outlining the unique architectural details.

The highlight of the evening was the unveiling of the commemorative plaque designed by the Warren-based company of J.L. Geisler Corp. As the curtain was pulled back, Foley & Mansfield Managing Partner Howard Wallach joked, "Imagine a bunch of lawyers trying to decide on the wording for this."

The plaque details the history of the building that was constructed as The Ferndale School in 1914, only to burn to the ground on December 28 that same year. Rebuilt to open for the fall term of the 1915 school year, in the 1920s it was renamed The Central School.

A small park with trees lay between the school and Woodward Avenue. At one time, people tied horses and buggies to the trees, until the Village Commission put an end to the practice. The park was a popular spot for band concerts, patriotic rallies and other community activities, while the schoolhouse was used for meetings, including some that led to the formation of the village of Ferndale. The Christian Association of Ferndale held weekly prayer meetings, and the Boosters of Ferndale - forerunner of the Board of Commerce - met there.

Later remodeled for Ferndale Public Schools administrative use, in the 1930s the building became the Ferndale Library, and in later years became office space.

In 2006, Foley & Mansfield - that had outgrown its office in Bingham Farms - bought the building from the International Animal Exchange, run by local children's television celebrity and pet shop owner, "B'Wana" Don Hunt and his brother Pat. At one time, the IAE was the biggest supplier of animal to zoos.

"We wanted to create something that felt like home, some place where we could walk to work and to lunch and to the bank," said Foley & Mansfield partner Gary Sharp.

Foley & Mansfield partner Bill Osantowski, a lifelong Michigan resident, discovered the building and saw the inherent potential of both the structure and the area. Work began in December 2006 and the new office opened its doors on July 5, 2008.

The $5 million renovation exposed and preserved original brickwork, wood beams and rafters, and other original design, character and workmanship aspects, including a decades old tile mosaic in the front entry, original gym flooring salvaged and restored in several offices and a conference room, and the main staircase railing.

The firm added 7,000 square feet for a total of 18,000 square feet, and replaced an old garage with a 3-story wing of offices and a four-story open-air atrium. The project also preserved a child-size drinking fountain and other tile work from the original school featuring ceramics from Detroit's Pewabic Pottery, and historic parlor doors.

Home to 15 Foley & Mansfield attorneys and 20 staff, led by Managing Partner Howard Wallach, the office boasts a beautifully landscaped entrance and a rooftop terrace for employees, who also enjoy a fitness center, a sitting room with a fireplace, a kitchen, and large bathrooms with lockers.

The building, that has earned State Historic Building designation, has won numerous awards including Best Preservation Success Story from Main Street Oakland County, and recognition from the Ferndale Environmental Sustainability Committee for its green initiatives, including low voltage lighting, an improved HVAC system, and a new water drainage system.

The historic green retrofit was managed by general contractor J.S. Vig, with the office's original partners - Osantowski, Sharp, and John Mark Mooney - providing their vision for the renovated space.

"This building and this community help make the atmosphere what it is at Foley & Mansfield," Osantowski says.

Published: Fri, Sep 11, 2015


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