John Hantz has come home early for the day. Arriving in a suit and tie on a brilliant weekday afternoon, the rangy Jimmy Stewart type walks through his back door and steps from his professional world of finance into a 92-year-old reserve of American art and handcrafted woodwork.
No wonder he’s a homebody.
The foyer grandfather clock emits a resonant chime as Hantz settles into a living-room sofa with a view of art pieces by Tiffany, Handel, and J.G. (John George) Brown.
Hantz, a 20-year Detroit resident who is president and CEO of The Hantz Group Inc., may be best known of late for his plan to create for-profit urban farming in Detroit under the name Hantz Farms.
At home in an Indian Village estate that encompasses two homes and two carriage houses, his focus is on laying down roots of a different sort.
“I like American art,” he says, with a nod across the room to a painting of young shoeshine boys shooting dice. “I can relate to those guys. I grew up with that sense of finding my way in life.
“It all starts with history. It has a story.”
Hantz is an avid collector of paintings, sculpture, lamps, and significant autographs. And the 14,500-square-foot main home of this divorced father affords ample space for displaying his finds.
“We probably go through 10 to 15 auction books a month” before making what is usually bids by phone, he says, the “we” referring to his property manager.
Hantz’s affection for Tiffany lamps stems from his admiration of craftsmanship. “I used to appreciate a fake until I saw the real thing,” he says. Quality is what attracted him to his home. The original slate roofing shingles are graduated in size from peak to eave. “I don’t know if it’s for practical reasons or looking good,” he says, “but I have way less winter pullage with the ice.” The same goes for the home’s mortar, which has no cracking, a workman pointed out.
He frets that contemporary standards in construction and product manufacturing will produce fewer artifacts and pieces that stand the test of time.
On that note, CNN Money wrote of Hantz: “Already, he’s told his 21-year-old daughter, Lauren, his only heir, that if she wants to own the land one day, she has to promise him she’ll never sell it. ‘This is like buying a penthouse in New York in 1940,’ Hantz says. ‘No one should be able to afford to do this ever again.’ ”
Describing himself as a “closet architect,” Hantz says his hidden pleasure is history and preservation, and he hopes his own home will last another century, living to tell a story of the early 1900s.
“There is this whole quality issue that we’ve sort of lost,” he says. “It’s amazing what a quality house can take in neglect versus a non-quality house.”
Indicating his living room, he adds: “I can’t imagine building this room with a hand saw and a plane.”
That appreciation may explain his interest in Detroit farming, a concept he says is close to reaching a decision with the city.
The plan, which has not been without controversy, is about neighborhood stability, Hantz says. It’s an idea he hatched while commuting to his Southfield-based financial holding company past fallow land in Detroit.
“Farming and gardening take you back,” he says. “It’s sort of like fishing.”
Photographs by Justin Maconochie