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Queen of the Castle: Living Large in Detroit

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Detroit Free Press, Nov. 28, 2006

For years, the Jackson family gathered nearly every Sunday at Big Mama's house. Actually, it's not the mama who's big, it's her house that's big. Really big.

Corinne Bozeman, great-grandmother of 13, is the mistress of the largest house in the city of Detroit: the so-called Bishop's Mansion in Palmer Woods. Sitting on 4 acres, the home is more than 35,000 square feet. By comparison, the White House is 55,000 square feet, and the Whitney, the historic mansion-restaurant on Woodward in Detroit's Cultural Center, is 21,000.

"This is a real homey home," said Bozeman. "The great-grandkids come here and run around and play. Nothing is off-limits."

If you want to get a taste of mansion hospitality, you're in luck. Everyone's invited to Mama Bozeman's big house on Sunday; it's one of four homes on display during the annual Palmer Woods home tour.

Bozeman, 67, hasn't always lived in a mansion, but she's long-appreciated the royal treatment. Born in Louisville, Ky., and raised in Chicago, she and her three siblings had an upper middle-class upbringing under the wings of their grandfather, an electrician and their grandmother, a nurse.

When her life changed

In 1957, she married royalty - or at least a man with a name that sounded like it. She met Royal Bozeman at church. They soon dedicated themselves not to living large, but to giving large.

The couple eventually moved to Inkster, where they founded Faith Apostolic Temple in 1973. The ministry outgrew several locations before Royal Bozeman passed away in 1989. That's when their daughter Beverly's husband, Wayne T. Jackson, took over the ministry.

"It was growing so quickly, he renamed it Great Faith," Bozeman said.

A search for a larger building brought them to Grand River in Detroit. Today, Bishop Wayne and Dr. Beverly Jackson head Great Faith Ministries International, which has a media ministry and churches in Detroit and Atlanta, and a mission in Africa.

In 1995, the Jacksons bought the 62-room house in Palmer Woods from former Detroit Piston John Salley, and moved in with their eight children and Beverly's mom.

These days, Bozeman is the only family member who stays at the house full-time. Although it is a private residence, the building is mostly used for church business, including meetings, conferences, services and accommodating guests.

"It's not like I live in a castle with people waiting on me," Bozeman said.

She may not have a bevy of servants - the staff is small, and parishioners help with upkeep and maintenance - but it's hard to argue that their home isn't a castle.

About the house

It took two years for the seven auto baron Fisher brothers to build the mansion near two other Fisher family mansions in Palmer Woods. Completed in 1926, it became the home of Catholic Bishop Michael Gallagher.

The brick and limestone house has 13 bedrooms, including five with connecting baths and sitting rooms. The main portico has a 400-pound, golden oak door, and cast stone bays. It takes a crew of about 10 church volunteers two days to oil all of the wood in the house once a year.

"There are no nails in the floors or the doors," Bozeman said. "It's all done with wooden pegs. The rugs in the Music Room and the Welcoming Room are original to the house."

There are 10 fireplaces in the residence, 14 bathrooms and 24 closets, many of which are cedar-lined. There's even a Gothic-inspired chapel on the second floor.

"My favorite room is the Royal Breakfast Room on the first floor," Bozeman said. "When the archbishop lived here, they would read to him in that room. With its burgundy and beige floral decor, it's very quiet there."

The home remained the property of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit until it was sold to Salley in 1989.

"After my daughter and her husband bought it, they reconsecrated the property," Bozeman said. "They brought back the religious feel and rededicated it back to God."

Giving the royal treatment

Soon after the Jacksons moved in, Bozeman said, it was clear that the home wasn't best-suited to raise their eight children.

"Sometimes you feel like you're in a fishbowl," she said. "Because there's an historical marker in the yard, people are always driving by to read it and some even knock on the door."

So the Jacksons moved to a home in Bloomfield Hills, while maintaining rooms in the Bishop's Mansion.

Meanwhile, Bozeman oversees the housekeeping, administrative and security staffs, all of whom support the work of the church. But even as queen of the castle, Bozeman fends for herself.

"I do all the cooking," she said. "That includes the shopping and the preparation. I've prepared meals for up to 250 guests, including Winnie Mandela and Jessie Jackson."

Although Bozeman said it's now hard to corral the large Jackson family for regular Sunday dinners, she still prepares all holiday meals -"no cans, no frozen food.".

"Everybody must eat at the same time when we eat here," she said. "You don't take the food into another room."

That's how you eat in Mama's big house.


What: Light My Fire, the 2006 Palmer Woods home tour.

When: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: 7 Mile and Woodward in Detroit.

Cost: Tickets can be bought in advance for $15 each, or $12 each for 20 or more. Tickets bought Sunday are $20. Children 12 and younger get in free.

To buy tickets Sunday, go to the Western District Police Station at 1441 W. Seven Mile in Detroit. For locations selling advance tickets, call 313-670-0893 or go to www.palmerwoods.org.




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