Restoring Ford's Diving Board

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Benson Ford, son of Edsel Ford and grandson of Henry Ford, teeters above the estate’s swimming pool in 1934.
Benson Ford, son of Edsel Ford and grandson of Henry Ford, teeters above the estate’s swimming pool in 1934.
Photos courtesy Ford House Archives and Mikel Tube

A peek at Mikel Tube’s restoration of the pool’s 1936 board.A peek at Mikel Tube’s restoration of the pool’s 1936 board.

The historic Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Michigan has seen a number of restoration projects over the years, but perhaps none as intricate as the 1930s-era wooden diving board replica currently underway.

Nestled on the shores of Lake St. Clair, the Ford estate became a National Historic Landmark as an example of Jens Jensen’s Prairie Style landscape design. Notable features included a lagoon and swimming pool, which – until now – displayed a placeholder fiberglass board.

“When the pool was built and opened in 1927, they were using wooden diving boards. As you can imagine, with four children and this kind of Michigan climate, they were not going to get much longevity,” says Clare Pfeiffer, Director of Communications and Engagement. “We don’t know for sure, but [this restoration] actually might be the fourth or the fifth board.”

“The diving board restoration project really came along with the fact that we decided to restore our pool and lagoon. As part of that restoration, we were looking to re-create a particular time period where the Ford family lived here,” explains Rebecca Torsell, Director of Historic Preservation. “We chose the mid-1930s, which was their bloom of prominence.”

Restoration projects like this can prove extremely tricky, as information about some artifacts and even the materials used to make them may simply no longer exist. In a stroke of luck, the Ford House team discovered they had the drawings for a 1936 AG Spalding board that had once been in use.

“When we uncovered those drawings, we really wanted to make that board. It fit the time period, and we had a lot of information on it so that we could accurately recreate it,” Torsell says. “As we began researching, we realized the company that built it was the Spalding behind the basketballs, which was surprising to us…We had to make sure that we went through all the processes to get their permission to be able to recreate it.”

Once Spalding had given the go-ahead, it was time to find a tradesman up for the challenge. “Initially, we thought about hiring a carpenter to do this. And I’ll tell you, it intimidated a lot of carpenters,” says Torsell. “I mean, it’s 15 feet in length, all Douglas fir…I just started searching for anyone who was producing wooden diving boards online, and I only found one person: Mikel Tube.”

Tube is a Belgium-based designer who actually specializes in crafting wooden diving boards. After multiple conversations with Torsell and the Ford House team, both parties finally landed on a project description, and the restoration was launched.

“I have a general interest in history, so building a replica is certainly the most favorite part of my work. It turns my job into a hobby,” Tube says. “I especially love trying to understand the way people conceived these objects 100 years ago. In this particular case, it was only after building several scale models that I understood why and how they created this specific design.”

“Mikel has worked so hard, meeting with me every month to discuss everything down to the finest details,” says Torsell. “We couldn’t have picked a better contractor to recreate this board for us. He has just been amazing.”

The completed board is set to be installed later in 2022.

This article first appeared in the February 2022 issue of AQUA Magazine — the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.

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