Saturday, July 17, 2010

Avriel Shull's Thornhurst MCM Addition on the National Register

*Avriel Shull* has finally made it. Almost 3 years after I started work on the nomination for the Thornhurst Addition Historic District the National Park Service has recognized Thornhurst with listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The addition is listed under Criterion C for its intact Mid-Century Modern architecture by a master designer/builder, Avriel Shull. And it's listed as an exception to the 50-years or older age requirement because, even though some of the homes are not yet 50 years old, the work is so significant it merits recognition.

Thornhurst is now Indiana's first MCM addition to be on the National Register. I'm thrilled that Marsh Davis of Indiana Landmarks asked me to research and write this project. Marsh knew about my interest and research into Mid-Century Modern design stretching back 15 years or more to when I was the owner of a 20th Century vintage modern shop, durwyn smedley 20th century, as well as a historian.

This nomination brought all my past work and research into play, and it was a hard sell requiring lots of extra research, photos, money and time. But it payed off in the end. Yeah for Indiana! Yeah for Avriel Shull! Yeah for Thornhurst!

You can read the National Register nomination here:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gunnison Magic Homes

If you have a 1940s cottage or a mid-century modern home with no known builder or architect, there's a chance it could be a pre-fab Gunnison Home manufactured in a factory in New Albany, Indiana.

Foster Gunnison was a successful salesman/ designer of custom light fixtures for buildings including the Empire State Building and Waldorf Astoria in the 1920s. Then, in 1935, he translated his architectural and design knowledge into a mass production pre-fab housing factory in New Albany, Indiana. Gunnison Magic Homes, later renamed Gunnison Housing Corporation, became the housing equivalent of Ford Motors, manufacturing interchangeable parts to assemble mass-produced houses.

According to David Hounshell, who wrote, the book, "From the American System to Mass Production," Gunnison engineers designed an interchangeable wall panel that would fit 12 different house models by 1937. Gunnison could undersell a conventionally constructed house by almost 25%. A 1954 sales brochure states the homes sold for $8750 to $13,000, depending on options and floorplans, which could include breezeways and attached garages.

Competition for mass-produced, pre-fab homes was heated. Famous architects, such as Walter Gropius, worked on pre- fab home designs. In Gropius's case, for General Panel Corporation. But Gunnison and most of these other firms never really became a driving force in architecture in the 1940s and 1950s.

Gunnison employed about 300 people and claimed to have sold 4500 homes in 38 states by 1941. Gunnison was written about in Popular Science and national architecture and engineering magazines, but they aren't very well-known today outside of New Albany. They don't seem to have captured the imaginations or pocketbooks of the nation to the degree that the ubiquitious National Homes or even Lustrons did. The Gunnison plant was purchased by U.S. Steel in the 1940s and continued to produce ranch and split-level homes until 1974 in New Albany. Today, the factory is converted to a different use but you can still see Gunnison Homes in New Albany neighborhoods.

Do you have a Gunnison in your neighborhood? I think a neighborhood of these homes in good condition with original windows and siding would be eligible for the National Register. The Gunnison factory, too.

Former Gunnison factory, New Albany.