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.

36 comments:

  1. These homes are garbage. I have one and am in the process of completely removing the thin 2" exterior walls and reframing. Historic my a**!

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  2. Well, Anonymous, historic doesn't necessarily equal energy efficient. That is a sad fact. I'm sorry you don't appreciate your home a bit more now that you know the history. But I'm aware that not everyone thinks history is important.

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  3. My Gunnison Home in Lexington, KY is fantastic. I LOVE it!

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  4. Dear l, great to know of another Gunnison home location. Thanks for the picture of it that you posted to my Facebook page, too! http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150266469469306&set=o.105726198990&type=1&theater

    What a beauty!

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  5. Kentucky Heritage Council has a historic context on prefab which discusses Gunnison.

    http://heritage.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/69811BB7-B64C-43E7-AC2B-C7A83390E09D/0/HouseinaBox.pdf

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  6. I just got one in Morgantown, WV. Didn't know anything about it until I noticed a small, rusted metal plaque by the back door signifying a Gunnison Home. The 2 bedroom house appears to have original siding and original windows (the old latch-style windows). The house is a real 'fixer upper' but I'll post some pics when I can.

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  7. I have one of these homes and while I respect the fact that they have some history and in their time they may have been something great, for me it is the worst purchase of my life. We thought it just needed a few quick fixes but we can't even find contractors who know what to do with this house. (the thin walls and lack of access) Now it needs to be totally overhauled and it would cost far more than what the home is worth.

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  8. Anon. Don't know where you live but maybe if you want to post your city someone can send you in the direction of contractors who know how to work on Gunnison homes.

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  9. We own a gunnison. not the best home for the northeast(Maine). There are other Panelized houses in this area built by weyerhouser etc. The only thing you can do is to forgo the historical significance of the home and retro fit energy efficiant windows, 1 1/2" blueboard insulation on the outside and spray foam ins.the foundation wall

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  10. Well I don't live in one so can't speak with experience but it does seem like you could probably insulate from the interior instead. Good luck with "energy efficient windows" it's been demonstrated that original wood windows with properly fitted storms are more efficient. But I think Gunnison's had metal casements and they are a much bigger problem than wooden windows, I know. Good luck with your Gunnison. I hate to see a building that might be considered historic altered so dramatically but sometimes a house has to be changed to remain useable. Hopefully others will remain intact.

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  11. I live in a neighborhood full of these homes, built in the 50s, and 70 years later they're all still here. Of course, each house has had multiple owners and various improvements.

    They don't build them like they used to. What are these complaints about walls which are "only" two inches thick and made of plywood? Two inches is pretty thick, and plywood is a premier building material. Builders today charge extra for treated plywood, especially 1/4" sheets of it on each side of each wall! Peaked roof. Studs which go into the concrete. They did things right back then. Today's builders will build your house out of MDF if you let them and your interior walls will be nothing but studs and sheetrock. Gunnison homes are made out of _wood_. That's good.

    Of course, a well preserved Gunnison home from the 50s would be unlivable by today's standards. According to an elderly neighbor, these houses shipped bare with no furnishings, no paint, and with crappy doors. And obviously insulation and electrical technology has progressed greatly since WW2. But structurally, these houses are too expensive to build today.

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  12. My Father worked at the Gunnison factory in New Albany, Indiana.
    (Parent company U.S.Steel)
    The homes were developed and designed for the increase and demand for affordable homes after WW2. The homes were shipped by rail/train all over the country. And you could select three interior paint colors! The first prefab home.
    Originally the exterior was steel siding, not the inexpensive vinyl siding used on homes today. I have original plans and the salesman sample dollhouse that still looks great after 50 years!

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  13. Hi I have a Gunnison home that was my parents that was built in 1944. It has the original windows and paneling . I would like to get some replacement doors and windows and siding one day. It needs a lot of TLC, but it has been in my family my whole life.

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  14. I bought a Gunnison home (Champion model) six months ago. It's been a real education. The neighborhood is full of them; all with similar problems. Some neighbors put styrofoam sheets over the windows in the winter to keep warm. I'm fortunate in that I have vinyl double-pane replacement windows. I'm terrified of the heating bill for winter (Pennsylvania) due to the thin exterior walls. I have aluminum siding, but surely it's not enough to hold out the cold. Also, I haven't been in the attic, but it looks like there isn't any insulation at all. The fuel oil tank is underground, and I'm afraid to fill it; easily $1,000. So, I'm heating with infrared ceramic heaters.

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  15. Lack of insulation is pretty universal in houses built before the 1950s. Attic insulation is probably going to help even more than new windows. I've seen lots of complaints about Gunnison's being cold. I wonder if they are better or worse than plaster and lathe houses with wood siding and no insulation? Old-house living is not for the faint of heart.

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  16. Hi! We have just purchased a beautiful Gunnison home in Knoxville, Tennessee. We are getting ready to renovate the kitchen and I am curious as to how we are going to tie in modern day drywall with the pre-fabricated panel walls. Any ideas?

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  17. The biggest problem with our Gunnison home is it is too "airtight" which can lead to mildew problems. Does anyone else have that problem?

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    1. The neighbors behind me have the same problem, and have to wipe their walls down every winter. They have electric baseboard heat. I have a forced-air oil furnace that keeps air circulating and the walls dry. Have you considered switching to one of those Mitsubishi or Panasonic mini-split ductless indoor heaters/air conditioners? You should have enough air circulation to keep your walls dry.

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  18. I had never heard of Gunnison homes before my neighbor told me hers was one. She says there are several in our neighborhood and quite a few in our city (Cincinnati). She has lived there over 40 years and her house is in good condition. She has been able to do much of the work herself. Hers is a 2 bedroom home. Basically 4 rooms and a bath. I love it and so does she.

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  19. Are the shingles on these homes in NA cedar shakes or asbestas. We have lived in this home off and on through the years and need to know the truth of what the siding is. It's original for sure. Any help email me at phil@lexchurch.com

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  20. Do you mean "shingles" on the roof? I'm not sure what they were originally but none of the houses shown in this blog have cedar shakes. If you have wooden shakes on your roof it should be easy to tell them apart from asphalt (not asbestor) shingles. If you mean the siding, it was originally wood. What's been put on since the original could be any number of treatments depending on what the owners wanted at the time.

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  21. Hi, more questions...
    My Gunnison is on a slab. The water and sewer pipes, and the furnace fuel line travel under the slab. Has anybody had to cut through the concrete to repair them? I'm not in that position, but it does raise more questions. I would have to tear down two interior walls to get from the bathroom to the water meter and the main sewer line. What is the structural support of the house if you start removing or moving interior walls? I would like to move the kitchen doorway over a foot to balance out the galley kitchen for new cupboards. A stud finder is almost useless. How much metal will I encounter since these panels are lagged together?

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  22. I've had my Gunnison for 2 years and have been updating it, yet leaving many original features, such as the trim. I expanded my kitchen doorway(s)... The opening to the living room about 12" and the same to the laundry room. It was just wood and was quite simple, just moved a phone jack and an outlet/light switch. NOW I need to decide on custom millworking the top of the frame or replacing it with something simple that doesn't take away from the other trim.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. Now I'm not so nervous about making the big change to the kitchen doorway. Still nervous about the attic insulation. It appears to be vermiculite (Google pictures) and has expanded to look like packing peanuts. I've read that vermiculite from Libby, Montana, had asbestos in it. Has anyone had their insulation tested for asbestos?

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  23. we have a whole neighborhood full in louisville ky. mine is original except for the doors. my deed said 1951. I tried to run a wire through the wall, i am a licensed electrician, and there was a horizontal stud so i couldn't. all the electical boxes are only two inches deep so it is a bitch to stuff everything in them. the walls look terrible because the of the seams. we didn't even notice them before we bought it and we even did two walkthroughs. they drive me crazy and i wonder what all my friends think about them or if they even notice. my neighbors got theirs drywalled over to solve that problem but i am too cheap for that. one good thing about not having drywall is the roof leaks and i hear it dripping onto the ceiling but i have no water spots. I am sure it causes mold but i am just going to move out soon. there was asbestos tile under the linoleum when we moved in.

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  24. I'm looking at a Gunnison in central Ohio and would consider drywall over existing walls in some of the bedrooms. Can anyone share their experience with that?

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  25. I could use a name of a contractor that knows these homes that my roofer could call and get some information on them. Any one have sagging in the 4ft roof panels? if so , what if any solutions did you take to fix it. I am getting ready to reshingle but my roofer wants some knowledge on this so we can improve the look and any further sagging.

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  26. Hi
    I read your post and i appreciate your efforts. The information that you share in the above article is very nice and useful .All the things that you share with people, are very nice. Thanks for this article

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  27. Our house has alum. interior doors wood shake siding, It is a bi level . some living room windows just replaced with vinyl. all other are sliding alum. How do we insulate the walls?

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    1. The neighbor added drywall to the inside walls and styrofoam insulation, tyvek and vinyl siding to the outside. He likes it. However, we just added insulation to the attic, new windows and doors.... heating bills in northern Ohio were quite modest... cost of air is modest, as well.

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  28. Cool Stuff ! thank for that information . i bookmarked this blog . keep updating

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  29. Movies about Gunnison Homes manufacture, shipping, and assembly. Two parts of the same movie (one has part of audio and some video; the other just has parts of the video). VERY INTERESTING.

    https://archive.org/details/0818_Community_Development_with_Gunnison_Homes_C09131_06_18_31_00

    https://archive.org/details/0818_Community_Development_with_Gunnison_Homes_C09131_06_00_56_00

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  30. i have the original booklet and blueprints for my gunnison house.does anyone have a problem with the woodwork oh the corners seperating in the winter ? I want to caulk but u
    nsure what type to use and when. no insulation is a problem. wind blows thru the walls .

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  31. happy with gunnisonFebruary 15, 2015 at 7:42 PM

    we bought a gunnison home 8 years ago. never knew it until we found the ID plate under the basement stairs in the laundry room. House is wonderful.. Very solid. already has insulation in the walls and in attic. Remodeled bathrooms, and kitchen with complete make overs. All rooms redone ceiling to floors. remodel went very smoothly and without any major problems. All new windows and new doors Did most of work myself except had bath fitters do one bathroom. House is ultra quiet, we have forced air gas heat and central air. We live in northern WV. House is very energy efficient. House is about 1900 sq. feet living space plus oversized 2 car garage under.

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  32. happy with gunnisonFebruary 15, 2015 at 8:02 PM

    there is a product you can get that is like a heavy sheeting wall material. Goes on like wall covering and hides all seams. walls then can be painted over or wall papered. Painted walls look like plastered walls after. I have it on my walls and they look great.I also had all electrical wall switches and ceiling fixtures converted to low voltage relays with touch switches and 2 master galley consols, one on main floor and one in garage. Can control all lighting zones in and outdoors from these galley panels, Used Touchtone industries in california for supplies, and installed by my local electrician.A little pricey but great results.Benefit is smaller wiring(low voltage) and slim wall boxes for switches. Previous owners, ones who had house built in 1954 had exterior redone with tveck and siding. Looks great and totally maintenance free.

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  33. happy with gunnisonFebruary 15, 2015 at 8:10 PM

    Keep our house at 70 in winter and 68 in summer. Highest heating bill has been 134.00 for a month We get extreme cold ( -4 right now going down to -9 tonight). Summer usually in mid 90's. Highest electric was 110.00. We live on top of a hill with constant ( 20 to 40mph) winds in winter and nice breezes in summer.

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