Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gunnison Homes -- The New Miracle

I've written about Gunnison Homes before in this blog. See: http://cresourcesinc.blogspot.com/2010/07/former-gunnison-factory-new-albany.html.   Running across a newspaper article while I was doing research gives me an excuse to post up a bit more information. 

Gunnison Magic Homes was the first really successful pre-fab housing firm in the United States. By 1940, this Indianapolis Star article claims that it was the "nation's largest home builder."  In the pre-World War II era that may have been true. It's safe to say that the company sold thousands of homes over the course of its history.

From his factory, which still stands in New Albany, Indiana, Foster Gunnison produced pre-fab homes built with insulated plywood panels in an assembly-line system. Forbes called him the "Henry Ford of housing."  Raw materials arrived at the front door, the walls, ceiling and floors were factory finished, doors hung and "windows installed, washed and screened" as the panels moved along the conveyor belts and out the rear door onto trucks headed all across the nation.

This September 29, 1940, article introduced a new line of Gunnison Homes, the Miracle Home.   Demonstration homes were already built by this time in Indianapolis, South Bend and Jeffersonville, Indiana.  Unlike the Deluxe Home, which came in nine standard sizes ranging from four to seven rooms and retailing from $4,000 to $8,500, these new Miracle Homes were all four rooms. They could be installed with or without a basement and were sold on installment plans, approved for FHA loans, for $360 down and $25.60 monthly payments, including insurance and property taxes.

Indianapolis builder, Robert L. Mason was the local rep for the Miracle Homes.  It's hard to know how many of these little Miracles were built in the city, but the demonstration home shown in the picture at the bottom of the article and located in the 3500 block of North Keystone Avenue, still stands as you can see in this google maps pic. I wonder if its owners know the history of their house?

29 comments:

  1. There were, of course, a variety of such projects across the U.S. Another notable one was Panorama City in Southern California's San Fernando Valley. This was a project of Henry J. Kaiser's construction company, utilizing the prefab techniques that he had pioneered in WWII shipyards across the Western seaboard. Kaiser's two-bedroom, single-family homes sold for as little as $9,100. Gunnison Homes seem cheaper. Thanks for your post!

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  2. Yes, there were a lot of pre-fab attempts in the pre- and post-WWII years. Including the highly successful National Homes, which was started by 3 Gunnison Homes alums, according to Jim Morrow, of Indiana's Partners in Preservation,a National Homes guru.

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  3. This constantly amazes me just how blog owners such as your self can find the time as well as the dedication to keep on crafting superb blog posts. Your website is good and one of my personal must read weblogs. I just had to thank you.
    pre fab homes

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  4. Adiva Graphics. I've been a bit lazy as of late on my blog, but thanks for that positive reinforcement!

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  5. Just found this blog after reading an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal. I find the design drawing very interesting as it pertains to the "needs" of todays home-buyers. There's more lumber in a roof today than in 2 or 3 of the "miracle homes." I want to add that my fiances' great grandfather sold the land to Foster Gunnison for the original factory in New Albany.

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  6. My parents owned a Gunnerson home in OH. I inherited the home and have found there are issues with mildew/mold. The original owners had the engineers from the company look at the problem. Do you know if any other owners had problems with the homes being too "airtight"? I am wondering what solutions there may be for solving this issue.

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    1. If the mildew is under/near the windows I think it is the condensation dripping down. I'm looking at a Gunnison home now in central Ohio and noticed some mildew behind peeling wall covering under a couple of the steel windows.

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  7. we purchased a gunnison home about 1 1/2 years ago thinking we could remodel it. the question is regarding whether or not u can drywall over the existing wood walls. what happens with the movement of the wood with weather, etc.?
    Please help us. All the dark wood is killing us!

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    1. I've been told by a knowledgeable neighbor that the paper on the drywall will only pick up the moisture and mold. I painted my walls pastel colors and antique white to fight cabin fever. Oil forced air heat circulates enough air to keep my walls dry. I did spray my walls with Lysol and then wiped it down with a damp sponge mop. It killed whatever was growing on the walls. If you have electric baseboard heat, you might want to get a dehumidifier, or switch to a drier type of heat. This year, I am planning on putting in a propane fireplace as a secondary heat source.

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  8. I live in McDonald, Ohio and we have hundreds of these homes in our one square mile village. To the best of my knowledge we have only lost three of them...two to fire, one to termites. I remember the glass door knobs on all the doors. But what I remember most was that it was way to small for two parents and four children with one bathroom, no air cond. or ceiling fans. The single pane window with metal frames would form frost on the inside of the sills then drip down the walls. The construction wasn't even two by four framing which amazes me how they have stood the test of time.

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  9. I don't have a lot of expertise to answer a question about drywalling over the plywood walls but I would think it would be possible. Maybe one of my other readers can answer this with an example of what they've done.

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  10. We have done it without any issues.

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    1. Can you offer any specifics?

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  11. I and my brother are preparing to sell his 1951 Gunnison home in Easton, PA. It did have the "Gunnison" plaque but had to be removed for some updating of the electrical panel. My husband and I also live in a Gunnison home in Bethlehem, PA. They have been spotted all over the Lehigh Valley here - pockets of them here and there. They are great little homes.

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    1. When I moved into my modified Gunnison Home, I found the 1950 Technical Service Book. This book tells the owner not to paint the walls, how to clean, and other interesting about the construction of the house. I didn't find a plaque, but that could have been lost when the addition was built.

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  12. We just started looking to replace the steel casement windows (with useless-seeming storms) in our 1956 Gunnison home in Indy (not sure it's a gunnison, but it has the 2" walls and plywood paneling look). The sales reps that have been coming in look at the current windows with a scared expression, and then talk about the magic of moder vinyl or wood windows, and then go on to talk about how they are a) going to have to overhang internally or externally by quite a bit because they are too deep, and b) going to reduce the glass area substantially because they have thicker borders around the glass than the steel we have.

    Has anyone found a suitable replacement? Do you just bite the bullet and put something ugly in? Can these windows be refurbished in any meaningful way to provide any energy efficiency?

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    1. I have a 1951 Gunnison 3-bedroom on Cape Cod. I replaced the two front single casement windows on either side of the picture window with vinyl-clad American Craftsman casements from Home Depot. Not top-of-the-line windows, but perfectly good. I flushed the frames to the inside wall and trimmed that with 2"x1/4" clear pine. The exterior window frame extends out about an inch from the exterior sheathing, but the cedar shingle siding takes up most of that. Yes, the casement glass area is a little smaller than the original, but once installed, you really don't notice it, and the windows maintain the original style of the house. Good luck.

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    2. Thanks. We found some installers that have seen our windows before. They're steel pan windows with interior enameled sills designed with a slight curve and drip-edge to keep the interior condensation from damaging the walls.

      It seems that the windows will have a flange hidden behind the plywood, so to get them out we'll have to cut a bit around each window, which will let us hide some of the much larger frames on new windows. People have suggested fiberglass as an option for getting as much glass as possible. We have lots of split casements that we'll have to replace with sliders, which I'm not unhappy about---sliders should basically replicate the split casement look. There are no grilles on the current windows, but I'm considering 9-light between-the-glass grills to add a bit of visual interest.

      I'm worried a bit about the interior trim. Right now the windows have this very narrow 1950s trim that matches the rest of the house. We can have the trim replicated but I'm not sure how it will work around the fiberglass windows. I guess we'll go without interior sills since the existing sills are coming out (and are only 1/4" overhang from the wall).

      The whole thing is going to be quite expensive. Our utility bills are low already, so we'll never make back the cost of the new windows. The current ones are such a mess physically and draft-wise though that it seems worth it.

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    3. We just bought my parents Gunnison Home. Its in a great location and we have fond memories here. We are getting ready to replace the windows. Do they have to be cut out? Had a window guy out that said he can pop them out. I don't think so. Anybody replace their windows yet? Can you do it yourself if you are handy?

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    4. My family has owned the same Gunnison house for the past 60 years. Needless to say, multiple updates have been done. All of the windows have been replaced with Anderson windows. (You will see a BIG difference replacing the steel casement windows with new energy efficient windows... well worth the price.) The bedroom windows were 'doubled', with the original top window and an identical window just below. (You can cut down on the panels, just not across.) We also added an additional third window in the back bedroom.
      We have added drywall in the three bedrooms, and have not had any problems.

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  13. One of these homes is for sale in Stow, OH, right now. The tag they put on the house is in the pictures, and I googled it and learned about the homes. Just go to Howard Hanna and put in zip code 44224 and homes under $100,000. I believe it is a gray, cape cod looking home on Maple Street.

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  14. I am a 3 yr. Gunnison home owner and getting ready to put a new roof on. The roofing structure is also made of 4ft panels only supported by steel braces every 4ft.where the panels come together.I have some sagging within the center of the panels where they are just bridged together. Was wondering if any other owners have had this and what solutions were taken if any.

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  15. When I moved in my modified Gunnison Home, I found a 1950 Technical Service Book. It outlines the proper care of the home in the typical fifties fashion. I live not too far from the home pictured above. It is interesting to see th different modifications that have bee made to the homes in this area over the years.

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  16. Very much appreciated hearing from Foster Gunnison's daughter. She enjoyed reading all your comments and knowing people are still interested in her father's houses!

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  17. Remodeling a Gunnison Steel Home: I read in some of the articles written that you cannot cut across the panels, but you can cut down. if you cut across, can you not put in a header to keep the stability of the home? what about if you want to widen a door way? the walls are thinner than normal, what about using a 2" x 10" board for the header? can someone recommend an architect who knows about the structure of the Steel Gunnison home.

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    1. Hi, Have a Gunnison home and a passion for remodeling. We cut out in whole sections.... vertical stud to vertical stud (essentially, in whole panels). We left the "top of the panels" which connect to and support the roof with about 4 inches of "stud" (there is a "natural" division in the vertical studs that connect to the roof rafters, if you look for it... and that is where we "cut"). We then used double 2 X 12's as headers and 2 x 4's to support the headers. Since, I wanted a "flush" interior, the "extra" overhang outside is supported by 2 x 12 across the base of the exterior "cut", which is "shot" into the block wall (We have no basement, but do "sit" on a block footer). We installed a number of sliding doors and a new "double" front door. On the interior, we widened the kitchen door, which supports the roof... and, again, used a single "header" to match up with the metal clips that support the rafters. We haven't closed anything up, yet... we are waiting to make sure that everything stays "solid". But, it seems to be working and the house is quite nice.

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  18. Your comments on drywall, windows are very helpful. Our question is we are putting on
    tyvek under our new siding has anyone wrapped their house with this and had any problems? We just purchased our home, inside original and in perfect condition, still want to get rid of the interior doors has anyone a "decorative" suggestion so we can keep them? Our Gunnison 1950 home has the metal plate in perfect condition.

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  19. I'm still living in the Gunnison home which my parents purchased 60 years ago. I remember the old steel-framed casement windows. In the winter sometimes ice would form inside the house on the windows. Before my parents died they installed Thermo-Twin Windows manufactured by a company here in Pittsburgh. If there is an "overhang" inside, it is unnoticeable because of 2 1/4 inch molding around the window.
    Even with staining the exterior cedar shingles every few years, they did reach a point where I needed new sidiing. Rather than going with 12 ft. long horizontal vinyl siding like most people in the neighborhood did, I went with an Alcoa vinyl product which comes close the the look of the original siding. My nephew didn't even notice that it was new!
    After a good many years, the interior did need painting. I spackled the cracks between the plywood panels--a lot cheaper than installing drywall.
    It's a small house; I don't know how 6 of us lived in it. But it is perfect for me right now as I prepare to retire. Everybody else in the neighborhood from 1954 have long gone. Many to bigger and "better" homes. I'm quite content with my 24 x 36 Gunnison.

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  20. Thank you for posting such valuable information here. I've lived in my Gunnison for 10 years and have been trying to decide what to do with it, as I retire in a couple of months.

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