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As I See It
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Home was built in a day
Friday, September 17, 2010 9:02 AM
This home at 509 E. Arch St., Portland, was one of the city’s first pre-fabricated homes. It was put up in a single-day 60 years ago this summer. (The Commercial Review/Jack Ronald)
What a difference a day can make.
It was a steamy Thursday in August 1950.
About 7:30 a.m. workmen unloaded stacks of material around a concrete slab.
By 11 a.m., four walls were up.
And by 5 p.m., Mr. and Mrs. Alva Hoppes were accepting the key to their new home.
Erected in a single day 60 years ago last month, the little house at 509 E. Arch St. was one of Portland’s first pre-fabricated homes, a Gunnison home, the brainchild of a man who wanted to do for the American home what Henry Ford did for the automobile industry.
Foster Gunnison, a lighting engineer was one of the country’s pioneers in low-cost, quick-build housing in the post-World War II era. He established a plant in New Albany, Ind., in 1935.
But it wasn’t until the housing boom after the war — fueled by Federal Housing Administration loans and special rates for returning G.I.s — that the Gunnison houses really took off.
By 1950, the company was marketing 11 different models, ranging from Cape Cods to ranch-style ramblers.
Billed as “Guaranteed homes at guaranteed prices,” the houses ranged in price from $5,800 to $40,000.
Mr. and Mrs. Hoppes chose model number two, one of the Champion line.
Hoppes was a local insurance agent, and his wife was executive secretary of the Jay County Chapter of the American Red Cross. Their East Arch Street lot was located just across the street from what was then the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant, now the Museum of the Soldier.
It featured a living room that measured 17-feet 8-inches by 11-feet 10-inches, two bedrooms, a bathroom with a linen closet, a kitchen measuring 7-feet 11-inches by 11-feet 10-inches, and a utility room.
“Gunnison homes are built on the stressed-skin plywood principle,” an article in The Graphic said at the time the house was erected. “Panels for the exterior and interior walls are prefabricated as are other sections of each house.”
Technology introduced by Gunnison was state of the art for its era.
Fortune magazine said at the time, “The phenolic plywood is the strongest and most rigid material in the world. It is waterproof, more indifferent than metals to heat and cold, resistant to fire and corrosion and attack by bacteria. It has an unbeatable relationship of weight, strength, and rigidity.”
When Foster Gunnison died in 1961, The New York Times called his product, “the first commercially successful mass-produced home in the United States.”
The homes were also written up in Popular Mechanics, Ladies Home Journal, Architecture Forum, and Readers’ Digest.
Community Builders of Decatur erected the Hoppes’ Gunnison on Arch Street.
Portland Ready-Mix poured the concrete slab under the direction of Meredith Sanders. Portland Lumber and Supply Company provided additional building materials, and Louis Stephen of Redkey did the plumbing work.
Today, the house is home to Donna Strait and her daughter Paige.
Its porch has been revised over the years, and an addition including a garage has been built on the south end. A large shade tree in the front yard didn’t even exist when photos were taken of the home’s construction back in 1950.
Two weeks after the house went up, an open house was held.
And that created problems for Mrs. Hoppes.
She told The Graphic: “After such carefully planned motions of each worker, I must hurry and make the most of my time completing the drapes and curtains.”
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The Commercial Review, Jay County's Daily Newspaper
P.O. Box 1049 Portland, IN 47371