Instant House

A blog tribute to the manufactured, mass-produced, modular and kit homes that grace the American landscape.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gunnison "Magic" Homes

From the May, 1943 edition of "The Rotarian" magazine
Press a Button, Get a House!
This post returns to the "roots" of Instant House - post WWII housing needs.  During the late '40s and through the 1950s, the Gunnison Housing Corporation churned out many prefabricated houses, billed as "Gunnison Magic Homes".  These homes were built as panelized homes and were screwed together on-site, usually on a slab.  Foster Gunnison, the owner, publicly acknowledged his dream of becoming "the Henry Ford of housing", utilizing mass-production techniques in his factory to create his patented stressed-skin panels that when put together would create a home with a very short amount of time-on-site.  Though originally a lighting engineer (famous project included the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center).

The Gunnison Patented System  
Foster Gunnison filed for a patent in August of 1938 for a panelized system of construction.  This system was specifically designed for "houses of various sizes and a plurality of floor plans [that] can be readily constructed from standard interchangeable parts."  Four figure drawings from the patent are on the right, and they reveal some key features.  The panels were bolted together rather than stick-built.  There actually was insulation in the middle of the panels.  The panels were attached to the slab by bolts.  The panels were structural, but they were also FINISHED!  Joints were covered by moldings--inside and out.  The panels came complete with installed metal-framed casement windows and brass-fixtured pre-hung doors.  Gunnison used these standardized panels in order to create 11 different models--everything from a very modest 24-foot by 24-foot 2 bedroom model to a large four bedroom 2.5 bath model.




Pictures of the Gunnison Factory
"Lustron" Redux?  Not Quite...  
If you read my previous post on the Lustron home, then you know that other companies had tried the factory-mass production model.  Gunnison was more successful than Lustron because of the standardized panel system.  While Lustron used interchangeable parts, every house left the factory as a mishmash of parts (on a specially built company truck, no less).  Gunnison stockpiled panel components which could be shipped on a standard truck with much less hassle.  Also, the Gunnison homes looked more traditional and featured more traditional building materials such as.....wood and asphalt shingles.


Gunnison's End
Foster Gunnison sold his controlling interest in his company to U.S. Steel in 1944 while maintaining oversight.  He retired outright in 1953 and U.S. Steel became the sole owner.  U.S. Steel continued to produce panelized, stressed-skin homes until they closed their housing division in 1974.

Three Gunnisons
Interior View of a Gunnison Home
Present-Day Gunnison in Sayreville, NJ.  Thank you to Eric Dietrich (owner/photographer).
Bay window not original.

26 comments:

  1. Love these! I just listed a Gunnison home for sale in Dayton, OH - it still has the wood paneling AND the metal plate on the wall that heralds it as a Gunnison home! http://www.DaytonRegionHomes.com and click on "my listings" to see it! Enjoy - I am enjoying this blog!

    Gina Kay Landis

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    1. Gina,

      Thanks for the kind words. Could you do me a HUGE favor and ask the owner of your Gunnison for sale if you could take a picture of the metal plate and send it to me? I have been looking for a picture of the Gunnison registration plate forever. The owner of the NJ Gunnison pictured above would love it.

      Thanks so much,

      -Keith

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    2. Keith, do you still need a photo of the plate? Ours is still visible and has been painted around many times. ;)

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  2. Do you know if the Gunnison homes had basements? I think I bought a Gunnison home because one of the bedrooms has the trim work and panels on the walls. I am currently trying to find more information on it.

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    1. Some Gunnisons did have basements. Depending on the site conditions and the amount of money the owner was willing to have, the could be built on a full basement, a partial basement, a crawl sppace or a slab on grade. I have seen numerous examples of all of these conditions.

      Randy Shipp

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    2. Grew up in one in Sullivan Illinois, full basement.

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  3. Keith,

    The first Gunnisons for public inspection were built in 1936 in Louisville, KY just across the river from New Albany, IN, home of Gunnison Homes. There were six of them built for an open house in August of that year. Being a Sunday afternoon, they hoped to have a few hundred visitors. The newspapers reported over 12,000 came by. These six are still standing, though greatly altered.

    Randy Shipp

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  4. I live in a Gunnison neighborhood, erected in the shadow of Penn State University, here in Pennsylvania. Most of my home is original. I also have the plate. All the homes on a two block radius are Gunnison. I assumed they were built to house the GI's with families while they attended Penn State. The original barricks on campus located close by, are all gone. But I remembr them in the 80's. If anyone would like pictures, or more information, you may contact me at momquinn6@ Gmail.com.
    Shawn Quinn

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  5. I bought my Gunnison Home last March, and though I had to remodel it I did leave the trim work in the bedrooms and found the plate in the garage which is now framed. There are some issues from time to time, like hanging a picture, best to just use a screw or command strip. :) All and all I love my home.
    Amanda - Louisville, KY

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  6. I believe I have a grandson to the original Gunnison Homes. My house was built in 1961 and has a plaque in the garage the reads "US Steel" Registered Home. The registration number is 61821-1. I have been trying to find out more info on "US STEEL HOMES" and it keeps leading me back to Gunnison. 1961, however, is after US Steel took full control of Gunnison Homes. Therefore, I call it the grandson of Gunnison. If anyone has more info feel free to contact me at msf5371@gmail.com Thanks!

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  7. We are purchasing a home in Columbus that screams pre-fab. No Gunnison Plate, though, which would really help satisfy my curiostiy about the history of our little bungalow.

    Construction appears to be panels, with wall section butt joints covered with trim. Trim across ceiling/wall joints and in the corners, with a little 3 way cap in each ceiling/wall corner.

    There is a basement. Poured floor, standard concrete block walls. I beam girder across the length of the house, with supporting posts sunk in the floor.

    The kicker is the truss style girders, set on the bottom of the I beam and the top of the foundation walls. The floor sets on those, with small hook-like clamps screwed into the floor "joists". Not a standard sized joist, more like 3" rather than 8" joists.

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  8. Randy Shipp, I emailed you several years ago...don't have your email anymore, but wanted to see what you have about Gunnison Homes. I sent you the # on mine in Evansville IN. Please email me @ janice.paul@deaconess.com

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  9. My wife and I purchased a HUGE Gunnison home that has been added to a couple of times over the years. 3/4 of the home is original Gunnison, The rest is more modern construction. We are in need of new siding and windows for the place and I'd like to maintain the integrity of the design. Do you have any ideas? We're in Cincinnati, Ohio pleco01@yahoo is my email. Thanks!

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  10. Im currently looking into buying a gunnison home as a downsizer.. does anyone know if i can repaint all the walls and ceilings?? Also need to redo kitchen and bath.. are the kitchen cabinets replaceable and the shower stall?? Also want to add half bath in partally finished basement.. getting nervous about this purchase and need some advise

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. My Gunnison had been painted previously by former owners. I had to cover the really ugly colors and had no issues. My contractor had the painters fill in some seams between the panels with silicon and used a water based primer first. I used Benjamin Moore colors: Fresh Butter in LR and kitchen with flat white for the ceilings. The molding was painted semi-gloss Decorator White. The bedrooms and hall were done Sage Green also with flat white ceilings and semi-gloss white for the trim. It CAN be done and the house looks great.

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  11. We just purchased a US Steel home about ten days ago. The original wall plate is still here. The house number is 47342-1.
    Does anyone know of a way to paint the interior doors and closet doors? They are steel (?). Short of sandblasting and powder coating which would be too expensive. Thanks!

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  12. Information about plots, lands or any other thing which comes under real estate can't be find correct any where but your blog seems to be one of the best one in sharing information as it contain information with honesty. I also want to introduce Vnext construction who are dealing with Instant wall panels and many more thing. They are well known for maintaining trust with the customers and also providing them with best material.

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  13. Just bought a Gunnison house in Wernersville PA. The whole neighborhood is Gunnison. I have the original plate on the wall in the utility area. Ours is a nice, cozy 2 bedroom model that we are loving more each day! The plate says 1961 I believe.

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  14. My father was a packrat and I just found the 4-1-50 Gunnison Homes Technical Service Bulletin on cleaning and caring for your Gunnison Home. It was the house I grew up in in Lancaster, Ohio. If anyone would like to take possession of this 12-page manual, please send me your mailing address at foliagepress@gmail.com. First come, first served.

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  15. Does anyone know if there was lead paint used in the Gunnison Homes. My grandson just rented one from a friend and it had been painted and he sanded all the paint off the doors and stripped the wall paint.

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  16. Currently selling our US Steel home in NJ. It's been a solid, 3 bedroom on a slab with its original plate, #51776-1. Email for listing. stdonohue@gmail.com

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  17. Currently selling our US Steel home in NJ. It's been a solid, 3 bedroom on a slab with its original plate, #51776-1. Email for listing. stdonohue@gmail.com

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  18. I'm not 100% sure, but I think we live in a Gunnison home, and I've been told it is. I have not seen any plate yet, but maybe it has been removed over the years. I live in a subdivision of the same type homes built late 1950's and early 60's. We live in Jeffersonville Indiana which is close to New Albany Indiana where the Gunnison factory was. The interior walls are thin,maybe 2 1/2"? Somebody told me outside walls are much thicker than normal construction. We have made some updates, new wood laminate flooring, new kitchen cabinets, paint, etc.. Does anybody know how I can tell for sure if a Gunnison Home w/o the tag? I appreciate the help. Thanks, John

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  19. I bought a Gunnison Champion Model 2, No 33243-1, built 8-27-52 January 2017 (the plaque is still there in the utility room). The outside has been nicely redone by the previous owners with new vinyl siding, new architectural roof, new windows, and an added 3 season room. The inside was a cosmetic disaster. The original wood plywood walls were painted hideous colors but the original moldings were still there. I have painted the walls/ceilings despite the Gunnison view to leave them unpainted as the utility room and closets were the only unpainted areas. The ageing plywood turned a dark, unpleasant color. I have kept the original moldings, painted them a semi gloss white, living room a soft yellow and the bedrooms and hall sage green with white ceilings. Looks great, love my house. Will be hanging large pictures with wood screws and lighter ones with 3M Command hardware.

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  20. Several blocks of homes in my PA neighborhood are Gunnison.

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