If you've spent any amount of time around me (first of all....sorry), you know I originally hail from the town of Reading, Pennsylvania--a mid-sized rust-belt city who's lasting legacies are the 5th Avenue Candy Bar and that square on the Monopoly Board (the one many of you have always called the REED-ing Railroad...nope, sorry). Reading has suffered immensely from the decline of industry and has been the recipient of many dubious honors including one of the most dangerous cities in America, a leader in gang-related violence, and the most-recent distinction--the poorest city in the United States. This is all back-story to this point about me: I read a lot about urban decline. This led me to a most wonderful book: Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City, by Gordon Young.
Gordon Young has written an excellent book about someone who's sad to see the loss of his beloved hometown--Fint, Michigan. For those of you unaware, Flint has a distinction similar to Reading. He also has a related blog--http://www.flintexpats.com. I encourage you to check out both if you're interested in the decline of American cities.
Why Instant House Material?
Mr. Young writes about a particular neighborhood of Flint that is called Civic Park. He was kind enough to furnish me with some additional information about the neighborhood. Civic Park was built virtually overnight to accommodate a huge influx of workers to a proposed Buick plant (Flint is where General Motors first began). GM's housing subsidiary, "The Modern Housing Corporation", employed 4,600 workers to build 950 homes in 8 months...or roughly 4 homes per day. Parts of the homes were pre-fabricated at sawmills near the site, while other work crews worked in a modified assembly line to put up the eight different styles of houses (see below).
HEY, this sounds a LOT like LEVITTOWN!!!!
It sure does, with one notable difference--this was in the year 1919. Remember how me and countless others hailed Bill Levitt as the first successful mass-producer of houses in an assembly line fashion? Yeah....we're wrong. GM did it first.
Buying in Civic Park
|A Civic Park Dutch Colonial|
Homes were priced from $3500 to $8500 with a down payment of 5%. GM and MHC held the mortgages. You got an $800 credit toward the purchase of the home if you had 5 years of service at GM, and a dollar-for-dollar savings account match up to $300. Not surprisingly, the houses sold quickly.
The housing boom of Civic Park ended as quickly as it began. The economic slump of 1920 put a stop to wholesale building on speculation, but the neighborhood gradually grew and evolved into the larger scheme of Flint. Today, Civic Park remains somewhat of a Flint "holdout" neighborhood--though it's former glory has vanished. The neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places, and home-occupancy is higher than in the rest of Flint (where abandoned properties are a HUGE problem). Hopefully, I'll get a chance to visit the neighborhood someday, and hopefully the neighborhood finds a place in the 21st century. See below for the house types.
Civic Park House Types
from "Civic Park Home Preservation Manual"--courtesy of Gordon Young.
West Dayton Avenue Today - Courtesy of flintexpats.com
|The Three-Gable Saltbox|
|Maybe The Civic Park Saltbox? - Modified|
|The Civic Park Saltbox - In need of love|
|Another Three-Gable Saltbox|
|The Dutch Colonial|
|Another Dutch Colonial (porch enclosed)|
|Another Civic Park Saltbox|
|Yet another Three-Gable Saltbox|
For more pictures, please go to Gordon Young's blog: www.flintexpats.com.