The South Shore's hidden architectural wonders

2013-02-18T00:00:00Z The South Shore's hidden architectural wondersJane Ammeson Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
February 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Back in 1920, Inland Steel assembled their first company housing project – winding streets of two story duplexes for middle management employees, foremen and skilled workers in a neighborhood in Indiana Harbor called Sunnyside.

The United States Sheet and Tin Plate Company also wanted to provide their workers housing but opted for a more “modern” approach, building formed concrete buildings based upon a style created by inventor Thomas Edison. By 1914, there were some 96 of these edifices.

“They are called Edison Concept homes because there were built using Edison’s developed design,” says Tiffany Tolbert, director of the Indiana Landmarks Northwest Field Office in Hobart.

“However, they are concept [homes] because Edison called for the concrete to be poured in one whole mold for the entire house. The homes in Gary were bored one floor at a time and built in layers.”

Almost a century later, 72 of the Edison homes survive and are part of Gary’s Polk Street Terraces Historic District.

Sunnyside endures as well, as do the wonderful Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, Craftsman and American Foursquare houses lining the perimeter of Washington Park, in Indiana Harbor, which were built in the 1920s for Inland’s upper management.

All are part of the rich blend of architecture easily found in neighborhoods and along country roads in Northwest Indiana.

Frank Lloyd Wright also made his way to the area, building two homes in Gary. The 1916 Wynant House at 600 Fillmore was destroyed in a fire, but the 1910 Ingwald Moe House at 669 Van Buren still remains.  A later Wright home that survives is the 1939 Andrew F.H. Armstrong House in Ogden Dunes.

“Some of the most well-known architects were George and Phillip Maher who did work in Gary,” says Tolbert. She is an aficionado of early twentieth century architecture, and so enjoys the Horace Mann area of Gary with its Tudor, Spanish and Colonial Revival architecture.  

“Edward D. Dart was another well-known architect from Chicago," she said. "He designed St. Augustine Episcopal Church in Gary as well.  In Lowell there are a number of homes designed and built by Claude J. Rumsey – he was more of a builder than architect, but all of his homes have a unique Victorian design. 

"Because of the proximity to Chicago, Northwest Indiana benefited from a number of Chicago architects who designed numerous homes and commercial buildings.  Not all of them were at the level of Frank Lloyd Wright, but they were notable in their own right.”

Wright also designed three homes in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan, two small cities on either side of the St. Joseph River.

“That seems like a lot for two small towns,” says Bob Myers,  the museum curator at the History Center at the Court House Square in Berrien Springs, who lives in an 1892 home noted for its ornate side porch and decorative corner roping.  His home is located on State Street in downtown St. Joseph’s historic district.

Myers, along with his wife, Candace, also research the history of area homes for their business My Old House.

Mike Wood and Susan Wilczak renovated a century-old Arts and Crafts home with cedar shingles, one of many built on the hills overlooking Lake Michigan in Benton Harbor’s historic Higman Park in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These types of enclaves of historic gems can be found throughout the area. Myers lists a few of his favorites including an octagonal home in nearby Dowagiac, Michigan.

“Those are very unique,” he says. “They were mildly popular in the 1850s. It’s sort of an eccentric type house. We have a lot of really unusual buildings like that around here as well as homes who have interesting stories.”

The Wood home in Benton Harbor, originally built by William North Bean, is an example of that.

“Bean built one of the first electric generating plants in the state of Michigan, and that’s something to say in the state where Edison lived,” says Wood.  “He built it in Benton Harbor for lights for his stable and for the Yore Opera House.  He also at one point shot a Benton Harbor City Commissioner in the leg in an altercation because the commission wanted to tear up his tracks.”

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