United States Housing Corporation Historic District
The United States Housing Corporation Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The United States Housing Corporation Historic District (Project #157) is located approximately one mile due west of the Thames River parallel with the downtown section of New London on roughly twenty acres along the western edge of the city. There are 90 principal buildings in the United States Housing Corporation Historic District, including 84 contributing buildings, and 34 outbuildings, of which 31 contribute to the themes of the district. The Colonial Revival style is predominant in the United States Housing Corporation Historic District, with the majority of the houses sharing similar design features.
Jefferson Avenue creates the eastern boundary. The land rises sharply to the west, increasing the elevation as much as 25 feet within a 250 foot distance. The first stories of houses on Colver Street, paralleling Jefferson Avenue, are often above the roofs of the Jefferson Avenue buildings. The western edge of the United States Housing Corporation Historic District is bordered by Bates Woods, a city-owned arboretum. The property lines of the houses along Fuller and West Pleasant Streets define the northern and southern boundaries, respectively. Lincoln Avenue bisects the district in an east-west orientation and Colver Street runs perpendicular to Lincoln Avenue in north-south orientation.
Landscape features and street patterns provide definition to the United States Housing Corporation Historic District. Rounded fieldstone retaining walls run along the entire eastern edge of the district on Jefferson Avenue, curving in where Lincoln Avenue crosses Jefferson Avenue. From the point it crosses Jefferson, Lincoln Avenue is divided by an island and paved in brick. It sweeps around a small central park, interrupting Colver Street before continuing west to intersect with Colman Street. Both Fuller and West Pleasant Streets are entered from Colman Street and curve into Colver Street instead of connecting through to Jefferson Avenue. Private drives run behind the houses on the east side of Colver Street, providing common access to the garages for both the Colver Street and Jefferson Avenue houses. Houses are sited diagonally around the park and also at the intersection of Coleman Street and Lincoln Avenue. A walkway, consisting primarily of series of concrete and fieldstone steps, runs up the hillside from Jefferson Avenue to Colver Street, providing a pedestrian connection between West Pleasant Street and Jefferson Avenue. Mature oak trees line both sides of West Pleasant Street.
The overall architectural style of the buildings in the United States Housing Corporation Historic District is Colonial Revival. Most of the homes were built between 1919 and 1920 using standard patterns. Three houses predate this construction: an 1889 Queen Anne at 1 Fuller Street, a modest Folk dwelling moved to 13 Fuller Street in 1924, and a vernacular farm dwelling at 232 Jefferson Avenue. The homes on Fuller Street, Marshall Place, and Colman Street which were built within a decade after the main development, were designed using the Colonial Revival motif established by the United States Housing Corporation houses include Dutch Colonial Revival duplexes, Bungalows, and American Foursquare houses.
Eight basic architectural plans were used by the United States Housing Corporation for its development of 64 houses. An additional 25 buildings were contemplated for the project but never constructed due to the cessation of hostilities in November 1918. All of the houses use similar design features, including clapboard siding, slate roofs, semi-circular attic vents and lattice-work porches.
The three single-family house patterns, classified within this nomination as Building Types A, B and C, are modest, small-scale homes only one or two bays wide. Thirteen of the United States Housing Corporation houses are single-family dwellings. Building Type A is the smallest dwelling in the United States Housing Corporation Historic District, one bay wide by two bays deep, gable-end-to-street with a shed-roofed porch over the entrance in the end bay. 228 Jefferson Avenue is a variation of this type, two bays wide with a side porch for secondary access. Building Type C has a sweeping roof line over the front porch and gabled dormers reminiscent of the Bungalow style. This building has a front facade two bays wide, ridge parallel to the street.
The duplex styles are distinguished from each other by massing, porch placement, and roof treatments. Building Type D has a cross-gabled 4-bay facade with a 2 bay center block and recessed wings with side porches with shed roofs. Building Type E has a 4-bay facade, with ridge running parallel to street with 2-bay center block with recessed wings with shed-roofed side porches on each side of the projecting central bay. Building Type F has 4-bay facade, ridge running parallel to the street with a center cross-gable, jerkinhead gables, and shed-roofed porches on the end bays. Building Type G, always located on a street corner, consists of two distinct sections which front the intersecting streets. Cross gables define the two sections of this building. The first section has a 2-bay facade with its ridge parallel to the street and a one-bay shed-roofed porch over the entrance located in bay at the end of the facade. The second section has a 2-bay facade with ridge parallel to the cross street and a full one-story shed-roofed porch across the facade. Building Type H, the simplest of the duplex types, has a 4-bay facade, ridge parallel to the street, with gable-end porches over the entrances located in the end-bays.
Within the United States Housing Corporation Historic District there is one house which is distinguished from the others. 203 Colman Street (1919) may have been the first house built in the development. Unlike the other houses with clapboard siding and slate roofs, this house is composed of a stucco first story with clapboard on the upper half-story and full shed dormers. The house is larger than any of the other single-family houses in the development, three bays wide by three bays deep. A one-story shed-roofed latticework porch extends across the front facade.
Most of the houses built in the United States Housing Corporation Historic District which post-date the United States Housing Corporation development take their basic stylistic impetus from the Housing Corporation buildings. 264-266 Colman Street was built in 1927 but is nearly identical to Building Type F. 225 Colman Street, built in 1924, is a single-family Colonial Revival dwelling with a slate roof which complements the slate roofs of the Housing Corporation buildings. A 1926 duplex with Bungalow style influence at 21-23 Marshall Place retains the scale of the Housing Corporation development. The design of the three Dutch Colonial Revival style duplexes on Fuller Street was dictated partially by the contract requirements of the Housing Corporation when the land was sold to the builder. Thirteen of the 15 contributing houses which post-date the United States Housing Corporation project were built by three Italian immigrant brothers-in-law between 1924 and 1930. These houses have granite block foundations with distinguishing "macaroni" bead mortar. The remaining contributing buildings are modest Folk houses with a Colonial Revival motif.
The overall appearance of the district remains intact despite the application of later sidings on a number of buildings. The landscape design of the United States Housing Corporation Historic District is fundamentally unchanged from the original plan except for the loss of a few mature oak trees in a 1985 hurricane. It is this distinguishing feature, in conjunction with the common building elements, such as slate roofs and lattice-work porches, through which the district retains its integrity.
The United States Housing Corporation Historic District is historically significant as a well-preserved example of the first federally sponsored housing program in the United States. It was built by the United States Housing Corporation, an agency created in 1918 expressly to build and manage housing developments for workers in strategic manufacturing centers throughout the country. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., was the manager of the Town Planning Division of the United States Housing Corporation and had responsibility for this project. The district is architecturally significant as a Colonial Revival residential development project designed by Francis V. Hoppin and Terence A. Koen, architects trained in the office of McKim, Mead & White. It embodies features promoted in early 20th-century planned residential community theories, incorporating uniform building design, siting, and landscaping into the overall plan. Additional architectural significance is gained from the involvement of three local builders, Italian immigrant bothers-in-law, who purchased surplus building lots from the Housing Corporation and built thirteen houses within the district between 1924 and 1930.
The United States Housing Corporation was created on July 9, 1918, as part of the Department of Labor's Bureau of Industrial Housing and Transportation. The Housing Corporation provided a vehicle for planning and funding family oriented housing in industrial communities throughout the country. World War I compounded what was already considered a severe housing shortage in urban areas. Expanding manufactories meant large workforces that required adequate housing. Lack of such housing was often cited by companies as contributing to high labor turnover and the consequent inability of firms to meet production quotas. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., manager of the Town Planning Division of the Housing Corporation, claimed, "The strength of American industrial life...these men(workers) demand...decent and comfortable living conditions, schooling and play opportunities for their children, and all essentials of civilized life..."
Although the impetus for the Housing Corporation was wartime housing and construction, the goal of the Housing Corporation was to improve the overall housing conditions throughout the country through the construction of planned permanent housing projects. After the cessation of hostilities following the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 the United States Housing Corporation stopped work on developments where houses were not nearing completion or there was no great need for additional dwellings. Olmsted identified the need for providing favorable mortgages for both home builders and individuals. The formation of a national mortgage program may have resulted from his advocacy of this program.
On August 16, 1918, the United States Housing Corporation made an agreement with the City of New London to purchase and develop a tract of land for housing for workers "...engaged in activities connected with the prosecution of the war against the Imperial German government." New London was selected because the region had a quantity of industries involved in wartime production employing at least ten percent of the population, most of whom resided in New London, the city had an acute housing shortage. Between October 1918 and February 1919, the Housing Corporation had purchased four tracts totalling 20 acres on the western edge of New London. The development of the district, designated as Project #157 by the United States Housing Corporation, called for the construction of 64 houses on 163 building lots; each building was either to be a single-family or a semi-detached, or duplex, dwelling. Approval for the permits was granted by the city just five days before the Armistice.
Despite the Armistice, plans and work on Project #157 continued. By the time the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919, the first houses were built. Construction of 25 additional buildings contemplated by the Housing Corporation never proceeded. The end of the war undermined the urgency of the project, though not its usefulness. The houses were quickly tenanted by predominately middle- and working-class families. The houses were originally targeted for employees of the Groton Iron Works and New London Ship and Engine Company, now Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics. Other residents of the district were employed by the railroads, Brainerd and Armstrong Silk Mills, and Sheffield Dentifrice. By 1921, most of the buildings had been sold. The majority of the mortgages involved were held by the United States. In a period of five days in the fall of 1921, 73 mortgage transactions were recorded for the district which were held by the federal government through the United States Department of Labor. The mortgages typically were in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $6,000 at 6% interest. The last of the government lots was sold in 1926.
In 1923, John Mondelci bought 13 building lots, including one house, from the Housing Corporation, with a mortgage held by the United States to cover the transaction. With his brother Giuseppe, Mondelci built seven single-family and duplex dwellings on the lots. He sold one lot to his brother-in-law, Paris Carnaroli, a carpenter, who built a Bungalow at 37 Fuller Street. His other brother-in-law, Vito Bellucci, purchased the adjacent Fuller property in 1924, moved a small house or outbuilding onto the property, and remodeled it as 13 Fuller Street; he also built 90 Fuller Street and 260 Jefferson Avenue. Bellucci, together with another carpenter, John B. Leary, built 222 Colman Street in 1924 and the Bungalow duplex at 21- 23 Marshall Place in 1920.
The United States Housing Corporation Historic District contains a cohesive grouping of modest Colonial Revival dwellings in a planned setting which is visually and stylistically unique in New London. The houses in the district were based upon eight basic plans which were modified in siting and landscaping to provide a harmonious development while avoiding a monotonous, institutional appearance. The contributing infill buildings are well-preserved and take stylistic cues from the Housing Corporation designs to create a cohesive streetscape of early 20th-century dwellings.
A slump in the building industry during the war made architectural and planning talents available to the Housing Corporation. The architectural, engineering, and planning team members who designed the New London project were selected by the appropriate divisions of the Housing Corporation for their professional qualifications for this particular development. The architectural firm of Hoppin & Koen worked with Charles N. Lowrie, town planner, and Tribus & Massa, engineers.
Francis V. Hoppin and Terence A. Koen worked as draftsmen and designers with the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead, & White for a number of years before establishing their own firm in New York City (1894-1923). In partnership, Hoppin & Koen are noted for their design of the New York City Police Headquarters (1909) and a number of stations for that department, as well as fire stations, and the Albany (New York) County Courthouse. Their experience in a firm noted for promoting the Colonial Revival style in American building design may have influenced their choice of this style for the New London project. The extensive use of the Colonial Revival style in Housing Corporation projects established the style as a prototype for later public housing developments, such as Radburn, New Jersey (1929), which is strikingly similar to the New London project.
The form used is simple and met the standards established by the Housing Corporation. Building material choices were based upon considerations of cost, design, and ease of procurement under wartime conditions. The use of slate roofs and brick paving may be related to the scarcity of petroleum-based products. Interior layouts were designed to provide functional living quarters, just as exterior siting was considered to create a pleasing appearance. The tediousness of the modest Colonial Revival theme is broken by varying the massing, rooflines, and setbacks of the houses in the development. The eight basic house styles are tied together through uniform use of building materials and decorative features, in particular clapboard siding, slate roofs, and open latticework porches. Additional continuity is gained through the use of landscape design, such as common alleys, walkways, and open spaces, retaining walls, embankments, hedges, and plantings. The house at 1 Fuller Street (c.1889), with its abundance of Queen Anne detail, serves as a foil for its simpler neighbors and with 232 Jefferson Avenue, is a reminder of the agricultural origins of the project property.
Landscape design was an important aspect of the New London project. Deed restrictions placed by the Housing Corporation prohibited the alteration of the embankments or the placement or considerations of the pedestrian character of the project. Alleys served as common driveways. Attractive vistas were created by varied setbacks, siting arrangements, visual termination points, extensive planting, and an oval parklet and center island on Lincoln Avenue. Lots facing Jefferson Avenue were terraced to provide level surfaces for building and garden areas. Slopes were planted in honeysuckle for ease of maintenance.
Giuseppe and John Mondelci, carpenters and builders, were in partnership together as Mondelci Brothers. Together and also independently, they built a number of houses in New London. John Mondelci later became a contractor for larger public works projects, building a wing on Chapman Technical High School in New London, Westerly High School in Rhode Island, and in partnership with Frank and Fred Benvenuti, buildings on the grounds of Norwich State Hospital. When work was slow, John Mondelci would get financing to build houses on the lots he had purchased from the Housing Corporation in 1923. Between 1927 and 1930, he built one duplex in the district each year. 264-266 Colman Street is patterned after the Housing Corporation design for Building Type F, excepting the lack of jerkinhead gables. The three Dutch Colonial Revival duplexes on Fuller Street are distinguished from each other by variations in design details, such as common vestibules with gabled roofs for 25-27 and 49-51 Fuller Street and leaded glass windows in 21-23 Fuller Street. All of the Mondelci houses and those built by his brother-in-law, Vito Bellucci and Paris Carnaroli, use traditional American building designs, with certain building techniques reflecting their Italian heritage, in particular, use of a beaded "macaroni" mortar joint.
The later houses generally have larger lots and are slightly larger than the Housing Corporation buildings. Careful attention is paid to landscaping and siting, requirements dictated by deed restrictions from the Housing Corporation. Setbacks were determined by the Housing Corporation buildings. Following the pattern used by the Housing Corporation, 21-23 and 25-27 Fuller Street share a common driveway which leads to their respective garages. Shade trees line Fuller Street in similar fashion to the trees lining Colman and West Pleasant Streets.
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"Obituaries." New York Times. 17 May 1923, and 10 September, 1941.
Olmsted, Frederick Law. Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 8, No.5, pp. 1253-1264, May 1919, "Lessons from Housing Developments of the United States Housing Corporation."
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Wright, Gwendolyn. Building the Dream. A Social History of Housing in America Cambridge: MIT Press. 1983.
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________. "Sanborn Map of New London, 1954."
Mondelci, Pia, June 7, 1989, by Nancy Gruskin.
† Sharon Churchill, New London Landmarks, Inc. and John Herzan Connecticut Historical Commission, United States Housing Corporation Historic District, New London, Connecticut, nomination document, 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.