Home | Whats New | Site Index | Search

Jefferson Street Historic District

Gary City, Lake County, IN

The Jefferson Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.

The Jefferson Street Historic District consists of six city blocks along Washington, Adams and Jefferson Streets between 35th and 37th Avenues in the Glen Park area of Gary, Indiana. The district is representative of a 1920s-1940s working class neighborhood. The tree-lined streets were laid out using a grid system, but unlike the areas of Gary developed north of the Wabash Railroad tracks by the Gary Land Company the natural landscape has been left virtually untouched. The topography within the district rises slowly in elevation from the flood plain of the Little Calumet River, about a half mile to the north of the district. When it reaches 36th Avenue the land begins to rise sharply due to the presence of the prehistoric Calumet Shoreline. This ancient shoreline traverses the Calumet Region from east to west; modern Ridge Road (U.S. Route 6), two blocks south of the district, follows this ridge. Though there are apartment buildings along Washington Street, and a couple of larger houses, the majority of the structures within the district are well-built, stylish small homes of five to six rooms. The district includes a variety of bungalow and period revival cottages popular during the district's era of significance. The houses share a common setback.

The Jefferson Street Historic District is an intact twentieth century bungalow/small house working class neighborhood. The District still projects an image today of a pre-World War II American working class neighborhood. The district consists primarily of bungalows and cottages, with a few larger houses and apartment buildings interspersed. The majority of the housing stock is representative of the modern housing concepts of Small House Movement of the early twentieth century; the majority of which were built between 1922 and the start of World War II. The builders of these houses applied many of the popular style elements of this era in their construction. The district is representative of a sub-divider development with several contractors building and selling houses in the sub-division. Some of the individual lot owners built their own houses on the lots they had purchased. The addition had restrictions placed on the deed setting a minimum cost of $3000.00 for the buildings to be constructed on each lot. These restrictions assured that a high quality of houses were to be built. This is still evident within the district today. The landscaping reflects the concepts of the district's period of significance. Besides some modifications to the structures over the years, the majority retain their integrity. The neighborhood would be easily recognized by any person who had resided within the district during its period of significance.

The addition was platted by Ella S. Roper of Hobart. Ella Smith Roper was the wife of Jarvis Roper and the daughter of Dorman Smith. The two men owned the Smith and Roper Mill in Hobart. After her husband's death Ella continued to operate the mill; this left her fairly well off and she invested in real estate. She purchased forty acres from John Gunzenhauser of Kane County, Illinois, for $25,000 on June 30, 1922.

The Jefferson Street Historic District developed as what is described as an Early Automobile Suburb: 1908-1945. The addition has wider lots than found in older streetcar suburbs where the maximum use of land that was convenient and easily accessible to the streetcar lines was the norm. The wider lot would allow for the footprint of the house to be shifted towards the edge of the lot that would allow for the installation of a driveway along one of the sides of the lot to access a garage located behind or attached to the house. The automobile by the mid-1920s had become the primary mode of transportation in the United States. Of the fifty-six structures built between 1921 and 1945, thirty-one, a little more than half, were built with garages; of these eleven were attached to the house. The remaining households either did not own an automobile, or parked them on the street. This was not a problem since the streetcar service from the steel mills in Gary came down along Broadway Avenue, just one block east of the district, into Glen Park.

When Mrs. Roper purchased the land from Gunzenhauser there were deed restrictions placed upon the property. The restrictions declared that no building [residence], except for support buildings such as garages, barns and out buildings, shall cost less than $3000. The restrictions also stated that there should be no more than one residence erected per lot and that all buildings [residences] shall share a common set back of thirty-five feet except for open porches that may extend ten feet forward from the front of the house into the setback. These restrictions set the tone for the appearance of the district today.

The District is comprised of parts of the first, fourth and fifth Park Manor Additions to the city of Gary platted and sold by Ella S. Roper. Mrs. Roper was not a builder or building contractor, she was a sub-divider. She bought the undeveloped acreage, platted it, laying out the lots and streets and then sold the individual lots to private individuals who would build their own house, or she sold the lots to building contractors who would construct a residence then selling it to another individual when completed. This type of development helped assure that a variety of builders worked in the building of the district and prevented the district from becoming a neighborhood of repetitive design, or what became known in post-WWII era as "cookie cutter developments." A review of the deed records from the 1920s and 1930s reveals that Mrs. Roper sold lots to many of the building contractors then operating in the Gary area, such as William J. Schroeder, Gerrit O. Verplanck (Verplanck & Verplanck), John D. Picchiottino, and the Gary Better Home Building Company. These builders constructed homes for the working middle class employing several of the architectural styles popular in America in the decades between the World Wars. The Lake County Indiana Deed Records also reveal that one hundred forty-one of the one hundred fifty lots within the three Park Manor additions to Gary that make up the historic district were sold by 1930. Several of these appear to be investment purchases since no residence appears on these lots until the late 1930s, early 1940s, and post-WWII years.

No evidence could be found indicating that any of the residences built in the district were the specific project of an academically trained architect. Several of the houses do closely resemble structures that appear in many of the architectural plan books of the 1920s and 1930s as well as those sold as kit homes by companies like Sears and Roebucks (Honor-bilt) and Montgomery Ward (Ward-way).

Several building contractors worked within the district. The Gary Building and Manufacturing Company built a group of houses at 3554, 3551, 3547, 3540, 3539 Adams Street. The firm of Anderson and Schroeder Realty Company built structures at 3643 Adams and 3544 Jefferson Streets. Architectural Historian Alan Gowans, in his book, The Comfortable House, calls these builders near or non-architects. Many had learned the building trade from their fathers and grandfathers and were not trained as an academic architect. They applied popular decorative style elements to vernacular structures or were able to build architecturally-designed homes by applying their vast building experience to recreate a home from plans published in many catalogs, architecture plan books, trade literature, newspapers and lumberyard fliers that were available in great numbers to the public.

The Polk City Directories between 1925 and 1961 indicate that the owner/residents were primarily middle class skilled workers, tradesmen and small business owners. Several of the residents listed their occupations as steel or millworkers, crane operators, machinists, and electricians. Frank Norris, a carpenter by trade, appears to have built his house located at 3666 Jefferson Street. Small business owners such Eric D. Kuppler, owner of Kuppler's Jewelry store, resided at 3551 Adams Street later contractor Frank H. Marquart resided in the house, Frank Mortellaro, a restaurant owner, lived at 3540 Adams. Several contractors and home builders lived within the district. Two of Gary's very successful immigrant contractors, John Gerometta and John Lagura, at different times, occupied the house at 3672 Jefferson Street. August J. Pelka, president of the Lake County Plumbing Company resided at 3547 Adams Street. The large house located at 3620 Jefferson Street was built by Milton D. Heiny, president of the Glen Park State Bank. He resided in the house until it was purchased in 1935 by the Oblate Fathers of the Catholic Benedictine Order; the order occupied the residence into the 1960s doing work with Gary's poor.

‡ Gregg Abell, Jefferson Street Historic District, Lake County, IN, nomination document, 2011, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
36th Avenue West • 37th Avenue West • Adams Street • Jefferson Street • Washington Street