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Company Letterhead, 1927

Among the early manufactures of pre-cut houses, popularly known as mail-order homes, was the Gordon-VanTine Company of Davenport, Iowa. Frequently identified as a small company whose sales were limited to the central United States, Gordon-VanTine had a much more significant role in the mail-order housing industry than has previously been credited. Evidence gathered by the author, most notably from a research trip to Davenport in the summer of 2001, suggests their involvement and influence was comparable to the larger housing manufacturers Sears and Aladdin.

In the spring of 1866 U. N. Roberts established a sawmill at Davenport, a growing community strategically located at the intersection of the Mississippi River and the Rock Island Railroad. One of several regional manufacturers of millwork, the river brought lumber from the forests tc the north and south while the railroad provided access to the eastern and western markets. As settlers moved west Roberts became a major supplier for their builders and lumberyards. Married on June 17, 1868 to Julia Roraback, his brother-in-law Uriah Roraback took over operations of the mill when U.N Roberts died. On January 20, 1893 Roraback, his nephew Edward C. RobeksT J.B. Mask, A.L. Gartside and A.H. Stange incorporated the U.N. Roberts Company with twelve hundred and fifty shares of stock valued at $125,000.00. Over the next few years the Roberts family purchased the outstanding shares of the other stockholders and brought younger son Horace G. Roberts into the company. Following the lead of other manufacturers who had taken advantage of the Rural Free Delivery Act, U.N. Roberts decided to introduce a mail-order catalog of millwork and building materials. To finance this expansion the Board of Directors increased their capitol stock to three thousands shares valued at $300,000.00 at a January 11,1906 meeting. The following year on March 21,1907 the Board of Directors at U.N. Roberts amended the Articles of Incorporation to permit the establishment of subsidiary companies, including Gordon- VanTine.

An early UN Roberts Catalog Circa 1895.

The cover of the 1912 Gordon-VanTine catalog of House Plans

The 1912 House Plan catalog featured Dutch Colonial residences such as Model #119.

* Flip -The house used for this illustration was built in Davenport at 2001 Tremont Street.

 

On April 15,1907 the Gordon-VanTine Company was incorporated for the purpose of "... buying, selling, manufacturing, jobbing, distributing, handling, and otherwise dealing in and with building materials of every kind and nature, sash, doors, blinds, lumber, and the manufacture of paints, oils, varnishes and painters supplies...."The Principal stockholders were Edward C. & Horace G. Roberts, and Harry V. Scott. Legend has it the name Gordon-Van Tine is taken from the middle name of Horace Gordon Roberts and Harry Van Tine Scott, although there is no evidence regarding what the middle initial of the latter represented.  To carry a large stock of building materials the new company required significant capitol.  Twenty-five hundred shares of stock were issued at a value of $100 for a total capitalization for $125,000.00.  The Davenport Daily Times  mentioned a few days later the incorporation of Gordon-Van Tine and had noted the new company would  “do jobbing, wholesaling and handling builders materials of every nature such as sashes, doors, blinds, etc.” (4/17/1907). The 1908 Davenport City Directory lists Edward Roberts as President of the company with Harry Scott as Vice President, William Hobson as Secretary, and Horace Roberts as Treasurer-General Manager.  

Operating from the existing U.N. Roberts facility at the corner of Federal and Swifts streets, there is evidence that Gordon-VanTine was established to supply customers of Sears Roebuck & Company with millwork and building materials. For many years Sears had offered building materials in its catalog of general merchandise. Sales were less than desirable until the introduction of a specialized catalog for Millwork and Building Materials in 1907. Although Sears failed to acknowledge its suppliers, page 97 of their 1908 millwork catalog assured customers that although millwork was shipped from a facility west of Chicago there was no additional freight charge. At the time the only large millwork companies west of Chicago within the eastern freight market were those along the Mississippi River in Iowa, including U.N. Roberts at Davenport. Further evidence that Sears employed Gordon-VanTine is a map in their Fall 1910 Building Materials and Millwork catalog that, although it is not labeled, clearly indicates Davenport was the location from which their lumber and millwork was shipped. Sears and Gordon-VanTine worked together for five year. By that time the sale of building material had become so profitable Sears Roebuck purchased a Norwood, Ohio lumber mill and terminated its association with Gordon-VanTine in 1912.


Having lost the Sears Roebuck account U.N. Roberts began an aggressive advertising campaign in popular contactor journals such as the National Builder:

The free millwork catalogue of Five Thousand Bargains offered to our readers by Gordon-VanTine Company, 647 Federal Street, Davenport, Iowa, is a marvel of the1 printers' art. This catalogue describes fully the very complete line of building mate: the sizes, descriptions, prices, etc. The catalogue, printed in colors, shows every millwork, lumber, hardware, art glass, etc., used in the building trades and enables the contractor or builder to order direct with the assurance that his order will be plainly understood. The Gordon-VanTine Company have been in the business of supplying lumber and millwork for the buildings of our subscribers for many years and their large list of customers who deal regularly with them is an indication of the esteem in which they are held. (April 1913)

 

Tin Of Gordon-VanTine "Light Hard Oil" Circa 1915

 

Among the early Gordon-VanTine catalogs, the 1912 Grand Book of Plans for Everybody was an impressive 65 page soft-bound booklet illustrating some forty houses and cottages for which customers could purchase plans, specifications and bill of materials. Although the catalog fea­tured designs for several ordinary Victorian and Vernacular residences it also included stylish Foursquare, Bungalow and Arts & Crafts homes. Many of the models were based on designs of Chicago builder William Radford, author of numerous popular house plan books. Other models were existing residences in Davenport, the rights to reproduce the designs being secured from the architect or builder. Abandoning the unwritten rule that mail-order companies did not compete with local suppliers, Gordon-VanTine established lumberyards in the neighboring communities of Bettendorf, Rockport and Moline.

By 1915 U.N. Roberts/Gordon-VanTine had established itself as a leading supplier of building materials. Each year, however, a significant share of its business was lost to the growing manu­factured housing industry. Much as U.N. Roberts had established Gordon-VanTine to reach the national market, several regional producers of sectional structures had introduced their own catalogs. Among the most noted of the early house manufacturers were E.F. Hodgson of Dover, Mas­sachusetts and Mershon & Morley of Saginaw, Michigan. Their catalogs offered structures consisting of prefabricated panels that were bolted together. By nature of their construction sectional buildings were limited to cottages and smaller homes, thus they were never a significant threat to Gordon-VanTine. A larger concern for Gordon-VanTine was the growing pre-cut housing industry, the most notable manufacturer being the North American Construction Company of Bay City, Michigan, manufacturer of Aladdin Homes. Named for the mythical tale of the genie that built a castle overnight for his master, Aladdin offered catalogs of stylish houses for which they would supply the plans and building materials. Unlike Gordon-VanTine, however, Aladdin shipped all the building materials pre-cut and ready to assemble. As pre-cut houses eliminated difficult work such as cutting lumber or fitting interior millwork, they were particularly popular in small communities and rural locations that did not have skilled builders or electricity, a market that until that time had belonged largely to Gordon-VanTine, Sears and other catalog suppliers.

With each year pre-cut housing sales doubled or tripled, attracting new manufacturers such as Harris Brothers in Chicago, Bennett Homes near Buffalo, Pacific System Homes in LosAngeles, Lewis Manufacturing and International Mill & Timber at Bay City, the last two worked for Aladdin Homes previously. Many suppliers of building materials fought the pre-cut housing industry with rumors of questionable quality and cheap construction. Gordon-VanTine, however, recognized the growing market for these homes. In 1916 the company introduced its own line of Ready-Cut Homes. "For many years we have been selling our Standard Homes direct to the homebuilders of the United States. These houses have given the utmost satisfaction, and will continue to do so. But there is a call in this day and age for a building which can be erected more quickly and more easily than the usual form of construction. Our Ready-Cut Homes meet this demand". The one hundred-page catalog featured eighty houses, smaller homes and cottages in popular architectural styles. Several pages were devoted to describing the pre-cut housing system, including an extensive list of materials, customer testimonials and an assuring letter from company president Edward Roberts, who noted that he lived in a Gordon-VanTine home himself.

 

The cover of the 1916 Gordon-VanTines Ready-Cut Homes catalog.

Davenport has several examples of Model #558, an Arts & Crafts style residence introduced in the 1916 Gordon-VanTine Ready-Cut Homes catalog at a cost of $1097.00.

 

This house is located at 820 East High Street in Davenport.

*flip, The Blue Model is at 408 East Washington Montpiler, OH.

 

Gordon- VanTine President Edward Roberts built this model home #560 for himself in 1915. The house, which customers could purchase for $1260.00 still stands in Davenport at 824 East Locust Street.

 

Model # 2617 was a Prairie Style house offored briefly in the 1917 & 1918 catalogs. Architectural historian Rebecca Hunter discovered this example in New Bedford, Illonois.

Gordon-VanTine referred to their buildings as ready-cut, a system they claimed would save the builder thirty to forty percent compared to traditional construction. All designs were standard­ized to maximize efficiency and reduce waste in materials and labor. Lumber and hardware were purchased in bulk. The factories had skilled employees and special machines to cut difficult pieces such as rafters and staircases. Lumber was pre-cut to length, guaranteed to fit, ready to nail, and labeled for easy assembly. Floor joists and bridging, sub-flooring, finished flooring, studs, rafters, sheathing, clap­boards, shingles, stucco, plaster or drywall, columns, railings, doors and windows, hardware, nails, and paint for two exterior coats were included in the order. Plumbing, electrical, and heating systems were available for an additional charge. Although the lumber and hardware were standardized, the designs were not and buyers were encouraged to personalize their order. Many models had two or three floor plans, while the exterior could be clapboards, shingles, stucco, or framed for brick. Walls, windows, and doors could be moved, added or eliminated. Porches, sun rooms, flower boxes, trellises, balconies, built-in cabinets, and a variety of door and sash patterns were available at an additional charge. To promote their homes, Gordon-VanTine offered catalogs through advertisements in popular magazines such as Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic, and Good Housekeeping. On request they would make arrangements for prospective buyers to inspect Gordon-VanTine houses in their vicinity or invite them to visit Davenport to tour model homes.

 

Model#534 as it appeared in the 1923 Gordon-Van Tine catalog.

 

 

 

This residence at 830 Brown Street in the neighboring community of Bettendorf is the original Model #534 and photographed for the illustration above.

* Flip- Another example of Model #534 located at 309 Forest Street in Davenport.

 

The residence at 2723 LeClaire Street (flip), Davenport is one of many local examples of Model #703, an Arts & Crafts residence introduced in the 1920 Gordon-VanTine catalog.
 

Gordon-Van Tine supplied many of the housing manufacturers with building materials. It even supplied pre-cut houses for a few front office companies that resold the houses as their own. The most notable of these clients was Montgomery-Ward. Unlike Sears Roebuck, Montgomery-Ward relied entirely on suppliers such as U.N. Roberts, thus information on its pre-cut housing department is scarce. Although Montgomery-Ward never acknowledged its suppliers in their catalogs the connection between the Chicago and Davenport companies can be found in the 1918 Montgomery- Ward Building Materials catalog where it is noted on page 79 that all"... millwork shipped from factory in Iowa". Evidence indicates Montgomery-Ward awarded its building materials contract to U.N. Roberts in early 1917. To make improvements and purchase equipment for the Montgomery-Ward contract the Board of Directors for U.N. Roberts tripled the value of its capitol stock to $900,000.00 on April 2, 1917. The capitol stock value for U.N. Roberts was raised to $ 1,100,000.00 on April 10,1919 and for a third time to $ 1,250,000.00 on March 8,1920. The McCelland Company, a Davenport manufacturer that had been supplying Gordon-Van Tine with window sash, doors and trim was purchased soon after­wards. McCelland was incorporated as a separate subsidiary on January 23,1920 with a capitol stock value of $400,000.00. Gordon-Van Tine also subcontracted to have houses manufactured by lumber mills at Hattiesburg, Mississippi and Chehalis, Washington, although it is known that these mills were also subcontractors for other pre-cut housing companies including Aladdin and Lewis homes.

Montgomery-Ward involvement in the mail-order housing industry dates back to 1910 when the company introduced house plan books from which customers could order building materials. Although shortages of materials during World War One hampered sales a much more significant problem for the Chicago Company was its outdated residential designs. As late as 1921 their house plan book featured uninspired turn of the century designs, most being the work of Chicago builder and architectural publisher William Radford. An additional problem was that even at this late time in the mail-order housing industry none of the Montgomery-Ward houses were available pre-cut. Evidence indicates that in 1921 U.N. Roberts approached Montgomery-Ward with an offer to take over responsibility for their mail-order housing department entirely. Gordon-Van Tine would design the houses, prepare the catalogs, manufacture and ship the house package in the pre-cut format. The 1922 Wardway Homes catalog, the first appearance of this brand name, was a marked improvement over previous catalogs. The first few pages were dedicated to providing customers with information about the benefits of Wardway Homes and explaining their ready-cut system of manufacturing houses.

The following pages featured some eighty Four-Square, Bungalow, and simple Arts & Crafts style homes, each model having a floor plan noting the dimensions of rooms, an attractive description that identified architectural features, and an artist perspective rendering with the house set amid generous landscaping. On closer examination however, customers might have recognized that the model houses offered by Montgomery-Ward and Gordon-Van Tine were identical, the only difference between the two being the text and landscaping in the illustrations. The Foursquare style Bellevue in the Montgomery-Ward catalog was model #508 for Gordon-Van Tine. The Montgomery-Ward Danbury bungalow was Gordon-Van Tine model #537. Although Wardway Homes offered a few exclusive designs, of the seventy models featured in their 1922 catalog more than half were, in fact, identical copies of Gordon-Van Tine’s designs. Many other Wardway Home models were essentially Gordon-VanTine models with some cosmetic changes.

Gordon-VanTine offered several popular Foursquare style residences in 1923 including Model #545

*Flip - but with a different background, landscaping and stone porch piers the same house became the Wardway Warrenton.

 

A Model #572

* Flip Model #572 at Rusholme Street in Davenport, Iowa

By adopting Gordon-Van Tine models as their own, Montgomery-Ward entered the pre-cut housing market quickly and avoided the difficulties most manufacturers experienced during their initial years. Gordon-Van Tine already had the facilities to manufacture the houses, knew what they would cost and, most importantly, could predict what sales would be for the following year. At the end of every summer ready-cut housing manufacturers made estimates of what sales would be for the upcoming spring building season. During the fall-winter lull in residential construction the needed building materials were purchased. As most housing companies purchased in bulk and paid in cash manufacturers were eager to secure orders so as to keep busy through the winter. Typically estimates for the upcoming year were optimistic. Extra building materials and fixtures could always be stored for future use but a shortage during the spring building season, particularly of lumber, would require it be purchased at a time when prices were high. Residential construction for 1921 was predicted to rise significantly, following the trend of previous years. Recognizing the cost of building materials would raise correspondingly housing manufacturers spent the fall and winter purchasing large quantities of hardware and lumber. As the winter passed; the economy slowed, although the housing companies remained optimistic. When spring housing starts were far less than expected local builders and smaller housing manu­facturers cut prices in hopes of attracting sales. As local lumberyards and suppliers competed for sales the cost of building materials plummeted. Given the high costs of materials they had al­ready purchased housing companies, including Gordon-Van Tine, initially refused to lower prices. As U.N. Roberts supplied and manufactured much of its own building materials the company could afford to wait for the economy to improve. Through the summer of 1921 the situation grew worse as smaller housing companies began selling houses at and below costs, trying to secure whatever cash they could to pay bills. Gordon-Van Tine, Aladdin and other manufacturers who had held out were eventually forced to drop their prices and take significant losses. Housing starts for 1922 were not much better than the previous year but as many of the smaller companies had closed the pre-cut housing industry, including Gordon-Van Tine, found itself in a much stronger position.

The Montgomery-Ward contract brought a significant increase in business for U.N. Roberts, although evidence indicates that Gordon-Van Tine Homes was the largest portion of their busi­ness at this time. The 1923 Gordon-Van Tine catalog was actually an updated version of the previous catalog introduced in 1920, the most notable difference being a new cover and revised price list. This was standard practice in the pre-cut housing industry. The catalogs themselves were expensive to produce, requiring extensive preparation and specialized printers, particularly for color illustrations.The 140-page catalog was beautifully illustrated with informative descriptions and stylish model homes. Many of the more popular Bungalows and Foursquare style models from the previous catalog were retained, supplemented with new Colonial Revival style residences. Many of the cottages and smaller homes, however, had been dropped from the catalog. Municipal requirements that houses have electricity and plumbing made it difficult to sell these structures. More significantly, smaller houses provided little opportunity for Gordon-Van Tine to profit on the sales of light fixtures, heating systems, plumbing and architectural services.

 

Gordon-VanTine offered a special catalog of FarmBuildings in 1927

An order form from the 1916 Gordon-VanTine catalog

Customers testimonials were featured in every Gordon-VanTine Catalog (1929)

 

GVT Model # 509

Flip * An example of Model # 509 in Angola Indiana

Following the lead of Montgomery-ward, Gordon Van-Tine offered customers and generous morgrage program in their 1929 catalog

 

 

#821

Bungalow Model # 521 was prehaps Gordon-VanTine's most popular.

Flip * One of the many local examples is located at 744 Brown Street in Betterndorf.

 

 

Gordon-VanTine's Cabot is frequently confused with Montgomery Wards Mayflower as they are the same house but sold under sperate labels.

Flip *The Cabot built at 321 Forest Street in 1927.

 

Another source of income for housing manufacturers, one that Gordon-Van Tine avoided, was providing customers with mortgages. International Mill & Timber introduced the pre-cut home mortgage program in their 1915 Sterling Homes catalog. When Sears Roebuck entered the pre-cut housing market a few years later the company established its own mortgage plan, hoping to secure orders from customers that did not have cash to purchase Aladdin or Gordon-Van Tine Homes. As Sears pre-cut housing department grew, offering new catalog models and establishing regional sale offices, so did the number of mortgages. Sears soon recognized that the mortgages were very profitable, even more so than the profit on the sale of the actual houses. The following catalogs featured a much more generous mortgage program, including a cash advance to begin construction and up to fifteen years to repay the loan. At the same time Sears, hoping to expand on their mail-order business, began an aggressive campaign to establish retail stores in major cities across the United States. Prompted by the actions of its competitor Montgomery-Ward opened retail stores across the country, each having a housing and building materials department, and introduced its own pre-cut home mortgage program. Montgomery-Ward continued to limit its involvement in the pre-cut housing industry by making others responsible for financing. At a February 14,1927 meeting the Board of Directors for Gordon-Van Tine approved a home mortgage program. This action was required, perhaps forced upon the housing manufacturer, when Harris Broth­ers, another Montgomery-Ward contractor with extensive financial resources, established a mortgage program. Although Gordon-VanTine continued to manufacture the houses and provided a limited number of mortgages, Harris Brothers quickly became the leading lender for Wardway Homes.

Based on the plan established by Sears, Montgomery-Ward customers needed to own the lot which the house would be built to quality for a pre-cut home mortgage. Montgomery-Ward gave credit for customers building the house themselves, allowing many to obtain the mortgage without any cash. The mortgage could be for an amount up to 75% of the value of the completed house and its land. Arrangements could be made for Montgomery-Ward approved contractors to build the house. The Wardway mortgage plan was so popular that U.N. Roberts introduced its own home loan program for Gordon VanTine customers, although they continued to provide a discount for cash sales.

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M#607

Model #607 was a popular Dutch Colonial style residence.

* Flip - The house used for the catalog illustrations still stands in New Castle, Indiana

 

The mortgage plan brought a surge in orders for Wardway Homes. Anticipating strong sales for the spring of 1928 the U.N. Roberts Board of Directors increased its capitol stock value to $2,250,00 (100 on December 21, 1927. Gordon- VanTine kept busy manufacturing homes for itself and for Montgomery-Ward throughout 1928. The company had just mailed out its spring 1929 catalog when Edward Roberts retired to California, although he would still be listed as Vice-president of the company. Horace Roberts, who had served as Vice-President for many years, assumed the position of President of U.N. Roberts and the two subsidiary companies. The 1929 Gordon-VanTine catalog was the most ambitious to date. The introduction pages promoted the home mortgage program, the four manufacturing facilities strategically located throughout the United States, the quality ofbuilding materials, the availability of architectural services for special requests, and the savings customers could expect in purchasing a Gordon-VanTine home. Bungalows and Foursquare style residences that had been popular in the past were featured in the catalog, along with Colonial Revival models and new Tudor Revival residences. Each of the models was described in detail and listed options for window screens, built-in cabinets, oak flooring and trim, wallboard and door arches. Several pages were dedicated to heating systems, plumbing and light fixtures. Throughout 1929 Montgomery-Ward kept busy establishing sales offices for its pre-cut homes and building materials department. Gordon-VanTine kept busy manufacturing houses and preparing a new 1930 catalog, including designs for new Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival models to replace the outdated Bungalows.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Stock Market Crash had little impact on spring 1930 housing sales. Wardway Home sales were particularly strong as the company offered generous financing in its efforts to compete with Sears. As the year passed sales began to slow but Montgomery-Ward remained optimistic. Gordon-VanTine, however, was concerned about the growing numbers of mortgage defaults on houses they had financed. U.N. Roberts eliminated its mortgage program in late 1931, just in time to remove those pages from its upcoming Gordon-VanTine catalog. The spring of 1932 saw a sharp drop in housing starts as consumer confidence suffered in the deepening Depression. U.N. Roberts/Gordon-VanTine sales that year were disappointing, as indicated by the January 25,1933 meeting of the Board of Directors for U.N. Roberts when they reduced the capitol stock value of the company to $ 1,750,000.00. Predications for the upcoming year looked even worse as Montgomery-Ward had closed its Wardway Homes sales offices and would not mail out catalog for 1933. Contrary to popular belief Montgomery-Ward and Sears Roebuck did not discontinue their pre-cut housing departments because of customers who defaulted on their mortgages. The New Deal programs introduced by the Roosevelt administration encouraged homeowners to refinance existing mortgages at a lower rate through programs established by the Federal Housing Administration. Throughout 1934 and 1935 customers paid-off their home mortgages with Sears and Montgomery. Without the profitable mortgage program Montgomery-Ward decided to discontinue its offerings of pre-cut houses and building materials entirely. Sears Roebuck continued to sell pre-cut houses but scaled back their operations significantly.

Three-dimensional cut-away floor plans, such as this 1932 drawing for the Beverly, were featured frequently in Gordon-VanTine catalogs to illustrate the size of rooms in comparison to furniture and appliances customers might have.

 

Kent

 

Montgomery-Ward, Sears Roebuck, Aladdin and Gordon-VanTine all offered versions of this Neo-Tudor style residence. This Gordon-VanTine Kent in Moline Illinois was easily identified by the upward sweep of the eaves.

Flip * Moline GVT Kent - 2437 Twenty Eighth Street

York

GVT Model York

Flip * A Gordon-VanTine York at 818 Jones Street in Bettendorf, Iowa

 

The Federal Housing Administration did little to assist the pre-cut housing industiy during depression. Relying on the recommendations of staffarchitects, a profession that had always resented any intrusion into their practice, the FHA initially refused to approve mortgages for pre-cut and manufactured houses. Gordon-VanTine continued to offer pre-cut homes despite the lingering Depression although their catalogs featured fewer models, most of which were smaller and simpler than those offered in previous years. Evidence indicates that during this time the majority of U.N. Roberts sales were for building materials, noting that most residential construction was for repairs and renovation. By 1938 the economy had recovered sufficiently that Gordon-VanTine launched an ambitious advertising campaign to promote sales for the upcoming building season. The March 6.1939 issue of the Davenport Democrat & Leader featured some twenty Gordon-VanTine houses that had been recently erected in the area. Many were model houses featured in the most recent catalog but a few were custom designed residences meant to illustrate the architectural skills of the Gordon-VanTine staff. Sales for 1939 and 1940 showed a significant improvement in sales over previous years. The 1941 building season was hampered by concern that the United States would be drawn into war with Germany and Japan. As the year passed restrictions on building materials needed by the defense industry, primarily metal and electrical components, created difficulties for Gordon-VanTine. During World-War Two Gordon-VanTine manufactured barracks and temporary housing. Edward C. Roberts died at his California residence on April 11,1944, leaving brother Horace G Roberts in charge of the three U.N. Robert companies.

During the Depression Gordon-VanTine sales were primarily for building materials (1932 catalog)

 

 

WilMore

The simple straight-forward lines of the 1941 Wilmore reflected shifting taste of homeowners after the Depression.

Flip * Bettendorf GVT Wilmore 1941 - 724 Brown Street

 

With the end of the war Gordon-VanTine quickly issued a building material catalog, but soon discovered federal restrictions limited the availability of many items. As prices set by the government was less than the cost of production manufacturers and suppliers, including Gordon-VanTine, refused to sell lumber and building materials. Undoubtedly this situation encouraged Horace Roberts to sell U.N. Roberts, Gordon-VanTine and McCelland to Cincinnati businessman Sidney Rose in 1946.

Rose was chairman of the Cleveland Wrecking Company, a national demolition and salvage company that despite its name was based in Cleveland. U.N. Roberts/Gordon-VanTine was one of many companies he acquired during the Depression and World War Two in his efforts to expand his operations. On January 20,1947 Rose presided over the first meeting of the new Board of Directors for U.N. Roberts/ Gordon-VanTine. Fred Weiland, Joseph Karp, Louis Goldsmith, Joseph H Hoodin and Phillip Moskowitz were Cincinnati businessmen who were associates of Rose. Although the new Board of Directors assured everyone the company would continue operations they had quietly been purchasing outstanding company stock. On July 3,1947 the Board of Directors announced operations at U.N. Roberts/Gordon-VanTine would cease immediately and the retail lumberyards at Moline and Rock Island closed, although the Bettendorf lumberyard would remain open for some time to take care of outstanding accounts.

 

The sudden closing of U.N. Roberts/Gordon- VanTine was unexpected given the fact the company was in a strong position to benefit from the housing boom that would follow. Evidence indicates Rose and his associates recognized that breaking up the company and selling off the assets would be profitable. The Federal Street facility was sold on November 22,1947 to the Tri-County Development Company. Tri-County was a Davenport development company operated by local businessmen Franklin and Louis Alter, local heavy equipment contractors, and Herbert Tenenbon and Richard Waxenberg, proprietors of a local grocery store chain. The rights to the name Gordon-VanTine was purchased by local businessman William Miller who incorporated the revived company on September 23, 1947. Miller also secured a five-year lease on the Bettendorf lumberyard, which operated for a short time under the Gordon-VanTine name. The McCelland Company was sold to Dewey Chapman of Tulsa, Oklahoma Chapman filed incorporation papers for the new McCelland Company on July 29, 1948 and continued to manufacture architectural millwork at Davenport until 1954 when the mill was destroyed by fire.

Gordon-VanTine was largely forgotten until the 1980's when Old House Journal published numerous items regarding the mail-order homes of Sears Roebuck and Aladdin. Since that time various magazine articles and books have been published regarding pre-cut homes but most failed to even mention the Iowa housing manufacturer.

Unfortunately no records have survived to indicate how many homes were manufactured or where they were built. The Davenport area, including the adjacent communities of Bettendorf, Rock Island and Moline may have some one thousand model and custom-designed Gordon-VanTine homes. Taking into account their involvement with Sears and Montgomery-Ward it can be estimated that in the forty years the company was in business some fifty thousand plan-book and pre-cut houses were produced. Although the lumber sheds and railroad spurs were removed some years ago the brick buildings that housed U.N. Robert/Gordon-VanTine still stand on Federal Street. The current owner is the Harborview Company, which rents space in the old buildings to various tennets.

 

Dale Patrick Wolicki

A noted authority on mail-order homes from Michigan manufacturers Aladdin, Lewis-Liberty, and Sterling, Wolicki is a volunteer with the Bay County Historical Society (Bay City, Michigan), promoting the preservation of local sites and structures as Architectural Historian.

He is the author of The Historic Architecture of Bay City, Michigan,  and co-author of The Sears Book of Barns, a Reprint of the 1919 Catalog and California’s Kit Homes: a Reprint of the 1925 Pacific Ready Cut Homes Catalog. He is currently working on a book regarding Montgomery-Ward and Gordon-VanTine pre-cut homes.

Although he designs the occasional house, Wolicki spends much of his time coordinating zoning and development projects for clients.

The author wishes to thank Ken and Amy VanSickle, who reside in an original Gordon-VanTine model house in Bettendorf, Iowa, for providing newspaper articles and copies of catalogs.

Special thanks to Rebecca Hunter, noted authority on the pre-cut homes offered by Sears, Roebuck & Company. During a December 2006 trip to Davenport Iowa her photographic memory of Gordon-VanTine houses allowed us to identify over one hundred models in a single day.