Ingersoll Village

Photo Gallery: Ingersoll Village

In the early years of World War II, building materials were scarce, and the manpower with which to build anything was scarcer. After the war the wave of returning GIs hoping to marry their sweethearts and start homes of their own swelled the housing crisis to major proportions. Kalamazoo played an interesting part in the solution to the problem.

Utility Core

Seeking an efficient and economical way to build homes, architect J. Fletcher Lankton, of Peoria, Illinois, designed a utility core that brought together all the plumbing pipes, wiring conduits and other necessary mechanical items in one unit that could be manufactured off site and inserted into a house under construction. The unit included a furnace, water softener and heater, plumbing for bathroom, laundry and kitchen, and electric, gas and ventilation connections. It was a mere 2.5 feet wide, 7.5 feet long and 6.5 feet high and would fit through any standard door. The design saved scarce metal, allowed the elimination of a basement, and since it could be installed on a prepared base in less than one day, it considerably speeded up the construction process. Lankton persuaded Kalamazoo’s Ingersoll Steel and Disc Division of the Borg-Warner Corporation to build the prototype.

Ingersoll utility core

The Experiment

To prove that houses could be designed around the utility core in a variety of styles, sizes and price ranges, eight nationally known architects were commissioned to design 12 houses. Landscape architect Michael Rapuano developed the site plan. In 1945 the houses were built in the Hillsdale Park subdivision, north of West Main Street and west of Pinehurst. The Miller-Davis Company of Kalamazoo served as general contractor. The houses were collectively known as Ingersoll Village. They were to be occupied for at least a year by Ingersoll engineers and home economics experts to evaluate the functionality of the utility unit. Open houses were held to interest the public in the concept. Later the homes were sold to private owners.

House at 1111 Crown

House at 1111 Crown, designed by Hugh Stubbins, ca.1946
Kalamazoo Public Library Photo, Miller Davis Collection MD-388

The company judged the project a success. In 1947, local builder Albert Davies used the utility unit in a forty-home development near Gull Road and Eastland Avenue. In the same year, a $5 million 544-unit apartment project using the utility core was begun in Seattle, war veterans to be given the first choice of apartments. Although many have been modified in various ways, all the original Ingersoll Village homes are still in active use.

An Idea for the Future

It was, however, an idea ahead of its time. There was resistance from the labor unions, who felt that their work was being done in the factories instead of the building sites. In addition, the large variation in plumbing codes from city to city and a shortage of steel and copper finally stopped production in 1949. But the housing shortage persisted and uniform plumbing codes were gradually adopted, so other companies began experimenting with the general concept, and twenty years later Operation Breakthrough, a federal program, decided to try again to use a utility core in ten American cities. In Kalamazoo, the result was New Horizon Village on the city's east side.

The Houses in Ingersoll Village

1029 Campbell

A New England Cape Cod, one of three homes designed by J. Fletcher Lankton of Peoria. Lankton was a principle partner in the firm Lankton-Ziegele-Terry & Associates that designed a wide variety of buildings. This home is currently almost unchanged from the original.

1024 Crown

Also a Cape Cod designed by Lankton

1025 Crown

By Royal Barry Wills, of Boston, a New England Cape Cod with a bay window. Wills was widely known for designing modest homes in traditional New England styles and updating them to meet the needs of contemporary living.

1034 Crown

By Edward Durell Stone of New York City and North Carolina, two-story, designed for southern temperatures. The main living space is located on the second floor, with a stone-surfaced ground floor for informal recreation, workshops, etc. No apparent exterior changes.

1037 Crown

A Prairie Modern designed by L. Morgan Yost with few walls to maximize the flow of interior space. The main living area faces north to take advantage of the view on the site. This house has been extensively altered and expanded.

1101 Crown

Designed by Alden B. Dow of Midland, the smaller of the two “corn-crib” houses, so called because two of the exterior walls in each slope outward at the top, creating a feeling of spaciousness and shading the bottom from direct sunlight.. Some alterations have been made to the original. Alden B. Dow was well-known in Michigan as a member of the Dow Chemical family. He was also the architect for the Kalamazoo Nature Center, the Disciples of Christ Church on Winchell Avenue, the original building for Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and several other local homes.

1102 Crown

By George Fred Keck of Chicago, a one-story passive solar house. The garage and secondary rooms are on the north side of the house to buffer winter winds. Main living areas face south and show an early use of large double-pane insulating windows. The original open carport has been enclosed into a garage, but the rest of the house remains substantially as designed. Keck gave a public lecture on solar houses in Kalamazoo in 1947 (see clipping in Art Scrapbook 5:8).

1103 Crown

Designed by Alden B. Dow, the expanded model of the “corn-crib” house. Dow’s designs for this project emphasized both economy and flexibility. Later changes were designed by Kalamazoo architect Gordon Rogers.

1111 Crown

Designed by Hugh Asher Stubbins, Jr., of Boston. Original designed as a one bedroom house with a den off the living room that could be converted into a bedroom as needed. A garage and additional bedroom have been added to this house. Stubbins was described by William Dudley Hunt, Jr., as being "very close to the ideal of the complete architect, adept at obtaining commissions for his firm, a good business man, a successful designer, a good manager."

1112 Crown

A long “California ranch house” by Harwell Hamilton Harris, of Los Angeles. It makes use of a kitchen “L,” the only variation from the utility core permitted the architects who worked on this project. It was also noted for its many built-in features and frosted glass indirect lighting panels. It was substantially altered in 1952 by Kalamazoo architect William A. Stone.

1115 Crown

By Hugh Stubbins, a three-bedroom that sought to link indoors and outdoors and to achieve a spacious feeling in a compact space. This home also featured stone partitions. Additional garage space was added later.

2229 LaCross

A ranch style designed by Lankton to make a comfortable living space in just 518 square feet, not by shrinking rooms, but by combining functions.

Photo Gallery

Ingersoll Village

Sources

Books

The Architecture of Alden B. Dow

  • Robinson, Sidney K
  • Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983
  • Includes some discussion of the Ingersoll project and a photograph of the interior of one of the houses that Dow designed for it.
  • 720.973 D744r

Contemporary Architects, Third edition (Harris)

  • London: St. James Press, 1994, pp.417-419
  • R 720 E53 1994

Contemporary Architects, Third edition (Keck)

  • St. James Press, 1994, pp.506-508
  • R 720 E53 1994

National Cyclopaedia of American Biography

  • “Lankton, J[oel] Fletcher”
  • New York: J.T. White, volume 56, page 487
  • R 920 N27

The Evolution of an Architect

  • Stone, Edward Durell
  • New York: Horizon Press, 1962
  • 720.973 S877

Contemporary Architects, Third edition (Stubbins)

  • London: St. James Press, 1994, pp.931-933
  • R 720 E53 1994

Current Biography 

  • “Royal Barry Wills”
  • New York: H W Wilson Co., 1954 pages 654-56
  • R 920 C97

Websites

“L. Morgan Yost,” The Art Institute of Chicago: Chicago Architects Oral History Project