Architecture Corner – The American Foursquare

As the names imply, these houses are almost perfectly square. Although there are regional variations, a Foursquare home typically has these features:American_foursquaresears52

  • Two stories, with an attic and a full basement
  • Boxy shape
  • One-story porch across the front
  • Squat, pyramid-shaped roof
  • Single dormer at the center

The interior of an American Foursquare house echoes its box-like form. Typically, each floor contains four rooms–one neatly tucked into each corner. On the first floor you will find an entry foyer, living room, dining room, and kitchen. The second floor is an orderly arrangement of three bedrooms and, in one corner, a bathroom.

During Victorian times, the fashion was to build houses that were complex and often highly ornamented.  Homes of the 1880s and 1890s often had irregular rooflines with several gables, asymmetrical arrangements of windows and doors, and complicated floor plans that required many hallways and stairways. By the turn of the century, however, homebuilders were seeking easier, more economical forms.

The classic Foursquare shape became an American standard in the early 1900s and dominated neighborhoods throughout the first decades of the 20th century. The square form made these houses especially practical for narrow city lots. Arranging the rooms in quadrants eliminated the need for long hallways and made efficient use of interior space. What’s more, simple, symmetrical Foursquare homes were less costly to build than more complicated Victorians. Mail-order companies often featured no-fuss Foursquares pre-cut "kit" homes. Sears Roebuck & Co. featured 15 Foursquare models, ranging from the unpretentious wood frame "Hamilton" to the Spanish Mission "Alhambra" with scalloped parapets.

Lustron: The Home of Tomorrow (in 1947)

As the men and women who served in the armed forces and military hospitals came home from World War II, America faced a housing shortage.  At the same time, America had a surplus of steel because it was no longer needed for the war effort.  In 1947, behind the vision of Carl Strandlund, and with the help of tax dollars, the Lustron Corporation was formed in Columbus, Ohio with the plan to use this steel to mass produce prefabricated homes that would be affordable for every American family.Lustron_with_lady_2

Between 1949 and 1950, 2,498 steel homes were produced.  Then, a combination of changing market factors and political pressures put the Lustron Corporation out of business.  Today, many of these homes remain as a unique time capsule into 1950’s America.

A Lustron home is built completely out of steel.  The walls, ceiling, cabinets, and doors are all steel.  The exterior walls and roof are made of ceramic-coated steel tiles.  These are the same tiles used to build the first White Castle restaurants.  Liberty Frozen Custard in Tangletown was converted from an old Mobile gas station that is also made of the steel tiles. 

All the plumbing, heating and electrical were built into each home, which was then placed on a concrete slab.  Other than a few mechanical updates, and maybe new windows, the homes continue to function mostly unchanged – even in Minnesota.  Several Lustron homes remain in Minneapolis, including a handful in the Nokomis area.

Cape Cod Style – 200 Years of American History

As settlers in New England started to build cities and permanent homes in the late 1700’s, they called upon the influences of the English style they were accustom to and invented the original American starter home.  They were economically designed and the steeply pitched simple roof lines and clapboard siding helped them hold up to the area’s notorious weather.

The homes made a comeback in the 1930’s when depression era economics made the affordable style more popular, but also satisfied the fashion of colonial revival.  Common features are decorative shutters framing the windows and coved ceilings in the living room.

Kane_front_2 Then in the late 1940’s there was a booming demand for easy-to-build small homes for returning veterans and their young families.  Entire communities and neighborhoods were built with nearly identical Cape Cod homes.  Levittown, New York being the most famous example.  You can find entire Cape Cod blocks in the Nokomis neighborhood. 

The home allows for expansion, either off the back or up into the half story with a variety of dormers.  Hundreds of once identical homes have since evolved to be as varied as the rest of the homes and the people of Minneapolis.