Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Neighborhood of Wardway Homes - Part 2

Stumbling across a neighborhood filled with Wardway homes in Pontiac, Michigan was quite an exciting discovery. As I explained in that post, it's unusual to find neighborhoods made up predominantly of kit homes. But that fact also had me wondering - how did all those Wardway homes come to be built in this neighborhood? I did some searching around on Google to see if there was any reference to these Wardway homes in Pontiac - no luck. 

My next step was to see if the land records for this area would reveal any clues. I started out by using Oakland County's Property Gateway mapping service to get some basic information about this area. The Property Gateway is a really cool online service that allows you to zoom into individual parcels and see details like subdivision names, lot numbers, lot dimensions and current and historical aerial photos. In this case, the map provided the name of the subdivision plat - "Modern Housing Corp Oakland Park".

Image of subdivision plat from Oakland County Property Gateway

Now that I had the name of the subdivision plat, I had enough information to turn to the State of Michigan's database of subdivision plats. This is another great online resource that has been invaluable in tracking down kit houses. The State of Michigan has digitized over 66,000 subdivision plats dating back to the days when Michigan was still a territory. While not every house is located in a subdivision plat, in the heyday of kit house construction, platting subdivision was one of the primary methods of subdividing land. 

The search interface includes both a simple and advanced search. For my purposes, the simple search was sufficient to find the subdivision plat in question.

There's the "Modern Housing Corp. Oakland Park" subdivision in the list. But there's two other subdivisions listed - "Modern Housing Corp. Addition" (and several replats) and "Modern Housing Corp. Oakland Park Subdivision No. 1". Interesting. Let's explore the "Modern Housing Corp. Oakland Park" plat first.

Modern Housing Corporation Oakland Park Subdivision

The plat can tell us quite a bit about the history of a property. In this case, the plat was recorded in early 1927. While the date when the property was platted doesn't always equal when the property was developed, it can help provide a context for when houses may have been built. In this case, knowing that houses weren't built any earlier than 1927 is consistent with the models of Wardway homes found in this neighborhood. The plat also tells us that the subdivider of the property was the "Modern Housing Corporation". We can also see that the street names match up with the current street names and locations. In some cases, we've run into situations where historical records list a street name or location different than the present day name and location of streets. Looking at the original plat can help resolve discrepancies between a current street name and the name of a street in historical documents. 

Now that we've established that the property was platted by the "Modern Housing Corporation", it's time to do some more research about the company. It turns out that the "Modern Housing Corporation" was a familiar name. The company was established in 1919 by General Motors with the mission to provide worker housing for GM employees. The lack of affordable housing for employees of major industrial firms was a major concern across the country and that was especially true in two of GM's major manufacturing centers - Flint and Pontiac. According to information available online, the company was involved in the building of homes from 1919 - 1933. 

The first major developments by the Modern Housing Corporation were the construction of almost 1,000 homes as part of the Civic Park development in Flint, Michigan and 500 homes in Pontiac in the "Modern Homes Corporation Addition". Aha! That name was in the list of subdivision plats we found earlier. But we know that the Oakland Park subdivision was platted in 1927 and that the Wardway models we've seen date from the late 1920s and early 1930s. So that would rule out the possibility that these homes were built in the first wave of homes constructed by the Modern Homes Corporation. 

Civic Park Flint Michigan

Images from the Civic Park development in Flint, Michigan
Image from 1919 American Lumberman courtesy of Google

It turns out that the plat for the Modern Housing Corporation Addition lies directly to the south and west of the Oakland Park plat. Through the plat document and corporate name, we have a connection to GM's Modern Housing Corporation. Was the Modern Housing Corporation responsible for the Wardway homes built in the Oakland Park subdivision? That seems possible. Many corporations turned to kit home manufacturers to provide worker housing especially following the end of World War I. But these homes were built later - definitely no earlier than 1927. Another possibility is that the homes were built by a developer who relied on Wardway to provide the homes for prospective homeowners. Absent any specific information about a connection between Wardway and the Modern Housing Corporation, it will take more research to determine how this neighborhood full of Wardway homes came to be. 

Having discovered that the Modern Housing Corporation Oakland Park subdivision was the home for all of these Wardway homes, I was intrigued about the listing for the "Modern Housing Corporation Oakland Park Subdivision No. 1". I didn't see that subdivision adjacent to the original Oakland Park plat. Where was it located? Could it be home to even more Wardway homes?


  1. I thought Civic Park was the Sterling homes... I wonder what GM has in their archives. We know that Sears has very little and what they do have is now locked down with no one to staff the records dept.

  2. I had a recollection of Sterling being involved with Civic Park. But I can't find anything online that confirms that. That American Lumberman article was circumspect about where the lumber was coming from and also mentioned DuPont in relation to the 500 homes built in Pontiac.