The Gunderson Historic District incorporates the two subdivisions developed and constructed by S. T. Gunderson and Sons, a firm started by successful Norwegian immigrants. The First Subdivision was developed in 1905 on the 1000-1100 blocks of Home and Wenonah Avenues. The Second Subdivision was developed between 1906-1920 on S. Cuyler, S. Ridgeland, S. Elmwood and Gunderson Avenues.
The majority of the single-family Gunderson homes are American Four Square types constructed between 1906 and 1911. They are individualized with original detailing of Colonial Revival, Arts and Crafts, Queen Anne or Prairie style influence. Although the massing is consistent on all the homes, there are many variations of detail on the homes throughout the district, including roofs, bays and siding.
The American Four Square played a critical role in speculative developments throughout the United States; they were basic, comfortable homes affordable by the middle-class from 1895-1925. The typical American Four Square home in the Historic District is slightly longer than the standard square floor plan.
The American Four Square houses in the district are illustrative of the variety of secondary styles that often accompany the style. Most have strong horizontal lines, restraint in ornamentation, and wide eaves. Some of these features are strong enough to be considered the influence of the Arts & Crafts and Prairie School styles. Some are graced with a classical flair, often manifested in Ionic or Corinthian capitals on round porch columns. This building style is considered a distinctive new building style from the turn of the century. While many of the homes in the district do contain other stylistic components, their massing, floor plate, and window patterns are essentially the same.
The homes were graced with art glass windows – typically five per house. The S.T. Gunderson & Sons brochure stated that “your home will have at least 5 high-class art-glass windows – one in the hall, one in the stairway, one over the built-in sideboard, another in the side-wall of the dining-room, and another in the library, the character of each being appropriate to its situation and environment.”
The 500 block of South Ridgeland South Cuyler Avenues were developed by S.T. Gunderson and Sons between 1915-1920 for the construction of brick two-flats. These 22 brick two-flats are designed in the Arts & Crafts style with clay tile roofs. Smooth Indiana limestone windowsills and trim provide decorative accents coincident with the style. The local newspaper advertised these apartment buildings as “two-family homes” with mansard roofs, pressed brick, stone, steel, and concrete construction, and large sun parlors. Patterns of rustic brickwork, simple smooth limestone trim, and side gables are common features.
The S.T. Gunderson and Sons firm used aggressive advertising techniques to lure middle-class Chicago residents to the Gunderson subdivision in Oak Park, including the creation of a brochure, The New Book of Standard Gunderson Homes, which was distributed to potential homeowners. The second Gunderson development came to be one of the most prominent subdivisions in south Oak Park. The sameness of house style, identical setbacks, and other common features of this subdivision foreshadow the “cookie-cutter” subdivisions later in the century. The period of significance is from 1906 when the first house was built to 1920, the year the last contributing building was constructed.
Sievert T. Gunderson came to the United States in 1848 at the age of nine. At 18 he went into business as a builder, and quickly acquired important timber and mill holdings, all of which were destroyed by fire in 1875. He soon started a second business, manufacturing doors and sashes, which he operated with his son Seward. This business was also destroyed by fire. In 1885 Severt and his two sons formed the firm of S.T. Gunderson and Sons, “homebuilders” and real estate investors.
Sievert and wife Emily had two sons, Seward and George, both of whom worked in the family business, and a daughter Ida. Seward and George Gunderson followed the pattern of many first-generation immigrants by assimilating into the American culture. In 1907, they and their families moved to Oak Park, where they had built two large houses in the heart of the second Gunderson development on South Elmwood Avenue. Seward consciously constructed himself as an example for his neighbors to emulate. He was a prominent member of the community and involved in social affairs as a member of many organizations, including Oak Park’s first zoning board; the Oak Park Chamber of Commerce; the Chicago Real Estate Board of Underwriters; and was treasurer of the Park District of Oak Park from 1912-1920.