BUILDING THE TOWNHOUSES
Recorded May, 1988
An Interview With:
BUILDING THE TOWNHOUSES
[Videotaped at the Park Forest Public Library. Available on VHS and on audiotape.]
TM: I'm Tom McDade. I live in Park Forest, and I am the vice president of the Park Forest Historical Society and very much interested in the community and its history. I live right down the street from the library. I came back here after being away for some twenty-three years and have been back here since '85 and love it. Those that helped make Park Forest possible I think should be in our archives and in our memory, and we have two gentlemen here who very much were involved in the earliest phase of Park Forest -- the development of the three thousand and ten then-rental townhouses. These are now largely cooperative with some areas still rented by private owner. Harold Yost was one of the earliest employees and was very important in the overall coordination of the construction. Harold lives in Chicago Heights now. I think we'd still like to cause him to come back to Park Forest. Harold, what was your job and when did you come here?
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HY: I came to Park Forest in October the 20th of 1947 as the assistant superintendent of new construction. I lived in Chicago Heights until we had completed the first units for occupancy. Then I moved to Bender Road in Park Forest, and I lived there for nine years after which I bought a home in Chicago Heights and still reside there.
TM: And Bob Tweedell, what was your coming to Park Forest and what did you do?
RT.: After the war, I worked for Morris Lapitas, a chain store builder in New York, who was a friend of Nathan Manilow. I came to Park Forest in the early part of 1946 and was in charge of the carpentry work in Park Forest. My first job was making material take-offs of material being used. I left Park Forest in December of 1949, shortly before the three thousand ten units were completed. I went back to Rochester, New York, but now I've returned to Park Forest where I've lived for the last twenty-two years.
TM: Harold, tell me more about what your work was and give me some of your problems and some of your successes with those problems.
HY: Well, before I came to Park Forest, I had been associated with Dick Senior and Allan Harrison during the war with the George A. Phillip Merritt Chapman Scott Corporation in Londonderry, Ireland, and Stranraer, Scotland. I had various assignments in the two years that I spent over there by handling all of the shipping, handling masonry for the tank farms and some of the building of the docks on the Foyle River in Londonderry. When I came back to the States, I took about two months'
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vacation, and then went up to Davisville, Rhode Island, where again I was associated with Dick Senior.
TM: What was Dick Senior's job in Park Forest?
HY: Dick Senior’s job in Park Forest was project manager of construction.
TM: Does that mean he was the overall manager or the superintendent -- he was the chief?
HY: Complete charge of the construction of Park Forest.
TM: And you reported directly to him?
TM: And what was the future Park Forest like when you came here?
HY: Well, when I came here it was a nice big field with piles of top soil that had been stripped prior to my coming here. And it was a great place for the kids to slide down and get mud on their pants after a rain storm.
TM: That was after you had some occupancy.
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TM: Now here it was post‑war. Many of the able-bodied men were just returning from service all over the world. Were there skills available to hire and cause this place to be built?
HY: Well, I would say offhand that the majority of the people that we did hire had previous trade training, like carpenters and brick layers. Of course, there were a number of local men who we had to put on as carpenters in a hurry to build up Park Forest who were just handy with a hand saw and a hammer and could drive nails. Those fellows usually were put on a simple job that didn't take much brain work, but you could keep them busy. The brick layers were originally handled by Bouchard Construction Company. Now for him to get the amount of men that he needed was almost impossible. So what he did, he got a lot of small contractors who had small gangs, and they gave them certain areas to build, and in that way he was able to accumulate quite a number of small organizations that he used to do the brick work. In addition he had his own sections with his own brick layers. And I'd say that it worked out quite well because we never were held up for the completion of masonry in order to complete a home.
[RT: Finding plumbers was the biggest labor problem. We used pipefitters who were just coming out of the Navy.]
TM: Well, Bob, you were in charge of the carpentry operation here. You had no great difficulty finding the skills to do it?
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RT: No, we were very fortunate in finding as many carpenters as we needed along with apprentices.
TM: You had a big operation going here. You couldn't simply have hammer-and-nail fellows running around loose.
TM: And you certainly had enough standard construction going on that you had to have some central carpentry operations.
RT: Well, we had the operation work out in crews for parking lots. We had one crew that would come in and put on an entire first floor with the decking. We had another crew that came in and raised the first floor walls with the door frames and window frames, which was being prefabricated in our sawmill.
TM: Oh, you established a sawmill operation here?
RT: We had a sawmill and we had ...
TM: What was the size of that? What was the character of that?
RT: Our sawmill was approximately a hundred by two hundred feet. We had Dewalt saws with the roller conveyor belts where we could feed the lumber in from one end of the building, it would pass through and make five cuts and come out the other end. We'd
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build all of the trusses for the roofs in that mill. We prefabricated all the door and window frames in that mill. [One of Mr. Tweedell's tasks was to draw up the plans for the mill.]
TM: But, Bob, you were dealing then with immediate post-war where lumber supply would appear to be a problem and the character of the lumber would probably be a problem.
RT: At that time it was. The lumber was furnished by the Edward Hines Lumber Company, who at that time was the only supplier that could furnish the quantities of lumber we needed each day. [This was the biggest lumber job ever let at one time in Chicago. Right after the war, the lumber was very green. When the sun hit the studs, they would bow. Twelve men and a carpenter replaced the bowed studs just before the lathe went on. Edward Hines was the only company that could supply nails. This was also one of the biggest plastering jobs done in housing, up to that time.]
TM: I believe that that matter of getting at such a supply was exceedingly important for progress on the job. What was the kind of quantity that was involved there, Harold Yost?
HY: To the best of my knowledge and recollection, there was thirty million board feet of common lumber and six million feet of trim lumber.
TN: What do you mean by common lumber?
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HY: That's two by fours, two by tens, sheeting -- that which is known as common lumber. Common lumber is undressed lumber used for joists and studs. The trim lumber is the finished lumber which was for eaves of the roof or doorways, shelving, closets and so forth. At one time, we took as much as thirty‑five truck loads of common lumber a day from Edward Hines. [We were cutting a quarter of a million board feet of lumber per day.]
TM: What'd you do with that? You couldn't leave it out in the open fields?
HY: Oh, yes. That was common lumber. It went through our mill. We would square off all of the two by fours, cut all of the segments for the trusses, and fabricate them at our mill. The trusses then would be delivered to the building site where they were taken off the truck and hoisted by crane right on the roof. The cutting of the two by fours and squaring them off and so forth. Each unit had a number and they were banded at the mill and lifted by a fork lift all onto a storage area. So as we needed them for certain areas, the fork lift loaded them onto a truck and dropped them right at the buildings that they were going to in the different parking areas.
TM: Parking areas -- what became the parking areas you mean?
HY: That's right.
TM: Courts, as we called them.
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HY: We had made temporary parking areas out of what was to become the final parking area by putting in slag and backing the trucks in over that, so they wouldn't be getting stuck in the mud.
TM: Yes. Mud was pretty much your enemy generally, wasn't it?
HY: Oh, yes.
TM: Bob, that makes me wonder what was this area like when you first became acquainted with it as early as 1946.
RT: Well, when I first came out to the site, the entire area was farmland and a golf course which existed after we started construction for a while. We used the old clubhouse as part of our field office. [In the early months we worked on engineering plans in the office there.]
TM: Where was that clubhouse?
RT: The old clubhouse was off of Monee Road, right out in the middle of farmland, which was a golf course.
TM: Was that course still in operation when you first saw it here?
RT: The golf course wasn't, no. The clubhouse had been closed down and just a
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skeleton crew was remaining there for maintenance. [The cook from the clubhouse was given room and board to cook breakfast for the eighteen men working in that office.]
TM: There were no dwellings anywhere about. Were there farmhouses?
RT: Several old farmhouses, yes.
JN: I thought this might be a good place to introduce some photographs for the gentlemen to look at of the lumber that was used. There are two pictures of what I believe is the sawmill and two of one of the fork lifts lifting the lumber and one of the lumber outside of the yard. [See photo file under "Architecture-Rental Units Construction" BL copy neg Set 1, negatives #2a, #7, and #12.]
RT: This is in the mill. [BL copy neg Set 1, neg #12.]
HY: Yes, that's in the mill.
RT: See the DeWalt saw on the conveyor table.
RT: That longer table is a roller, conveyor table. This is also in the mill.
HY: There's the fork lift stacking them. [BL copy neg Set 1, neg #7]
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RT: That's at the mill. You see, the basic framing lumber was delivered right to the sites. [BL copy neg Set 1, neg #2a]
TM: In other words, here is building number three in area A or ...
RT: No. In each area we had a gasoline powered saw and we cut the floor joists and we also had an electric generator for the Skil saws. But the lumber delivered to the mill was the studs and lumber that we prefabricated to go in window frames and trusses -- mostly the trusses. We built all the trusses on the job site.
TM: Now, you had no electricity coming to the site from a public utility, is that correct?
RT: Only to the mill. Nothing in the areas. We had gasoline powered saws in the areas.
HY: That looks like the first unit.
JN: I have another small photograph of the trusses waiting in a parking bay. Maybe the gentlemen could react to that. [BL copy neg Set 1, neg #2a and #3a]
RT: Yes. Stacked.
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TM: What was that construction? Was there first a carpentry rough outline of the exterior of the unit?
RT: No, we used a raised wall construction, what they call stick construction. You frame the walls flat on the deck and then raise them in place.
TM: And was that all wood at that point?
RT: Everything was wood.
TM: And then was there any insulation provided?
RT: Only on the wall sheeting, exterior wall sheeting.
TM: And what was that sheeting?
RT: If I can remember, I think it was U.S.G. insulite.
TM: And then the last operation for that before painting was the ...
RT: We had, you had part of the building was the masonry walls and some was exterior siding. It was a variation. Some walls would be brick and the others would be siding, depending on the different units.
TM: That siding was put on course by course?
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RT: No, it's [simultaneous speaker, unintelligible]. Weather board and shingles and asbestos shingle.
TM: Did you ever calculate the number of units completed per week per month?
RT: Only in the framing stage.
HY: I can answer that for you. At the peak of construction, we were completing sixteen units per day.
TM: Pouring off the extended assembly line, huh?
HY: That is, turning sixteen units over to be ready for rental, accepted and inspected by the FHA inspectors.
TM: Now, there must have been quite a crew of FHA inspectors?
RT: There were six. Chief inspector and six ...
HY: Five or six inspectors, yes.
TM: Did you get along?
HY: Very good, yes.
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JN: Did you ever use one of these progress charts?
RT: Yes. We had enough progress charts to paper the walls in the building.
HY: We could have wallpapered the place with them.
HY: That chart you’re looking at we used as a daily progress sheet which came out for the buildings that were going to have concrete foundations poured. Each day would be shown in a small section of a plan similar to that.
TM: And you had no important construction delays?
HY: No ...
TM: The weather was kind to you?
HY: Well, we had some pretty cold weather there that one winter which was down around zero, which was quite cold and there was some time that we just couldn't work. Not very often.
TM: What was the largest work force that was here at any time?
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HY: Carpenters, the maximum we had on in carpenters was five hundred carpenters and three hundred and fifty laborers. On the entire job the complete work force was about twenty‑three hundred men at the peak of construction.
TM: Later you had your mechanical trades.
RT: You have to remember, this is before they had the pneumatic hammers and staple guns, too.
TM: Yes, that made a difference.
RT: It was all hand.
TM: Back there in'46 it was quite a different story. You had, you’ve said, only farm land about and very few structures of any sort and the all the agricultural-type structures if any.
RT: Well, nowadays all of your framing is done with a pneumatic hammer and nailers, and all of your sheeting's put on with a staple gun and pressed through a staple gun. It makes a lot of difference.
TM: Now, you had come out of the Navy during World War II ...
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RT: It was the Seabees. The Construction Battalions. [Mr. Tweedell was a Chief Petty Officer in the Construction Battalions from 1945-46.]
TM: The Seabees. So you had more than a little preparation for tackling a tough job.
RT: Yes. Well, I also worked with Army Corps of Engineers, too, building bases in Kentucky.
TM: Earlier, Harold, you said you were involved in construction in Scotland.
HY: Yes, I was ...
TM: Or was that Ireland?
HY: Ireland and Scotland. I was associated with Allan Harrison and Dick Senior . . .
TM: Well, that's how you came together.
HY: That's how we had met. Dick Senior was my boss that I reported directly to in Ireland. I was later transferred to the Navy to work with the Navy directly.
TM: You worked some big jobs before this then certainly.
HY: Oh, yes. Yes.
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TM: In a job as large as this, you had obviously progress charts, et cetera, but you were trying to reach a sequence of when buildings were to come on line ready for occupancy. How did that sequence go in Park Forest? You had these various areas all with the capital letter, such as A Area, B Area, through to J Area. How did these come out for occupancy?
HY: They came out quite well. Bob and I would sit many a night making up schedules until midnight. Sometimes we had to tell somebody in Seattle, Washington, or Buffalo, New York, or Florida or some other place in the country when they could move in. And sometimes we only had the excavation done. We hadn't started the building yet. But nevertheless, we had to give them a move-in date. I would say for a project this size, we met the schedules quite well. I don't ever remember the office turning down anybody from the date we had given to them to move in. And that was when we reached the schedule of completing sixteen units a day.
TM: Now I know the first occupancy took place in Court B-1.
TM: B Area, the first court which is immediately to the east and north of the power lines and north of 26th Street and into area B-1. Do you remember the first occupancy? Were you around at the time?
HY: Yes, it was in B-1 Area, the first occupancy.
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TM: Now, there is still a resident of Park Forest who is considered to be the first resident of Park Forest.
HY: Are you referring to Ross DeLue?
HY: I believe that would be correct.
TM: You think that's correct? Now, Phil Klutznick was an early resident of...
HY: The same area, B-1.
TM: Yes, and now, don’t you think that was rather daring of Mr. Klutznick to move in right next to his new neighbors who would have every reason to find problems in their initial occupancy?
HY: Well, I think that was the first time we taught him in Park Forest how to get mud on his feet, because we only had duck boards going into the house. No sidewalks were in yet, but Phil had a two‑unit building which he occupied and they had broken through walls and made it into one unit.
TM: Well, he had four children in there at the time.
HY: Yes. He needed plenty of room.
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TM: I don't think we could let him occupy any unit otherwise. (laughs) Too large a family for the house. What area was the first that was completed, ready for occupancy? Were they still in construction, really, when a unit might be available to move in?
HY: Well, I'd say that B and E were the first two areas that received occupants. [E area was the first excavation. We built the first piece of ground October 28, 1947. The engineering work began only with the building phase. The early phase was planing and leveling the ground.]
TM: And then do you recall how you completed in sequence?
HY: Well, I can give you a sequence of the areas as we progressed. We started with E, then B, C and D, H, F and G, A, and J.
TM: J being the last.
HY: The last.
TM: That was the one that was closest to the shopping center. G Area, too.
HY: Now, this is forty years ago, so I hope my memory is correct.
TM: Now, at that point in time there were no commercial establishments here for families to get groceries or families to get the other household needs.
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RT: Chicago Heights was the closest contact.
TM: Do you recall when the first ability to have shops in Park Forest took place?
HY: Well, the first building in the commercial area, to the best of my knowledge now, was started shortly after we were completing the J Area. In fact, J wasn't complete yet. And we had the excavation in there. We had a running sand vein which gave us quite a problem.
TM: Where was that?
HY: On the east end of that shopping center. So what we did, we dug down about four feet below the sub-grade, and we put in slag from the steel mill. Then we poured grout, which we made up at our concrete plant, dumped it over the slag, made it sort of a monolithic slab.
TM: Now, what would be the depth that you went down to to do that? You spoke of sub-grade.
HY: If I remember right, it was around twelve feet, I would say. Does that ring a bell to you, Bob?
RT: You mean to dig the foundation wall?
HY: On the commercial area -- it's around twelve feet.
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RT: I would say about twelve feet on commercial, yes. We had a five-foot box on the rentals.
JN: Is that what you’re talking about or is that above it? [BL copy neg Set 1, neg #18.]
RT: Then we had a, we'd have a knee wall on top of that foundation wall yet. A knee wall is only three feet, though, I think.
TM: Better describe your terms. What do you mean by knee wall?
RT: I'm trying to think. Did we have a knee wall on these things?
HY: No, the foundation was poured -- the foundation was poured by putting in the entire floor slab with a built-up beam surrounding the slab.
RT: No, we didn't have any walls on that.
HY: No, then you had ...
RT: Our framing went right on the wall plate.
HY: ... your concrete wall, which would have been probably six-foot-ten, somewhere in that neighborhood.
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RT: Yes, the plates went right on the wall here.
HY: Yes, the wall went right on top of the slab.
RT: Yes, right on the plate there.
HY: There's no knee wall.
TM: Did you have any problem obtaining sufficient concrete?
HY: No, not until we got to A Area, and at that time we overran Corbetta on the foundations, and that's when we started to cut back on our crews.
TM: In other words, the concrete people weren't able to keep up with your other production and sequence.
HY: No, we were geared up quite high and were able to catch them and make it economically.
TM: Was there a concrete plant right here on site?
HY: Right on site.
TM: Where? Between the two railroads?
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RT: No, they had their own batch plant set up out on Western Avenue there.
HY: Right up by the railroad track.
JN: I have some photographs of the concrete plant and the workings. Why don't we look at those? [BL copy neg Set 1, #4a]
HY: That's it.
RT: You see, as far as your construction progress was concerned, when you make a construction progress you always allow a certain few days for bad weather or holiday. Well, if you had a three-day rain, that changed your entire schedule. You started over from scratch. If you didn't have delivery of brickload in the area, the next day you'd change your schedule again. If you didn't have a certain area of siding, you'd change your schedule.
TM: Yes, I know. I know ...
RT: So it's constant schedule, schedule, schedule.
TM: I worked later with the construction department in coordinating the final construction for the individual homes, and, yes, I discovered at one time thirty-five significant operations in building the house, and always you’d, for the ideal you threw in extra days. You had to provide for material shortages, or trade problems or what have you.
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RT: There's never been a time where everything works as planned on paper.
HY: This picture shows exactly how the foundation walls existed. [BL copy neg Set 1, neg #18]
JN: As you were discussing previously.
HY: That's right.
JN: Can you discuss a little bit about what's happening there with the slabs and the cranes? [BL copy neg Set 1, negs #6a, 8, 9, 11]
HY: Which one is that?
JN: In this photo of the concrete plant.
HY: With this crane?
RT: That's the pre-cast yard, isn't it?
HY: This is the pre-cast yard. They were pouring the pre-cast stoops, as you might call them.
TM: You mean the front ...
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HY: Front and back entrance.
TM: ... and back doors, where one stepped on -- they stooped on (laughs) to get in the door.
HY: That's right.
RT: This is all pre-cast.
TM: And those were all pre-cast?
HY: Those are all pre-cast.
TM: Now, what about those window wells? There were several to every unit. What about those window wells?
RT: They were a headache from the beginning.
TM: Now, those were a, that's a, the steel frame-work for those out of concrete with the ...
HY: They were fastened to the foundation wall.
RT: With an area wall nowadays, you have a drain built into the area wall connected to your sewer. Those are nothing but holes with a gravel bottom.
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TM: Who came up with that idea?
RT: Well, that cut down on your excavation for one thing and saved money. You had to save your money at the same time you're delivering units, because you run on a budget with so many dollars to build the units and that was it. You couldn't tell the government, "Hey, we need another three million dollars," like they do nowadays. They've got a cost overrun. There was no such thing as cost overrun. If you had a cost overrun, you took a walk down the road the next day. So anything you could do to conserve on costs but not cut down on your time. Delivery was what -- because like I said, they had people who would be standing in line. Three hundred people in a line waiting.
TM: You mean actually at the site looking at the job going on?
RT: Yes. Wanting to go in and sign up for units.
TM: Did this interfere with your operation?
RT: Oh, no. No, this was isolated. But there were certain standards and incentives. When Jack Rashkin and his sales crew would sell two hundred and fifty houses from a Saturday to a Sunday night ...
TM: Well, you’re talking later operations.
RT: ... on the houses.
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TM: You’re talking about later operations, yes. Yes. I was involved in that delivery of those houses that you’re speaking of. That was later in the operation. And the operation of the development of the rental community -- I'm sure you have a vivid memory of much of this. What do you gentlemen think was the reason for the wet basements in the rental units? [This question and the answers are from a preliminary interview and do not appear on any of the taped versions.]
RT: We used pre-cast concrete for the basements. The bays were preset and could not be tied into the walls.
HY: There was also a high water table here. In area C it was clay. It made a perfect bed -- hard as concrete, but beneath that was peat. They planned for no drain tile in the basements. The area wells were too full of water.
RT or HY: Everybody was fighting time.
TM: You fellows were involved with more than a little material on this job. When I look at those three thousand and ten rental units at that point, it must have been amazing amounts of materials and I find an item here from the Park Forest Reporter back in 1949, July 7 of '49, that sets forth some of the items that you handled. There's a headline, "Bricks, Stone, Steel, Men Make Park Forest Grow." It said, "All the bricks required to build Park Forest -- that's about thirteen million -- would stretch from New York City to Dallas." The roads and foundations and sidewalks would require a hundred thousand barrels of cement, and this could make a sidewalk from Chicago to Kankakee, some fifty-seven miles at that time at least. I don't think
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it's gotten any shorter. All the phases of construction work, the organization of the work plan, the hiring of the vast labor force -- nineteen hundred men at one point -- and enough steel to build a sixteen-story building. And the flooring -- my goodness, the amount of wood. Let's see, three million five hundred thousand square feet of wood. And inside the units paint would cover one million four hundred thousand yards of plaster. Those are enormous quantities, but I understand also that during this period of time, you couldn't have a lock on any building project, and there were shortages elsewhere. There were shortages in the general area -- people that had good use for lumber, had good use for the appliances as they went into the individual units. I understand that in one instance, I believe you told me about some kitchen cabinets being delivered, Harold. Was it you that told me that -- Bob? What happened to those cabinets that were being delivered? What was the process?
RT: Well, that was an amazing thing. Going into one of the courts would be a narrow driveway, probably twenty-five feet wide. And the building on both sides of that was being worked on at the time by siding crews. Probably six carpenters on each building within ten feet of the drive. At eight-thirty in the morning, we had a flatbed truck and six laborers go around the court and deliver kitchen cabinets for the units -- probably thirty-five units in that court. By ten o'clock all the cabinets were gone, and no one had seen anything. Nothing.
TM: (laughs) Strange how they disappeared. (laughs)
RT: Yes, but we had many strange things. We got a call one morning that there was a garage being built in Chicago Heights with our windows. At the time, we were getting
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short of windows. Harold and I went over and, sure enough, here was a nice garage with six of our steel windows in it. We could tell from the markings on the steel casing.
TM: Strange that they would disappear and then, then so appear, right? (laughs)
RT: Another evening one of our laborers was driving down 26th Street going back to Chicago Heights. He got a flat tire, so he pulled over to the side of the road to fix his flat tire. One of the other fellows stopped by to help him, and in so doing he looked in the back seat in the back of the truck, and he had twelve kegs of nails in there. The young man said, I found those nails on my way to work this morning. I forgot to return them."
TM: (laughs) Yes, yes. Where did the steel framings for the windows and doors come from?
HY: Vinester was doing the supplying and installing the steel window frames. They worked, they came knocked down and were assembled on the job by the employees of Vinester, who were ornamental iron workers.
TM: That's a specialized trade, of course. Yes.
HY: That's right.
And they weren't a permanent staff with you or were they permanent?
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HY: No, they were subcontractors.
TM: Both of you were responsible for coordinating such subcontractors, obviously.
RT: And see, the steel frame itself came in fabricated, but they had steel surrounds. That was like a casing around the windows. And that was applied at the job site, put together by the steel workers.
HY: The ornamental iron workers.
TM: Quite a process, gentlemen. Quite a process. Bob, I imagine that you had the brunt of the families first moving in, the first families into an area that was still without the amenities of sidewalks. I understand that the drinking water was delivered in jugs because the well had not yet been approved by the state. I imagine that there might have been some anxiety on the part of the families to get into their units from wherever they were holed up in Chicagoland. I'm sure they'd be ever so grateful for you delivering a unit to them regardless of its condition. I also hazard that that gratitude didn't extend to any great degree. Is that right?
RT: That's right.
TM: Tell me what the reaction was.
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RT: Well, a lot of these families were being transferred into this location from out of state, and they were anxious to move into the units. And we were just as anxious for them to move into the units. They would promise that they were going to do this and do that, and they'd be satisfied to move in. They'd put up with the mud and the dirt and the water and the board walks, and they did for several days. Then they got anxious. They forgot the promises. Rain didn't mean anything. If it rained two days, they could care less. They wanted sidewalks, they wanted landscaping, and they wanted water. And we tried our best to give it to them as quick as we could. In some cases we couldn't, so we
TM: They blamed you for all this, did they, Bob?
RT: Well, no, they blamed everyone in general. I think they blamed God if it rained, you know.
TM: (laughs) So Muddville prevailed for a little while. What did you do to take care of those situations? Really, what could you do?
RT: We built what they called commonly in construction a duckwalk. That's like a picket fence laid down on the ground to walk on. And I think we built something like forty-two truck loads of these duckwalks, and we'd keep moving them constantly. We'd have them down, and if a sewer line had to go through, the duckwalks had to be moved and put back down again. Sometimes they weren't put down fast enough, and if not, you walked in mud.
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TM: When was the first occupancy? Do you know approximately when?
RT: I don't know the exact date of first occupancy.
TM: And how long was it before you were able to get the sidewalks and landscaping in?
RT: To the best of my recollection, I would say no one went more than thirty days after they moved in without a walk.
TM: A duckwalk maybe.
RT: Yes. But you know, it's funny in a way. I was living in Chicago, and I would meet people over at the I.C. platform in the morning talking and they would be talking about what a great place it was to live in Park Forest. They'd get home that evening and start yelling because they didn't have a walk to walk on.
HY: I believe the first occupancy was around September of '49.
JN: I have September 1948 on this first occupied building.
RT: It was still good weather, clement weather yet.
HY: Yes. I believe that was the first occupant.
Building the Townhouses 32
JN: I have a list of the residents in those, and this side of the court was Mr. Klutznick, Saitta, Heckman, Kanter and Laudermill.
RT: Well, Phil Klutznick walked on a duckwalk, too.
JN: Yes, this photograph was taken after the sidewalks were put in. [BL copy neg Set 1, negs #14 and #15]
RT: Yes, he didn't get any walks any faster than anybody else.
HY: Well, what happened in that case as far as the sidewalks was concerned and curbs, I believe they were originally Corbetta's contract. But Corbetta was not anxious to do sidewalks and curbs because they were used to doing structural building. And they sublet the sidewalks and curbs to an outfit from Chicago -- I believe their name was Salsey.
RT: Yes, Salsey.
HY: Who was very used to doing that type of work. And they would do thousands and thousands of feet a day of curb and sidewalks. Quite fast in catching up with the occupancy.
Building the Townhouses 33
TM: There were some sample homes built probably while you still were here, some possible models for future construction on Sauk Trail. Were you involved, either of you, in those houses?
RT: That was after we left.
HY: That must have been the single-family homes.
TM: Yes. Yes. Were you here when Hines built the possible model [home] on 26th Street?
HY: The little red schoolhouse?
TM: The little white schoolhouse I think it was, wasn't it?
HY: Well, they called it "the little red schoolhouse".
TM: Were you involved in that construction? What was your role in that?
HY: I don't know. [Said to RT] Did you supply the carpenters to them or not?
RT: Yes. Hines had the idea that if they could sell these prefabs, they would use the prefabs in the construction of the houses, it would work out successfully. They had about ten different ideas to use, and Hines happened to come up with this one. But our carpenters erected the package for them. It was a nice house.
Building the Townhouses 34
TM: That later became a nursery school and it was about the only place for public assembly.
RT: It was. It had a meeting room.
TM: And I believe that some of the planning to incorporate the community happened there after the famous tent meeting in November, 1948.
RT: I think that was the first nursery school for the tenants.
HY: And I can remember sitting in that building with Dick Senior, Phil Klutznick and listening to the gripes of all the tenants at the meetings. Dick Senior and Phil Klutznick, of course, were professionals at talking them out of feeling too bad about what they had to complain about. And when the meeting was over, everybody seemed to go home happy. They weren't as mad as when they came. [END SIDE A]
[SIDE B] JN: How often were those meetings held?
HY: About once a week. That was one too many.
TM: Incidentally, I do want to mention someone that was very important in the development of the community -- Charlie Waldmann. His wife operated that nursery school in that Hines model home.
Building the Townhouses 35
HY: That's correct.
TM: We worked together later with Chicago Housing Authority. Charlie came aboard as
director of development when we were working on a new program with some forty
thousand CHA dwellings. And he was a wonderful man to work with. He was a very
inspiring man, particularly to young professionals, and had great ideas. He had
separate degrees in electrical, civil and mechanical engineering. And he caused the
underground for Park Forest -- not sinister, but the fact that our electric wires and
telephone cables all went underground. This is how it came about, as I understand.
Remember there was a great shortage of gas permits and you could get underground
wiring for electricity, but at an exorbitant cost. The telephones, of course, had
underground for electric. It was no great difficulty to go with the
telephone cables underground. It could be done, but the charge was just absolutely
impossible to accomplish in the kind of rental rates that were to come. Over one
weekend, Charlie Waldmann prepared, sketched, did the proposal for a plan by which we
would have a total energy plant in Park Forest. We would produce our own gas and
produce our own electricity. Well, on the following week he arranged a meeting with
the two utilities and a strange thing happened. All at once we got three thousand
gas permits. Otherwise, we would have been treated unit by unit at the will of the
utility companies. And we got the underground electricity and underground wiling.
And I think we will always owe a debt of gratitude to Charlie Waldmann, I think the
last of the renaissance men that I've known.
RT: The underground transformers weren't too successful. They had to bring them above ground -- the transformers. Now, the first ones were, they were a headache.
Building the Townhouses 36
JN: Could we look at the large photographs and just identify some areas and point out the sawmill?
RT: We were trying to do that.
HY: Here is the sawmill right here. Here we're looking at D and C Area. [Neg 1. Large aerial #3 and BL Neg Set 2, neg #20]
TM: And therefore the sawmill was immediately on Western Avenue.
HY: Right off Western Avenue.
RT: I keep looking at that, though, Harold, and I'm not sure either.
JN: When was the carpentry shop set up?
RT: We had more of an area around the mill and that, though?
HY: Oh, yes, but this picture doesn't show it.
RT: It's hard to see there.
HY: That picture doesn't show all of it. [Missing word] was back here where we
Building the Townhouses 37
TM: That in general was the vicinity of where your central carpentry operation took place.
HY: See the area is not shown in this picture. This shows just breaking off at the back of the mill. Right back here was all vacant property.
RT: That might have been the trim shed for the trim, too. That big black shed there.
JN: When was the carpentry shop set up?
HY: Just prior to before we started to do carpentry work.
JN: Like '47?
HY: Yes, late'47.
JN: Late '47, you think?
RT: It would be late '47.
JN: Okay. Let me hold this up for the record.
RT: Because we started off running the mill in the wintertime. There was snow on the ground.
Building the Townhouses 38
HY: Yes, because we put the first foundation in starting with October the 28th and there was a couple of days for excavation, and then they started concrete. So by the end of that year we would have been framing.
TM: So within a year you were giving occupancy, is that right?
RT: We thought at first we could operate that mill in the wintertime without heat. We found out we couldn't do that.
TM: Let me see that other one there. This shows Victory Boulevard for one thing, doesn't it? Yes. And this is G Area here.
JN: And the stockpile of lumber over to the side. You might want to hold that up.
TM: Is that lumber?
JN: Or is that concrete?
RT: We wouldn't stand much lumber in one place like that.
HY: No, it almost looks like pre-cast.
RT: Could be pre-cast section. No, we never had lumber like that in one place.
HY: It could be pre-cast sections.
Building the Townhouses 39
JN: Okay, that makes sense. Let's hold that up so you can show that. Talking about this pile here.
RT: We tried to keep the storage of lumber to a minimum on the site on account of theft.
TM: Now, you were the physical construction people primarily out in the field, and you had, of course, a lot of white-collar workers that were a part of the operation, too -- the ACB senior personnel. And I'm sure that Phil Klutznick was looking at the job from time to time. And Nathan Manilow and Sam Beber, all officers of ACB, American Community Builders. It was often said here that the kids learned their ACBs before they learned their ABCs.
RT: We had a lot of discharged vets working for us, too.
TM: Yes, yes.
RT: Just came out of the war.
TM: Yes. Now, Nathan Manilow probably came into the field more frequently than the others.
Building the Townhouses 40
HY: That's correct. [I never had a cross word with Nathan Manilow on the whole job. Manilow was a field man. Klutznick was a genius in the office.]
RT: We'd see quite a bit of Phil [Klutznick], too, though.
TM: Yes, I'm sure you did. Yes. And then Loebl was also a part of ACB, Jerrold Loebl, who was a partner of Loebl Schlossman and Bennett, the architects for the rental community. And Dick Bennett I'm sure came around from time to time also. Dick Bennett was the designer, I believe, of the rental units, later of the shopping plaza. Did Dick Bennett come into the field with any frequency?
HY: Not too often. Not very much. In fact, none of the architects really come into the field very much. There was really no need for them. We had a plan ...
RT: If you see something to change, change it.
HY: ... and buildings and once you build one, you build the rest of the job.
JN: Could each of you describe your typical day on the site?
HY: Yes, it started at seven o'clock in the morning and finished up about eleven or twelve at night.
Building the Townhouses 41
HY: Well, . . .
TM: I have seen Harold in the midst of other jobs. Our paths crossed in the successor to ACB which was Urban Investment Development that built Water Tower Place and 333 West Wacker, that curved glass, green glass-fronted building right at the divergence of the Chicago River and is now building the 900 North Michigan building. And from the little operation in Park Forest, Urban went on to build seven regional centers around Chicago, including Old Orchard being the first one. And I used to fly by helicopter from Victory Boulevard to the roof of the Marshall Field store at Old Orchard, which was the first of the seven. Eventually Urban grew from coast to coast and border to border with Seattle, Washington, and a company in Boston and projects in California.
TM: Denver. Denver, very important -- downtown Denver we built four blocks.
TM: And Philadelphia, and also we built a new community north of Denver called Mountebello (?) near the Stapleton Airport. So we learned a little bit, at least the corporation learned a little bit about building Park Forest that they were able to apply in many places. And these gentlemen, of course, also developed further in
Building the Townhouses 42
their careers. You've already mentioned some of the places that you've been involved with and ...
JN: Let's backtrack and finish the daily operation. You didn't describe it earlier.
TM: Oh, yes.
HY: Well, Bob and I would always begin early in the morning, and as I told you before, we had little sketches of a section of an area showing the different buildings, what was going to be poured each day. “N” would be slabs, "B" would be the exterior foundation walls. When the exterior foundation walls were stripped, they would put in the cross walls in the basement. When the cross walls were all in and the steel erected in the basement, then they would backfill the buildings and the carpentry work would start. Now, after setting up our daily routines from these little drawings, we'd both be in the field -- he in one direction, me in another direction. Bob's principal job was to watch the carpentry. I had to not only watch what was going on in the way of carpentry, but figure for the other subcontractors to be in there on time, have sufficient men on the job to keep up with our progress. I can truthfully say the subcontractors that we had did an excellent job in supplying men and never holding us up to any extent. They had very competent supervision. [It was a job that comes once in a man's lifetime.] [sound fades out]
END SIDE B