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Oak Park: The Youngstown Housing Experiment

The Oak Park development was an early 20th century experiment in progressive housing.

Oak Park on the lower North Side of Youngstown

By Mark C. Peyko

Oak Park looked like a little Spanish colonial settlement – more fitting in the American southwest than on the North Side of Youngstown.

However, that wasn’t what the Modern Homes Co. was trying to recreate when it organized in 1909 to build inexpensive “modern, sanitary and semi-fire proof” rental housing for Youngstown’s working class.

The company constructed rows of unattached houses and one terrace apartment, using hollow concrete tile finished with a stucco-like facing. Oak Park originally was sited on a diagonal from Andrews Avenue and continued southwest toward Walnut Street. The development enclosed a large, open green space, which was landscaped with oak trees, shrubbery and grass. 

According to the 1913 publication “Youngstown: City of Progress,” each house in Oak Park was designed to include modern conveniences like bathrooms, hot air furnaces and laundries. Depending on family needs, units ranged from three to seven rooms. Rent was $10 to $25 per month.

In 1909, J.M. Hanson, a charter member and secretary of the newly formed Modern Homes Corp., cited the need for modern, inexpensive housing in the city: “Two and three families are crowded in houses not fit for one family . . . and the congested condition is rapidly increasing.”  H.M. Garlick, president of the Dollar Savings and Trust Co., served as president and treasurer of the quasi-philanthropic housing company.

According to a 1913 Youngstown Chamber of Commerce report, Modern Homes had constructed 110 housing units in the city between 1909 and 1913. 

By 1915, the Youngstown City Directory listed 62 Oak Park addresses and all tenants were identified as blue-collar laborers. Louis Smith, a machinist, lived at 1 Oak Park, and Samuel Dudley (a laborer) and his wife, Amy, occupied 3 Oak Park. Crane and motor operators, conductors and the like occupied other units. 

Youngstown City Directories list the company’s years of existence as spanning from 1910 through 1918.

Construction of the Madison Avenue Expressway in the mid-1960s sheared off many of the houses in the Oak Park development, leaving the settlement without much of its southwestern enclosure. Today, the original plantings in the commons area are mature, making the remnants of Oak Park seem like a small residential campus.

© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.


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