In the early 1950s, Tulsa’s largest volume home builder was a man named Howard C. Grubb. Howard Grubb was a “merchant builder,” as tract house developers were known at the time, and built mostly starter homes for first-time home buyers. Typically, merchant builders would buy a 20-40 acre tract of undeveloped land, subdivide it, install utilities, and start building homes for the booming post-war housing market, purely on speculation. The depression years of the 1930’s and the war years of the 1940’s had taken their toll and there was a huge pent up demand for housing after WWII. The “baby boom” was in full fling, and builders were selling homes as fast as they could build them.
The typical Howard Grubb home of 1950-1951 was a two bedroom, one bathroom, single attached garage house built on a crawl space foundation, about 950 square feet, and selling for approximately $9,000.00. In the early 1950’s, Grubb sold about 300 of these houses a year in Tulsa. In 1952, he had a different idea. “Modern” architecture was becoming more popular in both commercial and residential construction. Homebuilders such as Joseph Eichler in California were having great success with their modern home designs. Howard Grubb teamed up with a local Tulsa architect named Donald H. Honn to develop more modern homes, in the mid-priced range. He wanted to offer homebuyers of the time something on the “cutting edge” of architecture, with amenities not usually found in mid-priced homes. Grubb and Honn developed several designs during 1952-1953, rejected many, and finally came up with their plans for the Lortondale housing addition in Tulsa, OK.
It was very important to Howard Grubb that he offer the latest in home design with perceived extra value for the money. In mid 1953, Grubb and Honn constructed 3-4 prototype homes for Lortondale, constructed at 21st Place and Pittsburgh Avenue in Tulsa. They used these houses to test public opinion, make design changes as they thought necessary, and gauge sales demand. In early 1954, their marketing studies were complete and they forged ahead with construction of the Lortondale housing addition at 26th and Yale Avenue in Tulsa, OK. The original plans for Lortondale were for approximately 540 homes, built on four 40-acre tracts between 26th Street and 31st Street, Yale and Hudson Avenues in Tulsa. Original selling prices for Lortondale were from $13,500.00 to $16,500.00, depending upon the model and options selected. Donald Honn’s Lortondale plans allowed for great flexibility, 3 bedrooms, 1, 1 ½, or 2 full bathrooms, 1 or 2 car attached garages, bonus living areas or 4th bedrooms. Among the many new innovations of Lortondale homes:
Every Lortondale home included both central forced-air heating and central “waterless,” or refrigerated air conditioning. Lortondale was the very first merchant builder development in the United States to feature all “waterless” air conditioned homes. Grubb formed an agreement with the Chrysler Airtemp company (a division of Chrysler Motors, just like Frigidaire Corp. was a division of General Motors) to supply 3-ton central air units for all Lortondale homes. In exchange, Chrysler air conditioning ads in magazines of the time prominently featured Lortondale houses. Air conditioning was a true luxury at the time, usually reserved only for custom built homes, but Grubb was able to offer this luxury in his mid-priced homes.
Each 40 acre Lortondale tract was to be built around a community center/swimming pool. Each Lortondale owner would own a share of the swimming pool in his area. This was also another first for Tulsa. Grubb did build the first swimming pool in the original 40 acre Lortondale tract at 4941 E 26th Street.
(There is a second pool, the 5300 Swim Club, in Lortondale II, but this was not built by Grubb; it was developed by others.)
The Lortondale architecture was certainly unique, at least for Tulsa. Slab-on-grade construction with HVAC ductwork in the slab, extremely low pitched roofs, and open floor plans were all new for Tulsa and this part of the US in early 1954. All Lortondale homes featured combo living/dining rooms at the rear of the house with expansive floor to ceiling glass walls looking out onto the back yard. Exposed ceiling beams in living and bedrooms (depending upon roof pitch), Philippine mahogany paneled walls, modern kitchens with the new (for 1954) Formica laminate countertops in both kitchens and bathrooms were all the latest in modern design at the time. Every Lortondale home also featured a built-in Hotpoint automatic dishwasher, another luxury usually seen in only high priced homes of the era.
Ultimately, only about 220 homes and two swimming pools were constructed according to Howard Grubb’s original vision for Lortondale. Why?
We can speculate a lot about this, but several factors come to mind. First, the FHA (Federal Housing Administration.) In the early 1950’s, the FHA guaranteed about 25% of all residential mortgages, about the same ratio as today. The FHA was notorious for their reluctance to accept new concepts and ideas in homebuilding, and very slow to revise their underwriting standards. The FHA felt that modern (contemporary) home architecture was a fad and not a good long-term investment, so they would not initially guarantee loans on modern homes. This eventually changed, but it planted a seed in the public’s mind that modern design homes were not a good investment. In addition, conventional mortgage lenders usually took the easy way out and adopted FHA underwriting standards too, so in effect, what the FHA said was the rule. From its very start in early 1954, Lortondale was the neighborhood of choice for young architects, college professors, engineers, and other professionals who appreciated the esthetics of modern design. But after a point, demand dried up and there wasn’t enough local demand to sustain Lortondale construction to the ultimate end.
Americans love to go to work in their ultra-modern, glass walled skyscrapers, but when they come home at night, the preference has historically been for cape cod, salt-box, or more provincial type homes. The 1950’s was a time of the space-age, when everyone was looking to the future and all the wonders it may contain. Howard C. Grubb and Donald H. Honn wanted to bring a part of that future vision to the average American of moderate means, and gave us Lortondale. We Lortondale residents are grateful for their efforts and hope all visitors to our website are too.
Homebuilding Discoveries, Facts and Statistics 1953-1954
December, 1953 – Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. announces the revolutionary new lumber product, a new wood, hot-molded from mill waste, called castwood. Castwood can be “machined, bored, sawed, planed and sanded, and because the natural grain of the wood has been eliminated, splitting is minimal.” This product is known today as particleboard.
Biggest homebuilders of 1953:
A. William Levitt – Levitt built over 7,000 homes in his famous development, Levittown, PA, in 1953.
B. Centex Construction Co., based in Texas, built over 4,831 housing units in Dallas, San Antonio, Waukegan, Ill, and San Diego CA.
C. Grandview Building Co., built over 4.200 units in southernCalifornia.
D. Aetna Construction Co. built 3,300 units in southern Californiaunder the name Carson Park Mutual Homes Co.
E. Aldon Construction Co., a southern California builder started 3,298 homes priced from $9,950 to $13,000.
Racial segregation in housing was very much a fact of life in 1953-1954, when Lortondale was developed. Builders of the time built housing developments specifically for Negroes, Hispanics, and other racial minorities. Homebuilding statistics were compiled for usual (white) and non-white developments. A typical report of the time said: “In the Coliseum Park section of San Antonio TX, builder Ivy Goolsby last year (1953) sold nonwhite purchasers more than 90 two and three bedroom houses of 800-900 sq. ft. each at $8950 and $9950. The houses were approved for FHA and VA financing, but none was available.” Typical, since FHA at the time was reluctant to lend to racial minorities.
An interesting report from Jan. 1954 says: Brooklyn Dodger baseball player Jackie Robinson, placed a deposit on a 13-room $47,000.00 house in the residential district of North Stamford, CT, an upper-class New York suburb, and caused local discussion on whether his purchase of the home would depreciate property values. 50 Stamford residents signed a statement in favor of the Negro family that “We believe…that exclusion of any person solely for reasons of race…could only lessen the spiritual, economic and social development of our area.”
An interesting report in the Jan. 1954 “House + Home” builder’s magazine says that the lady of the house pays for the “extras.” The magazine says “the husband usually meets the mortgage payments and the wife pays for the television set, the electric dishwasher, the new house furnishings, and the family car.” Working wives are at an all time high, and the wives salaries are used to pay for the “extras.” “That is why wives work, to have all those extras” the report comments. “They have everything—except a home life.”
Other housing statistics from 1953-1954:
20% of the nonfarm civilian population changed dwellings during the year ending April, 1953, according to the Census Bureau.
Average cost of new single family houses in 1953: $9,475.00
1953 housing starts, both private and public, passed the 1,000,000 mark for the first time.
The average size of a new single family house in 1950 was 900 square feet. By 1953, the average size had grown to 1,100 square feet.
In 1954, mortgages included kitchen appliances, outside landscaping, etc. for the first time. Builders even included “carpeting and curtains!” in the selling price for the first time.
Multi-use rooms are gaining in popularity. Dining areas are now part of the living room or part of the kitchen by use of folding partitions (Jan. 1954 House + Home.) Storage rooms at the rear of garages are finished off as work, sewing, children’s playrooms, or guest bedrooms.
90% off all new houses constructed in 1953 had 1 full bath only. 5% of new homes constructed in 1953 had 1 ½ baths, and only 5% of new homes had 2 full bathrooms. Given the percentage of Lortondale homes that had 1 ½ baths or 2 full baths, that makes Lortondale a luxury neighborhood for 1954!
In late 1953, the FHA authorized “inside wall” bathrooms for the first time. Prior to 1954, the FHA required all bathrooms to be constructed against an outside wall with a window for ventilation. Beginning in 1954, bathrooms could now be constructed on the interior of a home, as long as they had a ceiling ventilation fan. This is why most of our Lortondale homes have outside wall bathrooms with the small awning windows. It was an FHA requirement prior to 1954, and Howard Grubb did not want to violate FHA standards and he wanted to maximize financing options for Lortondale.
Lortondale Addition History, 1852-1954
Part 1: 1852 - 1904
Prior to Oklahoma statehood in 1907, what is now the State of Oklahoma was divided into two territories: Oklahoma Territory, including today’s Oklahoma City in the western half, and Indian Territory, including today’s Tulsa in the eastern half. In the early 1830’s the Five Civilized Tribes of Native Americans were forced by the U.S. federal government to abandon their traditional homelands in the eastern United States and relocate to Indian Territory in present day Oklahoma. The Creek (Muscogee) Nation was one of these five tribes. The Creeks were not one tribe, but a union of several tribes with political autonomy and distinct land holdings. They operated under a political “confederacy” known as the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
By February 14, 1833 when a treaty between the Muscogee and the U.S. was signed, the last of the Muscogee were forced to leave the eastern U.S. and relocate to Indian Territory over the “Trail of Tears.” Finally, on August 11, 1852, the United States formally deeded lands in Indian Territory to the Creek Nation “to have and to hold, unto said tribe of Indians, so long as they shall exist as a Nation and continue to occupy the country conveyed to them,” (signed by U.S. President Millard Fillmore, August 11, 1852.) These tribal lands included most of present day Tulsa,OK and the future Lortondale housing addition.
These lands remained in Tribal hands, but in the late 1800’s, the U.S. Dawes Commission was formed to force the allotment of tribal lands to individual ownership. The United State government’s motives for this may have been publicly for the betterment of the Indian peoples, but one is safe to assume today that the motive was essentially to transfer the lands from collective tribal ownership to individuals, for individual ownership would make the lands much easier to buy, sell, develop, annex, and subject to taxation. (Opinion of the author.) The passage of the 1898 U.S. Curtis Act made individual allotment inevitable. The Creek lands were allotted out to Creek citizens, and on January 28, 1904, a 120 acre parcel was allotted to Creek citizen Frances E. Perryman, a 9 year old minor child at the time of allotment. Frances E. Perryman, a Creek citizen of ¼ Indian blood and Creek roll number 3980, was under the legal guardianship of her mother, Sophie Perryman. Within this allotment, an additional homestead deed was granted to Frances E. Perryman for a tract of 40 acres by P. Porter, Principal Chief of the Creek Nation. This 40 acre tract contained the land that would eventually become the original Lortondale housing addition to the City of Tulsa.
Part 2: 1904 - 1921
Frances Perryman’s allotment remained under her ownership from 1904 and the following 17 years. There were various transactions recorded regarding the property over this time period, including the following:
Granting right of way to MKO Railroad on 9-18-1902, but not filed until 6-13-1935.
There were several oil and gas leases granted on the property during this period, involving Perryman, Mr. John Porter, the Central National Bank of Tulsa, Panther Creek Oil & Gas Co., Turbine Oil and Gas Co., and others. Central National Bank returned the original lease to Frances Perryman Young on 8-13-1918.
There is evidence that extensive natural gas production occurred from the Perryman allotment by virtue of various contracts and agreements that are part of the permanent property records. It is not known by this author if any oil production was ever undertaken on the Lortondale property, but it is quite possible.
Part 3: 1921 - 1953
On February 26, 1921, Frances Perryman Young (she had since married Fred D. Young) granted a warranty deed for the Lortondale land to J.P. Flanagan and W.G. Phillips (of Phillips Petroleum). The consideration given for this transfer was $20,500.00. This marks a historic moment in the history of the property, for the Lortondale land from this point forward is no longer Indian owned, and becomes eligible for property taxation for the first time. Flanagan and Phillips deeded the property back and forth to each other for various business reasons for the next three years, and on March 3, 1924, the property was deeded to B.E. and Hazel Capps. The Capps’ kept title for only three months, and then on June 3, 1924, the Lortondale land was deeded to Eugene Lorton.
As of June 3, 1924, the property officially was owned by Eugene Lorton, publisher of the Tulsa World newspaper, and became the Lorton family’s country estate/farm. The Lorton’s constructed a large estate house on the property; the original brick entrance columns at 27th Street and Yale Avenue still stand today. The Lorton family christened their estate “Lortondale” and sent out annual Christmas cards stating “Greetings from Lortondale!” with several photos of the Lortondale property. Shortly after acquiring the property, Eugene Lorton granted a highway easement to the County of Tulsa, Oklahoma on 11-11-1924, for the construction of a county road that would later become known as Yale Avenue in Tulsa.
The Lorton family retained ownership of this property for 11 years. Property records show the official title transferring back and forth from Eugene and Maude Lorton to the World Publishing Company, but it is assumed that this was for business and/or tax purposes. The Lortondale estate was well known in Tulsa and became a destination for many important social functions for Tulsa’s high society.
On December 4, 1935, Maude and Eugene Lorton deeded their estate to Leroy (Roy) and Myrtle I. Mead. (It should be noted that all of the real estate transactions described herein made exception for the right-of-way owned by the M-K-T railroad, originally granted by Frances Perryman on 1-28-1904. This is the railroad that presently parallels the Broken Arrow expressway in Tulsa.) Leroy Mead was aTulsa drilling contractor and oil operator. It was at this point that the former Lortondale farm became the home of Tulsa’s Meadowbrook Country Club. The club used the Lorton’s former estate house as the clubhouse for the country club. The Lortondale property operated as the Meadowbrook Country Club for the next 17 years, until 1952.
Leroy Mead died in Dallas, TX on 1-26-1946 and Myrtle Mead died in Tulsa, OK on4-13-1946, but the land remained at that time as the home of Meadowbrook Country Club. On November 16, 1946 the Mead heirs deeded the property to Maurice Sanditen, the owner of Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company (OTASCO). (At the time of the Mead’s deaths, the Lortondale property was valued at $68,500.00 per appraisal on 11-20-1946.) Sanditen placed the property in trust of the Highland Park Investment Company/Highland Park Association. The Association granted easement right-of-way to Public Service Company of Oklahoma and Southwestern Bell Telephone on 12-29-1950.
The Lortondale property continued to be operated as Meadowbrook Country Club up until December 5, 1952, when the land was purchased and deeded to Dale Carter (Dale Carter Lumber Company), J.W. McMichael, and Tulsa home builder, Howard Grubb.
Meadowbrook Country Club moved from the Lortondale property to its present day location at 9300 E. 81st Street. The Carter-McMichael-Grubb partnership purchased the property with a $250,000.00 mortgage from the Highland Park Assn. /Meadowbrook Country Club. And thus, the Lortondale housing addition was born.
Part 4: 1952 – 1954, the “Lortondale Lawsuit”
Shortly after builder Howard Grubb purchased the Lortondale land and publicly announced his intentions to build Tulsa’s finest modern housing addition and the very first housing addition in the U.S. to feature all central air-conditioned homes, various ghosts from the past appeared on the scene. Specifically, eight individual persons came forward and claimed outright ownership and/or mineral/water rights to the Lortondale tract. A summary of these parties and their claims follows:
1. Wm. M. Wilson and W. M. Wilson claimed title by virtue of an agreement dated 1-11-1919 with Frances E. Young.
2. W.N. Robinson, W.S. Harsha and F. F. Jones claimed and interest in the property by virtue of a quit-claim deed dated 5-24-1904.
3. W. R. Ritchie claimed interest in the property by virtue of a quit-claim deed dated 6-29-1926.
4. Annie Adams and Lewis Adams claimed title to the property by virtue of a warranty deed dated 1-21-1918.
Fed up with the legal wrangling of these parties, the Carter-McMichael-Grubb partnership filed a lawsuit against them on February 28, 1953, in order to force these people to legally prove their claims to the Lortondale land. Grubb claimed that all of the previous deeds and agreements had either expired or were outright fraudulent. The District Court of Tulsa County issued summons to the defendants on March 7, 1953 that they were being sued by Grubb and must answer by March 30, 1953, and if the defendants failed to answer, the plaintiff (Grubb, et. al.) will take judgment quieting the defendant’s claims.
The lawsuit was finally settled on May 26, 1953, when all of the defendants failed to appear in court. The court heard sworn testimony from witnesses and the findings of Judge Elmer Adams were as follows:
1. The claims of Wm. M. Wilson and W. M. Wilson had long since expired and were no longer in force, and their claims were based on a fraudulent deed.
2. The claims of Robinson, Harsha and Jones were based on a fraudulent deed.
3. The claims of W. R. Ritchie were based on a fraudulent deed.
4. The claims of Annie and Lewis Adams were not based on a property deed but a mortgage for the purpose of securing payment from Frances Perryman, and said mortgage was discharged on 6-10-1918.
Thus, Judge Elmer Adams decreed that all claims were invalid and the rightful owners to the property were Carter-McMichael-Grubb. Therefore, construction could now begin at the 26th and Yale sight, free from the property claims of others.
Part 5: Early Lortondale Housing Addition 1953 - 1954
It should be noted that while the legal hassles of the lawsuit detailed above were brewing, Howard Grubb forged ahead with his plans for Lortondale by constructing 3 model/test homes at 21st Place and Pittsburgh Avenue in Tulsa. Grubb wanted to stir publicity and interest in his modern homes, test public tastes and make changes as necessary, and wasn’t about to let the lawsuit deter him.
On December 31, 1953, the original plat and dedication of the Lortondale addition was filed at the Tulsa County court house at 2:33 PM. The addition was officially named “Lortondale” and included original restrictive covenants for future property owners. These restrictive covenants are as follows:
1. All lots in Lortondale shall be used solely for residential purposes except lots 11 and 12, Block 1, which may be used at the discretion of the owners for recreational purposes, including the construction of a swimming pool, and for the benefit of all Lortondale residents. If not used for recreation, the lots may be used for residential construction conforming to all restrictions and conditions provided herein.
2. All of said lots designated for residential purposes shall be improved solely by single family dwellings not to exceed two stories in height and not more that one dwelling shall be erected upon any one lot described in the said plat.
3. No dwelling, exclusive of open porches and garages, shall be erected with a ground floor area of less than 1,000 square feet.
4. No building shall be located nearer to the front line or nearer to the side street line on any lot than the building lines shown on said plat. In any event, no building shall be located on any lot nearer than 25 feet to the front line nor nearer that 15 feet to any side street line, and no building shall be located nearer than 5 feet to any interior lot line. No building shall be erected on the lots adjoining Yale Avenuewithin 25 feet of the lot line on Yale Avenue, and no driveways shall open on Yale Avenue.
5. No trailer, tent, shack, garage, barn or other outbuilding erected on Lortondale lots shall at any time be used as a residence, temporary or permanent. This shall not apply to the erection and maintenance of “servant’s quarters,” or the domestic regular employees of Lortondale residents. Any outbuildings occupied as a residential dwelling must be occupied by domestic servants of the Lortondale property owners.
6. No structure previously used shall hereafter be moved on to any lot in the said platted addition.
7. No noxious or offensive trade or activity shall be carried out on any part of the Lortondale property which may become an annoyance or nuisance tot he neighborhood. No part of any Lortondale property shall be used for the maintenance, care, or housing of cattle, horses, swine, or poultry.
8. The developers dedicate to the public for public use forever a perpetual easement over the rear five (5) feet of each and every lot and other easements as are shown on the plat for public utilities, with rights of ingress upon and egress from said easements.
9. No fence or wall shall be erected, placed or altered on any lot nearer to any street that the minimum building set back line as shown on the plat.
The original restrictive covenants were binding on all Lortondale property owners until September 15, 1978, at which time they are automatically extended for successive five (5) year periods, unless altered by a written vote of the majority of the owners of Lortondale lots. The final covenant provision states that if any party is in violation of these covenants, any other Lortondale property owner may “prosecute any proceedings at law or in equity” against the violators, either to prevent the violation or to recover damages therefore.
From this, the Lortondale housing addition to the City of Tulsa had begun. The “Ratification of Plat and Owner’s Certificate of Dedication” was filed in Tulsa District Court on 5-5-1954 (officially changing the name of the original Lortondale plat from “a part of Lortondale Addition” to simply “Lortondale Addition”). An agreement was filed in court by Howard Grubb on 4-12-1954 to allow the City to hook up Lortondale houses to Tulsa sanitary sewer systems, and on 4-1-1954, the Carter-McMichael-Grubb partnership officially deeded the Lortondale tract to “Lortondale Construction, Inc.”. The land had been subdivided, all utility arrangements were in place, and Lortondale construction was underway!
It should also be noted that up until this point, the Lortondale tract was outside of the Tulsa city limits. On December 17, 1954, Tulsa Mayor L.C. Clark signed city ordinance #7177 which brought the Lortondale addition into the Tulsa city limits.