Mid-century modern in Tulsa, Ok.

Mid-century modern in Tulsa, Ok.

And for my next move….

I’ve rented apartments and bought a condo. I never owned a house. Before I packed it up I wanted to buy a small midcentury modern ranch house. It was in my DNA. I grew up in ranch houses in Naperville, Ill. (built 1966) and Columbus, Ohio (1959?). My brother owns a midcentury modern ranch house in Nashville, Tn.

It was all a return to forever.

I’ve read the magazine “Atomic Ranch” for years, although I will never have the money to trick out a house like the dreamsicles in Palm Springs, Ca., St. Paul, Mn. and Los Angeles. I wanted to unplug from the noise, grow flowers and sit in the back yard and smoke cigars. I’ve had a rough few years. These ranch houses were part of the emerging American Dream. I wanted to see if such a thing even still exists. It feels like it is slipping away.

The midcentury modern experience speaks to a leaner time. Rooms were smaller and one-car garages were often attached to the ranch. Sputnik type light fixtures blended with lots of natural light. The Greatest Generation was emerging from World War II and the excitement of space age possiblitly collided with frugal ethics. Futurism bequeathed optimism.

A midcentury ranch house had been on my radar for a few years. My Tiki friends Dave Vasta and Dave Krys live in the near western suburbs. I was born in Berwyn and knew that was the bungalow belt. The Daves steered me to La Grange and Westchester for the strong midcentury stock.

Living alone,  I wasn’t looking for a lot of space. I zeroed in on affordable tiny homes in La Grange Park and finally Westchester. I also timed the commute from Chicago—17 minutes one way in rare non-traffic situations. I live in Ukranian Village where I have become an old dude. Presto! In Westchester I’m one of the youngest guys in the neighborhood.

Bob Dylan's Shangri-La Ranch in Malibu, Ca., featured in "The Last Waltz".

Bob Dylan’s Shangri-La Ranch in Malibu, Ca., featured in “The Last Waltz”.

The fine 2006 book “House As A Mirror of Self (Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home)”  by Clare Cooper Marcus mentions a gentleman who grew up in a small town, lived in the city for a long time and was contemplating a move to Arizona.

Each setting represented a different stage of his life. He reflected on who he was in each house and he became  comfortable in the “here and now.” I’m guessing there will be a lot of “now” in Westchester because there’s not a lot as much exciting “here” there as there is in Ukranian Village.

The ranch style was born in California in the 1930s and hit its peak from the 1940s to the early 1970s. America’s emerging dependence on the automobile led to the popularity of streamlined ranch houses on big lots. Streetcar suburbs of the early 20th Century featured smaller houses on narrow lots because people walked to streetcar lines. Westchester  even had a streetcar line and was a CTA (Chicago Transist Authority) connector from 1926 to 1951.

Westchester (pop. 17,000) blossomed through  rows and rows of midcentury ranch houses consisting of symmetrical one-story forms with low-pitched roofs. I adored the modest detailing of the houses that pay homage to  Colonial and English influences. After more than a dozen trips to Westchester talking to neighbors, owners of Greek diners and the folks at Christopher’s Speakeasy, I discovered humility that is important to me. I went to the monthly Friday night fish-chicken fry at the Westchester Community Church. The old timers told me the village is so boring they call it “Deadchester.”

Westchester was founded in 1925 to recreate an English village. I found a red brick house with original decorative iron porch supports and matching shutters of the mid-1950s. The house was nestled back off the street to fit into modest landscaping.

Westchester, Ill. mid-century. They're everywhere there.

Westchester, Ill. mid-century. They’re everywhere there.

I stumbled into a time capsule. I began researching the house. It was built in 1952. It was within walking distance of a grocery store, a neighborhood diner and a small bar, which is all I really need. The house’s street had an odd name. I mentioned to my brother that during the mid-1950s our parents lived on a similar odd sounding street in Westchester. They died in 2015 but our mom kept a meticulous typewritten diary of her life. I checked it out.

It was the same house.
It was hard to believe.
I had to re-read her passage. I have no memories of the house. Our dad worked for Swift & Company and was transferred out of Chicago to New Jersey around 1958. I was born in 1955. My brother pointed out, “You were probably conceived in that house.”

I haven’t shared this story with too many people. I  still don’t know what to think. Emotion did not lead me into buying the house. I am not a fixer-upper and the house was in excellent shape. The modest house had about an amazing  dozen closets which was a perfect fit for my books, files and bobbleheads. Midcentury style is framed by an organic spirit and minimalism. I can try to declutter. An open house leads to an open heart.

My excellent handyman Edmond Fernandez, Jr. was knocked out by the now and then coincidence. He’s repainted the rooms in bold mid century modern colors with Sherwin-Williams names I love. The living room was  “Restless Olive,” the kitchen was “Pink Flamingo” and my office became an earthy orange “Carnival.” Actually, maybe that’s how I should have painted the bedroom. I’ve had a blast visiting mid- century modern stores like Dial M for Modern in Chicago, Pre to Post Modern in Nashville (long before I took this plunge) and the awesome bc modern in Milwaukee.

IMG_8084 (1)

Edmond (L)  and crew member Travis.

Of course 1952 is not all that has been built up to be. The United States tested the first hydrogen bomb at the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. More than 3,000 Americans died from Polio. And midcentury modern was not a better design  in a black and white America. There is no Cinerama nostalgia for minorities and women.

My block is ethnically diverse. My neighbors are African-American, Hispanic and Italian. I recently moved a file from my book “The People’s Place (Soul Food Restaurants and Reminiscences From the Civil Rights Era to Today).” A plastic, typewritten file card tumbled out of a box. It was given to me by activist James Meredith at a restaurant in Jackson, Miss.

The card listed his ten commandments from the 1960s; “You shall not kill,” “You shall not steal,” but the last one was  timely for the communities we live in: “Every church should take responsibility for each child within 2 miles of the church under 5 years old.” That’s imperative advice no matter where you live.

Westchester is only two miles from the Chef Shangri-La in North Riverside.

Westchester is only two miles from the Chef Shangri-La in North Riverside.

The house will take time to make it okay to live in. I forgot about those pesky village codes and for me, moving has always been like transporting the old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Even though I haven’t settled in, a test vinyl run sounded great in a low ceiling basement with a Nashville RCA Studio B checkerboard floor.

But my work has been framed by a sense of fascination. Was Westchester a far-away place in 1955? Our father always installed a manual wall pencil sharpener in the basement of every house we lived in. Did he install the vintage wall pencil sharpener I found in the basement of this house?  Energy needs time to become focused, measured matter. In days past I retreated to the only chair in the living room.

Dusk became darkness with a turn of the page. I looked out the picture window at old trees on a quiet street.  There were no shadows and I wondered if I was truly alone.







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29 Responses to Time out of mind in a midcentury find

  1. Jen Kaufman says:

    I really enjoyed your story, Dave. I am sorry that you have been going through rough times, but I think that it is so cool that you bought your parents old home!

    • Dave Hoekstra says:

      Hi Jen,
      My thoughts are with you and your family during your difficult times as well. Take care of yourself and and thanks.

  2. Mindy Giles says:

    This graph took my break away:I stumbled into a time capsule. I began researching the house. It was built in 1952. It was within walking distance of a grocery store, a neighborhood diner and a small bar, which is all I really need. The house’s street had an odd name. I mentioned to my brother that during the mid-1950s our parents lived on a similar odd sounding street in Westchester. They died in 2015 but our mom kept a meticulous typewritten diary of her life. I checked it out.
    It was the same house.
    We repeat parts of our DNA. I do believe this.
    xo to you in your path and this interesting unfolding.


    • Dave Hoekstra says:

      Thanks, like my brother said our folks were “teeing it up” for me. Funny thing is that I’m not a fixer-upper/handy man guy and as a forsaken home this place was in excellent shape. Thanks for reading! Dave

  3. kim west says:

    dave, your story, as always, is both charming and challenging. its charm is obvious to most;
    the challenge, for me, is confronting the memories and scars of the broad range of experiences and emotions that I associate with mid-century ranch home living.
    i appreciate the notion of charting one’s life through the homes one has made and occupied, and find myself quite happy in the 110 year-old big old stately home that houses our orphanage. but gramma rasta is drawn to mid-century modern, and I suspect in the future, I will need to reconcile my wonderful memories of mom and kirk in our modest 1959 ranch in the old hometown with the torment and abuse dealt out by my hated stepfather under that roof. i suspect i will survive, but it will be a challenge. but the wonderful aspects of those houses and the great potential they embraced will no doubt lubricate the experience for me, to conjure an all too appropriate image of the challenge ahead.
    kudos on the new home for you. we look forward to seeing you again soon.

    • Dave Hoekstra says:

      Hey Kim,
      Thanks for reading.
      My parents (esp. Mom) wondered if we would keep the Naperville ranch. The memories were too fresh there, too far from the city for me, etc. The fun thing about this is the memories will be all mine. Although my imagination can wander…..
      We will be in contact about seeing you with our book at the Iowa State Fair. We’ve booked our first signing, July 28 in Pensacola, Fla Can’t wait to sneak our van into your space again.
      Say hi to your family,

  4. Carol Bosmeny says:

    What a beautiful story, Dave! May you feel the love of your parents radiating out of the fabric of your childhood home! I’m thinking they led you back and you can start the healing process.

  5. Dave Roknic says:

    Dave, I don’t get out much, but we are practically neighbors. Try the gyros at Young Prince if you can still eat that sort of thing.

  6. pj says:

    Man, David, it’s always something. I wish I knew you these days. Most people seem to get less interesting. You are not most people.

    • Dave Hoekstra says:

      Awh, thanks PJ. I’m in the Springsteen/Broadway lottery so if I make it out that way we must get together. Thanks for reading, good luck with Browns-Bears.

  7. Catherine Harding says:

    So glad you’re home Dave. We’re heading to my niece’s mid-century Arlington Heights home for Christmas Eve. Thank you for sharing the amazing coincidence of your new/old home. The pencil sharpener gave me goosebumps.

    • Dave Hoekstra says:

      Thanks Catherine. Have a great Two oh-one-eight!

    • Mindy Giles says:

      The pencil sharpener gave me goosebumps too.
      My Dad screwdrivered one onto the side of a wooden shelf in the basement of the only two homes I lived in growing up. I feel sure it was the same heavy metal pencil sharpener that moved from Pearl St. to Franklin St. in Columbus , Indiana. Wish I had it now….

  8. Jim Olson says:

    I grew up in Westchester, and your house looks like so many of the houses I hung out at in my youth – brings back a lot of memories. Funny that we kids also called it “Deadchester” because there was nothing for a teenager to do there. Now a part of me wishes I was back there.
    Curious what the street name is. I grew up on Fleet Street, ironic because it was neither Fleet nor very English (more Bohemian than anything). Thanks for the musings…

  9. Dennis FitzMaurice says:

    Great story, Dave! Such a remarkable thing for you to have discovered,

    I grew up in LaGrange (I’m just a little older than you) and have lived in the Edgewater neighborhood for almost 40 years now. Enjoyed your work in the Sun Times and miss what that paper was.
    Hope times are better in 2018 and in Westchester!!


  10. Scott Childers says:

    Hi Dave,

    Gotta love those Baltis-Built ranches! They were built to last. My first house was a two-bedroom, one bath Baltis (similar to one of the models in your pictures) that was purchased back in the 1990’s. Even though it was small, it had a wonderful basement (which made for an awesome studio for me), complete with knotty pine and linoleum floors and a decent three-season porch.

    When the bathroom was remodeled, newspapers that were stuffed into the walls to hold the wet plaster on lathe in place dated the home to Spring 1953. I placed several items in a plastic time capsule before the walls were covered up for someone else to find. Perhaps, they already have…

    I don’t miss snowblowing the side driveway or the noisy neighbor who didn’t know how to use his car alarm, but otherwise, it was quite charming!

    Driving through Westchester now, it’s funny how development has finally found them! New Mariano’s, park land and gazebo at 22nd and Mannheim and even a Dunkin Donuts! It seemed like I waited forever for that stuff to happen.

    All it took was for me to move away. Enjoy that place – they are pretty amazing!


  11. Diane Berner says:

    Loved reading your story. I grew up in Westchester. My dad bought the first Baltic built raised ranch like the picture from plans in 1952 while my mother was in the hospital after I was born. Everyone on the block moved in the summer of 52. The adult generation is all gone but they stayed lifelong friends. I’m still FB friends with some of “the kids”. We moved to our second Baltic ranch on Election Day in 1960. My parents wanted something larger but every time we looked st a house outside Westchester cried! So again my dad bought a house from plans. They were there until 1994. Check out the FB page If you ever lived in Westchester for a lot of history and pics.

  12. Mike McD says:

    Dave, Good story – glad you shared it. It was especially interesting to me because I worked with Al and seeing that “THEN” photo of him by your garage brought back memories. He mentored me as a young man at Swift & Co back in the late 70’s! Sorry to hear of his passing.

  13. Mike Porcaro says:

    Great story about a town that has been a classy place to live for more than 60 years. Having driven through Westchester a number of times in the past few years, the village continues to be thriving and well-rounded with excellent schools, churches and shopping and dining. The Baltis homes are built like fortresses and continue to have wonderful character while maintaining a sort of modern-chic appearance.

    Enjoy your new home, Dave.

  14. Marianne winter says:

    Your article made me teary eyed..I grew up on the 1500 block of Portsmouth in a baltis house. My parents bought it new in the 50’s and I had to sell it in 1996. It was the best neighborhood to grow up in

  15. Lori says:

    I was born and raised in Westchester, I believe a couple of blocks from where you are. We still own our house that my parents bought and completed the build on in 1950. Great Nostalgia. We still have an original Chambers oven from the mid 50’s I believe, works great!

    • Dave Hoekstra says:

      Hi Lori, I had an original Chambers oven from the 1950s that also worked great–it was in the basement and the village made me remove it. Look for it in my summer garage sale! Thanks for reading, Dave

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