THE HISTORY of HIGHLAND ACRES—PART TWO:

 

FINDING A NAME: HOW WE BECAME HIGHLAND ACRES

The new development needed a name. Bismarck Tribune editor Ken Simons wrote a story for his paper announcing a contest would be held to name the subdivision and the streets within it. Entries were to be submitted to the committee, with an entry deadline of August 12, 1946. On August 22, the contest committee, chaired by automobile dealer Robert McCarney (anybody recognize that name?), announced its winners. The name chosen was Highland Acres, an entry submitted by Mrs. Homer B. Golden (the newspaper doesn’t tell us her first name–standard practice in those days–try THAT today), who claimed the $25 first prize—and who later donated it back to the veterans group. She and her husband were also among the first residents of the new development.

By this time, the cooperative had agreed with Simons’ vision for the development and decided, with the city in agreement, that the subdivision would not be laid out in a grid like the rest of the city, but would follow the natural features of the land, with long streets and large blocks to reduce paving and utility costs, and sidewalks, if there were to be any–take note, Bismarck City Commission–placed down the middle of the blocks, behind the houses, serving the homes on either side of them. And the resulting street names would not have to adhere to the city’s numbering and lettering structure.

So street names were also added to the naming contest, and the committee chose the word “Drive,” preceded by 164th Infantry, Riverview, Parkview, Crescent, Midway, Longview, Victory, and Pioneer—some with war references, others with “the lay of the land.” Parkview, Crescent, Victory, Pioneer, and Midway were eventually used, and survive to this day. Winning entries in the street naming contest each won $5. They were (some names also recognizable here) Mrs. Theodore Laib, Ross W. Nelson, Mrs. O.S. Hjelle, Kenneth W. Simons, and Bernard Axtman.

Meanwhile, lots of paperwork needed to be completed before actual construction began. The Association had incorporated itself with a projected value of $1,500,000—no small dreamers. They retained counsel, Bismarck attorney and returning WW II veteran Archie McGray, and began drafting by-laws. The final draft was ten pages, and authorized the Association to acquire land, build homes, issue shares of stock, borrow money, issue securities, provide financing for sidewalks, utilities and sewers, lend money to members, pay dividends, and to elect a board of directors and officers to conduct business on behalf of the member-stockholders.

BUYING THE LAND

By December, 1946, the Association exercised its option to purchase the Jaskowiak and Keating land and made a down payment of $5,000 on an $18,000 agreement. The group also needed to pay for a survey of the property, drawing a plat, clearing the title and begin adding utilities, an investment of another $7,000. So total startup costs were $25,000. That meant the co-op needed 125 members—a total almost already achieved—with an investment of $200 each.

The Association had acquired what it called “one of the most desirable tracts of land within the city limits of Bismarck comprising of approximately 125 acres of land offering almost all conceivable types of building sites.”

Hopes were high that 1947 would be the year that returning veterans would own their own homes. The next step was getting actual commitments from the members to purchase a lot and build a home. Editor Simons drafted a prospectus to be distributed to the members. It began:

The 108 original contributing members joined in forming the Association for the purposes of achieving, as a group, the following ends which they could not achieve by independent action as individuals:

  1. To secure new homes at a saving through large-scale purchasing of materials and large-scale construction of houses.
  2. To secure advantages in rates and other terms of financing through group negotiation
  3. To secure adequate building lots at lower cost than available generally in the city by acquiring undeveloped land in a block.
  4. To secure improved conditions for family living by designing the land to minimize traffic, to insure privacy, and to provide convenient and protected recreation areas, especially for children.
  5. To secure any other significant advantages relating to the home and the community that might be accomplished through cooperative planning and execution.

“Generally,” the prospectus read, “the tract, known as Highland Acres, lies between the Mundy estate and the Municipal Country Club and Golf Course on the east and Fraine Barracks Military Installation and other public land on the west. Part of the land lying to the north is owned and controlled by the Bismarck City Park Board and the remainder is privately owned and not presently developed as a residential area. The southern boundary of most of the area lies about one block north of a line extended westward from Avenue ‘C.’ Land lying to the south will eventually be developed according to a plan harmonious with that of the Association.

“Main access to the property is from the west end of Avenue ‘C,’ a street slated, according to the plans of the City Planning Commission, to become a main thoroughfare which will provide easy access to the downtown and other areas of the city.

“Drives within the area follow the contours of the land in sweeping curves and straightaways and, with the lots and blocks, have been designed to make the most of the natural advantages of the terrain itself, the view of the river to the south and the recreational and scenic character of most of the adjacent lands.”

The prospectus ran to seven pages, single spaced, and concluded with a dream for a unique housing area, not wedded to traditional city layout, but following the natural features of the land. Simons went to considerable effort to make his case for this kind of development:

“Highland Acres is planned, from raw land to finished houses, to provide comfortable housing in an employable community at minimum cost. To achieve these ends, it has broken cleanly from sterile and costly traditions and has returned to the basic considerations which make for wholesome and economical family and community life. Because of this approach its design provides greater utility and greater comfort, more beauty and more convenience—and at less cost.”

To make his point, Simons drew up some comparisons.

ORIGINS OF THE OLD TRADITIONS: Alleys in residential areas were highly essential in horse and buggy days when barns, wood sheds, tool shed and other out-buildings, attendant refuse and heavy deliveries of ice, wood, and coal were kept as far as possible from the house for social, visual and olfactory reasons.

MODERN FACTS AND PRACTICES: Systematic mechanical rubbish disposal, street entrances to utility room—garages, modern heating and refrigeration and frequent light deliveries eliminate the need for the costly and unsightly nuisance of alleys.   

ORIGINS OF THE OLD TRADITIONS: Sidewalks completely circled each city block when pedestrians held their noses, looked discreetly ahead, and “took the long way home” around the block to avoid the condition that made alleys a necessary evil.

MODERN FACTS AND PRACTICES: Removal of barns, sheds, refuse heaps and attendant alleys permits foot traffic “as the crow flies” down the center line of blocks on one economical main walk per block in place of a costly four.

ORIGINS OF THE OLD TRADITIONS: Street Curbs kept wagons in the street, wheel ruts from the grass, and the butcher’s horse away from sidewalks when this one-horse-powered motor “fueled up” on boulevard grass.

MODERN FACTS AND PRACTICES: Horses are no longer a notable threat to boulevard, grass or pedestrian traffic and curbs are worth their cost only where needed for soil retention and storm water run-off.

 ORIGINS OF THE OLD TRADITIONS: Boulevard strips gave pedestrians added protection from danger to life and limb and from other indelicate hazards that were part and parcel of the horse drawn traffic era.

MODERN FACTS AND PRACTICES: With walks routed, park-wise, between residential lawns and gardens along the center of the blocks, front lawns stretch unbroken from the latch-string to quiet driveway streets.

With a flair, Simons concluded: “Most of the old traditions can be traced to three distinct blood lines:

“Straight-line Streets, the ungracious off-spring of the surveyor’s transit and section line roads, followed a parallel course with their parent’s path, come hill, come vale, come hell or high water, as if duty and penance bound, though obviously their parentage was not of their choosing.

 “Checkerboard blocks were all the favored progeny of the same surveyor’s transit mated to the square section or quarter-section, angular and straight-lined, with little to recommend them, they were accepted and used simply as convenient  and as saving of time and effort. 

 “Coffin-box lots, third generation and the natural children of the naturally wedded square block and straight street, had little to recommend them except that one was the same as another, dull and uninteresting, but capable of being filled with houses and sheds, barns, privies and refuse.

Simons concluded: “Wooed less brusquely and with more regard for nature’s contours, the land gives rise to gently curving and sloping drives; patience and respect are rewarded by this more pleasing progeny which demands less in expense and maintenance while providing greater satisfaction.”

The prospectus was distributed widely, not just to veterans and members of the newly-formed co-op, but to anyone in Bismarck interested in building a house in the new subdivision.

One of those families who received the prospectus, along with a short questionnaire “to obtain information which will assist in effectively organizing your cooperative and in locating, planning, and constructing your home with a minimum of delay and with a maximum of results” was that of Mr. and Mrs. George Haugarth of Mandan. George was an employee of Deluxe Cleaners in Bismarck, and was looking for housing for himself and his wife and their six children, ranging in age from 5 months to 8 years old. They sent a short letter with their questionnaire:

“We live in three very small rooms. No running water. Outside pump and outside toilet. Washtub for baths. There is no city gas so we use bottle gas for cooking and oil heater for heat. We live in the flood district in Syndicate (south side) in Mandan. We were forced out this spring for a week due to the flood. Also if we were to make the change for a home in Bismarck it would be a saving on meals and my gas bill driving to and from Bismarck.”

“We plan on applying what we can get for this place to one there if need be. We own our furniture and haven’t any debts excepting our living expenses. I have had three years Army training. Sincerely, Mr. and Mrs. George Haugarth”

That may have been the situation with many of the veterans who were looking to become co-op members, and realize their dream of owning a good home. But it was also likely the dreary financial situation of prospective members and home builders, which would lead to financial difficulties as work on the development progressed.

Next: Wallace Stegner weighs in; The sales pitch; Closing the deal.

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