After World War II, millions of returning GIs were ready to start families and find homes. Wyoming’s population boomed: from 4,466 in 1940 to 7,736 in 1960 – a 73% increase. Wyoming also expanded south and west: between 1947-1959, Wyoming annexed farmland on both sides of Compton Road and the area we call “Hilltop,” increasing the City’s area an additional 50%. The annexations allowed the City to offer moderately priced housing developments for new residents.
Two new architectural trends dominated during the Baby Boom years of 1946-1964: the Modernist house and the ranch house. Wyoming’s topography includes flat expanses as well as hills and valleys. The flat Hilltop area in western Wyoming proved to be perfect for the new ranch-style houses with big yards. And Modernist architecture was perfect for homes on Wyoming’s challenging, hilly lots that were avoided by traditional builders.
This is the sixth and final article in the series about Wyoming’s architectural variety. Documents and books at the Wyoming Historical Society were the primary source of information for the story. The Houses We Live in: An Identification Guide to the History and Style of American Domestic Architecture, edited by Jeffery Howe, provided details of architectural styles.
Is Your Ranch Home a Mid-Century Modern?
The most popular house style in America during the Baby Boom era was the ranch. The one-story open floor plan appealed to young families. Modernist homes, commonly called “Mid-Century Moderns,” also featured open floor plans, but not all Mid-Century Moderns are one-story ranches and not all ranch homes are Mid-Century Moderns.
True Mid-Century Modern homes feature flat or angled roofs, large expanses of windows, and minimal exterior decoration. Modernist architects sought something new, with no links to historical architecture. American Modernist design was influenced by the European architects of the German Bauhaus movement and by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. New technology for manufacturing metal beams and reinforced concrete allowed Modernist architects to create flat roofs and open floor plans, with floor-to-ceiling windows and cantilevered porches or balconies connecting the home with the outdoors.
Benjamin Dombar (1916-2006) was a significant Modernist architect in Cincinnati. He worked for seven years as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, and several noteworthy homes, including Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, were designed and constructed during his apprenticeship. Dombar was inspired by Wright to appreciate the beauty of nature. His homes are often built on hilly wooded lots, hidden from the road, with dramatic views of nature from the floor-to-ceiling windows. He designed over 1,000 homes in Cincinnati, including a number of homes in Wyoming.
James Alexander: Wyoming Resident and Architect
Another Modernist architect in Wyoming was James M. Alexander, Jr. (1921 – 2007). He studied at the University of Cincinnati and was inspired by the European Bauhaus movement, American Modernist designers., and Japanese architecture. He taught at UC’s School of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning in both industrial design and architecture, and designed hundreds of buildings throughout Cincinnati.
Melissa Marty, a Wyoming resident, researched Alexander extensively for her Masters in Design thesis. Her father taught at DAAP and knew Alexander. Marty states, “Typically Alexander drew young clients who were predisposed to modernism. Alexander became known not only for his modern style of architecture, but also for his ability to strategically place the house on the lot. Alexander provided architectural solutions for building on ‘impossible lots.’”
A copy of Marty’s thesis, with detailed blueprints and photographs, is on file at the Wyoming Historical Society.
Alexander designed 13 homes in Wyoming, including his personal residence, during the time period 1949-1970. His homes on Congress Run Road and other hilly neighborhoods were nestled on irregular wooded lots and many are hard to see from the street. Large windows overlooking hills and ravines were designed to connect the homeowners to nature.
Ranch Houses: a Distinctive Suburban Style
A local company saw an opportunity to sell inexpensive building materials during the post-World War II housing boom. The Pease Woodwork Company began in the 1890s as a door manufacturer, and by the 1940s was a leader in developing prefabricated homes. The Wyoming Historical Society has a list identifying almost 90 Pease homes in Wyoming, built between 1941-1984.
The Pease “Book of Homes” promised a “personalized home, different from all other homes… yet better built through modern production, and at less cost through mass factory purchasing of the finest materials.” The company worked with architects to design affordable homes, and sold blueprints and prefabricated building materials. Across the street from their factory in Hamilton, Ohio, were nine completed homes for customers to admire. The prefabricated walls, roof trusses, windows, and doors made on-site construction faster. All wood pieces were stenciled with numbers to assist with construction.
The ranch house was one of the most popular designs offered by Pease. The ranch evolved from Spanish Colonial architecture in the American Southwest, with a horizontal single-story form and a low roof. The style emphasized outdoor living, with big windows and sliding glass doors leading to a patio and the backyard. Ranch homes could be simple rectangular shapes, or L-shaped or U-shaped to contain a patio. Homeowners could choose from a variety of architectural accents: wood, brick, or stucco exteriors, with Modernist, Colonial, Spanish Colonial, or Tudor details.
Architects occasionally worked with Pease blueprints to customize the homes. Ben Dombar and James Alexander each collaborated with Wyoming homeowners to modify Pease house designs.
New Split-Levels and a Return to Two-Stories
Wyoming’s newest neighborhoods added split-level homes in the late 1950s through the 1960s. The split-level design modified the all-American ranch house by creating multiple levels for different activities, with the living room and kitchen on a mid-level, the bedrooms on an upper level, and the new “rec room” on the lower level.
In the late 1960s, tastes returned to more conservative designs with historical roots – neo-Colonial and neo-Tudor two-story homes.
Wyoming’s architectural variety is part of the City’s character and charm. Homeowners’ preferences continue to evolve as housing designs change with the times, but Wyoming’s distinctive historical perspective will continue to draw new generations of homeowners who value the personality of the community and its unique homes.
This article mentions only a few of the homes in Wyoming built during the Baby Boom era. To learn more about Benjamin Dombar, James Alexander, and Pease homes, stop by the Wyoming Historical Society.