Video: American Foursquare, Part I

Hi. This is Nathan Harrison for Fine Remodel.com. I had set out to make a video that would tell you all about the Foursquare and its features it can be identified by and, if you own one, or if you’re considering buying one, what you would need to know from a remodeling perspective about these houses.

And I will do that. But first I want to tell you what I learned about the Foursquare and what it really means.

The Foursquare is a very plain looking house, but it has a very important place in American history. This house signifies several different things. But the first thing it signifies is the rise of the urban middle class as America became in industrialized society.

Although this is a big house, it is not the house of the rich. It is a middle class house. The rich had been building houses like this since about the time of the Civil War.

But beginning in the 1890s, as people from the countryside were able to find better jobs (better than farming) in the city, in industrial situations mostly, there began to be an efficiency created by all of these middle class families wanting to buy homes. And so the first tract homes began to be unfolded. ANd by that I mean subdivisions with homes on fairly small plots.

The homes were planned out. In many cases they were to be ordered, all planned out ahead of time, unlike what had happened before.

So this home, the Foursquare, represents a massive step up for tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of families who were used to living in small farm houses and now were moving to these nice, large houses in the city.

The second thing that I think the Foursquare signifies – this house was the McMansion of its day. I think the rich, who lived in houses like this, would look at these Foursquares and scoff and say, there’s no architectural beauty there. They’re just cookie-cutter houses. They’re adding nothing to the community, etc.

A lot of the same things you hear about McMansions, not just now but there’s been this similar complaint though history of people building more economical houses – and, frankly, large economical houses.

And it’s true. The Foursquare is a very plain house. It’s large and intended to be packed together side by side like you see here. The people who bought them considered these houses honest and unpretentious.

The third thing I believe the Foursquare symbolizes and in fact epitomizes, is the bubble house of the period prior to the Great Depression. You see this house is considered to have been built from the 1890s to 1930s. Really, most of them were built from 1900 to 1930. Of course, the Great Depression began in 1929.

And if you put all this in perspective, what you realize is thousands of families had made this great step forward in their accommodations, and perhaps it was too much of a step forward. It was dependent on the continued good functioning of the economy, and when that didn’t happen, I think possibly this was a factor in the Great Depression, that they had a housing bubble then, just like we appear to now.

There is actually historical record of a housing bubble at that time. But another piece of evidence that I would offer is that if you look at what happened to housing after this, they moved to much smaller, more humble structures up until fairly recently. The next popular style of house was the bungalow, and after that the ranch, both of which are mostly one story houses and a lot less square footage than this house.