Peg: What else did you ever think you wouldn’t do when you were over seas?
Fred: Well, I never had any clear idea but there were two things I was sure of . . .
One, that I knew that I would never go back to that drug store.
Peg: And what was the other thing?
Fred: It was even sillier. I dreamed that I was going to have my own home. Just a nice little house with my wife and me out in the country, in the suburbs anyway. That’s the cockeyed kind of dream you have when you are overseas.
Peg: You don’t have to be overseas to have dreams like that.
Fred: Yeah, you can get crazy ideas right here at home.
From: Best Years of Our Lives (1946)1
The unquenchable optimism of Americans for their future, after the Second World War, was the result of years of economic and social trials that would have torn other countries apart. Park Forest, a village on the south side of Chicago, was born during this post war euphoria. This village, and others like it, would change the social and physical landscape of America during the twenty years after the war more than the country’s expansion had during the previous one hundred and seventy years. It would unalterably change how Americans would live and view themselves for the rest of the century.
The Depression and World War II created an environment ripe for change. In the space of eight short years, from 1925 to 1933, the country’s economic collapse caused the number of new homes built in America to plunge from 937,000 residential units a year to 93,000. Foreclosures on private homes in 1933 reached one thousand a week. America’s wealthiest could still build but the majority of her citizens had to make due with older housing, many built before 1900. The number of new homes fell far below that of the demand. The failures within the banking industry left little capital available to private builders. The government’s involvement in residential construction, through the offices of the Public Works Administration, U.S. Housing Authority and other federal agencies, resulted in the retail builder being effectively squeezed out of the market.
Programs initiated during the Depression by the Roosevelt administration to build homes and create jobs fundamentally changed the relationships between the federal government, financial institutions, builders and homebuyers. The government stepped in to provide housing for the “worthy poor,” as they were called, and to protect those barely hanging on. Washington agencies, by the end of the 1930s, were directly building and managing a sizable portion of American housing. These agencies also set standards that would affect private construction and financing while at the same time impact local planning and zoning regulations throughout the country. The Federal Housing Administration established guidelines for housing and planning that specifically supported the expansion of residential growth into the suburbs and almost summarily created an anti-urban sentiment.2
Washington planners believed that most veterans and war workers would return to their pre-war hometowns. The Washington planners were wrong. Many stayed where their wartime jobs were, others moved to the “big city,” and many ex GIs remained near their wartime bases. California’s remarkable post war growth began at this time, fueled by a transient American citizen and soldiers who discovered the benign climate and seemingly unlimited potential for growth.
America’s greatest social challenge, after the war, became the housing of millions of returning veterans and their young families. Housing built during the Second World War supported the war effort. This housing, often of marginal and temporary quality, was generally located near war plants and seldom where most people would want to live after the war. Buying a house during the war, for many, was not only a financial impossibility but was not a long-term desire. Most of those who relocated for a job in war production, rented. The war’s end brought great expectations and a new home was now one of them.
The Depression, federal policies, and the war changed forever how Americans built homes, how they paid for them and how and where they lived. Government agencies and social and economic changes were to lead to a twenty year American “Diaspora,” with the suburban areas the major beneficiary.
The war in Europe was over by late spring of 1945. The unexpected death President Roosevelt in April stunned a nation that had lived for four years with the constant thought that death would arrive at their own door in the form of a telegram. The death of the President was a loss grieved as heavily as the death of so many of their own husbands, brothers and fathers. Thoughts of the end of the war and the reuniting of families were, for many, the only elements of consolation and hope in this great time of sadness.
Vice-President Harry Truman, Kansas City politician, and former US Senator from Missouri, became President. Truman was immediately faced with both foreign and domestic issues that had been kept hidden from him by Roosevelt. Meeting the post war housing demand was one these issues. The population of the United States was 145 million people and almost ten percent were in uniform at the end of the war. During the first year after the war over six million military personnel were released from service and another four million followed in 1946. Their release reunited 2.5 million families in 1945 alone. In the Los Angeles area, fewer than 15 percent of the 782,000 war workers left the city. At the end of the war 98 percent of American cities reported significant housing shortages and when combined with the 90 percent who reported shortages of apartments it was painfully obvious to the administration that trouble may be brewing.
The war had created many families that had never lived together. Now, at the end of the war, these reunited families had no place to live. They were living with relatives and friends and in make-do structures. Some were even living in chicken coops. In fact this was so common that the FHA put out a booklet on how to modernize and get a loan to fix up your “coop.” Some were living in mothballed bombers and others in salvaged streetcars. Yet even with this intense housing demand, the Saturday Evening Post reported only 14% of the population were willing to live in an apartment or ‘used home’.3
The prewar Roosevelt administration had shown its interest in housing through the Greenbelt community and new town efforts in the late 1930s but they were not the successes they envisioned. The concern for the housing of returning GIs had begun at the national level two years before the end of the war, when significant attempts at housing reforms were pushed through Congress. The most important piece of legislation was the passage of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, or GI Bill, in June 1944. Among its important features was its guaranty by the Veterans Administration for the larger portion of mortgage loans to veterans to purchase, build, or improve existing housing. The GI Bill's impacts on housing are comparable to those impacts of the FHA. One significant difference was the limitation by the GI Bill to owner occupied housing, a continuance of the desire by the government to support single-family housing.
Articles written for House and Garden and Architectural Record magazines in 1943, systematically presented how new communities should be built and where. But it was still not enough to meet the demand. America did not need hundreds or even thousands of new homes, it needed millions.4
For both practical and political reasons Truman turned to private builders. It was Truman’s desire to provide housing for the twelve million military personnel soon to be released. It would be housing for those who would work, housing for the millions who would return to colleges and universities under the new GI Bill of Rights, and housing for their families. In June 1945 he called to the White House sixteen men who were directly or indirectly involved with the nation’s housing programs. One of the people attending this meeting was an old friend of Truman’s and the commissioner of the Federal Public Housing Authority, Philip Klutznick.
Truman asked everyone at that meeting what their particular agency or department could do to facilitate the provision of housing for returning veterans. The FHA responded that they didn’t build housing but only insured the home mortgage and under an FHA program it would take twelve months to two years to get private builders the necessary insurance needed for their construction. Other agencies voiced similar delays and problems. Klutznick had anticipated this question and presented the president a broad program that outlined how existing military and defense housing could be converted to private use. His agency housed over a million people during the war and agency conversion experiments showed how these buildings could be dismantled and moved to new locations, such as college campuses. Truman approved of the concept and, after legal and accounting issues were resolved, the program was allowed to move quickly forward. The $450 million Veterans Temporary Housing program was launched in late summer.
The Truman administration continued the far ranging and social engineering beliefs of the liberal Democratic Party and the “New Deal.” To calm the country he thought that it was imperative that his domestic program be presented as soon as possible after the victory over Japan. In Truman’s first post-war message to Congress on September 6, 1945, he outlined an extensive list of programs that ranged from unemployment compensation, minimum wage increases, and, most importantly, an extension of the War Powers and Stabilization Act. The Act meant that the government would maintain control over businesses and prices. Lastly he proposed federal aid to construct one million new homes a year. It was an all encompassing socially progressive and liberal program that Truman believed could not wait four months until his first State of the Union address. He called his programs the “Fair Deal.” 5
Truman then sent to Congress a program supporting the housing industry. Truman said, “The largest single opportunity for the rapid expansion of private investment and employment lies in the field of housing, both urban and rural. The present shortage of decent homes and the enforced widespread use of substandard housing indicate vital unfulfilled needs of the Nation.”6 There would not be a repeat of the social disaster that occurred in America after the First World War when little assistance was offered to help soldiers move from military to civilian life. There would be no veterans' marches on Washington after this war if Truman could help it. 7
There was a general feeling throughout the nation that it was time to make up for the sacrifices of the past sixteen years. Workers were demanding more jobs, increased wages, and lower prices. On April 1, 1946, the United Mine Workers went on strike. That summer all three automakers were shutdown (at a time of unprecedented demand for cars and trucks), steel plants were closed, and freight shipments were off seventy-five percent. In Chicago, the use of electricity was ordered cut in half. On May 23 the railroads were struck. At one point during that summer over a million workers were on picket lines. And yet these dire labor impacts could not change the course the country was on. The rapid changes to the post-war economy left only 2,270,000 unemployed by the end of 1946, and what is more important there were 2,300,000 marriages, mostly young marriages. 8
It was a time of a significant change to the traditional family in America. The difficulties of the 1930s and the war broke down many family structures. A rootlessness had infected the country, a disconnection to the land and separation from the ethnic urban neighborhoods they had known. Children grew up and moved from the old neighborhood of “extended kin and community.” They then began to reform new communities from neighborhoods settled by these mostly young families. America was expanding and she was expanding exponentially and the growth was into the country, into the suburbs. 9 As William H. Whyte noted in his 1956 book The Organization Man: “In suburbia, organization man is trying, quite consciously, to develop a new kind of roots to replace what he left behind.” In America, it was a time of unlimited opportunities for the men and women who “left home and kept on going.” 1
Peace brought a higher standard of living and created a demand for social and recreational services never dreamt of by the nineteenth century American family. This new affluence provided families of the late 1940s and early 1950s the opportunity to buy homes with more living space then their parents could ever afford. They could take vacations to far away locations and buy televisions to entertain themselves. More leisure time meant the demand for more parks, more swimming pools, more theaters, and more space for meeting halls and libraries. These families bought the finest automobiles Detroit could produce and contributed to the evolution from railway to highway that would forever change how communities would be designed. The private automobile and its demands would shape the American future.
It was also apparent, soon after the war, that the old urban areas of cities were doomed. They would continue to survive into the next decade but only because of the largess of federal spending. There was a significant vesting of political power through voters and political machines in these urban areas but even the politicians could not prevent the mass exodus of predominantly young, white, educated families from the city to the new frontiers of the suburbs. The suburbs had the one element that the inner city did not have: affordable, clean, spacious, and segregated housing. These families, from the foxholes and factories of the war effort, found safety and a good roof over their head in these new lands.
The 1930s advanced a new and important source for information and entertainment, the movies. Although the medium was almost forty years old in 1946, it was the 1930s and the war years that made movies an important part of American life and culture. Often the movies reflected and influenced what Americans were thinking and feeling. In the most dramatic movie of the post-war period, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Frederick March, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, and Teresa Wright brought home all of the fears and desires of the returning veterans. For many veterans, home would never be the same. The movie’s screenplay written by Robert E Sherwood, a prominent Democrat and speechwriter for Franklin Roosevelt, was politically charged and expressed many of the deep seeded anxieties in America immediately after the war.
In Apartment for Peggy (1948), the national problem of apartment shortages was explored in a humorous and yet serious manner. In the movie only with a proper apartment could William Holden get his GI Bill education.
The small town, the cornerstone of America, was exalted in Frank Capra's It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). The perception of the village, where everyone could own their own home, walk to school or town and live among not just neighbors but friends, became a deep desire which would fuel the dreams of young families across the nation. The movie also explained in simple but elegant terms that buying a home on credit was not something to fear but was helping America grow.
This return to the home and the post war examination of the American condition would continue for the rest of the decade of the forties. In Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Natalie Wood’s dream wasn’t for a horse or a doll but for a home in the suburbs with a swing in the backyard. Her dream was not lost on the young moviegoer. And not to forget the older dreamer, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, released in 1948, was based on the book and adapted short story by Eric Hodgins published in Fortune Magazine in April 1946. If Cary Grant, as Mr. Jim Blandings, could build a home in the country, so could every other veteran, even if the trials and costs were significant. As Grant’s character says:
“Muriel and I have found what I am not ashamed to call our dream house. It’s like a fine painting, you buy it with your heart not your head, you don’t ask how much was the paint and how much was the canvas, you say its beautiful and I want it. If it costs a few more pennies you pay it and gladly. You can’t measure the things you love in dollars and cents. Well anyway that’s the way I feel about it. And when I sign those papers on Saturday I can look the world in its face and say it’s mine. My house, my home, my 35 acres.” Muriel quickly corrected, “Our house, our home, our 35 acres.”
Jim and Muriel cashed in their government war bonds to buy the house.
Not all the information the American citizen received about the suburbs was positive. In a lengthy article in the July 1945 Harpers Magazine, John P. Dean went into great detail about the pitfalls and financial difficulties of home purchasing and financing. He depicted the kind and size of housing a family would need in years to come and how they would be “trapped” in a home purchase. Were the buyers ready to commit to a “permanent” home? Were they able to tackle the legal obligations and did they understand the “real” costs of a home purchase? His article attacked the home purchase while offering an alternative that cautiously supported rentals and a new concept called “mutual home ownership.” His concept proposed that the participants in the plan are technically co-operative owners of a housing development purchased from the federal government through a non-profit corporation. This plan would allow the excess funds generated by the mutual ownership to be used by the resident members if they become unemployed or physically incapacitated. It was socialized housing at its best and worst. This was the logical extension of the “New Deal” thirties thinking that all goods and services must come from the government.11
Additional articles in the Atlantic Monthly cautioned new homebuyers about financing their home. Collier’s explained the suburban life in terms that a city dweller would understand, and the Saturday Evening Post and Fortune Magazine talked about the advantages of living outside the city’s problems. Even with all this, the young ex-GI and his family knew the one thing they needed was a home. A home they could own.
Many of the war time builders, planners, and bureaucrats took up the challenge of the almost unlimited housing opportunities of the post-war era. The lessons these builders learned from the three Greenbelt communities and other housing developments built by the federal government in the late 1930s proved immeasurable. New towns and communities take years to plan and build. The less government interference the more speedily the process can move forward. Builders needed the government’s help, yet they knew the government must be kept at arm’s length to ensure speedy construction, stable land prices, and decent profits.
New sewers, drinking water, roads and highways to these towns must be built or expanded. Few banks had the ability after the war to fund such large-scale constructions. After the banking and financial collapses of the 1930s, the federal government had placed tight reins on the financial institutions and ten years later the regulations were little changed. If communities were to be built, it would only be through ongoing direct or indirect aid from the federal government. The partnership of federal agencies and private capital would create new communities through innovative and creative financial structures that rivaled the planning of the new town itself.
Growth developed in outlying areas, the suburbs, and not in the cities. Urban city planners were motivated by political pressure into protecting current city values and markets. Older residents were loath to pay for the costly expansion of utilities and services for new residents and refused to do so. Large new communities could never be built within urban areas without an extensive uprooting of current residents. The distribution of federal political and financial support to urban areas was a direct result of the political expediency of giving in to the voter rich central city and its demands. This dissemination of funds was done with one hand while trying to support the new towns, forming around all the major urban centers, with the other. It was a no-win attempt to financially support a dying urban center while at the same time giving money and services for suburban growth, growth that was being blamed by the city dweller for the urban center’s ills.
The demands of the post war family would never be met if new communities were compelled to expand the existing urban zoning and street patterns. Most cities were not the result of competent planning but grew from a never-ending patchwork of urban growth, use, reuse, and self interest. Great and even spectacular civic structures and facilities were built in the thirties but they rarely provided the resident any improvement to their life or that of their families. These civic facilities were almost never affordable housing, were seldom good schools, and they certainly were never built for the support and nurturing of the family. There was a belief, supported in the movies and in magazine articles, that the new towns and suburbs provided a quality of living unavailable in the old city. This is what attracted the adventurous from the city to a new life in the suburbs.
The Chicago region was an expanding balloon of opportunity. Most transcontinental rail lines passed through the city and provided a central distribution point for most of America. Businesses, and their attendant jobs, focused on this area of the country. Chicago was the hub of the United States after the war, even with its housing problems.
And there were significant housing problems. One out of eight Chicago families, in the summer of 1946, was homeless. Many families were forced to disperse their members to different parts of the city in hopes of finding a roof to live under. In Chicago, 150 evictions occurred each day. Landlords were quick to evict tenants when the rent was overdue; new tenants brought higher rents. Overcrowding was endemic. Public health officials wondered out loud why there hadn’t been a major outbreak of serious disease.
The cause for this overcrowded condition was simple — no new housing. The reasons for this lack of housing were as complex as the politics of Chicago. In Chicago eight out of ten families rented, yet in the summer and fall of 1946 no apartments were under construction, none were planned and there was no prospect for a change to this picture.
Chicago needed 120,000 dwelling units for returning veteran families and thousands of additional units for single men and women. It needed homes for 200,000 war workers who came to the city for jobs and stayed after the war. Yet with all this demand, during the previous ten years, Chicago had torn down more housing than it had built.
The city was a study in extreme contrasts. To visitors staying at the tonier downtown hotels, the city was a delightful and beautiful place to visit; but the trip from the south side airport, Midway, required passing boarded-up and decayed dwellings, homes without toilet facilities and buildings unfit for habitation. For who arrived by rail the tenements crowding the tracks were obvious. Crowding was not only evident in the slums of the city but in the nicer North Side neighborhoods as well. Mailboxes had three and four names listed on them, friends boarded with friends, and three and even four generations lived together.
In 1946, building contractors “started” 6,500 dwellings and with what was started in 1945 over 14,000 units were under construction. Unfortunately the lack of materials and the nature of Chicago politics brought 8,500 of these units to a complete halt. In addition, a lack of city funds prevented the movement of temporary shelters, movable houses, Quonsets and trailers to areas in need of housing.
Politics and labor had been married in Chicago for almost fifty years. Graft and corruption had been steady partners since the days of the bosses and boodlers of the 1890’s. Materials that could have been utilized for housing went to racetracks, restaurants, theaters, parking garages and to the University of Chicago for an office building. The limited building materials available always went to public institutions that could spend more. The homebuilder could not meet the going price even for nails.
The scarcity of labor in the city was also a reason. In 1925 the city had 125,000 skilled building tradesmen but the Depression reduced that number to 87,000. The war dried up the labor pool even more and significantly reduced the number of apprenticeships. Tradesmen wanted bigger factory construction projects because they paid more and provided a steadier job. The seasonal home-building industry could not compete.
Union work ruled in Chicago, and coupled with the zoning ordinances, provided the most important reasons why the homebuilder could not compete in the marketplace. Plasterers put on three coats of plaster when two were required by the code. Lathers considered 30 bundles of lath a day’s job and left when finished, even if two or three hours were left in the workday. Factory installed glass window frames had their glass panels removed and then reset. Codes prevented or restricted pre-assembled plumbing, cabinets with hardware and even ready-mix concrete. The Chicago Metropolitan Home Builders Association estimated that labor rules would keep housing completions to 17,000 units per year even with a demand of over a hundred thousand dwelling units. With all this in mind the city’s building trades unions were only apprenticing 4,000 youths.
The Chicago building codes were designed originally to protect its citizens from fire, disease and other hazards. Yet, by the Second World War, these codes had become a barrier to pre-fabricated housing, new and improved materials, and modern building techniques. The Chicago Tribune, in a post-war article, exclaimed: “Chicago sticks to a code which is a racketeers’ delight, . . . It provides an easy method of serving special interests through provisions which, on their face, are designed to promote safety and health. These (codes) . . . specify certain materials giving manufacturers and tradesmen who install them a monopoly within the city, and banning their competitors.” One builder, La Salle Homes Construction Co. was geared up to build 300 homes. Land, labor and materials problems cut his goals to 30 units and six months later he had only finished two homes.12
The demands of long-term growth in the region were apparent but it was obvious to the homebuilders that their opportunities would not come within the city limits of Chicago. Local builders began to seriously look to the areas just outside the city limits of Chicago. The areas along existing rail lines and near train stations became more important than before the war. To the few builders who had the foresight to look to south Cook County, the potential for their enterprises would be realized far beyond their expectations.
It was within this transformation of America that Park Forest, Illinois, one of the earliest and best planned of the post-war "New Towns,” was begun. Park Forest was created by three men who would meet this coming change. Each was from a different place and one from a different era. The crossroads of time, opportunity, and politics brought them together.
Philip M. Klutznick was born in July 1907, in Kansas City, Missouri to Morris and Minnie Klutznick. His parents and older sister immigrated to the United States from Poland soon after the Kishinoff pogrom of 1905. With help from the Industrial Removal Society, whose goal was to help immigrant Jews move to the interior of the United States, they were relocated to Kansas City by way of Galveston, Texas. Morris Klutznick had established himself in Kansas City as a shoe store owner by the time Philip was born. The senior Klutznick’s entrepreneurial spirit was passed on to his oldest son and that talent was to serve Philip all his life.13
Klutznick began to practice law in Omaha, Nebraska in 1929 after finishing his studies at Creighton University. There he set up his practice with his brother-in-law, Sam Beber. At that time the City of Omaha was bankrupt, and Klutznick saw the newly created National Industrial Recovery Act as a means of pulling Omaha up and out of a painful financial situation. On June 16, 1933, Congress approved the National Industrial Recovery Act that authorized the use of federal funds for slum clearance and to finance low-rent housing. With subsequent appropriations under this legislation, 50 low-rent housing developments with more than 21,000 units were built nationally by the Public Works Administration. Klutznick served as assistant corporation counsel to the city of Omaha in 1933 and 1934 and was instrumental in writing significant legislation that became the Nebraska Housing Authorities Act. Through the use of this recovery act, funding flowed to the city and helped to ease its financial situation. He would later be called the “founding father” of public housing in Omaha and Nebraska, and to a large extent in the nation. He was recruited, in 1933, as special assistant to the US Attorney General for Public Lands. His reputation quickly built as a housing expert, and in 1941 he was noticed by Ferd Kramer, a dynamic official in the federal Office of Defense Housing. Kramer decided to hire Klutznick and offered him a position that brought him to Chicago as regional coordinator in charge of building temporary housing for defense workers and their families. His friendship and professional relationship with Ferd Kramer would continue for over fifty years.
Klutznick’s various federal positions required extensive contact with homebuilders and their associations across America. Those responsibilities, all in support of the war effort, had placed him in a position of putting people and resources together to build temporary and permanent housing for war industry demands. However his primary concern, after assessing the existing housing supply, was the lack of good rental housing. He pushed for more rental units, through his contacts in the home building industry, to meet the expanding need.
Small building firms expanded during the war, especially those that could obtain priority financing through the government as well as government contracts. Local builders, especially those who were willing to provide the needed war industry housing, found in the government a partner that supported not only their financial needs but filled their material demands as well. Klutznick met with these homebuilders and began to educate them on the short and long-term advantages that could be gained through proper planning and marketing. Most builders knew how to build and sell a house but few knew how to build and then rent hundreds of that same house.
Klutznick was a close friend of the new President and his twenty year relationship with Truman would redefine his opportunities. Klutznick could see, after three heady Washington years, that his position as commissioner of the Federal Public Housing Authority (FPHA) was going to change. Peace would create unlimited opportunities and if there was one element of Klutznick’s personality that would never alter was his instinctive ability to see an opportunity and seize it.
Carroll Fuller Sweet, Sr., in the spring of 1945, was living in Chicago and like all who were born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, had seen the world irrevocably change. He was born in June 1877, one year after the Battle for the Little Big Horn. Now, sixty-seven years later, a war of hideous proportions was about to end and with it the birth of a bold and different world.
The road traveled to Chicago by Sweet had been a long and, at times, a difficult one. Born in Grand Rapids, Sweet was the eldest of five children and graduated from Yale University in 1899. He had been a vice-president of Old National Bank, western Michigan’s oldest and most prestigious financial institution. He had been founder and president of Western Michigan Tourist and Resort Association and, like many others, had been out of work during the “Great Depression.” As Sweet’s life moved into the difficult times of the thirties he became deeply involved in the “New Deal” politics of the Roosevelt administration.
The Depression forced many from their homes. One of the first programs created by the Roosevelt administration to successfully protect homeowners was the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC). This government corporation refinanced homeowner mortgages, enabling owners to keep their homes. According to John P. Dean in his 1945 article for Harper’s Magazine, the “HOLC acquired over a million mortgages, representing about 18% of the total mortgaged home owners in the United States, but even so, the mortgages accepted for refinancing amounted to only 34% of those who applied. Furthermore, by the end of the decade, the HOLC was forced to foreclose on about one-sixth of the mortgages accepted.”14
Sweet, a Democrat for over thirty years, was offered and accepted the position of director of the HOLC office for western Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. During the days when loans were being made, his district led the nation; during the time when the program was in a receiving mode, his foreclosures were the lowest. He knew how to cut “red tape” and was a man who did not believe in “useless bureaucratic interference.” Federal officials, on several occasions, came from the state headquarters office in Detroit prepared to fire him and each time, after examining the facts and hearing from his outstanding staff, they left him alone.
The “challenge days” of the HOLC were over by the end of the thirties and with them the demands of an administrator with Sweet’s abilities. He was offered and accepted the job of Executive Director of the Michigan Real Estate Association, located in Lansing, Michigan. These were troubled times for Sweet personally and after he and his wife separated he quit his directorship and headed to Chicago to look for a job that would appeal to his own personal desires. He soon found a job with the regional office of the National Housing Administration (NHA). At the start of the Second World War, he was the temporary regional allocator of critical materials, especially those materials needed by the home building industry.
Carroll Sweet had often been asked by Chicago developer and builder Nathan Manilow to join his home-building firm. In 1944 after the strains of his NHA job proved too much for the elderly Sweet, he was ready to accept Manilow’s offer. Manilow needed Sweet in another position though, to help manage and nurture the National Convention of Homebuilders that was relocating to Chicago from Cleveland. It was Sweet’s responsibility, as Executive Director of the Chicago Metropolitan Home Builders Association, to see that the money losing convention would not be a liability to the Chicago association. Through his efforts and his idea to add suppliers of building materials to the convention, the convention would grow to become the largest of its kind in the United States. Carroll Sweet, after these responsibilities were completed, then formally joined the Manilow office.
Nathan Manilow was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1898. He quit school to sell shoes when he was 15 and earned his first big money at 20 by buying 6,000 World-War I surplus shoes at $2.85 a pair and selling them for $4.00. He was pragmatic and had a knack for spotting what people needed. He was a risk taker, a promoter, and a maker of real estate deals during a time when few opportunities were open to Jews. His innate and almost instinctive ability to focus on “the deal” greatly compensated for the lack of a “formal” education. Manilow’s capacity to learn and face challenges was almost boundless. He turned up in Chicago in 1920 as a builder. He built 100 three-flat apartment houses and a $1.5 million commercial structure. Manilow realized, after this building venture, that he was on the wrong side of the borrowing business. Shifting to the lender side he made a profit of 69% on his first year’s invested capital that he had lent to other builders.
The building and growth boom of the twenties carried many up with the tide. Manilow’s ability to loan money to other builders with short-term needs supported their building activities as well as his. A millionaire by 1929, the crash only changed his venue — not his viewpoint. After building 300 apartment and commercial buildings in Detroit, Manilow moved back to Chicago in 1939. He intuitively and soundly believed that people wanted homes, not apartments. Acting on his belief, he assembled the largest parcel of land inside Chicago’s city limits, a square mile of land on the south side near 95th Street, and began the $25 million Jeffrey Manor, a community of 3,100 homes. The Second World War and a lack of building materials unfortunately slowed down most construction projects, including Jeffrey Manor.15
Manilow could see that with the end of the war this situation would change. He knew Chicago’s housing problems and how difficult and expensive solving those problems might be. He began to systematically explore the areas immediately surrounding the city for opportunities. He was sure that it would be here that growth, unencumbered growth, would happen.
Philip M. Klutznick met Carroll Sweet while working with the National Housing Association in Chicago. A mutual friendship and respect developed between them, and when Klutznick went to Washington as Assistant Administrator of the National Housing Agency in February of 1942, he asked Sweet to become a “trouble shooter” for the NHA Washington office. Unfortunately, the amount of travel and time required of Sweet proved to be too much for him. He needed a less strenuous job and he found it with Nathan Manilow. Klutznick also met Manilow during his stay in Chicago. Their casual and professional relationship during this time hardly foretold the future when the three of them would join to form the trinity that would build Park Forest.