Opinion

Happiness Homes Edition:What Do You Know About Herricks?

In 1926, housing developer William F. Chatlos announced that he had made an initial purchase of 161 acres of farmland on both sides of Willis Avenue, on which he would construct at least 1,000 ìstandardizedî houses in the Dutch Colonial style. Geared to commuters, the development was called ìWilliston Parkî.

Some of the advertising dubbed the houses as ìHappiness Homesî because ìeach home is a happy union between beauty and attractiveness with the practical and efficientî.

At its peak, Chatlosí construction teams could complete one house per day. Two decades later, other housing developments in the district would be built at ten times this pace (and faster), but Chatlosí schedule was considered novel at the time. Procedures and practices that became commonplace later began as experiments at Williston Park, where Chatlos tried to apply modern mass production techniques to lower building costs. six million feet of lumber was stored at the site, pre-cut to the sizes needed, and the houses were built by skilled men who specialized in different aspects of construction.

The original 1926 advertising campaign assured potential buyers, ìThere is No Catch Hereî and that they would be buying ìa complete house. We furnish gas ranges, shades, do all the decorating, grading and seeding and pave the streets.î $900 down got you a deed, and a double mortgage plan allowed homeowners to pay as little as $38.67 per month, reduced to $27 per month after five years. The total sale price of $6,900 was equivalent to about $80,000 in todayís money. To encourage city folk to check out this ìcharming suburban district,î for themselves, Chatlos offered free bus service twice a day from his Manhattan office near Grand Central Station. fifty houses were sold in the first two months.

Each year, the house models were revised and construction costs reduced. The 1928 house models cost only $4,900, and more than 100 were sold in the first three months. Chatlos added 350 more houses in 1929 alone.

Mr. Chatlos also pioneered in spurring the creation of a community atmosphere to go with the houses he built, which further encouraged sales. With his active encouragement, the Village of Williston Park was quickly incorporated, giving residents control of most local affairs; a weekly newspaper, the Williston Post, began publishing in October 1929.

One of Chatlosí prime missions was to help convince school district taxpayers to build an elementary school in the new village. This was a school district in which farmers and others had long resisted school construction or expansion. The new four-room school at Herricks had just opened as the Williston Park project got under way, more than 50 years since the last schoolhouse had been built. There were already some seven dozen students enrolled at the Herricks school, and it was clear that Williston Park would more than double that number, quickly. Within six months, the school was jammed and emergency measures had to be taken.


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