Set in Concrete: Edison Concept Houses

Government records in 1914 showed that Thomas Alva Edison had filed patents at the rate of one every 14 days for 40 years. The light bulb, phonograph, motion picture projector — these are among the most famous Edison inventions. Edison also held patents on cement, and in 1906 he invented a mold and construction system for use in building all-concrete houses.

Edison Concept Houses Gary
Edison Concept Houses in Gary. (Photo: Eric Allix Rogers)

In 1913, U.S. Steel thought Edison’s concrete homes looked like a solution to the housing shortage in Gary, a fast-growing company town. Contractors for a subsidiary of the steel company used Edison’s molds to build row houses and detached cottages for the firm’s management staff.

Almost 100 years later, the nonprofit Partners in Preservation (PIP) commissioned a multiple property documentation submission to the National Register for Gary’s Edison Concept Houses (over 70 remain of the 86 buildings that employed Edison’s molds), and then followed it up with historic district nominations for four clusters — Polk Street Cottages, Jackson Terraces, Monroe Terrace, and Van Buren Terrace — all researched and written for PIP by Christopher Baas.

“It turned out that because of the set up and machinery costs, the Edison system wasn’t the most economical approach to housing creation,” says Jim Morrow, the creator and benefactor of PIP.

No longer the property of U. S. Steel, the Edison houses vary widely in condition, with some occupied in good condition and others, owned by the cash-strapped city, vacant and ruinous. PIP funded the National Register nominations to bring attention to these rare houses with an important pedigree, and to make sure they qualify for restoration incentives. Van Buren Terrace could use an Edison fan with rehab experience.

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