The Ogden Dunes of Fredric W. Collins: Artist, Architect and Neighbor
By Dick Meister in collaboration with Rick Collins
The following was the basis for the program on Fredric Collins on October 2, 2005 and was published in the “The Hour Glass Newsletter” October 2005.
On October 2, 2005, the Historical Society of Ogden Dunes sponsored an exhibit and program on “Fredric W. Collins: Artist, Architect and Neighbor”. Fred Collins, who was born in Nova Scotia in 1915, died in Ogden Dunes in 2004. At the time of his death, Fred was a member of the Historical Society’s Board of Directors. To honor Fred, “The Hour Glass Museum” in May sponsored an exhibit on the life and work of Fredric Collins. Rick Collins, Fred’s oldest son, and Dick Meister, were responsible for this exhibit. Dick, Rick and Bob Collins, Fred’s youngest son and current president of the Collins architectural firm, presented the program.
This article is drawn from oral remembrances and materials in the archives of the Historical Society of Ogden Dunes, including the periodic local newsletter, The Ogden Dunes Sandpiper. This valuable resource on the history of early years in Ogden Dunes was edited by Helen Reck and published irregularly from 1938 to 1970. The material that follows was the basis for much of the presentation for the program on Fredric W. Collins.
In 1923, Samuel Reck, along with Colin Mackenzie, a Gary civil engineer, who had made the original contact with the Ogden estate, and one of his associates, Joseph Boo, finalized the purchase of approximately 500 acres from the estate of Francis Ogden.
Reck, who organized the financing for the project, took the leadership role as president of the Ogden Dunes Realty Company. He established an office in Gary and built one of the first homes/office in Ogden Dunes, at 4 Cedar Trail (southwest corner of Cedar Trail and Shore Drive). As you can see from this early brochure an ambitious “highly restricted lake front community” was envisioned, with a large harbor and yacht club at the mouth of Burns Canal, a golf course of the west side, and a riding club. In 1925, partly to expedite the right of way over the NYC and South Shore tracks, twenty-four residents voted to incorporate the town of Ogden Dunes. Two years later the Ogden Dunes Ski Club began constructing a ski jump, over 500 feet in length.
By 1930, the permanent population of Ogden Dunes had reached 50, plus a number of summer residents who had built cottages in the twenties. Near the Reck home, two other large, impressive homes were built, L.A.Glover’s Spanish-style home overlooking the lake at 3 Cedar Trail and Ed Kratz’ red-brick colonial home, at 50 Shore Drive. The first subdivision was platted with 315 lots, including 48 along the lakefront. The boundaries of this undertaking were today’s Ogden/East Hill on the east, Hillcrest on the west, and Boat Club on the south.
Two individuals, who have left their mark and legacy, arrived during these early years. Sue Mechtersheimer, a Chicago teacher, joined Prairie Club and with a friend built a cottage in what is today’s the Indiana Dunes State Park. In the twenties, she fell in love with Ogden Dunes and purchased a lot. She built her first of many Ogden Dunes’ homes at 4 Diana, using parts of her Prairie Club cottage. This led her to selling real estate, including a lot to her former teacher, O.D. Frank. O.D. Frank, a highly respected teacher and biologist at the University of Chicago lab school, built his home, the Hour Glass on Lupine Lane, in 1933. O.D. Frank was a legendary figure in the dunes, bringing his students to spend week-ends, lecturing to any group who asked, and later being an informal teacher to many of the children of Ogden Dunes. Sue Mechtersheimer was Ogden Dunes’ greatest benefactor, including donating Serenity Park, off of Aspen and in 1993, after she purchased the Hour Glass from the heirs of O.D. Frank, she donated the Hour Glass to the town to be used as a museum and art gallery.
The dreams of Reck and his supporters were threatened by the Depression and the purchase by National/Midwest Steel of most of the land along the Burns Canal, just to the east of Ogden Dunes, and the demise of the ski jump. However, by the late thirties and early forties, a new spirit emerged in the dunes. The economic recovery stimulated by preparations for World War Two and the confidence instilled by the New Deal led to the building of new homes. The Second Subdivision had been platted and homes were being built. This area is west of Hillcrest and east of today’s Tamarack, Locust, Linden, and Woodland Trail. By 1940, the population reached 144 with 30 children attending the Portage schools. Two years earlier in August 1938, the first issue of the Sandpiper, a local newsletter, edited by Helen Reck, appeared. Shortly thereafter the Ogden Dunes Woman’s Club was formed. After the Town Board finalized the naming of the streets and erected street signs., the post office agreed to deliver mail to twelve stations.
The major builders of homes and cottages from the twenties to the fifties were Pete Nicholson, Henry Rush, and A. L. Cash. Nicholson and his brothers who lived on Crisman Road north of the schools. His early homes included Sue Mechtersheimer’s cottage, O.D. Frank’s “Hour Glass” and Nelson Reck’s home. Rush, a Swiss immigrant, specialized in brick/European style homes, many of which were found in the 2nd Subdivision. A.L. Cash built the Edouard Kratz home at 50 Shore Drive, the first along the lakeshore in 1930. But he is known for his cement block/casement window homes that characterize Ogden Dunes. His homes were commonly called “Cash boxes”. These are simple in style but ascetically situated on lots.
Around 1940 two of the community’s most architecturally significant homes were built. George and Fred Keck, nationally known Chicago architects, designed a small home at 31 Sunset Trail for Margaret Southwick, a Chicago educator; Frank Lloyd Wright designed a home for the Andrew Armstrong family on Cedar Trail. As with most of Wright’s homes, the relationship between architect and homeowners quickly soured. Yet, it remains the most significant building in the dunes today.
Fred Wilder Collins and Ogden Dunes:
In 1944 with the tide of war changing in Europe and Asia, it became a year of hope. Locally, the price for a two-bedroom home on Shore Drive was $7,800; O.D. Frank, who turned 65, retired from teaching; and Fred Collins, an aspiring architect, married Kathryn Monahan, the daughter of Mrs. B. Monahan of 70 Shore Drive. The newly weds spent that winter in a rented home in the dunes. Then they moved to the west side of Gary.
To respond to an expected demand for housing, Nelson Reck’s Ogden Dunes Realty Company platted and began to sell lots in the Fourth Subdivision in 1946 for $1,000 and up. This area, east and south of Ogden Road and Turret, included Bittersweet, Aspen and Skyline.
Meanwhile, Fred Collins’ dune connections led to a number of early commissions. We have the floor plans of a home for George Deak in 1947; the house as planned was not built on the lot proposed. This house and four that were built in the late forties reflect his distinctive style, a style influenced by and complementing the dunes and the woods, the rooflines, the use of earth tones in wood and brick, and maximizing light and the views. The homes for the Theodore Krebs family at 139 Shore Drive and the George Vermef family at 15 East Hill Road were completed between 1945 and 1947; these were followed by the Lloyd Maxwell home at 1 Skyline Drive and the Russell Manley home at 25 Skyline and represented book ends for the newly developed drive, taking advantage of the views of the woods to the south and the lake to the north. The dunes and woods behind the Maxwell home, known as Horse Thief Hallow, had nearly two dozen white egrets roosting there in the late summer of 1954.
At the request of friends in the dunes, Fred also took on lesser projects. In 1948, he did the permit plans for George Svihla’s pioneering, environmentally friendly home at 49 Ogden Road. Svihla, along with O. D. Frank and Sue Mechtersheimer, are the three individuals who contributed the most to ensure the unique relationship between generations of residents and the natural beauty of the dunes and the lake shore. They also are the three individuals who have made our Historical Society possible.
Fred also did the drawings for a spec home being built by A. L. Cash at 75 Ogden Road, my present home. During the post-war period Nelson Reck, the son of Samuel Reck, and A. L. Cash built and sold a number of spec homes. See the plans in the other room for the home at 75 Ogden Road. It is a Cash house, designed by Fred Collins in 1948. One that was advertised in 1948 is similar to or could be the one at75 Ogden Road. “See an attractive house nearing completion, 600 feet from the beach, masonry construction. Large dinette-living room combination, natural fire place, attached garage, full airy basement with provision for an additional bedroom and a second bath.”
The Fifties: Extending the Collins’ Influence
During the forties the population tripled to 429, including 7 sets of twins, with 80 students in the Portage schools, a few at St. Mary’s in Miller and 28 attending college. Given the middle-class character of the families in the dunes, a very large percentage of *their children attended college in the post-war period. Contributing to the more than doubling the residential population during the fifties was the opening of the Third Subdivision, an area of approximately 200 acres. In the original plans, much of this area was designated for a golf course. The Third Subdivision included the area between the abandoned Indiana Harbor Belt Line and the NYC tracks and the area east of today’s Diana Road and Polliwog pond. Drawing on the recommendations of a leading land planning and community development firm, J. C. Nichols of Kansas City, much of the terrain was protected, large lots platted, and long graceful curving roads built. These included Diana and Deer Trail, as well as, Indian Camp Trail and the extensions of Shore Drive and Ski Hill.
One wonders about the origins of street names. As the bulldozers leveled some of the dunes to lay out homes along what came to be called Indian Camp Trail, George Svihla was notified and asked to look at pottery and other objects uncovered. He determined that this area was an Indian settlement and at one time abutted the shore of Long Lake prior to the construction of Dunes Highway and the Burns Canal.
One might also think that Deer Trail was named for our animal friends who dine on our hostas, evergreens, and tulips. The name was selected, as was Diana, to recognize earlier, but not current, inhabitants of our woods and dunes. One exciting event in 1952 was the sighting of deer. Almost immediately, George Svihla and sons went into the woods and made plaster castings of hoof prints to prove for posterity that at least one deer did roam through the woods in 1952.
Other noteworthy happenings of the fifties include:
- Dorothy Buell and her husband, Hal, built their full-time residence in Ogden Dunes in 1940. In 1952, as a result of a meeting in her home to protect the Indiana Dunes, she became the first president of the Save the Dunes Council, six years later Sen. Paul Douglas of Illinois introduced the first bill in Congress to establish a national park in the Indiana dunes.
- the Ogden Dunes Community (Presbyterian) Church held its first service on April 12, 1953 at the Fire House; construction of the present church began in 1958.
- two individuals who are remembered in exhibits in this room were among the new residents in 1952 – the family of Frank Midnight, an eight grade student, who later gave his life as a pilot for his country in Vietnam, bought a home at 10 Diana and Dale Messick, the creator of Brenda Starr. Messick, born in South Bend, was raised in Hobart and pioneered as a woman cartoonist in New York. She moved from Arizona to Ogden Dunes, along with her young daughter Starr Soltmann, to marry Gary attorney Oscar Strom. Their first house was at 43 Shore Drive and in 1959 they moved to 3 Skyline Drive, where she continued to live well into the 1960s.
- the Indiana Toll Road opened in 1956 and the South Shore was rerouted from downtown East Chicago, reducing the commuting time by car by 22 minutes and by train 10 minutes. At that time, 37% of the residents commuted to work in Chicago.
- despite the population growth and the new housing, Ogden Dunes was a very stable community with residential retention averaging fifteen years; only twenty or so homes, of the 300 plus, changed owners annually. Homes sold for from $15,000 to $50,000.
- Nelson Reck and the Town leaders established the Ogden Dunes Home Owners Association and Reck transferred ownership of the beach front, parks, and nature preserves from Ogden Dunes Realty to the association in 1957. Reck had first suggested such an association in 1947 when a conflict arose between the town and Harry Ruppert, the owner of the land directly east of Ogden Dunes. Ruppert leased land to individuals who built simple, summer cottages along the shore and expected the town to provide parking along Shore Drive for these summer residents.
As an architect, Fred Collins had his greatest influence on the dunes during this period. In 1952 he designed a home at 10 Shore Drive for Elmer Burg, a businessman from Ohio who was relocating to the dunes. He built a home for L.R. Berner at 69 Diana in 1955. This was followed by five homes built between 1958 and 1960. Four of these were on the newly developed western end of Shore Drive, for the Robert Welsh family at 150, for the Thomas Hunter family at 151, for his own family at 152, and for his Gary neighbor, the George Guffin family, at 154. He also built an impressive home situated in the dunes and woods for the F. P. Johnson family at 39 Diana Road. Collins modified his earlier architectural style when designing his homes with lake views; these are sleek, one story homes with large windows to maximize the views of the lake.
Between 1960 and 1970 the population of Ogden Dunes increased from 947 to approximately 1,440. By 1970 over 350 students attended school in Portage and 85 were in college. During this period, Ogden Dunes, a white and middle-class distant suburb of Chicago, was relatively isolated and immune from the unrest and turmoil that characterized the rest of America, remained white and middle class. It took pride in having four of its young men studying in the military academies in the early sixties, in having eight separate scout troops, and in having sixteen other voluntary community organizations and associations. The average number of years for a family remaining in the dunes grew to twenty. Many home owners were second generation duners. Other families, as they increased in size and moved up the social economic ladder, for example, the Olsens and Costanzas, bought or built larger homes in the dunes. By 1965 homes were selling from $20,000 to $100,000 with lots costing $3,000 and more. New neighbors who were welcomed in the mid-sixties included the Dorothy and Don Kurtz, Lee and Duane Hibbs, Aurelia and Joe Costanza.
Gas lines were laid in 1960 with water lines following in 1961. Nearly 95% of the four hundred home owners voted in the bond referendum to sell $285,000 in bonds to bring in water. The reasonable cost was made possible by the extending of water lines by the Gary-Hobart Water Company, now the notorious Indiana American Water, to the new Midwest Steel Plant. The Town Board established a separate Water Commission and gave it full responsibility for the system. We recently experienced the other side of the cost to the community when elected representatives give up responsibility to its citizens – the lack of communication and sensitivity to the people being served.
During the sixties, the architectural firm of Fred Collins expanded taking on increasing larger and more complex commissions for the business community of northwest Indiana. Yet, he still designed three impressive homes for dune families – for Barbara and William Scully at 72 Ski Hill Place, Edward Kunas at 10 Indian Camp Trail, and a major renovation for the William and Susan Cunningham at 109 Diana Road.
Stability and Refinement:
After 1970, when the population reached 1,440 the rate of growth slowed and then stabilized with the population of the next three censuses showing 1,499; 1,489 and 1,333 residents. The platting and sale of lots in the last subdivision, the area west of Diana was aborted by the creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park. As a result, only about forty lots in the southern half of this subdivision remained part of Ogden Dunes. Nelson and Helen Reck retired in 1972; Nelson died in California in 1980 at the age of 86. They had donated the holdings of Ogden Dunes Realty to the University of Chicago in exchange for a life income, ending a nearly fifty year relationship between the Reck family and Ogden Dunes.
Fred Collins remained an active member of the Ogden Dunes community and his firm continued to expand. Many of the firm’s large projects were the result of connections that he had formed with Ogden Dunes neighbors. These included the main office of the Gary National Bank at 8585 Broadway and the main office and warehouse for Ribordy Drugs on U.S. 30, both in 1976, and the housing development of L. I. Combs and Sons at Quail Ridge in the late eighties. At the same time Fred still designed additions and major renovations for fourteen neighbors, plus the 1973 addition to the Community Church and a home for Harry Davids at 68 Hillcrest Road in 1983.
The three additions, planned for homes in the 1970s, were for:
- Tony Wrann at 115 Ogden Road in 1971
- Al Mohr at 6 Sunset Trail in 1972
- Louis A. Antilla at 69 Ogden Road in 1975
The major renovations and/or additions in the 1980s and 1990s were for:
- the Dennis Browns at 29 Sunset Trail in 1982,
- the William Baileys at 33 Diana Road in 1982 and 1991,
- Nick Stiglich/Pat Schuler at 9 Indian Camp in 1991,
- the William Milligans at 135 Shore Drive in 1991,
- the Scott Lehmanns at 110 Hillcrest in 1992,
- Denis and Carolyn Ribordy at 40 Diana Road in 1993,
- Jerry and Nancy Van Santen at 3 Turret in 1994,
- Drs. Melvin and Sylvia Griem at 44 Sunset Trail in 1995,
- Edward Paloyan at 99 Shore Drive in 1995,
- Dan and Lynn Toomey at 77 Shore Drive in 1996.
Thus, Fred Collins’ architectural career spanned six decades. During this time the United States moved through periods of great change and social unrest while Ogden Dunes remained relatively unscathed. The community survived a period of steady growth and adapted to an extended period of little population change, while holding onto a sense of community and of looking out for its neighbors.