29 March 2016

Zeroing in on the House's Construction Date, Part 2 (Andrew F. Gutekunst)

This is Part 2 of a short series focusing in on my house's assumed construction date between 1922 and 1924. For an overview given in Part 1, see here
This article will focus on the real estate transactions of local North Glenside flooring contractor Andrew F. Gutekunst, one candidate out of three possibilities who had my home built. The goal of this exercise is to provide additional and specific context around my home's origin in order to hopefully narrow that construction date even further.

What I knew before this focused exercise, based on some fairly basic chain of title research for my property, is that Andrew F. Gutekunst owned the property from November 1923 to October 1924. He bought the property for $650 and sold it at the end of that short span for $5,500. However, he simultaneously leveraged the property for a $3,800 mortgage upon purchasing it, suggesting that the increase in value within a year is not as dramatic as it seems at first glance.

As described in Part 1, further searches of deed and mortgage indexes for Gutekunst related to properties in Abington Township yielded the following:
  • Grantee on eight (8) deed between 1923 and 1928, plus two more in the 1940's
  • Grantor on six (6) deeds in 1923 and 1924, plus three more from 1930-1947
  • Mortgagor on eight (8) mortgages from 1921 to 1924

How This Information Was Analyzed

A more detailed breakdown and summary of these transactions is included in the following table:

This table organizes all of Gutekunst's recorded transactions by current address. The reason for this is simple-- the 22 recorded documents were the result of transactions involving only nine (9) current properties as they exist today. This allows me to examine when Andrew Gutekunst acquired each property, for how long he owned it, and whether or not he mortgaged each property.

Next, I ventured to specifically locate each property on three maps: a current Google Maps satellite image, a 1927 historical atlas map, and a 1937 historical atlas map. By using the legal description of each property as spelled out in the deeds, I can pinpoint the exact property as it exists today on Google Maps. Then, I can find the same property on the two atlas maps. Why did I choose these two years? If you'll notice in the table above, Gutekunst was most active in the specific years of 1923 and 1924. By locating the lots on maps in 1927 and 1937 (the two closest dates available), I can get a good sense of whether or not Gutekunst may have built houses on these properties or whether he was simply making a short-term investment as values increased in the neighborhood. Note that there is also a 1916 map for my area, but it depicts the neighborhood as it existed before it was largely subdivided around 1920, so none of these lots would have had houses on them in that year.

There are two properties on Cricket Avenue, adjacent properties no less, where Gutekunst came into ownership in the 1940's. Although I will describe them below since they do complete the picture of Gutekunst's local real estate dealings, these are less relevant to the task at hand due to the timeframe. One was actually his own residence, previously owned by his father, Frederick William Gutekunst. 

Some quick, general observations based on the table I've constructed. First, nearly all of these properties are within the block closest to the main arterial road of Jenkintown Road. The exception is very close to Limeklin Pike (at 257-263 Maple Ave), the arterial road at the south end of the neighborhood. Maps show that the earliest development occurred closest to these two roads, and Gutekunst's affinity was no exception. Second, Gutekunst appears to have purchased 3 lots directly from Reginald Ferguson, the originator of the Ferguson's North Glenside subdivision. With one exception (that same 257-263 Maple Ave), Gutekunst dealt entirely in land within this subdivision. It seems clear that this man was delving into something new to him, and perhaps he gained a greater comfort level by keeping his investments very close to home. He was age 25 in 1921 at the time of his first purchase. Now, onto the properties:

657 Jackson Avenue

This is Gutekunst's first investment, acquiring the lot directly from Ferguson in September 1921. Although the financial consideration of his purchase is not fully disclosed in the deed, Gutekunst did mortgage the property to a man named Sigurd Larsen in exchange for $2,500 within days of his land acquisition. Larsen may have been a long-time associate (it appears they may have worked at the same company as machinists as of 1917), as A.F. Gutekunst would later buy a different plot of land directly from Mr. Larsen in the 1940's. He further took out an additional $1,000 mortgage with a Building and Loan corporation a year later in 1922. There is a curious set of deed transactions on this property in June of 1923, with Gutekunst conveying the land to a Ms. Edith S. Mattson, a real estate stenographer of nearby Rockledge, then receiving it back from her one day later. Gutekunst ultimately sold the property to Frederick Locher for an undisclosed sum in July 1924.

Did Andrew Gutekunst build the home we see here today in the picture above? The amounts listed in each transaction are of little real help to us as they remain as murky as several other transactions involving $1 consideration amounts, plus with a few mortgages to boot. However, the house does exist on both the 1927 and 1937 maps. But, I was able to make a key discovery in the form of a newspaper advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer from May 7, 1922:

Bingo! This is absolutely a match for this property-- the house that exists on this land today fits well with the description given in the ad: an 8-room "semi-bungalow" (bigger than a typical bungalow, often two stories). The lot described in the property deeds is exactly 60x129, matching the ad. The use of the word "cheap" is interesting. This ad confirms to me that this house was completed by May 1922. The only reason I can't definitively peg this "new" home as having been built during Gutekunst's ownership is that he bought it only 8 months prior to taking out this ad. He easily could have bought it as a brand new house already and well within his rights continued to claim it as a new house in selling it. Given his $2,500 mortgage of the property upon his purchase, I'm guessing that's exactly what he did, taking it slow in the real estate game for his first property.

628 Maple Avenue

A.F. Gutekunst acquired this property in June 1923, right around the time when the mysterious transactions for the Jackson Ave house appear with Ms. Mattson. He acquired a separate double-wide lot on Maple Ave near Limekiln Pike this same month (see below). As for this lot at 628 Maple, Gutekunst again acquired it directly from Reginald Ferguson, and this time he had a partner. This partner was a Mr. William Brosz, a carpenter!!!

Did Gutekunst and Brosz work together to build this house in 1923? Well, they owned the lot less than 3 months. It doesn't seem like enough time even with a skilled carpenter on board. But maybe... maybe plans were in the works prior to buying from Ferguson and who knows, maybe they even had a deal worked out with Ferguson to start early (I think I'm reaching). Gutekunst obtained a mortgage on this property as well, for $2,500, and the partnership sold it in September of that year to a Nelson Mathis for an undisclosed amount. Mr. Mathis took out a $4,500 mortgage immediately, so a short-term bump in value of $2,000 may have been achieved here. The house does show up on both the 1927 and 1937 maps.

Look at the photo above of the house as it exists today. It has clearly been modified to a great extent over its life-- a second story has been added, and the front porch has been enclosed. But if you take away those two things, I see ALOT of similarities to my own house on Central Avenue-- the hipped roof over the front porch, the width of the house, and the existence of a projecting bay on the first floor left side of the house. It's just something to keep in mind... another "maybe" here.

257-263 Maple Avenue

Gutekunst and Brosz had a busy summer in 1923, as they also together acquired this double-wide lot further to the southwest on Maple Ave, near Limekiln Pike and outside of Ferguson's subdivision. This time, they bought from a Samuel Thompson, and the consideration amount is actually provided in the deed this time, for $1,550. However, another deed shows up shortly thereafter granting Brosz's half-share entirely to Gutekunst for slightly more than half the original investment-- $800. It's hard to know what happened here that caused Andrew Gutekunst to buy out his partner's half-- maybe they had a falling out, or maybe Brosz only wanted to build and not take on the risk of ownership/investment. Coupled with the previous property above, we have a partnership between Gutekunst and a carpenter that lasted, on record at least, only 3 months.

As for the houses that sit on these two now-separate lots today, I'm somewhat baffled. At first, you might imagine my excitement upon seeing nearly identical houses which I knew were owned and possibly built by the same person(s) in Gutekunst/Brosz. However, the house you see on the left, #263, appears on both the 1927 and 1937 maps, whereas #257 on the right appears only in 1937. Andrew Gutekunst mortgaged these properties heavily, in total to the amount of $25,000 through four separate mortgages over the next year, before selling the property to a local business, Glenside Lumber and Coal Company, in November 1924, for a total of $5,400.

I can't quite fathom the possibility that these two houses were built very far apart chronologically as suggested by the 1927 map-- they just look too similar. The theory I am running with, for now, is that Glenside Lumber and Coal Co. erected the houses, starting with #263 and completing it in time for the first atlas map (likely by 1926), with the neighboring house following shortly thereafter, maybe within a year or so after the map publisher finished their survey. All told, I believe that Andrew Gutekunst did not play a part in building these houses, although the incredible amount he borrowed via mortgage of the property is a huge mystery here. He must have improved the property in some way.

502 Central Avenue

My house is within walking distance of all these other Gutekunst-held properties. Andrew Gutekunst came into ownership in November 1923, and it was a sole venture after absolving his ownership ties with carpenter William Brosz. He acquired the property from local real estate broker Harry Renninger for $650 and simultaneously mortgaged it for $3,800. Owning the property for approximately one year, he unloaded it in October 1924 to Anna Coogan for the amount of $5,500.

Did Andrew F. Gutekunst, or someone working for him, build this house during his ownership? If you've been reading this blog to any extent, you know that this is among the foremost unknowns I hope to solve. As I've described previously, the house appears on both the 1927 and 1937 atlas maps, and I feel very confident that it was constructed at the very latest by the end of Gutekunst's sale to Ms. Coogan in October 1924.

647 Jackson Avenue

This property, acquired in May 1924, is located directly adjacent to A.F. Gutekunst's first investment property, which he sold a few months after acquiring this one. Again a sole venture in terms of ownership, it is another which was conveyed directly from Reginald Ferguson, the subdivision's creator.

A bit curiously, a house is shown on the 1927 map but NOT the 1937 map-- I had to check multiple times to be sure I was looking at the same property on both maps. Was an existing house demolished sometime after 1927? Maybe. Perhaps it was a mistake by the atlas map surveyor.

No matter, for now. Mr. Gutekunst, it seems clear, did not erect the house which sits on the property today. Having obtained the property for an disclosed sum, he conveyed it to Glenside Coal and Lumber for $400 on the same day he sold the company his properties at 257-263 Maple. Was November 24, 1924 a day that Andrew Gutekunst, to a large extent, gave up his dabbling in the real estate game? This day, where he offloaded three properties to the same buyer, was his final transaction recorded for several more years.

626 Penn Avenue

In July 1928, Andrew Gutekunst re-entered the marketplace, having acquired an empty lot on Penn Avenue at the west end of the neighborhood. He owned it for less than two months. The true market value is not recorded on either end of his ownership, and it appears that no house existed on this property until the 1950's.

621-631 Cricket Avenue

The house at 621 Cricket Ave (on the right in the photo below) is another outlier to the 1923-24 transactions, as it served as Andrew Gutekunst's personal residence. His father, Frederick William Gutekunst, who like Andrew was listed as a flooring contractor/finisher in several records, was the owner until he conveyed it to Andrew and his wife Olga in 1941. The father did not pass away until 1953, but he was 71 years old at the time of this transaction. It appears that this home had remained in the Gutekunst family until very recently, just last year 2015. It was built prior to 1927.

The house to the left, #631, was likely built in the 1950's, and not by Andrew Gutekunst. He acquired the land in 1946 for the amount of $390 from Sigured Larsen and sold it less than a year later for $600. Both amounts are suggestive of a vacant lot, and no house is shown on the 1927 or 1937 maps. Perhaps Andrew, although having largely given up real estate, happened upon an opportunity to purchase the lot neighboring his and took it.

Observations and Analysis

Below is a much simplified version of the table shown at the beginning of this post:

I did what I set out to do here, which was to get as full a picture as possible of Andrew F. Gutekunst's personal dealings in local real estate. Further, I would contend that I can at the very least draw a reasonable conclusion that he likely did NOT build or have my house built during his ownership of the property. Instead, I am continuing with the theory that at which I arrived after my initial mortgage document analysis-- that the house was probably already there in November 1923.

The simplified table here shows that five (5) houses had been built on properties he owned in time for the 1927 atlas map. His now-discovered business association with the carpenter William Brosz in 1923, within the midst of Gutekunst's whirlwind of the same year, leads me to believe that he did build at least one house with this partner. The apparent dissolution of that ownership partnership, coupled with the fact that I just don't see a huge jump in value over his investment on most of these properties, leads me to infer that A.F. Gutekunst intended to build more houses than he actually did. Until I see more evidence that could suggest the contrary, I believe that my house is a case of him acquiring a recently built home in the rapidly-developing neighborhood and flipping it after a short time for a profit.

Coming soon, I'll do a similar examination of properties in this neighborhood bought and sold by Philadelphia carpenter Jayson Stover in Part 3.

1 comment:

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