An Historic Lesson from 1934. . . Optimistically Looking Forward to 2015.

As a student of history, I’m amazed how many quotes there are about history repeating itself. Here are just a quick sampling.

Gomorra: “History repeating itself?
Warlock: “History doesn’t repeat itself, Gamora, but sometimes it rhymes.”
― Dan Abnett, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 1: Legacy

“It is not often that nations learn from the past,even rarer that they draw the correct conclusions from it.”
Henry Kissinger

“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.”
George S. Patton

I share these quotes and these thoughts as we approach the end of 2014 and look forward to 2015. It is warning and a heed to remember the past and all it has to share. . I recently ran across a bound set of American Builder magazines from 1934. The covers provide a keen history lesson into a critical period in homebuilding’s evolution.

If you’ve read my book, The Timeless House, you know that my chapter on production building highlights the early influences that supported the eventual rise of builders like William Levitt. One key step was the government backing of home loans through the newly established Federal Housing Administration or the FHA. The 1934 covers of American Builder magazine highlights how dramatic this change were for builders everywhere.

In February of 1934, things are bleak and this cover reminds us how the Great Depression, that started in 1929 and now 4 1/2 years later, is still deeply effecting the job market.

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By the spring, a rather lovely and hopeful cover shows men at work, building and crafting homes.

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In the June issue, there is great optimism for home building as seen on this cover. A man ( a builder or tradesmen with his lunch pail) holds up a paper that reads “Home Building Comes Back”

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By August things get interesting. It seems that the announcement of the new FHA plan was made in July of 1934. The August cover has a personal appeal from the FHA chairman, J. A. Moffett, encouraging builders to build. However it doesn’t end there.. .

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In September the cover outlines this guarantee of private loans by the government. This is, by the way, one of the keys that allows Levitt to build with less financial risk. It is only when the GI bill is put in place in the late 40’s that the final piece of the financial puzzle is solved for Levitt and the production builders.

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The October issue shows pictures of men at work and a pledge of allegiance from builders and the magazine readers, to the FHA program.

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Finally by November, Mr. Moffett is back with a personal request to continue the work and build new homes.

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Sadly, as many of you know, the rebound did not happen in 1934. Instead the country slogged through the rest of the 1930’s and then had to wait-out World War II before things roared away in the 1950’s.

Homebuilding sat dormant for nearly 20 years (1929-1949ish) waiting for the economy to rebound. When the country did get back on its feet, Levitt and the other production builders couldn’t build houses fast enough. The lesson and question history poises for us is, are we advancing forward like 1950 or will 2015 be like 1935, a year filled with great expectations that go unrealized? There are eerie similarities between our great recession and the Great Depression. It is history, not repeating, but certainly rhyming.

Personally, I am cautiously optimistic and I look forward to 2015. None of us can see the future, but here in Fort Worth Texas, I am optimistic and prayerful that 2015 will be a great year for all of us.

God Bless. Thanks for the reading and I look forward to sharing more in 2015.

-B

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