WYSO

Mutual Housing Experiment Still Going Strong 80 Years Later

Oct 16, 2017

Greenmont Village might be tucked away between Woodman and Patterson, on the border of Kettering and Dayton -- but the neighborhood stands out, because unlike the rest of the area, most of these houses have flat roofs. Some people  joke that they look like sugar cubes or shoe boxes, but in the 1940s when they were built, they were essential housing for Dayton’s defense workers and their families. 

Wartime manufacturing was great for Dayton, and by 1943, the city had an employment rate increase of 124% over the previous decade. And that quick rise in employment lead to a labor shortage . So Dayton began to actively recruit workers from the Southern states. But now the city had a new problem, where to put all these relocated workers and their families.

The housing shortage meant that three or four families were often sharing a single house, sleeping in shifts, while others who were less fortunate lived out of garages, automobiles and even sewer pipes.

Wright Patterson Fields alone saw an increase of 75,000 to 125,000 new workers, including Shane Bowling’s grandfather.

"My grandparents were some of the original people who came in here, and then my parents also lived here. So arguable three generations of Greenmont Village in my lineage," he says sitting in The Bull Pen, a small diner in the corner of Dot’s Grocery store, which used to be the food co-op for Greenmont Mutual Housing Village.

The 500 acre Village was one of three Mutual Ownership Defense Housing communities in Dayton. It was designed to be community minded and self-governed. Residents had their own post office, day care center, community church and parks.  When construction was completed in 1942, the residential units in the Greenmont Mutual Housing Corporation filled up immediately and by 1948 there was a waiting list of thousands. Even today potential residents can wait years for an available property.

The spartan, flat-roofed architecture of the houses gave the community it’s signature look.

The Greenmont Village food coop is now home to Dots Market
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

"They do lack a certain amount of flair, I guess you might say, but, if you’re into the Cubism movement, that might be something you find very appealing," says Bowling. "There was a time, and maybe even now, where if you didn’t know where you lived it could create a problem trying to find one home from another because they all have a tendency to be square or rectangular with aluminum siding and a window on each side, and a front door."

The community was developed around a central open area, with streets branching off, so that from above it kinda looks like a giant spider.

"I remember when I was a child watching people walk around the circle, and we used to walk through the garden over to the park, playing on the swings and stuff like that. It was really sort of an idyllic suburban childhood upbringing to tell you the truth. I especially remember the light shining through the window while my grandmother sat at the kitchen table doing those snap peas or string beans," says Bowling.

Community garden plots are still a popular feature of Greenmont Village
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

The original model for the village set aside thirty acres for community garden plots.  The gardens are still a popular part of the village, but the other community owned  services like the food co-op, church and day care center are gone. After Kettering incorporated in 1952, Greenmont Elementary became a part of that city’s school system, but it’s unclear when or why most of the other services were discontinued. But there is an answer to the most visible changes to Greenmont Village in the past 80 years, -  those iconic roof lines.

"As time goes on, they’re moving into doing the pitched roof, as the roofs need work," says Bowling.

There’s enough pockets of the flat-roof style houses remaining that you can get still a sense of the original 1940’s neighborhood, and Greenmont does remain a mutually owned community.

And speaking of the original neighborhood, one of Greenmont Villages earliest and most famous resident would go on to become hobo and folk singer U. Utah Phillips, who credits playing along the tracks bordering the village for his life-long love of trains.

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