Developer, builder and designer Edward B. Hawkins was born in 1902 in Denver, Colorado, son of Willard Hawkins, a native Coloradan and printer. Edward grew up in Denver, graduating from East High School, and went on to study civil engineering for two years at Colorado State Agricultural College, now Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
In 1924, Hawkins moved to Chicago where he entered the construction trade. He was hired as a building superintendent by Home Builders of America, a firm involved in the construction of houses in LaGrange, Evanston, Wilmette, Winnetka and Skokie, Illinois. Charlotte, Hawkins’ future wife, worked at the same firm as a secretary.
“I just enjoyed Wright’s style. I studied it in Chicago in the ’20s with some very good architects when I began doing small general contracting.”
Edward Hawkins quoted in
The Denver Post,
November 23, 1986.
During this period, Hawkins began to undertake small general contracting projects. His increasing interest in residential design led him to study firsthand the Chicago area work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright had won international acclaim for his Prairie Style buildings in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lived and worked until 1909.
When the Depression stalled home building, Hawkins joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an employment program of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. With the CCC, Hawkins built roads, fireplaces and picnic areas throughout the Chicago region.
In December of 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II. In 1942, now married, Edward and Charlotte returned to Denver. For the duration of the war, Hawkins served in a civilian capacity at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a federal chemical weapons plant.
Hawkins also began to establish himself as a home designer and builder in Denver. He constructed his first house at 14th and Niagara next to his family home, continuing with homes in the 2500 to 3000 blocks of Race, Albion, Ash, Forest and Glencoe. Between 1942 and 1949, Hawkins built thirty-five modern homes in northeast Denver ranging in price from $10,000 to $23,000. He designed them himself, incorporating ideas about modern living and design from his work and studies in Chicago.
During this period Hawkins’ firm, Construction Products Company, operated a shop at 14th and Harlan, Lakewood, in an old streetcar barn. Under the supervision of shop foreman Clyde Mannon, houses were prefabricated for on-site assembly. Custom aluminum-frame windows were also manufactured for use in Hawkins’ own homes and for sale to local architects and builders.
In August of 1949, Hawkins conceived of developing an entire subdivision, signing an option to purchase a thirty acre parcel in Englewood, a small community in Arapahoe County just south of the Denver city and county line. In November of 1949, he completed the purchase of the property from M. Olive Hensley for $5,250. The site was on the frontier between Denver and Englewood, surrounded by open, largely undeveloped land. It encompassed the entire area between Bates to the north, Dartmouth to the south, Franklin to the east, and Marion to the west, except a single lot at Dartmouth and Marion.
Englewood was originally homesteaded in 1864 and incorporated as a city in 1903. In 1949, like the entire nation, Englewood was undergoing a tremendous surge of growth as American GI’s flooded home from the war. It was a city poised on the edge of a new era. The population was booming and record numbers of new building permits were issued. A massive switching system was under construction to bring dial telephones to the city, a new water purification plant was under discussion and the municipal tramway system was being converted to bus service.
The post-war construction industry raced to meet the housing demands of returning GI’s. Wartime restrictions on the manufacture of consumer products and new construction were lifted. Raw material consumption and factory production, previously dedicated to the American war effort, now refocused on the domestic consumer market.
It was a period of exciting new advances in residential construction. New and improved light metals and plastics came into common use. Synthetic resins revolutionized plywood building products. Traditional materials like wood, masonry and concrete, re-engineered for more cost effective wartime erection, found a new place in home building. Prefabrication and other wartime production inefficiencies became integral to peacetime construction.
In order to promote their products in this booming new market, the Revere Copper and Brass Company joined with the Southwest Research Institute, part of the Housing Research Institute, to create a national program to advance “better architect-builder relations and the general improvement of the quality of speculatively built houses.” The program solicited proposals featuring quality modern design, which Revere considered more cost effective and livable than traditional residential design. Participants juried into the program would build ten or more economical, single family homes designed by a professional architect. Local and national publicity would promote the homes, architects, home builders and Revere Copper and Brass products throughout the country.
Hawkins realized that the Revere program could help him sell his new subdivision.
Returning veterans were taking advantage of GI home loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Under the plan, a veteran could borrow the full cost of a house with no down-payment, only a charge to cover fees and loan costs.
But the program also included strict FHA housing design guidelines which shunned modern homes with flat roofs and plain, asymmetrical facades as a fad, not sound, long-term investments.
While traditional homes in large developments were readily financed in whole, Hawkins had already discovered that the FHA was willing to loan only 80% of the purchase price for one of his modern houses. By associating his new subdivision with the Revere Quality House Program, Hawkins undoubtedly hoped to garner more favorable FHA financing terms.
In order to participate, Hawkins set aside his own design ambitions and hired Eugene Sternberg who had been recommended to him by the Revere Program. Sternberg, a board-certified architect and professor at the University of Denver School of Architecture and Planning, agreed to participate because of his interest in creating socially-conscious housing combining modern design and economical construction.