In my car I keep a copy of A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester. It comes in handy when I have some time to spend while waiting for an appointment or if I am out and see an interesting styled house that I want a little bit more of information on. If you are not familiar with the book’s format it outlines different styles not only by form but also geographically. Mississippi has a good representation with 15 examples credited in the index to the state.
Almost every picture in the book is listed with its location and a circa date. I say almost every photo because three chapters, Modern, Neoeclectic, and Contemporary Folk, do not give locations or dates for the buildings in the photographs. When the book was written thirty years ago these styles were apparently deemed just too recent for give the date and location of the examples. Under the category of Modern is the sub-category of Ranch. One of the examples on page 480 (see above) in particular looked very familiar. While not credited as being in Forest Heights, the index credits the photo to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. It further goes on to credit Mississippi Gulf Coast photographer Chauncey T. Hinman for taking the photograph. While I was sure the house was on the Coast, due to Hinman’s credit, I was not sure it was in Forest Heights until I ran across this movie, as the house can be seen at 6 minutes 50 seconds (still above).
Forest Heights was established around 1966 by the National Council of Negro Women, in cooperation with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and supported by the Ford Foundation. It was one of the nation’s first integrated home ownership developments for low income families and was located in North Gulfport, Mississippi. The program requirement was that only legally married couples with children were eligible to apply, and the husband must be employed. The name Forest Heights is a tribute to civil rights activist Dorothy Height, who was president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1947 until 1997. The Subdivision was designed and built by Collins Building Service. Company vice-president Francis X. Collins, who was the past president of the Mississippi Home Builders Association and active supporter of Forest Heights, described it as the most modern subdivision in Mississippi at the time. Two hundred homes were laid out on one hundred and seven acres. The three, four, and five bedroom residences utilized thirty five different styled exteriors. A community house was built at the T section of Russell Boulevard and Holly Circle. Today, the Subdivision retains much of its original character with the only major changes being due to Hurricane Katrina. These are the loss and replacement of the community house and the loss of a half dozen houses. The success of the Forest Heights program led to similar programs for home ownership being developed in Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas.
Kudos to Forest Heights for making it into McAlesters’s Field Guide! Let’s bump that Mississippi representation to 16 examples. All you Miss Pres’ers out there keep your eyes peeled because you never know where Mississippi may turn up uncredited.