By Katherine Hon
In 1935, as the United States was recovering from the Great Depression, a North Park businessman focused his creativity and company resources on developing affordable housing for the average wage earner.
That businessman was George Klicka, manager of Klicka Lumber Company of North Park.
The National Housing Act of 1934, which created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), made home ownership for families with low to moderate incomes possible through long-term loans with minimal monthly payments. The act generated demand, but after several years of little or no construction, San Diego was experiencing an extreme housing shortage. This was good news for Klicka Lumber Company, which announced in a 1935 advertisement, “Busy Days Are Here Again!”
George Klicka believed that “to own a home and fireside is every man’s ambition and every family’s heritage.” He recognized that the costly construction techniques of the 1920s would need to be simplified to meet this goal, and that his company was uniquely positioned to help fill the affordable-housing demand.
Klicka Lumber Company originally incorporated in San Diego as Klicka Brothers Company in December 1921. The company’s broad purposes included “to build, construct, alter, repair, move, decorate, furnish and improve houses, office buildings and other structures.”
The Klicka lumber yard and mill was located on 30th Street just north of University Avenue (now the site of La Boheme condominiums), near Dixie Lumber, which had opened in 1914 on Ohio Street north of University Avenue.
George Klicka, youngest of four brothers, started the company with his eldest brother Emil. Their father had founded Joseph Klicka Company in Chicago in 1880, which became a leader in the wood molding manufacturing industry, selling product across the country. By the turn of the century, Joseph Sr. had died, and the four brothers were running the successful company.
In 1915, George — who traveled extensively around the country as a salesman for the family firm — took an adventurous trek to California with a friend. The motorcar trip involved nine tire changes and multiple incidents of being mired in mud. The primary destination was San Francisco, which was holding the official World’s Fair, but Klicka also visited San Diego and its Panama-California Exposition before returning to Chicago. He declared San Diego’s Exposition to be the superior event, and San Diego’s climate to be the best of any town on the Pacific Coast.
Six years later, in April 1921, George and his wife Wilhelmina moved into a Craftsman home built by David Owen Dryden at 3543 Oregon St. (now Pershing Avenue). The same year, Emil and his wife Jessie moved to 3506 28th St., just a block away. From these North Park homes, both brothers would exert considerable beneficial influence on the growth of San Diego.
Fast forward to the mid-1930s, when San Diego was pulling itself out of the Great Depression through, among other activities, a second Exposition. Klicka Lumber Company announced they were “busy supplying materials for the Exposition buildings and new housing facilities for Exposition visitors.”
At the same time, George developed and patented plans for a low-cost kit house, a pre-fabricated package transported by truck to the owner’s lot and constructed for prices starting at less than $2,000. The design was described in a brochure by the Capital Lumber Company in Sacramento, California as “Introducing all-wood, plasterless construction, ultra-modern design and detail achieved thru brilliant engineering.”
George described the “Klicka Studio Bungalo” as having “complete sanitary plumbing fixtures, automatic water heater, modern electric fixtures in every room and large casement windows throughout. Beside the two bedrooms, there is a kitchen of ample size, with tile sink and built-in features, large and modern breakfast room, hall and linen closets and a commodious living room.”
The kit house was introduced as a model home at the 1935-36 Exposition in Balboa Park. In 1936, the house design was approved by the federal government for a 25-year FHA loan. By the end of 1941, Klicka Lumber Company had sold more than 1,100 kit homes throughout San Diego and as far away as Florida.
Houses at 4575 Shirley Ann Place, 3666 Alabama St., and the five-unit bungalow court at 3988 Kansas St. near Lincoln Avenue are documented Klicka projects.
Although only a few of these examples of novel affordable home construction survive, they represent an innovation in home building with the purpose of expanding the benefits of home ownership throughout San Diego at a time of great need.
William Strack, now the proud owner of 3543 Pershing Ave., has extensively researched George Klicka, and has concluded that he was “one of those rare individuals that without realizing it, was in the right place at the right time to do a great deal of good for others. … I have no doubt that without George Klicka’s involvement and contributions, the North Park that we know now would be different, and likely something less, than the great community that we share today.”
— Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-294-8990.