#7 Orran G. Fox House

1501 Michigan Avenue

Built 1894

Written by Timothy Stabosz

Architect Franklin Burnham, Chicago

          The house at 1501 Michigan Avenue was

designed for Orran G. and Adele S. Fox by Chicago

architect Franklin Burnham. 
           Orran Fox, who was no relation to the Fox

family of the local Fox Woolen Mills, was born in

Tioga County, Pennsylvania, in November 1840,

the oldest of seven children, to Henry and Sarah

Fox. Orran’s father, Henry, brought the family to

La Porte circa 1845, and initially worked as a

carpenter, then served as county coroner from

1852 to 1855, and finally as deputy clerk of the

circuit court at the time of his death in 1860.

Orran Fox is listed in the 1862-63 city directory

as a railroad conductor for the Michigan Southern

& Northern Indiana Railroad (a line that operated

on the tracks that pass through La Porte). Fox also

operated the Fox & Rathbun Livery from 1866 to

1870 with his brother-in-law, Edwin Rathbun. Fox

married Adele Slaght on December 18, 1873 in

Greenville, Montcalm County, Michigan.
          From the mid 1880s to early 1890s, the Foxes were legal residents of Chicago. In Chicago, Fox was a real estate developer, maintaining an office downtown on LaSalle Street, and is referenced in city directories as a “capitalist.” Perhaps one of his most noteworthy accomplishments was the creation of a subdivision on the west side of Chicago, in the vicinity of 5th Avenue and Kostner, which to this day is referred to as “O.G. Fox’s Colorado Avenue Addition.” (Colorado Avenue is known today as Fifth Avenue.) 
           Back in La Porte, in September of 1892, Fox purchased the empty corner lot, 1501 Michigan Avenue, from the adjoining property owner, Mrs. Fred King, for the sum of $3,000. Simultaneously, Fox’s wife purchased a 125 foot lot off the south side of Mrs. King’s home. The Foxes completed the construction of their 1501 Michigan Avenue home in 1894, and Adele Fox built a home for her mother at 1509 Michigan Avenue, just south of the neighboring King residence. In addition, per the 1900 census, Orran Fox’s sister, brother-in-law, and mother lived one house further south, at 1511 Michigan Avenue. With the creation of an “extended family compound” in the 1500 block of Michigan Avenue, Orran and Adele Fox had moved back to La Porte for good.
          Mr. Fox served two terms as a La Porte City Councilman in the 1890s. In the 1900 city directory, Fox's occupation is listed as "real estate agent." By 1910, the U.S. census indicates that Fox was essentially retired. Orran G. Fox died on August 4, 1914, at age 73. Within a few years, Adele Fox left her La Porte home, and moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, spending many years there through the 1920s and 1930s. She never remarried, and the Foxes never had any children. The entire Fox family is buried in the Fox family plot at Pine Lake Cemetery.
           In April 1919, 1501 Michigan Avenue was purchased from Adele Fox by Hascall and Bella (Kramer) Rosenthal for the princely sum of $10,000. Mr. Rosenthal was the general manager of the Kramer & Son wholesale grocery located at 409 Michigan Avenue (a predecessor to today's Ludwig Fish & Produce), and worked there from 1900 until his death in 1938.
           Despite the La Porte sesquicentennial plaque on the front of the house, which purports an 1891 build date, original courthouse tax records prove that the house was essentially completed in 1894. In fact, window and door hardware with a patent date of 1895 stamped on the back indicate that the "finishing touches" were still being completed well into that year. The house utilized the "balloon framing" method, common to Chicago. This is where continuous, single-length wall studs span the entire height. Also notable is that there are no sill plates in the house; the floor joists are incorporated directly into pockets in the basement walls.
           The house is a Queen Anne Victorian, but is "transitional" in its appearance, with a minimal amount of "gingerbread." The house’s lack of corner boards (the wood siding “meets up” at the corners of the house) emphasizes the unified massing of the house, serving the architect’s goal of making the home appear more grand and “castle-like.”
           In 2013, in an exciting find, the original Franklin P. Burnham architectural plans for the house were discovered. A review of them revealed some very interesting facts, most notably: 1) the design of an earlier carriage house, which was built, but torn down around 1920, and replaced with the current garage; 2) that the original plans called for a porte cochere (never built), covering the side drive; and 3) that the original plans called for the decorative upper sashes in the attic dormers to be carried throughout all the second story upper sashes, as well.

 

Read more about this historic home, and many others in La Porte, in Preserve Historic La Porte’s book Historic Architecture of La Porte Indiana: The First 20 Years of the Candlelight Tour, available through Preserve Historic La Porte or the La Porte County Historical Society Museum.

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