Overview

17

Owner

Ole & Corinne (Hellie) Davidson

Address

629 Center St Decorah, IA 52101

Year Built

1957

Architectural Style

Midcentury Modern

Arthur Ole Davidson (LC ‘31) came to Luther College from Dartmouth College in 1954 to serve as the college’s first Vice President for Development (he had previously served on the Luther staff from 1941-48, except for his years serving in the military during WWII). In his development role, Davidson worked closely with Charles Altfillisch on various Luther building projects. It was therefore natural for Davidson to call on Altfillisch to design a new home for his family on the empty lot next to the College that the Davidsons had purchased.

In a July 2021 phone interview with DHPC member Mark Z. Muggli, Davidson’s two daughters, Karen (b. 1951; LC ‘73) and Daphne (b. 1954), said their mother Corrinne (Hellie) Davidson worked closely with Altfillisch to design a home closely tailored to her aesthetic and working preferences, and in line with her lifelong interest in design and architecture.

The Davidson daughters emphasized the following elements as features their mother advocated for: a stained-wood exterior; a street-facing garage; efficient interior traffic flow (especially in the kitchen, where several people could work at once); a kitchen island (a design novelty in the 1950s); expansive living room windows; fireplaces (one in the living room and another in the small upstairs study area adjacent to the primary bedroom); and sliding doors and other built-in fixtures, including a laundry chute. Their mother told them in later years, after having planned a major addition to an old New Hampshire house, that their Decorah house was the favorite home she had ever lived in. According to their daughters, both Ole and Corinne Davidson regarded Altfillisch highly and found him very easy to work with.

The house is a distinctive design: it essentially consists of two intersecting boxes, both with flat roofs that slope in different directions. According to their daughters, the family often hosted various student and faculty groups in the home. Ole organized the Luther speaker’s series and often hosted these speakers and audience members at the house. The Symra Literary Society met there. When built, the house had an expansive view towards the Luther College football field. Ole kept a path mowed so that the children could easily visit the Egge/Koren cabin and the grist mill, which were later moved to the Vesterheim outdoor museum. Because of high Luther College enrollments, the Davidsons for three years had Luther students living in their basement. In 1961, Davidson left to become president of Wagner College (NY).

In 1961, the house was sold to Luther’s new Development Vice President and then to Floyd Solien, from whom Dan and Mary Ann Thurmer bought the house in about 1974. The Thurmers commented in 2021 on the house features they most appreciated: its contemporary design, the distinctive Roman-brick fireplaces, the wood interior [sycamore in the bedroom and fireplace/library room; the Thurmers sanded and darkened the light-stained living room paneling]; the expansive windows; and the lower-level family room, later converted into an independent apartment. The Thurmers were uneasy about the home’s flat roofs, although they never had any roof issues; they noted that the lack of a basement left them with limited storage space.

In 1986 the home was purchased by Luther College from the Voreal family who had purchased the home from the Thurmers. In 2010, when the building was designated the Luther College Sustainability House, the exterior vertical horizontal sheet siding was replaced with horizontal vinyl siding and the interior was modernized in various ways. The original blueprints are held by the Luther College archives.

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