Top menu

ED Lundeen: Architect during the Great Depression

When I was little girl my Great Grandfather, Ed Lundeen Sr.,  was a retired architect in Bloomington, Illinois. He had Alzheimer’s by the time I was born but that didn’t stop him from pointing out buildings he had designed as we drove across town. He made me look at architecture and think about it at a very young age. I loved and admired him and his buildings. At age 6, I wanted to an architect or an archaeologist.

Great Grandpa Ed was born in 1898 and was a second generation American. His family had come over starving from Sweden to become strike breakers in the coal mines in Illinois. The first person in his family to attend college, he had a very promising and exciting career as a young man. By his early thirties he was already a partner in a firm and had completed a number of large private and civic commissions. He married my Great Grandmother Rachel who was an artist, teacher, costume maker and genealogist.

When the depression struck, Ed suddenly had six very dry years where there was only what he referred to as ”back porch” remodeling jobs that barely kept any food on the table. During that time he stayed in his field, working on the Historic American Building Survey, which was part of the WPA and he went back to school and earned his Masters Degree at University of Illinois. He taught high school Architectural Drafting, Basic Electricity and Wiring part time at the local high school. He was active in the Masons. Eventually, in 1939 he got a bigger job renovating a funeral home. After the war was over, he went on to have a thriving  practice building schools, churches and commercial buildings. But there were 15 hard years in between, where my Great Grandmother, an elementary school art teacher, supported the family.

I recently asked my grandfather, Ed Jr., if there had been a silver lining to the depression for his father. He repeated that those years had been very tough for his parents and that they struggles just to feed their children. But, he acknowledged, his father also had a lot of time to spend with him and his brother when they were young. He said that his father found that he loved teaching. Also the extra time and the clubiness of those times led my Great Grandfather to develop many life long friendships that brought him companionship and business in later years. The work he did on the Historic American Building Survey, measuring buildings and details, helped inform his own work for the rest of his life and elevated his own craft and attention to detail.

In some ways the lean years allowed my Great Grandpa to enrich his life and take time to do things in his profession that he might not have had time to do had the boom of the 1920’s continued. I can’t help but admire his fortitude to stay in his field for so many lean years. I think he has my Great Grandma to thank for making it possible.

Here are a few pictures of  Ed’s last building, St. John’s Luthern Church in Bloomington, IL.