Stonewall by Martin Duberman

Book: Stonewall by Martin Duberman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Martin Duberman
decline. He told Karla he would be unable to finance a college education for her.
    He was ambivalent anyway about a girl getting too much book learning—he did manage to find the money to send his son, Paul, to college. But Karla was determined on more education. The Regents Scholarship, which paid well in those years, made that plausible. The money wasn’t enough for her to go to her first choice, Vassar, where charges were too expensive for her means, but it proved just enough for Barnard. Besides, a cousin had gone there and had raved about it. So Barnard it was. Abraham pledged ten dollars a week, and the scholarship covered tuition. Not enough money was left over for a dormitory room, however. And it was not at all clear how Karla would eat.

    S hortly before the end of World War II, U.S. Steel was casting about to find new uses for the metal in the coming postwar period. Foster Gunnison, Sr., a superb salesman, managed to convince the companythat it could substitute steel for wood in his prefabricated houses, turn out models in the $2,800-to-$5,000 range, and thereby open up a huge new market, comparable to that for automobiles. Persuaded, U.S. Steel bought out Gunnison Homes for two million dollars, kept Foster Sr. on as its president, and also put him on the parent company’s board of directors. 5
    By the early fifties, Foster Sr. had become convinced that U.S. Steel was making a botch of things; it might have been a giant company but its managers had no experience in the highly specialized housing field, and they seemed unwilling to rely on his. U.S. Steel, for its part, gradually became convinced that it had bought a white elephant; the company never built a single house with any steel in it, and soon discontinued Gunnison Homes, turning the plant into a warehouse. In 1950, before that final debacle, Foster Sr. decided to step down as president of Gunnison Homes (while remaining on the board of U.S. Steel) and to set up a prefab-house dealership in St. Petersburg, Florida, run by his son.
    Foster Jr., now in his mid-twenties, had been floundering since his graduation from Columbia in 1949. Struggling to get a handle on a possible career, he decided to undergo a series of psychological, aptitude, and intelligence tests at the New York University and Columbia University counseling centers. The results were revealing, though somewhat disquieting. Foster’s scores for general intelligence surpassed those of over 99 percent of twenty-six-year-olds, and on the verbal sections his performance was rated “truly outstanding.” That alone had to be a comfort to someone who had barely survived his freshman year at Haverford.
    But the rest of the news seemed to confirm what his father viewed as Junior’s “maladjustment.” The test results portrayed a somewhat formal, meticulous man, obsessive about detail work yet generally lacking in confidence. The report described him as “extremely sensitive, moody, unstable and rather immature,” and ominously concluded, as well, that “he is not at present making a favorable sexual adjustment.” The experts recommended a prolonged course of psychotherapy. Foster opted for Florida instead.
    His father had bought up several blocks of land in north St. Petersburg, had had his prefabricated homes shipped down there from the plant in Indiana, had put them up, and had then sold houses and lots together, at 2 percent financing, for little more than six thousand dollars. Though Foster Sr. didn’t himself move to Florida until 1953, about a year after his son, he handled most of the sales himself, leavingFoster Jr. to take care of the dealership’s internal business affairs. In all, some three dozen houses got built in a two-year period, with handsome profits for the father-son team. Foster Jr. accumulated enough capital, further parlayed through investments, to become financially independent.
    But the work itself never captured

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