“The House America Has Been Waiting For,” an advertising slogan for a new kind of home. Prefabricated and mass-produced, the Lustron Home was to be the answer to America’s housing shortage in the late 1940s.
Lustron homes appeared after the second World War. Many veterans were returning from abroad and needed housing. And they needed affordable housing. A plan was put in place by President Truman and Wilson Wyatt National Housing Expediter, to find solutions to the housing crisis. They looked to the war-time innovators to find ways to build a house like an auto or an airplane was built.
During this time, Carl G. Strandlund, inventor and self-taught engineer from Chicago, brought forward a “bold engineering vision for the Lustron house.”
Built with porcelain enameled steel and government subsidies, the Lustron house -a one-story, gabled-roof ranch with a bay window and side porch- came in four models and came in colors of Surf Blue, Blue-green, Dove Gray, Maize Yellow, Desert Tan, Green, Pink, and White; trimmed in eggshell white and featuring dark grey roofing tiles. Morris Beckman of Chicago architectural firm Beckman and Blass designed the home. A new Lustron cost anywhere from $6,000 – $10,000.
Production began in 1947 with the a plan to produce 100 homes a day at the 1 million square-foot production plant located by the Port Columbus International Airport. By the early 1950s, the company collapsed under foreclosure and bankruptcy, having only manufactured 2,498 Lustron homes out of over 20,000 orders.
Poor production capabilities, distribution troubles, bad publicity, rising costs, and limitations on who could actually purchase the home contributed to the company’s collapse.
Now the plant at 4200 E. 5th Avenue, is home to the warehouse and main shipping hub for DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse.
Documented Lustron homes in Columbus appear to be concentrated on the east side near James Road and Broad, with a few scattered throughout Clintonville and and then in a few other spots in the city.
Brian Reaume became a proud owner of a Lustron home in June of 2007, his first home purchase.
“I found my Lustron while on the way to look at a foreclosure,” says Reaume. “I had read an article about these houses in DWELL magazine a few weeks prior to seeing mine. It was complete love at first sight.”
Reaume’s Westchester Deluxe Lustron is very much intact.
“The kitchen/dining area pass-through, the master bedroom vanity, the living area mirror, and the built in book shelves are all in place,” he says. “I do believe my house was one of the first to be delivered because it has the two small windows in each bedroom. I believe these were replaced with larger windows in mid 1948, not too far into their initial manufacturing.”
The home is very easy to clean; the porcelain enameled steel simply needs to be washed with a garden hose. The steel also makes hanging his art collection with magnets convenient.
“I love the simplicity of the home. The clean lines, the modern/mid-century feel of the house. It is a marvel of ingenuity and yet comes across so simple. The form of the house is really beautiful to me.”
Lustron owners and preservationists declare their love of the home online, happy to have their humble but nifty homes, an anti-McMansion, and an historic gem. Others are looking for parts to swap, or maintenance and repair tips.
The Lustron’s relatively low-value economically does threaten their longevity. At times, the land they rest on may be worth more then the home itself. Their place in the history of the American prefabricated housing industry has earned them a nod toward historic preservation status.
You won’t have to imagine life in one of these homes, or what living in the 1950s was like anymore, starting Saturday, July 13, 2013, you will be able to experience it.
The Ohio Historical Society opens their new exhibit “1950s: Building the American Dream,” at the Ohio Historical Center Museum on Saturday with the shining star being a full-size prefabricated Lustron home built inside the museum. The home was a donation to OHS by the County of Arlington, Virgina. It will most likely become a part of the permanent exhibit space of the Ohio History Center.
“This is an exhibit unlike any other,” said Sharon Dean, director of museum and library services for the Ohio Historical Society. “We want visitors to touch, feel, and try everything in the home so they can immerse themselves in an authentic 1950s experience. It has been a real labor of love for the past couple of years.”
The exhibit took two years to get ready and the home itself took ten months to put together. The home is completely accessorized the way a home in the 1950s for a family of four might have been, all the way down to little boy’s schoobooks and the baby girl’s toys.
“A call was put out to people who wanted to donate items to the Ohio Historical Society,” says Megan Wood, manager of visitor experience for OHS. Items were donated by nearly a hundred people, mostly in Central Ohio, but also across the nation. Vintage and reproduction fabrics were sourced for the newly sewn curtains and textiles.
“Everything old is new again,” says Dean. “Things are worthy of a second look.”
During the exhibit, you will find 1957 Chevy Bellaire, an Airstream trailer, Roy Rogers toys and decorations, a bomb shelter hatch, 1950s television news and programs, and more.
Interviews were taken of people who grew up in the time period and are on display. There are also educational areas discussing the social and political issues of the time.
The 1950s: Building the American Dream will be on display at the Ohio History Center for five years.
Find the Ohio History Center at 800 E. 17th Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43211. Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Admission: $10/Adults, $9/Seniors, $5/Children 7-12, Free/Children 6 and under, Free/OHS Members. For more information, visit Ohiohistory.org.