- Lustron house
The Lustron houses were prefabricated steel houses developed in the post-
World War IIera United Statesin response to the shortage of houses for returning GIs.
In 1947, Chicago industrialist and inventor
Carl Strandlund, who had worked with constructing prefabricated gas stations, obtained a multi-million-dollar Reconstruction Finance Corporation loanto manufacture steelhouses with
enamel-coated panels. The steel in the houses was an original design, including both steel framing and steel interior walls and ceiling, while most houses were constructed with wood framing and
plasterwalls on wood. The promise of steel included sturdier construction, reduced maintenance, and ease of pre-fabrication. In addition, the houses were pitched as rodent-proof, fire-proof, lightning-proof, rust-proof and maintenance-free.
Strandlund's Lustron Corporation constructed 2560 Lustron homes between 1949 and 1950 in an adapted aircraft plant in
Columbus, Ohio. (The plant would later be returned to aircraft production by North American Aviationas Air Force Plant 85.) The houses would sell for between $8500 and $9500, according to a March 1949 article in the " Columbus Dispatch", about 25% less than comparable conventional housing; by November 1949, the average selling price had come up to $10,500.
The Lustron Corporation declared
bankruptcyin 1950, despite being an extremely well-funded, well-publicized, government-supported enterprise manufacturing a desperately needed product. Production delays, the lack of a viable distribution strategy, and the escalating prices for the finished product all contributed to the failure. Some accounts suggest an organized effort from the existing housing industry to stop Strandlund, comparing him to Preston Tucker.
The majority of Lustron homes were two bedroom, 1085 square foot "Westchester" models. Other standard models included a three bedroom version. Virtually every exposed wall and ceiling surface, inside and out, consisted of baked on enamel steel panels. The exteriors came in four colors: 'Maize Yellow', 'Dove Gray' 'Surf Blue' and 'Desert Tan'. Window trim was most often ivory. Sliding Doors that disappear into wall pockets were used for the bedrooms and bathroom. The living room and master bedrooms had built in wall units. The kitchen often featured a combination washing machine-dish washer by Thor. This odd unit designed just for Lustron homes also incorporated the kitchen sink.
The homes were heated with an oil burner that directed hot air into an enclosed space above the metal ceilings. The walls contained a one inch blanket of fiberglass wool insulation. Most Lustron homes were constructed on concrete slabs with no basement. The windows were aluminum frame glass and were hand-cranked to swing open. Add on storm windows were included for winter conditions. The living room extended out about 14 inches just at the picture window. Enamel steel roof tiles were installed shingle-style to form the roof. The front and rear door featured a translucent, rippled glass panel similar to glass blocks used for construction. Floors were linoleum over concrete. The linoleum flooring was often a dark brown simulated marble pattern with streaks of ivory and dark red. The garage was most often constructed with wood framing, Lustron panel siding and Lustron steel roof tiles. Some garages were of steel frame construction.
The most identifying Lustron feature is a triangular zig-zag pillar that supports the outside corner of the porch overhang on Westchester two bedroom models. For reasons not known, this artful feature was removed by many owners, leaving a simple post support. And, because of the limited size of the two bedroom models, the original porch cutout was often enclosed. Indeed, a two-bedroom Westchester model with its original porch and zig-zag pillar intact has become a rare sight. And those features, more than any other, announce the 1950s and Lustron.
The largest collection of these 1,800 or so remaining
historichomes is in Quantico, Virginia, where 60 are still at the U.S. Marine Corps military base. In January 2006, it was announced that the homes would be eliminated from base housing at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, and would be given away. Applications were via the web site at [http://www.lustronsatquantico.com/RequestProposal.pdf Request for Proposal] with a deadline of April 12 2006. The homes at the base are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lustron homes still stand in 30 states. Many have been modified with expansions, remodeled kitchens, vinyl windows, conventional roofs, new heating systems, sheet-rocked interior walls, painted exteriors, vinyl siding and new roofs. Fortunately a small group of Lustron owners are preserving the original condition of their Lustron homes and are urging others to do the same. Very few entirely original Lustron homes exist because some of the features didn't work well. Early on most Lustron owners removed the odd "Thor" brand combination washing machine / dish washer because it just didn't work. In cold regions, the ceiling radiant heat systems were often replaced with more effective heating methods.
Demolition continues to threaten Lustron homes where rising property values attract buyers who desire larger homes of modern construction. In 2006, a highly original Lustron home from Arlington Virginia was painstakingly disassembled, labeled and put into storage. It may someday be re-constructed on a new site where it would be preserved.
The promise of a home that never needs painting or maintenance has been somewhat validated after over 55 years of service in states from Louisiana to North Dakota. The enamel steel roof "shingles" are still keeping Lustron families in the dry after five decades of no maintenance. Most of the exterior wall panels that never needed painting are intact and rust free. Historically, enamel metal objects have been known to survive over one hundred years. Increasingly though, rust deterioration is appearing in exterior panels, primarily those used for trim around windows. Some Lustron panels have chipped and rusted after being struck by objects such as baseballs and pebbles thrown by lawn mowers.
Lustron homes, with their enamel-steel walls, continue to draw enthusiasts from all generations. The Lustron's modernistic, compact, metallic look fits with 1950's cultural themes that include the chrome generation of automobiles and spiffy, drive in diners.
* [http://members.tripod.com/~Strandlund/ Michael O'Neal's Lustron Website ] presents vintage Lustron homeowner pamphlets, magazine articles, marketing materials, advertisements, historical accounts, photographs. Includes Lustron greeting cards, 3-D Lustron photos, news items and commentary by Lustron owner Michael O'Neal of Des Moines, Iowa.
* [http://www.lustronconnection.org/ LustronConnection.Org ] The largest, most diverse presentation of Lustron home photos on the Internet. The growing collection spans 28 states. The site includes Lustron News, Steel Homes Today, and stories by Lustron dwellers. Produced by a Lustron owner in upstate New York.
* [http://www.lustronregistry.org/ LustronRegistry.Org ] A database of Lustron homes based on an extensive list maintained by Lustron Author Tom Fetters. The site is new in August 2008 and will provide a current, actively maintained list of Lustron homes on the Internet. Over 1700 of the 2500 known Lustrons have already been identified and will be posted in fall 2008. Lustron homeowners can submit their home information to the database.
* [http://members.tripod.com/~Strandlund/index-12.html Lustron: The House That Lots Of Jack Built ] A 1949 magazine article on the origins, politics and financing of Lustron home production. Originally published in Collier's on November 5, 1949
* [http://www.lustronpreservation.org/ LustronPreservation.Org ] website features history, chat room, library, photos, Lustron Locator, preservation guielines, construction drawings, and Lustron specifications. Site initiated by National Trust for Historic Preservation.
* [http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/CPHD/ons/CPHDOnsHistoricPreservationLustron.aspx The Illustrious Lustron: A Guide for the Disassembly and Preservation of America’s Modern Metal Marvel. ] can be downloaded at this Lustron web page produced by Arlington County, VA. This booklet includes a colorful, photo-rich history.
* [http://www.lustron.org/ Lustron.Org ] is a limited content website for the 2003 Emmy-winning film "Lustron, The house America's Been Waiting For."
* [http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2006/022006/02172006/0217hh The Prices Make These Model Homes A Steel ] A 2006 news article about the Quantico marine base Lustrons being given away.
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