On Friday, I traveled to Danville, Virginia and had the good fortune to meet up with Gary, Joyce and Susan, and Tiffany (the indefatigable reporter from the local paper), and tooled around the town looking for kit homes. It was a delightful day and Danville is a city that’s heavy laden with beautiful architecture. Some day, I’d like to take some time and tour the city at a more leisurely pace!
Below are a few pictures of what we found in Danville.
The first house is the Sears Walton. This was one of 370 designs offered by Sears during their 32 years in the kit home business. The Walton was one of their most popular homes, and it’s easy to identify! Notice the large front porch, which extends several feet beyond the main wall of the house. In the front bedroom, there’s a box window with a shed roof. And in the dining room, there’s a gabled bay with three windows.
The next house is also a kit home, but it was not sold by Sears, but by a company in Iowa known as Gordon Van Tine. Like Sears, they sold homes through mail-order catalogs. The houses were shipped in about 12,000 pieces and came with a 75-page instruction book and a promise that a “man of average abilities” could have the house assembled in 90 days. Sears offered mortgages with their homes (75% loan-to-value, 15 years and 6% interest), and it was a requirement of the mortgage that the home be 100% assembled within four months of shipment!
Next is my favorite find: The Wardway Lexington! Like Sears, Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes. Sears sold kit homes (12,000 pieces of house and a 75-page instruction book) from 1908-1940. Montgomery Ward started in 1910 and stopped about 1931. I found two “Wardway” kit homes in Danville!
In addition to kit homes, Danville also has prefab homes, such as this Lustron (see below).
“Never before has America seen a house like this,” read a 1949 advertisement for the Lustron, also hailed as “the house of the future.”
The Lustron was an all-steel house, with walls made of 2×2 20-gage metal panels, with a porcelain enamel finish. The roof was porcelain enamel steel, and unlike traditional roofing shingles, has a lifespan of at least 60 years (and perhaps much more).
The modest ranches were designed and created by entrepreneur Carl Strandlunds to help deal with the severe housing shortage after World War II. Unfortunately, Lustrons never became very popular. Three years after the company first started (in 1947), it went into bankruptcy. Sixty years later, there’s still much debate about the reasons for the company’s collapse. The debate over the reasons for Lustron’s demise because a topic for a fascinating documentary.
About 2,500 Lustrons were created.
Quantico, Virginia was home to the largest collection of Lustrons in the country, but those 60 houses are now gone. Some were moved, most were demolished. An interesting aside: Turns out the Marines at Quantico weren’t too keen on living in a pink house! (The houses were offered in pink, blue, brown and yellow.)
On inside walls, nails were a no-no. Instead, magnets are used to hang pictures. The porcelain enamel finish on the 2×2 panels is tough, which makes re-painting the panels virtually impossible. The Lustron (seen below) in Danville was painted, and it’s trying hard to shed this second skin. Painting porcelain enamel never works out too well.
And then on down the road a bit in Altavista, I found this perfect Sears Whitehall.
And one of my favorite non-house finds in Danville! A tribute to “Old 97”! After I left Danville, I took the “mighty rough road” from Danville to Lynchburg, and it wasn’t too bad – for a car. 🙂
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