“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. Turns out those macho Marines at Quantico weren’t too keen on living in a pink house! (The houses were offered in pink, blue, brown and yellow.)
On the inside walls of the Lustrons, nails could not be used. 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, Virginia was painted, and it’s trying hard to shed this second skin.
Painting a Lustron is akin to painting the top of your grandma’s 1965 Lady Kenmore washing machine. Painting porcelain enamel never works out too well.
Lustron was based in Columbus, Ohio and not surprisingly, Columbus has an abundance of Lustrons. These little post-WW2 prefabs were remarkable, strong and long-lasting houses – definitely ahead of their time. Finding this three-bedroom model in Elkins, WV was a special treat, as the three-bedroom Lustrons were very rare.
The next Lustron is in Rocky Mount, NC. It’s been painted beige, but it should be draped in black for this little house should now be mourned. This little house has died, but the body hasn’t been buried yet. There is significant putrification occurring.
Very, very sad.
To learn more, I recommend Tom Fetters’ book, “Lustron Homes.” It can be found at Amazon.com
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