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The House of the Future (in 1948)

October 14th, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

Yesterday, I pulled off the interstate in Nashville, North Carolina to wait for a phone call from my brother. After sitting around for a few minutes, I decided to drive around Nashville and see what I could find.

And I found a Lustron!

Lustron in Nashville, NC

Lustron in Nashville, NC

It’s had a pretty substantial sun room added to the side, but it’s most definitely a Lustron!

And here’s one I found in Irwin, PA.

Lustron in Irwin

This Lustron in Irwin had been lovingly cared for!

Perhaps my favorite Lustron is the one I found in Danville, Virginia. This is such a beautiful photo, I can hardly believe that I’m the photographer!  :)  The deep blue skies and blossoming dogwood in the foreground are pretty nice, too.

Lustron in Danville

Lustron in Danville, Virginia

Lustron

Close-up of the window on Danville's Lustron.

So, what is a Lustron?

It 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).

“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 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 became a topic for a fascinating documentary.

Fewer than 3,000 Lustrons were created, and offered in pink, blue, brown and yellow.

Quantico, Virginia was home to the largest collection of Lustrons in the country, but those 60 houses were destroyed by our federal “save the spotted chipmunk, who-cares-if-it’s-a-historically-important-house” bureaucrats.

Yup, all those Lustron houses in Quantico are now gone. Some were moved, most were demolished.

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 ends 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.

Lustron Home in Elkins, WV

Lustron Home in Elkins, WV

Close-up of 2x2 metal tiles on Lustron Walls.

Close-up of 2x2 metal tiles on Lustron Walls.

Lustron

Lustron in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The three-bedroom Lustrons were far less common than the two-bedroom Lustron. This one is in very good condition. Photo is courtesy of Rachel Shoemaker and may not be reproduced without permission.

Close-up

Close-up of Lustron wall and window. Homeowner has done a pretty good job of maintaining the home, with touched-up paint applied to exterior. When the porcelain enamel finish is nicked or chipped, it must be painted to prevent rusting of the steel panels. Photo is courtesy of Rachel Shoemaker and may not be reproduced without permission.

The steel roof on a Lustron outlasts contemporary roofing materials. These shingles are now 60 years old and still in excellent condition.

The steel roof on a Lustron outlasts contemporary roofing materials. These "shingles" are now 60 years old and still in excellent condition. Photo is courtesy of Rachel Shoemaker and may not be reproduced without permission.

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 be mourned. The little home is now deceased, but the body hasn’t been buried yet. There is significant putrification occurring.

Very, very sad.

And heres a very sad little Lustron (post-WW2 prefab), suffering greatly from carbuncles of the skin. Lustrons were made with 2x2 20-gage metal panels, with a porcelain enamel coating. Painting a Lustron is exactly like trying to paint the top of a 1960s Lady Kenmore washing machine. Never a good idea.

This sad little Lustron appears to have died from carbuncles of the flesh. Lustrons were made with 2x2 20-gage metal panels, with a porcelain enamel coating. Never a good idea to paint a Lustron. There are about 2,500 Lustrons in the country, and they really were ahead of their time. It's heart-wrenching to see one of these remarkable homes abused and abandoned.

Too sad for words.

Too sad for words.

To learn more, I recommend Tom Fetters’ book, “Lustron Homes.” It can be found at Amazon.com

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