In the years following World War II, the need for new housing in America went from pressing to urgent. In response to the crisis, much thought and effort was invested not only by the government, but by many private individuals and entities. The best-known example of the private sector’s attempts at addressing the situation would of course be Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House Program. Other examples include Architectural Products magazine’s Research House program, architect Wallace Neff’s Airform homes, better known as “Bubble houses,” and Carl Strandlund’s Lustron Homes.
A Swedish-born inventor and Chicago industrialist, Strandlund devised and patented an architectural panel made of porcelain-enameled steel that he initially used to build gas stations and restaurants before deciding to adapt it for residential use. In 1947, Strandlund founded the Lustron Corporation, leasing a former wartime airplane plant in Columbus, Ohio from the U.S. government to produce prefabricated enameled-steel homes using assembly line methods similar to those of the automobile industry.
Buyers could pick between eight different models ranging in size from a 713-square-foot two-bedroom to a 1,140-square-foot three-bedroom, and costing between $9,000 and $11,000. Four non-fading exterior colors were available: Maize Yellow, Desert Tan, Dove Gray, or Surf Blue. Each Lustron residence was composed of over 3,300 parts; the skeleton was made of steel frames, welded into walls and roof trusses, while the roof and walls were made of porcelain-finish steel panels, compressed with plastic seal for air-tight weather resistance. Their steel frames would be constructed on-site and the house assembled piece-by-piece by an assembly team working for the local Lustron builder-dealer.
The new owner would need to have the site work and concrete slab completed prior to the Lustron’s arrival, and was also responsible for sorting out their own plumbing, electrical, water, sewer, and gas lines and systems, but once assembled, the homes were purported to be low-maintenance, and, per a marketing brochure, “defy weather, wear, and time.”
The Lustron Corporation would turn out approximately 2,500 of the kit houses before declaring bankruptcy in 1950. Today, only about 1,500 of these atomic age relics are believed to survive, one of which has just popped up for sale. Located in Decatur, Georgia, the home in question, a “Westchester Deluxe” model in Maize Yellow, was erected in 1949 on its current site in the Lenox Place neighborhood for Neville and Helen Farmer, who resided in it for twenty years.
Measuring in at a compact 1,085 square feet, the house has two bedrooms, one bathroom, an open-plan living room/dining room/kitchen area, and laundry room. Its features include pocket doors, a built-in vanity, a high-end gas fireplace with remote control, concrete and linoleum floors, and ample built-in storage.
The sellers of the Decatur Lustron, Jeanée Ledoux and Andrea Fremiotti, have owned the home since 2005. While the couple is still enamored with the enameled-steel residence, they’re relocating to another state for work and have thus decided to part with it. However, they’re hoping to sell the historic home to someone who appreciates it for itself and values its history, and so are offering potential buyers the choice of either buying the house along with its lush, one-third acre lot for $519,000, kit and kaboodle, or purchasing just the house itself for $1,000 and moving it to another location.
The property is being sold off-market; interested parties will have the opportunity to view it in person at an open house March 25.