From Dave Brigham:
The future's so bright, you got to pull down the shades....
Sorry, I couldn't help myself, but that is one ugly house.
Post-World War II Americans buzzed with excitement for greater telephone and TV access, bigger, more beautiful cars, an expanded highway system and TV dinners. Soldiers returning from the battlefronts got married, had kids and sought out places to live outside the cities of our great land. In order to help meet that demand, a Chicago industrialist named Carl Strandlund designed, marketed and sold enameled metal homes, looking to push the market that Sears, Roebuck & Co. opened up with its prefab kit houses from 1908 to 1940.
Sold under the name Lustron, Strandlund's homes came in eight models with walls that could hold magnets, be cleaned with soap and water, and never needed to be painted. The kits arrived with at least 3,300 parts and took about two weeks to assemble, according to this article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Just as Tuuperware at this time in American history was thrilling homeowners with the ability to store food for longer periods of time, Lustron homes excited people with their affordability and durability. And for two whole years, the dream of owning an easily maintained, cutting-edge home was real. From 1948 to 1950, the Lustron Corporation sold homes in dozens of states, but went into bankruptcy and never realized its goal of selling 45,000 homes.
More than 1,000 Lustron homes still stand across the United States. According to an article on the National Association of Realtors web site, hundreds have been destroyed by tornados, floods and the base instincts of developers who don't appreciate the all-metal homes for their simplicity, kitsch value and magnetic qualities. OK, that last part was all me, not the Realtors.
Back in May 2013, Pete Zarria posted on the blog about a Lustron home in German Valley, Illinois (see "Space-Age Bachelor Pad").
There are several such homes in Massachusetts, including one each in Brookline and Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood.
This is the matching garage for the West Roxbury house, seen at the top of this post. Lustron claimed that its houses weren't prone to rust, decay or fire, which seems hard to believe. As you can see in these photos, this house has water stains (or perhaps something else). The house is in rough shape on the outside. I imagine it might be torn down in the near future.
The Brookline house, above, is in better shape than its compatriot in West Roxbury. It sits in a quiet neighborhood where, on the day I stopped by to shoot photos, renovation work was being done on several houses. I imagine that whenever this house hits the market, the pressure will be pretty heavy on the owners to sell to someone who will preserve the odd metal structure. But the money from developers who want to bulldoze the stubby, tan, formerly "hep" house and put up something larger and more in line with Brookline's moneyed aesthetic will be hard to resist.
Here's a cool video from the Ohio Historical Society providing the history of the post-World War II homes, and showing the inside of a Lustron house occupied by two aging hipsters: