As someone who loves architecture and mid-century nostalgia, I find Lustron homes fascinating. Lustron homes are prefabricated, enameled steel houses developed in the post-World War II era.
There are more than 70 Lustron homes in Ohio, many of which are still in use as private residences.
My dream is to own one of those homes, though my husband hasn’t really come around to the idea. Yet.
I’ve written about Lustron homes before when I visited the Lustron house exhibit at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus.
Because the Lustron plant was in Columbus, in Central Ohio, the majority of remaining Lustron homes are in the Midwest. However, there are a few remaining in far-flung states like Florida, Texas, New York, and even Massachusetts.
What is a Lustron Home?
Lustron homes were the brainchild of Chicago industrialist Carl G. Strandlund, who saw an opportunity to create affordable housing for the GIs returning from World War II in the mid-to-late-1940s.
The rush of returning soldiers wanting to start a family and live the American dream caused a housing shortage across the United States.
Carl Strandlund was working at Chicago Vitreous Enamel Product Company, which produced strong enameled steel. He saw this as an alternative to costly lumber or plaster homes and soon started producing model homes.
Lustron homes were made of porcelain-enameled steel panels that were meant to be low-maintenance and weather-resistant.
If you’ve ever been to a White Castle, they are built of the same material. Even the roof of a Lustron home was made with porcelain enamel finish steel tiles, cut and colored to look like Spanish tiles.
Because they were produced on an assembly line modeled after the automotive industry, Lustron offered mass-produced pre-manufactured homes for a very reasonable price.
As you can imagine, these were extremely popular.
The entire house was loaded onto a truck in just the right order so the building materials could be removed in the order they were needed.
Over 2,000 homes were produced before the magnificent failure of the Lustron Corporation, which had orders for 8,000 more homes that went unfulfilled.
What Are the Characteristics of a Lustron Home?
Like many post-war affordable homes, Lustron homes came in just three different models. While these enameled steel homes are certainly unique now, building unique homes was not Lustron’s goal.
Of the various models, Lustron owners could choose from a two or three-bedroom layout, with exterior color choices of Desert Tan, Maize Yellow, Surf Blue, and Dove Gray.
The Westchester Deluxe model was the most popular model, with two bedrooms, and 1,021 square feet of living space. This model featured separate living and dining areas, a living room bay window, built-in vanities in the master bedroom and bathroom, and radiant convection heat.
The deluxe model was the only one to feature a built-in china cabinet that served as a passthrough from the kitchen to the dining room. The standard model did not have the built-in vanities or bay windows but was equal in size.
Two smaller models included the Newport and the Meadowbrook, with two bedrooms offering just 713 square feet, while the three-bedroom had 1,023 square feet. Space was saved on these models by combining the living and dining room areas.
Lustron homes were designed by Morris Beckman of Chicago and were made of steel framing, with steel panels inside and outside of the home.
A Lustron advertisement claimed they were rat-proof, rust-proof, fire-proof, and termite-proof.
Typically set on a concrete slab, the homes were meant to be minimal maintenance and long-lasting. The interiors were meant to be easy to clean and maximizing of the little space available.
Distinctive design features like pocket doors and a combo washing machine/dishwasher were unique at the time.
What Happened to Lustron Homes?
While demand far exceeded supply, Lustron Homes was not in business for very long. They declared bankruptcy in 1950, citing production problems and distribution challenges.
As mentioned above, 8,000 orders went unfilled, which makes these homes so unique, and it’s why Lustron preservation is such a passion for some folks.
At the time, these were seen as “homes of the future” but now are historic homes. While many have been razed to make way for new homes, many of the remaining Lustron steel houses are now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Lustron locator map is a great tool to see if there’s a Lustron home near you! Someone has taken a great deal of time to code this map to indicate the color of the home, as well as include homes that have been demolished or disassembled.
Keep in mind, while a good reference, it is not entirely accurate. I found a Lustron home near me, purely by accident, that is not listed on the map.
Lustron Homes in Ohio
Of the 1,500 or so remaining Lustron homes, about 75 of them are in Ohio, including the restored model that was featured at the Ohio History Connection and the New York Museum of Modern Art.
That home was originally from Arlington County, Virginia. While this exhibit has moved on, there are plenty of other Lustron homes to see in Ohio.
Most of the remaining Lustron homes in Ohio are still private residences, so you can respectfully drive by to see the outside, but obviously not the interior.
However, the Ohio Exploration Society purchased, disassembled, and rebuilt a Lustron home to use as their headquarters.
The Whitehall Lustron home was originally built on Spring Valley Road in London, Ohio. Today, it is located at Whitehall Community Park. The living room, dining room, and kitchen area have been restored back to 1950s glory, while the bedrooms serve as office and meeting space. There’s also a Lustron garage on-site that is currently serving as a storage area.
For a complete listing of Lustron homes in Ohio, Wikipedia has an extensive list. Please remember, these are mostly private homes, so keep this in mind if you want to see them. Of course, they are in residential areas, so be mindful of kids in the streets as you are gawking at their homes!
If you enjoy learning about architecture, you may want to check out our Schofield road trip or check out these cool Ohio buildings.