Filed Under Architecture

Lustron Homes

The home at 1022 Keystone is a rather modest dwelling, with little now to distinguish it from its neighbors. But underneath the siding and some other modern improvements is a Lustron home, one of about 3,000 prefabricated enameled-steel houses that were built nationwide between 1948 and 1950. The remaining homes are generally cherished by their owners, and many consider it an honor to be part of the exclusive club of Lustron homeowners.

Any discussion of early postwar suburban housing is likely to turn quickly to the Levitt brothers, whose development company built tens of thousands of modest homes with near assembly-line precision. Less known but similarly important was the Lustron Corporation. A division of Chicago Vitreous Enamel Corporation, Lustron formed following World War II to provide relatively cheap, efficient, and, most important, quickly constructed housing to returning veterans, many of whom had promptly married the sweethearts they'd left behind and started families. The housing industry had been at a virtual standstill during the war, and now, in addition to a growing need for housing, the country found itself with an excess of steel when war production ceased. With Reconstruction Finance Corporation backing, the Lustron Corporation (the name derived from 'luster on steel') was created to solve both those problems.

There were four different models, all quite modest in size (713 to 1209 sq. ft. depending on the model chosen). In the more deluxe models, a specially developed radiant heating system was available with warm air flowing across the ceiling panels which then radiated heat into the room. All models came with an option to purchase a built-in combination Dish Washer - Clothes Washer produced by the Thor Corporation exclusively for Lustron homes (although these proved to be unreliable with need for frequent repairs).

Production problems and a scandal related to the government loans that had helped finance the company brought the Lustron company to bankruptcy by 1950, just two years after the first houses were built. Approximately 2,000 Lustron homes remain in 36 states, with a user-supported website to register and track the remaining houses. The remaining homes harken to a time when thousands of Americans looked to the suburbs as the embodiment of the American dream.

Images

Lustron Plant in Columbus, Ohio An aerial view of the Lustron Plant leased from the War Assets Administration. It had a floor area of 1,100,000 square feet, large enough to house 22 football fields. Source: Cleveland Public Library
Prefabricated Porcelain Panels Distinctive porcelain-coated exterior panels, steel framing, and steel interior walls and ceiling made up a typical Lustron home's construction. The original exterior panels were offered in Surf Blue, Blue-green, Dove Gray, Maize Yellow, Desert Tan, Green, Pink, and White. Source: Cleveland Public Library
The Lustron Assembly Line In this image, porcelain faced steel panels are coming out of a fusion furnace. This was one of 11 production line furnaces where the enamel was fused to the steel panels at 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Note the lack of protective clothing worn by workers during this process, a stark contrast to assembly line jobs today. Source: Cleveland Public Library
Loading Up Lustron The trucks that carried the pieces of a Lustron home were custom designed. The house could be built directly off the truck, because the pieces were loaded in the order needed for construction. Source: Cleveland Public Library
Lustron Trucks Lustron homes were delivered to a site on large flatbed trailers. The tractors that pulled the trailers were built by the White Motor Company of Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Public Library
Investigation, 1951 Pictured here are government officials in Columbus, Ohio, who investigated irregularities in the funding and financial support of the bankrupt Lustron Corporation. Source: Cleveland Public Library
A Lustron Home in Cleveland Heights This house at 1022 Keystone Drive has since been covered with siding. Source: Google Maps Date: May 2019

Location

Metadata

Lissa Waite, “Lustron Homes,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 2, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/481.