After World War II ended, the need for new houses was enormous. Starter houses were built rapidly all across the United States. I lived in such a neighborhood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The houses were simple, small, wood-sided, wood-frame structures on concrete slabs. Lots of builders experimented with prefabricating sections of these homes to make their constructin simpler, faster, and less expensive.
One innovative company sold a house made out of steel coated in porcelain enamel. The Lustron Corporation built more than 2,500 of these houses nationwide. When you ordered a Lustron house, all of the house’s parts were delivered to your site on a truck. Workers assembled the house much like a Lego set or a jigsaw puzzle!
Lustron houses could be had with pink, tan, yellow, aqua, blue, green and gray exteriors. Sources I’ve read say that the interiors could be either beige or gray, but I’ve seen interior photos showing yellow panels. There were three basic models, each in two- and three-bedroom configurations. One model in particlar, the Westchester, was available in Standard and Deluxe editions. The Westchester Deluxe was the most popular Lustron.
These houses were of typical size for their day, ranging from 713 to 1,140 square feet. Inside, everything but the floor was porcelain steel, just like the exterior. Owners used powerful magnets, presumably with hooks attached, to hang things on the walls. Heat radiated from the ceiling, which most owners found unsatisfactory as heat rises, leaving the floors cold.
The Lustron Corporation struggled to break even. The first house was delivered in 1948, and the last in 1950, and then the company was bankrupt. Thankfully, lots of Lustron houses remain across the United States. Around three dozen of them still stand around Indianapolis in particular. Not long ago I photographed the seven Lustrons I know of that stand in the Broad Ripple neighborhood on Indianapolis’s Northside. I shot these images with a Pentax Spotmatic SP II 35mm SLR with a 50mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens on Kodak T-Max 100 film, which I developed in Rodinal 1+50.
1908 Kessler Boulevard, East Drive. This house appears to be in highly original condition from the outside, with original windows intact. It appears to be well cared for by its owner.
2079 Broad Ripple Avenue. This Lustron could use a power wash, but otherwise looks original and intact.
5638 Indianola Avenue. Over the years, many owners replaced the original aluminum windows with more efficient units. Some owners added custom touches, like the wood paneling around the entry here.
6435 Riverview Drive. This Lustron is on a lot full of vegetation, making it difficult to photograph except in profile.
6466 Central Avenue. It looks like a tree fell on this poor Lustron, damaging its steel roof and its gutter. This Lustron is next door to the previous one, which is on the corner of Riverside and Central.
6321 Central Avenue. This owner replaced the original windows with double-hung windows, an unusual choice among Broad Ripple Lustrons.
6212 Central Avenue. Finally, this cheerful Lustron was in my judgment in the best condition of all of these. It is the only one that retains the original roof pillar at the corner of the porch.
All of these Lustrons appear to be the Westchester Deluxe model, the only one to have the living room bay window, as shallow as it is.
Now that you’ve seen these Lustrons, maybe you’ll recognize some where you live!