In Big Stone Gap, Virginia, there is a house that is part of post-World War II industrialization history. The Lustron Company created this house between 1947 and 1951. Additionally, the Lustron Company only created less than five thousand of these homes across America. This home is important to architectural history in Big Stone Gap and also important to understand the cultural impacts of the Cold War in Virginia.
Backstory and Context
History of the Lustron House
During the postwar boom in America, the foundations of industrialized housing began. The Lustron Company began industrialized housing in 1947 and were based out of Columbus, Ohio. According to Knerr, a history professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, the company aimed to produce one hundred houses per day. However, this dream was not easily realized. The Lustron company ultimately failed in 1951 amidst foreclosure and bankruptcy. The Lustron Company, in the end, only produced 2,498 houses. One of these houses currently sits in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. To most people, it appears as a normal yellow house made of square paneling. However, this building shows key characteristics of a Lustron house, which will be explained later.
Architecture of the Lustron House
The Lustron House is methodical in its architecture, considering that it is industrialized. All of them were produced identically, minus variations on colors, those being: pink, tan, aqua, blue, grey, green or yellow. Each home had two bedrooms with an all-metal interior and exterior. The exterior being critically important as each outside panel (two-foot-by-two-foot) is made of porcelain enameled steel. These panels are ultimately what define these homes as being Lustron and they give the homes their “quilted” characteristic.
Post World War II and Cold War Impacts in Virginia
The placement of this house in Big Stone Gap is telling, as the town and surrounding areas were still in a period of industrialization, primarily focusing on coal mining. However, throughout the 1950s, that idyllic life began to rapidly change. Coal camps began to shut down and miners, now out of work, relocated with their families to northern industrial centers, such as Pittsburgh and Detroit. Thus, this house was likely owned by someone who was rich or one who wanted to mimic the systematic architecture of coal camps in the area.
One other aspect of this home is where it is placed within Virginia’s history. Post-World War II and throughout the Cold War, Virginia was becoming part of wartime production and defense. On the eastern shore, the federal government began purchasing pieces of farms through eminent domain. In cities like Fairfax and Hampton Roads, war-time defense was being built, such as: barracks, radar towers, and Nike-Ajax missile batteries as prevention against Soviet bombers. As a result, the culture of Virginians and their relationship to the federal government began to change. Virginians began to shift towards patriotic nationalism, anti-communism, and away from concepts of equality across ableist and ethnic lines. The cultural impact of the Cold War is still currently felt in Virginia today. Furthermore, this house is a symbol of the cultural shift towards conformity due to postwar nationalism.
- Knerr, Douglas. Suburban Steel: Magnificent Failure of the Lustron Corp. The Urban Life and Urban Landscape Series, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2004.
- Knerr, 4.
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- Bright, Christopher J. "Nike Defends Washington." Virginia Magazine of History & Biography 105, no. 3 (June 1997): 317.
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- Whitfield, Stephen J. "The Cultural Cold War as History." Virginia Quarterly Review: A National Journal of Literature and Discussion 69, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 377-392.