Instant House

A blog tribute to the manufactured, mass-produced, modular and kit homes that grace the American landscape.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Leedom Estates

The Leedom Estates

The original Leedom Estates in 1954.  You can see
the beginnings of Ridley Acres in the upper left.

Today's Instant House post explores a neighborhood that I'm all too familiar with--the Leedom Estates of Ridley Park, PA.  My father grew up there, my grandparents still live there, and I taught in the Ridley School District for a few I know a bit about the history of this neighborhood.

The area commonly referred to as "Leedom" is, in actuality, three separate post-WWII assembly-line-style developments--the Leedom Estates, Ridley Acres, and Nassau Village.

Westinghouse had a huge plant in this area of Delaware County (as did Boeing, Sun Ship, Bell Atlantic, etc.) and they needed housing for their workers.  The general flight of people from Southwest Philadelphia wanting something new also helped fuel the housing boom (Levittown, anyone?).  I've wanted to do a video blog for some time, so I thought focusing on a neighborhood I knew well (...all too well....) would help.  See the short videos below on each of the three neighborhoods!  Forgive my DWN (driving while narrating)...and yes, I should have rotated the iPhone horizontally...but that's for next time.

Leedom Estates


Ridley Acres


Nassau Village


Leedom Estates Brochure and Photos

Brochure for the Nantucket (the standard Leedom house).

I like the "check the extras" section.

An early photograph of a Nantucket.

Nassau Swim Club History

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Civic Park

Civic Park:  Lies I've Been Telling  

If you've spent any amount of time around me (first of all....sorry), you know I originally hail from the town of Reading, Pennsylvania--a mid-sized rust-belt city who's lasting legacies are the 5th Avenue Candy Bar and that square on the Monopoly Board (the one many of you have always called the REED-ing Railroad...nope, sorry).  Reading has suffered immensely from the decline of industry and has been the recipient of many dubious honors including one of the most dangerous cities in America, a leader in gang-related violence, and the most-recent distinction--the poorest city in the United States.  This is all back-story to this point about me:  I read a lot about urban decline.  This led me to a most wonderful book:  Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City, by Gordon Young.

Gordon Young has written an excellent book about someone who's sad to see the loss of his beloved hometown--Fint, Michigan.  For those of you unaware, Flint has a distinction similar to Reading.  He also has a related blog--  I encourage you to check out both if you're interested in the decline of American cities.

Why Instant House Material?
Mr. Young writes about a particular neighborhood of Flint that is called Civic Park.  He was kind enough to furnish me with some additional information about the neighborhood.  Civic Park was built virtually overnight to accommodate a huge influx of workers to a proposed Buick plant (Flint is where General Motors first began).  GM's housing subsidiary, "The Modern Housing Corporation", employed 4,600 workers to build 950 homes in 8 months...or roughly 4 homes per day.  Parts of the homes were pre-fabricated at sawmills near the site, while other work crews worked in a modified assembly line to put up the eight different styles of houses (see below).

HEY, this sounds a LOT like LEVITTOWN!!!!

It sure does, with one notable difference--this was in the year 1919.  Remember how me and countless others hailed Bill Levitt as the first successful mass-producer of houses in an assembly line fashion?  Yeah....we're wrong.  GM did it first.

Buying in Civic Park  
A Civic Park Dutch Colonial

Homes were priced from $3500 to $8500 with a down payment of 5%.  GM and MHC held the mortgages.  You got an $800 credit toward the purchase of the home if you had 5 years of service at GM, and a dollar-for-dollar savings account match up to $300.  Not surprisingly, the houses sold quickly.

The End/Today
The housing boom of Civic Park ended as quickly as it began.  The economic slump of 1920 put a stop to wholesale building on speculation, but the neighborhood gradually grew and evolved into the larger scheme of Flint.  Today, Civic Park remains somewhat of a Flint "holdout" neighborhood--though it's former glory has vanished.  The neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places, and home-occupancy is higher than in the rest of Flint (where abandoned properties are a HUGE problem).  Hopefully, I'll get a chance to visit the neighborhood someday, and hopefully the neighborhood finds a place in the 21st century.  See below for the house types.

Civic Park House Types

from "Civic Park Home Preservation Manual"--courtesy of Gordon Young.

West Dayton Avenue Today - Courtesy of

The Three-Gable Saltbox

Maybe The Civic Park Saltbox? - Modified

The Civic Park Saltbox - In need of love

Another Three-Gable Saltbox

The Dutch Colonial

Another Dutch Colonial (porch enclosed)

Another Civic Park Saltbox

Yet another Three-Gable Saltbox

For more pictures, please go to Gordon Young's blog:  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lustron Brochures

More eBay Finds
A recent eBay acquisition brings us back to the realm of Lustron.  Here we have two brochures that address questions that potential buyers would have about the Lustron home.  I'm not sure about the year, but as they are only touting one model, it would stand to reason this is from the "first run" of the company.

Some highlights:

Lightning - "Imagine a self-contained lightning rod!"  ...They obviously didn't run that phrase by the marketing department.  Who wants to live in a lightning rod?!?

Fireplaces - "Sorry, no fireplace."

Basement - "None needed--ample storage space!"  ...Sure.

Photos for your viewing.  Enjoy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Venturi Scott Brown

A Brief Departure
Word came to me this week of the retirement of two of Philadelphia's most storied architects:  Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.  While they are not known for prefabricated housing as such, I would like to devote a post to their work because of one simple fact:  they were the one of the first (if not THE first) to critically examine the state of American vernacular architecture and undertake it as a scholarly pursuit.  Their own architecture has been categorized as "The Ugly and the Ordinary"....a term they themselves invented!

Learning from Las Vegas  
Their most famous publication is entitled Learning from Las Vegas, and examines what can be learned from the commercial success of Las Vegas though spatial relationships, a language or architectural symbols, and two broad categories:  the "Duck" and the "Decorated Shed".  The first section in the book is subtitled "A Significance for A&P Parking Lots" can imagine the kind of response this garnished from the academic architectural community.  My favorite section in the book, however, is entitled "Towards and Old Architecture" (a direct take-off of Le Corbusier's collection of essays entitled Towards a New Architecture...some would say a direct poke in the eye....) and makes connections between the cathedrals of old and the casinos of new.  As a theory, it's easy to embrace or reject, but it raises interesting questions.  I am first and foremost a teacher, so proposing a theory and examining it is important to me.  ....Plus I find the "Duck" kind of funny.

The Duck vs. the Decorated Shed

Learning from Levittown
Less known than Learning from Las Vegas is Venturi and Scott Brown's work on the study of suburbia--specifically (our favorite here at Instant House) Levittown.  In the book Second Suburb, a section is devoted to their work on their critical study of suburbia and Levittown.  Having grown up in a post WWII suburb full of fake columns and neo-colonial coach lights and then rejecting it (I unabashedly live in a Victorian neighborhood in Philadelphia), I often wondered what the appeal is for these types of neighborhoods.  After looking at Venturi and Scott Brown's findings, it all clicked--the SYMBOLS of these things call to mind the IDEALS of other things--see the diagram below.

If you would to read more about this, follow this link to an essay by Denise Scott Brown:  Some paradoxes of colonial cultural landscapes.  It's sensational.  Below are some examples of their famous works.  Thank you, Bob & Denise!


Guild House:  Philadelphia, PA.  One of Robert Venturi's first significant works.

Lieb House:  Long Beach Island, NJ.  Recently moved to Long Island, NY.  One of my favorites--a clearer example of "Decorated Shed" I have not found.

Mother's House:  Chestnut Hill, PA.  Designed for Robert Venturi's mother.  The over-exaggerated symbols and ornaments became a hallmark of their architectural style.

Stony Creek House:  Stony Creek, CT.  Exaggerated columns and symbols, anyone?

Trubek and Wislocki Houses, Nantucket, MA.  At some point the phrase "Ugly and Ordinary" was changed to "Everyday and Ordinary"...and here it is.  There is no ugliness in the beauty of simplicity, in my opinion....and hey, it's my blog!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Instant House Library

The Instant House Library
While trolling eBay for Instant House finds, it occurred to me that I don't have a central listing of all the source material for Instant House.  I toyed around with some database ideas and then I thought.....wait....why not post my holdings?  So here they are--alphabetized by manufacturer, with a section at the end for "general reference".   Please inquire if you would like to see more of something.

A-Frame (General Reference)
Randl, C. (2004).  A-frame.  New York, NY:  Princeton Architectural Press.

Burkhart, B. and Hunt, D. (200). Airstream: The history of the land yacht. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Aladdin Homes
Aladdin "Built in a Day" House Catalog, 1917.  Dover Reprint, 1995.
"Aladdin Homes" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1918
"Aladdin Homes - 1950" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1950 *Missing Cover*
"Aladdin Homes - 1951"- The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1951
"Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes - 1956" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1956
"Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes - 1957 Preview" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1956
"Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes - 1959" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1959
"Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes - 1961" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1961
"Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes - 1962" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1962
"Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes - 1963" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1963
"Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes - 1965 Supplement" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1965
"Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes - 1966" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1966
"Aladdin Homes - 1967 Preview" - The Aladdin Company, Bay City, MI, 1967

George F. Barber & Company
Barber's Turn-of-the-Century Houses: Elevations and Floor Plans - 1901 - Dover Reprint, 2008.

Bennett's Small House Catalog, 1920.  Dover Reprint, 1993.

Campbell & Wong (Leisure House)
"Das Leisure-House: ein vorfabriziertes amerikanisches Ferienhaus" - die Innenarchitektur, August 1958.

Case Study Houses
Smith, E. A. T. (2009). Case study houses. Hohenzollernring 53, D-50672 Koln: Taschen.

"The Celotex Book of Today's New Homes" - Celotex Corporation, Chicago, IL (year unknown)

Civic Park
"Civic Park Designer", East Village Magazine, December, 1981.
"Civic Park Home Preservation Manual" - Flint Neighborhood Improvement and Preservation Project, Flint, MI (1981).

Custom Built
"Custom Built by Weakley" - Weakley Custom Built Homes, Newark, OH (year unknown)

Deck House, Inc.
Deck House, Inc. - Informational Folder with Brochures - Deck House, Inc., Acton, MA, ca. 1995.

Department of Defense
"The Family Fallout Shelter", Department of Defense Publication, Office of Civil Defense (1961).

"Building the California Dream" by Paul Adamson - Echoes: The Magazine of Classic Modern Style & Design, Vol. 8 No. 4.
Adamson, P. (2002). Eichler: Modernism rebuilds the American dream. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith.
Ditto, J. and Stern, L. (1995). Eichler homes: Design for living. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

General Development Corporation
"Ports of the Sun Homes"- General Development Corporation, Miami, FL (year unknown)

Gordon-Van Tine
117 House Designs of the Twenties - Reprint of Gordon-Van Tine Homes - 1923.  Dover Reprint, 1992.

"The Gunnison Home Owner's Guide" - Gunnison Homes, Inc., New Albany, IN, 1952
"Gunnison Homes Authorized Dealer" - Matchbook cover - Pottstown Home Builders, Inc., 21 S. Keim St., Pottstown, PA (year unknown)

E. F. Hodgson
"Hodgson Prefabricated Houses" - E. F. Hodgson Company, Boston MA and New York, 1939
"Hodgson Houses and Outdoor Equipment" - E. F. Hodgson Company, Boston MA and New York, NY, 1933

Fred T. Hodgson
"Hodgson's Low Cost American Homes" - Frederick J. Drake & Co., Chicago, IL, 1904

"HomOgraf Home Plans" - Homograf Company, East Detroit, MI, 1954

House Plan Headquarters
"Popular Homes and Plans" - House Plan Headquarters, Inc., New York, NY, (year unknown)

IEH (Institute for Essential Housing)
"Homes for Everyone" - IEH Publication - Cash & Carry Lumber, Ottawa, OH (year unknown)

Share, P. (ca. 2002).  Leisurama Now:  The Beach House for Everyone.  New York, NY:  Princeton Architectural Press.

Harris, D. (2010).  Second Suburb:  Levittown, Pennsylvania.  Pittsburgh, PA:  University of Pittsburgh Press.

Liberty Homes
"Liberty Ready Cut Homes" - Lewis Manufacturing Co, Bay City, MI (year unknown)

Classic Houses of the Twenties:  Reprint of Loizeaux's Plan Book No. 7 - 1927.  Dover Reprint, 1992.

"Answers to Your Questions", Lustron Company Brochure.
Fetters, T. T. (2002).  The Lustron Home:  The History of a Postwar Prefabricated Housing Experiment.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Company, Inc.
Knerr, D. (2004). Suburban steel: The magnificent failure of the Lustron corporation, 1945-1951. Ohio State University Press.
"Things You Want to Know", Lustron Company Brochure.

National Homes
"Your Naitonal Home Magazine" - National Homes Corporation, Lafayette, IN, ca. 1950

Pacific Ready-Cut Homes
California's Kit Homes: A Reprint of the 1925 Pacific Ready-Cut Homes Catalog. Gentle Beam Publications, 2004.

"Pagemaster Homes" - Pagemaster Homes, Inc., Shakopee, MN, ca. 1954

"The Book of Pease Homes for 1956" - Pease Woodwork Company, Hamilton, OH, 1956

Quonset Hut (General Reference)
Decker, J. and Chiei, C. (2005).  Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age.  New York, NY:  Princeton Architectural Press.

Seaboard Ready-Built Homes
"Ready Build Section-ized Homes" - Seaboard Ready-Built Homes, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, 1946

"Homart Homes" - Sears, Roebuck and Co., Chicago, IL, 1949
Homes in a Box:  Modern Homes from Sears Roebuck - 1912 Catalog Reprint.  Schiffer Reprint, 1998.
Sears, Roebuck Home Builder's Catalog - The Complete Illustrated 1910 Edition.  Dover Reprint, 1990.
Stevenson, K. C. and Jandl, H. W. (1986).  Houses by Mail:  A Guide to Houses from Sears, Roebuck and Company.  New York, NY:  John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Thornton, R. (2004).  The Houses that Sears Built: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sears Catalog Homes.  Alton, IL:  Gentle Beam Publications. 

Shoppells Modern Houses
"Shoppells Modern Houses No. 24" - Cooperative Building Plan Association, New York, NY, 1891
"Shoppells Modern Houses No. 27" - Cooperative Building Plan Association, New York, NY, 1891

Sterling Homes
"Sterling Homes" - International Mill & Timber Co., Bay City, MI (year unknown)

Craftsman Homes: Architecture and Furnishing of the American Arts & Crafts Movement - 1909. Dover Reprint, 1979.
More Craftsman Homes: Floor Plans and Illustrations for 78 Mission Style Dwellings - 1912. Dover Reprint, 1982.

"Sunset's Cabin Plan Book" - Sunset Magazine, San Francisco, CA, 1938

Techbuilt Homes - Informational Folder with Brochures - Techbuilt, Inc., Cambridge, MA, ca. 1964

Today's Home
"Today's Home - Buying and Building" - Fawcett Publications, Inc., Greenwich, CT, 1956

U.S. Steel
"Let's Build a Home", U.S. Steel Publication, ca. 1960.

Venturi Scott Brown
Brownlee, D. B., DeLong, D. G., and Hiesinger, K. B. (2001).  Out of the Ordinary:  Robert Venturi Denise Scott Brown and Associates.  New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press.
Goldberger, P. and Futagawa, Y. (1975).  Global Architecture:  Venturi and Rauch.  Tokyo, Japan:  A.D.A. Edita.
Venturi, R., Scott Brown, D. and Izenour, S. (1977).  Learning from Las Vegas.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Venturi Scott Brown & Associates - On Houses and Housing - Architectural Monographs No. 21.  New York, NY:  St. Martin's Press., 1992.

"How to Erect Your Wardway Ready-Cut Home" - Montgomery Ward & Co., Chicago, IL (year unknown)
Thornton, R. and Wolicki, D. P. (2010). Montgomery Ward's Mail-Order Homes: A History and Field Guide to Wardway Homes. Portsmouth, VA: Gentle Beam Publications.
Wardway Homes, Bungalows, and Cottages - 1925.  Dover Reprint, 2004.

West Coast Lumber
"Individual Homes" - West Coast Lumber, Portland, OR, (year unknown)

Design No. 5144 Information Brochure - Weyerhaeuser Sales Company, St. Paul, MN (year unknown)
Design No. 5153 Information Brochure - Weyerhaeuser Sales Company, St. Paul, MN (year unknown)
Design No. 5155 Information Brochure - Weyerhaeuser Sales Company, St. Paul, MN (year unknown)

George E. Woodward
Victorian City and Country Houses - Plans and Details - 1877.  Dover Reprint, 1996.

Frank Lloyd Wright
Sergeant, J. (1984).  Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Houses:  Designs for Moderate Cost One-Family Homes.  New York, NY:  Watson-Guptill Publications.

General Reference

Arieff, A. and Burkhart, B. (2002).  Prefab.  Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith.

Bergdoll, B. and Christensen, P. (2008). Home delivery: Fabricating the modern dwelling. New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art.

Casson, H. (1946). Homes by the million: An account of the housing methods of the USA 1940-1945. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.

Coffee, F. (1979).  The complete kit house catalog.  New York, NY:  Pocket Books.

Dean, J. P. and Breines, S. (1946).  The Book of Houses.  New York, NY:  Crown Publishers.

Gordon, A. (2001). Weekend utopia. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.

Gossel, P., Cobbers, A., and Jahn, O. (2010).  PreFab Houses.  Hohenzollernring:  Taschen.

Graff, R. K., Matern, R. A., and Williams, H. L. (1947). The Prefabricated House: A Practical Guide for the Prospective Buyer. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Grow, L. (1984).  Classic Old House Plans:  Three Centuries of American Domestic Architecture.  Pittstown, NJ: The Main Street Press.

Grow, L. (1986).  More Classic Old House Plans:  Authentic Designs for Colonial and Victorian Homes.  Pittstown, NJ:  The Main Street Press.

Harris, D. (2013).  Little White Houses:  How the Postwar Home Constructed Race in America.  Minneapolis, MN:  University of Minnesota Press

Hoag, E. (1964).  American Houses: Colonial, Classic and Contemporary.  Philadelphia, PA:  J. B. Lippincott Company.

Hunter, R. L. (2012). Mail-order homes: Sears homes and other kit houses. Long Island City, NY: Shire Publications.

Jandl, H. W. (1991). Yesterday's Houses of Tomorrow: Innovative American Homes 1850-1950. Washington, DC: The Preservation Press.

Johnson, C. W. and Jackson, C. O. (1981). City behind a fence: Oak ridge, Tennessee 1942-1946. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.

Kelly, B. (1951).  The Prefabrication of Houses.  Chapman & Hall, Ltd., London:  Technology Press Books.

Koch, C. and Lewis, A. (1958).  At Home With Tomorrow.  New York, NY: Rinehart & Company, Inc.

McAlester, V. and McAlester, L. (1994).  A Field Guide to American Houses.  New York, NY:  Alfred A. Knopf.

Nelson, G. and Wright, H. (1945). Tomorrow's house: A complete guide for the homebuilder. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Schrenk, L. D. (2007).  Building a Century of Progress:  The Architecture of Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair.  Minneapolis, MN:  University of Minnesota Press.

Smith, H. A. (1990).  500 Small Houses of the Twenties - Reprint of "Books of a Thousand Homes, Vol. I - 1923.  New York, NY:  Dover Publications, Inc.

Walker, L. (1997).  American shelter (Revised edition).  Woodstock, NY:  The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.

Wallis, A. D. (1991). Wheel estate:  The rise and decline of mobile homes. New York, NY:  Oxford University Press.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Techbuilt Vacation Homes

Techbuilt Vacation Homes  

More Techbuilt homes in this post.  This time, the Techbuilt Vacation Home line!  Generally, the vacation homes did not differ that greatly from the permanent homes except in one fashion--most of the vacation homes are one story, or are one story with a loft.  They do not, as a rule, follow the Techbuilt custom of a half-basement.  An interesting find can be seen in the specifications of some of the houses--you could specify if you were intending the house for summer or winter usage (see below).  The main difference, of course, was in the amount of insulation.  See below for some notable examples.

This house, the "Northland", is a fairly typical Techbuilt vacation house that retains the Techbuilt look. Below is a front view, floor plan, some interior shots, and a specification sheet.  The spec sheet indicates the "panelized" nature of the Techbuilt house.

The next three--the "Chatham", the "Brewster", and the "Stratton"--all use the same set of specs.  The Swiss Chalet style of the Stratton is a sign of the times--and the only Techbuilt house pictured here to follow Carl Koch's "put an attic on top of a half-basement" doctrine.

I've always like A-Frames (expect a future post about Campbell & Wong's A-Frame "Leisure House"). They were VERY popular in the 1960s, so Techbuilt obviously decided to cash in on their popularity.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Homart Homes

The Sears Homes of the 1950s  
Even though Sears ended the "Modern Homes" program during the depression, post-World War II prosperity (and housing shortage) convinced them to give it another go.  This led to the "Homart" series of homes.  Unlike the "Modern Homes" program where the houses were pre-cut, the Homart homes were factory built in sections, much like Gunnison homes.  The brochure touts that the homes were "Factory-built in ready-to-join sections", and claims that it only takes three men three days to assemble one full house.  Homart homes could be built with or without a basement, as you can see from the examples below.

The Homes
While the Sears Modern Homes were many and varied, Homart homes only offered five different sizes of the same basic house--there were minor variations for each plan depending on if you ordered the "basement" or "non-basement" version.  The homes were all exactly 24 feet and 7 1/4 inches wide.  The biggest Homart was only 36 feet 7 1/4 inches long.  The smallest was a mere 24 feet and 7 1/4 inches long (this house was essentially a square).  The houses did NOT come with bath or kitchen fixtures, nor did they include plumbing, wiring or heating.  But, in true Sears fashion, you could order these packages as easily as you ordered the house.  Enjoy the following grabs.

Homart Catalog Cover from 1949. 
Second-largest Homart of the non-basement variety.

The biggest Homart of the "with-basement" variety.

Cutaway view of a Homart.

The catalog has a brief "how-to-assemble" section.  I think this was more to appease skeptical buyers rather than to provide actual instructions.  The catalog indicates that detailed instructions accompanied the house.

The "extras" you could buy for your Homart home.

This was tucked into the catalog.

Another insert showing shipping rates, as of 9/15/1950.