There are six Lustron houses in the 5000 block of Nicollet Avenue: 5009, 5015, 5021, 5027, 5047, and 5055. Three additional Lustron houses are at 4900 and 4916 Cedar Avenue in South Minneapolis and 2436 Mount View Avenue in Bryn Mawr. For the complete Lustron story, see Thomas T. Fetters: The Lustron Home: The History of A Postwar Prefabricated Housing Experiment (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc,, 2006).
Macalester College student Emma Heuchert researched and wrote this essay on Lustron in 2019. Macalester College staff and Preserve Minneapolis supervised Emma's project collaboratively.
Built almost entirely of steel, the Lustron home was an innovative solution to the post-World War II housing shortage. Though the Lustron Corporation, started by Carl G. Strandlund (1899-1974), existed only from 1948 to 1950, about 2,500 of these pre-fabricated homes were built and shipped all over the country. They were hailed as “a new standard for living” for young couples and families, with a modern design that was easy to maintain and affordable. Each house sold for about $9,000, below the average price for a wood or brick-and-mortar home at the time. Each house could be assembled in just a few weeks without a specialized crew.
All Lustron houses are ranch-style, one-story without a basement. Each is about 1,000 sq. ft., and could contain either two or three bedrooms. The walls are made of square enameled steel panels, which came in four color options -- “Surf Blue,” “Dove Gray,” “Maize Yellow,” or “Desert Tan.” The most popular 2-bedroom Westchester Deluxe model included a distinctive zig-zag trellis in the front corner of the porch. Lustrons have both tripartite and casement windows, and the Westchester Deluxe has a large bay window in the living room.
Inside the house, efficiency is key. All rooms have built-in storage space, and the master bedroom has a built-in vanity. To save space, all interior doors are pocket doors, and some models have a buffet and pass-through between the kitchen and dining area.
The houses were originally all heated with an unusual radiant-convection heating system that included spaces above the ceiling, through which hot air could be passed to warm the metal tiles and radiate heat downward into the house. While some owners found this system effective, others found that the laws of physics won out, leaving the houses chilly in the winter, particularly near the floors. Many Lustron homes have since been remodeled to accommodate forced-air heating.
On a more positive note, Lustron homes are easy to clean and maintain. They never need repainting, and the exterior can be cleaned with a garden hose. Homeowners consistently vouch that they are sturdy and pest-resistant, and even rust is not as much of a problem as might be expected because all steel parts are enameled.
Sadly, this innovation idea was short-lived. Just two years after the Lustron Corporation began, it was forced to declare bankruptcy, despite being a popular and financially successful company. The downfall came from a confluence of factors, including higher-than-expected corporate startup costs, a lower production rate than was initially forecasted, and a resulting hike in home prices. In addition, political machinations conspired against Lustron, leading to an untimely end to a project that seemed to be on the (slightly bumpy) road to success.
Today about 2,000 Lustron homes still stand, primarily in mid-Atlantic and upper Midwest states. Several are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most Lustron owners love their houses, though it can be difficult to find replacement parts.