Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Concrete & Steel (1946-50)

After World War II, there was a considerable amount of experimentation with building materials. Industrial plants that had been mobilized for war were converted to fuel the high demands for affordable residential architecture. Various commercial enterprises sought to capitalize on federal incentive packages.

For example, Andrew J. Higgins built a Thermo-namel demonstration house at his Industrial Canal plant in 1946 (shown above). Utilizing a technique developed by Oakland, California architect Maury I. Diggs, Higgins boasted that his "package homes" could be customized for any floor plan or color scheme. As we have mentioned in previous posts, a national steel shortage forced Higgins to abandon Thermo-namel and to develop Thermo-Con. 
Higgins resided in one of two Thermo-Con demonstration homes (constructed 1947) located at the intersection of Havana Street and North Broad Avenue (Sanborn Atlas 1963 image shown above), until his grander cellular concrete home was completed in the Lake Vista neighborhood in 1949.
Gunnison Homes, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, developed porcelain-enameled steel prefabricated residences after the war. The Champion, shown above, was its low-cost model. Introduced in metropolitan New Orleans in 1949, the model was available in two sizes and multiple colors. Authorized dealer J. Burrows Johnson opened a demonstration home at 2811 Hamilton Street,situated in a neighborhood that came to feature a number of steel residences. The house is no longer extant.
Olin J. Farnsworth, who owned the Lustron franchise in New Orleans, opened his demonstration house in May 1949 at 3700 Cherry Street. The "surf blue" Westchester was outfitted with furnishings supplied by Kirschman's and was quickly joined by its De Luxe twin at number 3704 (Sanborn Atlas image above, 1961).
Between 1949 and 1950, Farnsworth built a number of Lustron Westchesters in the Crescent City.(1) He apparently utilized Lustron for a double bungalow, located at 9412-9414 Stroelitz (Sanborn Atlas image above, 1961). New Orleans architect and educator George A. Saunders briefly lived in the rear unit while teaching courses at Tulane University. Saunders worked for Bolt and Beranek, who served as acoustical consultants to Lustron.(2)
Baton Rouge also had its post-war neighborhoods. A large number of concrete block residences were built on Carleton Drive and North 39th Street between 1946 and 1947 (Sanborn Atlas image above, 1963). These typically included steel joists, flat roofs, curved facade elements and small carports. Many of these remain with minor modifications.

Historic Sanborn fire insurance atlases can help make the process of identifying new building materials easier. Lustrons, constructed of prefabricated steel frames and sheathing, appear as solid grey masses on historic Sanborns; Thermo-Cons, cast of cellular concrete on site, appear as gold masses marked "fire-proof." Concrete block structures are frequently indicated in blue with the abbreviation "C.B." and steel- and iron-clad frame structures typically have yellow centers with grey surrounds.

(1)These included:

Lustron Model Home, 3700 Cherry Street [Westchester model, surf blue, 1949]
3704 Cherry Street [Westchester model, 1949]
Joseph Gibson Residence, 3623 Livingston Street [Westchester model, 1949]
3629 Livingston Street [Westchester model, maize yellow, 1949]
3635 Livingston Street [Westchester model, 1949]
Julius Reese Residence, 4940 St. Roch Street [Westchester model, surf blue, c. 1949-50]
Merrill Ferrara Residence, 4969 St. Roch Street [Westchester model, c. 1949-50]
Stroelitz Double (?), 9412-9414 Stroelitz Street [Circa 1949-50]
John Warren Residence, 57 Egret Street [1950]
James T. Skelly Residence, 26 Bluebird Street [Westchester model, 1950]
Robert Smith Residence, 57 West Park Place [Westchester model, 1950]
128 Central Park Place [Westchester model, surf blue, 1950]

(2)Early Lustron owners complained about structure-borne and air-borne noise, and the company sought possible solutions from Bolt and Beranek.

Images above: "RFC Authorizes $9,000,000 Loan to Higgins for House Materials." The Times-Picayune 11 February 1947.

Square 1723. New Orleans. Sanborn Atlas. 1963.Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

"Champion Model." Gunnison Homes Catalog 1950.  As viewed 18 Mary 2015. URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jenosale/sets/72157627624319138/

Square 601. 1961 sheet. New Orleans. Sanborn Atlas. Corrected to 1963. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Square 567.  1961 sheet. New Orleans. Sanborn Atlas. Corrected to 1963. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

Squares 11 & 17. Baton Rouge. Sanborn Atlas. Corrected to 1963. Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

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