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Commentary Detail

Last of the Lustrons
Commentary by: Elaine Viets
Aired May 16, 2007

When I was a kid in Florissant, I’d hang out at my friend Barb’s house. I lived in a split-level. Barb had a ranch house.

But this was no ordinary ranch. I didn’t realize until years later that Barb’s family had an architecturally significant home – a Lustron house.

Lustron houses looked like something from the Jetsons. They had enamel-coated metal panels, so they had a shiny finish like new cars. Built right after World War II, the prefab Lustrons were called “The House America’s Been Waiting For.” Ads bragged the houses never needed paint. You could clean them with a garden hose.

Lustron houses came in six colors. That was it.

My friend Barb’s Lustron house was gray inside and yellow outside. Most girls in our class had pink bedrooms with frilly spreads. Barb’s shiny gray room was like living in a spaceship.

The weird thing about Lustron houses was they stayed that color forever. You couldn’t paint them, inside or out. Once you picked a color, you lived with it forever.

You could not change a Lustron house. That was its advantage – and its flaw. Houses are living things that grow and change with the family. Lustron houses couldn’t. They were practical, logical and efficient. But they weren’t homes as we know them.

A little more than 2500 were made. St. Louis still has more than 60 surviving Lustron houses. The house of the future is now a thing of the past, but I hope we’ll save them. They’re reminders of a more permanent America, when the future was forever.

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets


Elaine Viets is a freelance writer.

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