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What happened to the Lustron houses in Wilmington?

Ben Steelman

A byproduct of the post-World War II era, Lustron houses were prefabricated houses made of enameled steel. Introduced by the Lustron Corp. in 1948, they were intended to fill the demand for housing by returning veterans. The corporation was heavily financed by the U.S. Reconstruction Finance Corp.

Individual Lustron houses were priced in the range of $8,500 to $10,500.

The Columbus, Ohio-based corporation offered four different models — the Westchester Standard, Westchester Deluxe, Newport and Meadowbrook — in two-bedroom and three-bedroom versions. Units came in four standard colors: “Surf Blue,” “Dove Gray,” “Maize Yellow” and “Desert Tanm” with windows and fixtures painted in ivory.

“It was one of the earliest successes in the field of prefab houses,” said George Smart, f0under of the non-profit Triangle Modernist Houses. “The whole house came on a truck, and you assembled it like an Erector Set.”

Each Lustron house was assembled from more than 3,300 parts. Roughly 10 tons of steel were used in each two-bedroom house.

The appeal of enameling was that it was extremely durable and  impervious to weather and its colors did not fade in sunlight. In all, some 26,000 Lustron houses were built in 36 states before Lustron Corp. went bankrupt in 1950. Architectural historian Ed Turberg said the company was underpriced by more conventional “Levittown”-style construction, and that the Levittown’s more traditional neo-Colonial design might have had wider appeal.

According to local historian Beverly Tetterton, two Lustron houses are known to have been built in Wilmington. One still stands at 201 Brookwood Ave. Formerly occupied by John Yocum, it is now the home of his son-in-law, former county official Robert Bowen.

The other Lustron house was built in 1946 at 1630 Country Club Road for Hugh and Sally Noffsinger. In 1992, Frank and Alison Bernhart bought the house and donated it to Historic Wilmington Foundation. The foundation passed the house to Alvin and Donnalee Frega, who had it dismantled and moved to 5724 Sidbury Road in Castle Hayne. As of 2012, it was owned by Jack and Elizabeth James.

Tom Fetters, an authority on Lustrons, told N.C. Modernist Houses that at least three other Lustron houses were built in the Wilmington area. These are presently unaccounted for.

For a link to N.C. Modernist Houses’ Lustron page — including photos of the known Lustron houses in North Carolina — click here. For the Ohio Historical Society’s Lustron Preservation website, which contains much information on the houses’ history and construction, click here.


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