Lustron Home On Display

Vintage residences that most Wheeling residents take for granted are being celebrated in a new exhibit, “1950s: Building the American Dream,” at the Ohio History Center in Columbus.

To help visitors “experience life in the 1950s first-hand,” exhibit organizers have reassembled a real, two-bedroom Lustron home of the era in the exhibit space. The exhibit, which opened Saturday, July 13, will be on display at the Ohio History Center for five years, officials stated.

While a Lustron house might be a rare sight for many visitors, the once-futuristic homes are commonplace for Wheelingites. Several of the porcelain-enameled steel Lustron houses are located in Wheeling neighborhoods and continue to be used as family residences. For example, I pass two of the Lustron homes on Edgwood Street every day.

Lustron homes are of particular interest in Columbus because the unusual houses were manufactured in the Ohio capital from 1948-50. Ohio History Center officials said the Lustron house featured in the new exhibit “has had quite a journey since leaving the Columbus factory in 1948.”

An article in Echoes, the membership newsletter of the Ohio Historical Society, stated that the two-bedroom Winchester model was a family home in Arlington, Va., until 2006, “when an owner donated it to Arlington County with the provision that it be moved. The county agreed to help preserve it since many Lustron houses in the Washington, D.C., area had been demolished, including 57 at the Marine Corps base at Quantico.”

The donated house was dismantled and stored, but made its museum debut in 2008 at a Museum of Modern Art exhibit in New York that explored the history of prefabricated houses in America. “At the conclusion of the exhibit, the Lustron home was dismantled again and returned to storage in Virginia, where it remained until 2011, when Arlington County donated it to the Ohio Historical Society,” the newsletter explained.

Here in Wheeling, historians have documented the local examples of Lustron houses. An article about the steel residences was published in the News-Register several years ago.

In Columbus, Sharon Dean, director of museum and library services for the Ohio Historical Society, was quoted as saying, “This is an exhibit unlike any other. We want visitors to touch, feel and try everything in the home so they can immerse themselves in an authentic 1950s experience.”

The 1950s exhibit includes a 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air, an Airstream trailer, Roy Rogers toys and decorations, a bomb shelter hatch, 1950s television news and programs, and a combination appliance to wash both clothes and dishes.

Center officials explained, ” With the Lustron home as the literal frame to experience the decade, the exhibit invites visitors to explore the complex social environment of a ‘real’ nuclear family from Central Ohio living in a Lustron home during the 1950s: a father, mother, boy and new baby girl.”

Through this family, they said, visitors can encounter three themes that define the decade: family and gender roles; social and political issues; and popular culture.

Special programming for the “1950s: Building the American Dream” exhibit at the Ohio History Center includes a number of retro food-related events.

For instance, a program planned for 2 p.m. Saturday, July 20, is titled “1950s Recipes: Jell-O Salad to Green Bean Casserole.” Crafts and hands-on programs celebrating the era also are planned next weekend.

A 1950s family weekend, complete with a housewarming party and backyard cookout, is slated Saturday and Sunday, July 27-28.

Meanwhile, “Retrorama,” being held from 7-10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, will include 1950s-style music, drinks, dancing, food, fashions and contests.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: