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ArlingtonOne final twist in 16-year saga of 'Lustron home'

One final twist in 16-year saga of ‘Lustron home’

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Here’s one from the “what a long, strange trip it’s been” file, coupled with a dash of “thanks much, but no thanks.”

That latter phrase is, effectively, the response of the Arlington County government to an offer by the Ohio History Collection museum, offering to return to Arlington pieces of a “Lustron Home” that once was located in the county.

Under an agreement inked in 2011, the Arlington government had donated the structure, which it had acquired earlier from an owner in the Columbia Forest neighborhood, to the museum, located not far from the Columbus, Ohio, manufacturing plant that had built the homes in the mid-20th century.

The home was reconstructed at the museum in 2013 and to date has been seen by more than a million visitors, said Elizabeth Woods, director of the cultural-resource division of the Ohio History Connection.


Because of space limitations, the museum had been unable to reconstruct the entire home, which led to some pieces being kept in storage. Now, the museum aims to find new homes for those ancillary items, but under terms of the 2011 agreement was required to offer them to the county government first.

While the unusable items will be departing, “there are no plans to dismantle the house,” Woods said in a letter to County Board members, noting the popularity of the display among museum patrons.

County officials say they do not need the excess material, but have put the museum in contact with the Arlington Historical Society, which might be interested in some of it.

Lustron homes were conceived under the marketing slogan “the home that America’s been waiting for” as the country began its post-war boom.

Alas, that proved to be wishful thinking: Only about 2,700 were built and shipped across the nation during a two-year span between 1948 and 1950.

Time has taken its toll: Where once there were 11 Lustron homes in Arlington, today there are only two. And owing to its small size and unusual all-steel construction, the number of Lustron homes nationally also is dwindling. But owners of those homes that survive are always on the lookout for original materials.

The home in question is a Westchester Deluxe 02 model, constructed in 1949 and featuring 1,085 square feet of one-level living space. Prospective homeowners seven decades back could buy them for just under $10,000 and have them assembled on their own parcels, not unlike the Sears houses earlier in the 20th century that continue to proliferate in some Arlington neighborhoods.

The then-owner of the home, which was located at 5201 12th St. South, in 2006 offered it without charge to the county government, as the lot was set to have a new home built on it.

Sensing an opportunity to burnish their somewhat shaky historic-preservation bona-fides, government officials took the deal and then spent just under $22,000 to have the home disassembled and placed in storage, promising a use would be found for it.

Not everyone was enthralled with the deal at the time it was consummated. Civic activist John Antonelli suggested that the pre-fab property really wasn’t historic enough to be worthy of the effort. “George Washington never slept in one,” he sniffed.

And as the fates would have it, the county government never did find a local use for the stripped-down home. In 2008, however, the local government loaned the structure to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for a temporary exhibition. But even that act of altruism ended up being snakebit.

County-government staff initially proposed spending nearly $60,000 to subsidize transportation and reconstruction costs, but that drew a critical response from the public and the County Board refused to allocate the funds.

The Museum of Modern Art ended up absorbing the costs, something that didn’t exactly break the bank, given its net assets of around a billion dollars at the time.

After the exhibition closed, the home was taken apart once again and sent back to storage in Chantilly, where it languished a few years more until the Ohio museum – which maintains the official Lustron corporate archives but did not have an example of its craftsmanship on site – acquired it.

The pro-forma County Board vote to formally decline return of the leftover pieces of the home is slated for Oct. 15. While Antonelli remains in Arlington, his civic-activism days largely are behind him – although who knows if he might attend simply to provide silent testament to the final chapter in a 16-year saga.

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