10/11/17 7:30am

Article written by Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun

Almost 70 years later, a few still stand in Orange County

Many people have heard of the pre-fab homes that Sears, Roebuck and Company produced between 1908-1940. Sears offered 370 models and over 70,000 were built across the nation. Many of these homes are still standing around Orange County but they are difficult to spot because they used conventional balloon-framing techniques and materials in their kits. But, our local architectural variety includes another story of a pre-fab housing solution from the 20th century that is less familiar.

For a short two years, from 1948 to 1950, the Lustron Corporation created pre-fabricated enameled steel homes that were advertised as low maintenance and affordable.

The idea began with a Chicago inventor named Carl Strandlund who, in response to the post-World War II housing storage, created a division of the Chicago Vitreous Enamel Corporation to construct homes in a Columbus, Ohio factory. They planned to construct over 45,000 homes but only 2,498 homes were completed. Although they had orders for over 8,000 more units, after only 20 months of operation, the company closed its doors and 800 employees were laid off. The closure was due to failing to repay a 12.5 million Federal agency Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) loan that was borrowed to begin production. The Lustron Corp. was selling the homes at a low cost between $6,000-$10,000 per unit and the company was losing money on each order. Although the cost seems inexpensive, the Lustron homes were sold through a dealership system similar to automobiles distribution which meant the dealers had to cover the initial costs of purchasing lots, pouring concrete slabs and running utility lines. The final home purchaser would be paying around $11,000 to acquire the completed property which was considerably more than buying a typical wood frame house at the time.

The architectural prototype was created in collaboration with architects Roy Burton Blass and Morris H. Beckman as a 1,000 square foot, two-bedroom home made of steel framing. The exposed steel on the interior walls and roof had a porcelain-enamel finish. The manufacture of each home required 12 tons of steel and 1 ton of enamel. The customer could choose the colors from a number of options including pink, tan, yellow, aqua, blue, green and gray on the exterior and beige or gray for the interior. The 3,000 pre-made parts would be carried on a truck and assembled on a concrete slab.

The homes were designed to use space effectively. Every room had built-ins which accounted for over 20% of the home’s square footage. The bedroom had a vanity, the dining room had a buffet and pocket doors throughout the home eliminated the need to allocate space for a swinging door. One futuristic luxury that was included in every home was a built-in washing machine that with the addition of a rack could do double-duty as a dishwasher.

A few months ago I was alerted to the existence of some of these gems, two in Middletown and one in Highland Falls. After a bit of commentary from the Facebook community on the Orange County History and Heritage page, a follower pointed out a street in Newburgh that featured a cul-de-sac with four Lustron homes. Please let us know if you know of any more in the area because the Preservation League of New York is compiling an inventory for their records.

Photo by Katrin Redfern.

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10/06/17 7:30am

The weekly link roundup is a collection of links related to Newburgh, revitalization, urban planning and anything else that might inspire change or create dialogue. Photo by Newburgh photographer Brian Wolfe.

Newburgh experiencing properties renaissance [THR]
Owner charged with setting Newburgh building on fire [THR]
Creativity on display at 7th annual Newburgh Open Studios [THR]
Developer accuses Newburgh of reneging on deal, seeks new vote on letter [THR]

Add your own photos depicting city life to the Newburgh Restoration flickr pool to be used on the blog, or email me. **Flickr users please do not forget to remove disabling of downloading of pictures. Otherwise, I can’t use them** Please do not take photos for your own use without consulting the photographer

10/03/17 7:30am

Decades after urban renewal destroyed the Newburgh waterfront, people still mourn the buildings that were lost, particularly the Palatine Hotel. Items that once belonged to the hotel are quite special to Newburghers. The following piece written by Robert Blake discusses his love for a chair once used in the model hotel of the Hudson Valley.

The Return of the Chair

The Palatine Hotel once stood just three blocks from my house.  When I was a child, we had a neighbor at our summer home up in the Shawangunk mountains.  He was an avid auction goer.  One of his biggest coups was buying many things at the auction of the contents of the Palatine Hotel.  He gave us some cutlery marked “Palatine”, which I can no longer find, and a mirror and a chair.  He had bought rolls of carpeting, and beds and dressers, truckloads of things.  I still have the mirror and the chair.  I reupholstered the chair when I was a teenager, my first attempt at any such work.  Now, after 40+ years, it needed renewal and I had it redone professionally.  The original upholstery was a dark brown with small floral motifs.  It had a lumpy seat and was soiled.  This is why I redid it.  When I go to Brick Street Deli for my Saturday breakfast most weekends, I look down Third Street to where it now ends at Grand Street.  I wonder how many know that this was once a street that ran down to the waterfront.  I don’t know for sure, but I suspect back then it was a two-way street as well.  The Palatine stood on the southeast corner of Third and Grand.  My upper windows would have afforded a fine view of the upper stories of the Palatine, whereas now the low-slung library on the site is not visible.  I can see the roof of the Dutch Reformed Church, which was directly to the north of the lost hotel.  The return of this chair to Newburgh after an absence of almost 50 years, to just three blocks away from where it had lived for a long time, is a good thing.  

Photo via The Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands

Photo by Cher Vick.

Add your own photos depicting city life to the Newburgh Restoration Flickr pool to be used on the blog, or email me. **Flickr users please do not forget to remove disabling of downloading of pictures otherwise, I can’t use them** Please do not take photos for your own use without consulting the photographer.

09/29/17 7:30am

The weekly link roundup is a collection of links related to Newburgh, revitalization, urban planning and anything else that might inspire change or create dialogue. Photo by Newburgh photographer Brian Wolfe.

Newburgh imposes city spending freeze [MHN]
Small airports are trying to cash in on big-city travelers [MP]
Newburgh authorizes project to eliminate sewage overflow [RK]
Troubled Newburgh intersection to receive special treatment [MHN]
Intervention, other initiatives help turn around young lives in Newburgh [THR]

Add your own photos depicting city life to the Newburgh Restoration flickr pool to be used on the blog, or email me. **Flickr users please do not forget to remove disabling of downloading of pictures. Otherwise, I can’t use them** Please do not take photos for your own use without consulting the photographer