Moving (and Saving) a Historic Lustron House

The Old House Web
By the Federal Emergency Management Agency

Note: This page is part of a series on Lustron homes. To other parts of this story

rescued Lustron home
Lustron House in Lincoln Park, Grand Forks, North Dakota.
FEMA Photo by Barb Sturner, 2000.

As a result of heavy spring snow melts in April 1997, the States of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota endured immense flooding along the Red River. One of the many residences inundated by floodwaters along Lincoln Drive in Grand Forks was the Lustron House, a three-bedroom pre-fabricated steel house built in the 1950s.

Lustron houses are unique examples of the nation's response to housing shortages following World War II. They were prefabricated in an abandoned bomber factory, using many of the materials and techniques developed and employed during the war. Almost all of the parts in these houses were steel, and the panels used for the interior and exterior walls, the ceiling, and the roof were coated with porcelain enamel.

The Lustron Corporation was only able to produce about 2,500 of these houses before they were forced to close. Many of these houses have been lost over the past fifty years, and most of the remaining houses are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The Lustron House Project

The City of Grand Forks, North Dakota, used the FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for the removal of the historic Lustron house from its site in the 100-year floodplain near the Red River.

The project involved the cooperative efforts of the City of Grand Forks, the North Dakota Division of Emergency Management, the Historical Society of North Dakota (SHPO), the Grand Forks Historic Commission, and FEMA Region VIII. These parties agreed that it was important to preserve this house, and the recommended method included dismantling the house and relocating it to another location. In addition, the Grand Forks Historical Society agreed that the house could be reconstructed on the property of one of its museums.

The City of Grand Forks divided the project into three phases, of which FEMA participation was limited to Phase I:

  • Phase I included disassembling the house, cleaning its components, moving them to a safe facility for storage, and restoring the site to its natural condition.
  • Phase II was the storage phase during which the parts would remain safely stored until the house could be reconstructed on the museum site.
  • Phase III involved the reconstruction of the house at the new site.

Disassembling the Lustron House

Although the house originally took thirty days to assemble, it was taken apart in nine days in the Spring of 2001. FEMA documented this process through photographs and a video recording to assist in the reconstruction of the house.

At this date, the house components have been cleaned and stored, and the original site of the house has been restored to green space. The house now awaits reconstruction at its new site.

Federal funding

The City of Grand Forks, North Dakota, sustained tremendous damage to its built environment from flooding and subsequent fires. Affecting areas almost one mile from the river and inundating the city for approximately two weeks, the flood destroyed or inflicted major damage to over 1,000 residences, in addition to damaged businesses, schools, and other important infrastructure. Many of the devastated areas were turn-of-the-century neighborhoods located close to the river. In addition, the flood and fires leveled at least half of the City's downtown. The extent of the damage to residential areas quickly caused a critical housing shortage in the City, and created unusual hardships for low-income households, especially for those individuals and families without flood insurance.

Both the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) each contributed close to $300 million in low-interest loans and re-building funds to individuals and communities, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contributed more than $500 million in housing aid and infrastructure repair.


The process proved a successful alternative to demolition, thus minimizing the "adverse effect" to the Lustron House. From FEMA's standpoint, the project was successful in achieving hazard mitigation goals - removing people and property from an area subject to frequent flooding - and preserving a unique facet of twentieth century history. This success is a result of the hard work of all of the participants and the teamwork exemplified in carrying out the Section 106. We are proud of Region VIII's efforts to advocate historic preservation in its mitigation projects.

Other parts of this story:

>> Part 1: "Never before in America:" The invention of the Lustron
>> Part 2: "Metal Homes without Wheels"
>> Part 3: Oral History -- Lustron homes: Proving their mettle after 50 years
>> Part 5: St. Louis Lustrons
>> Part 6: Living in a Lustron -- and loving it

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