A Historic Effort for Futuristic Homes

It’s a jigsaw puzzle on a colossal scale. Neatly stacked mounds of enameled steel are separated into piles: Roofing panels here, doors and cabinets there, and rows of exterior wall pieces make up the largest stacks in this Carthage warehouse.

“There are all these pieces of metal. But they are more than just metal,” said Virginia Faust, NC Modernist’s chief Lustron archivist.

During a public event held in early December, Faust played tour guide through the maze of stacks that are what remains of three Lustron homes that had been disassembled and stored for decades.

Considered the “home of the future” in the late 1940s, Lustrons were designed to provide affordable housing for soldiers returning from World War II. The enameled steel structures cost less than $10,000 new, had an open floor plan, built-in cabinetry and appliances, and were virtually maintenance free. Constructed more like a model kit than traditional stick-built housing, they could be shipped anywhere in the U.S. and built on-site in about two weeks.

However, fewer than 3,000 were created before the Lustron company filed for bankruptcy. Of those, fewer than 40 were sold in North Carolina.

As of 2020, there were at least four known Lustrons in Moore County. Two have since been demolished, including one in Southern Pines and another in Carthage, within the last 18 months. The other two Lustron homes still standing are located in Pinehurst and Aberdeen.

Years ago, there was also a small encampment of eight Lustrons in Hoke County, located near Aberdeen Road and old N.C. 211, that were used to house McCain Sanitarium workers.

When that community was going to be razed back in the 1980s, local businessman D.P. Black acquired three of the houses. Black and his wife, Mary Lou, were killed at their Aberdeen home in July 2020. Two suspects arrested in connection await trial.

The Black family worked with Preservation NC, NC Modernist and the Pines Preservation Guild to save the Lustron parts and move them into temporary storage in Carthage. O’Malley Investments donated the space where Faust and a small team of volunteers have been sorting, cleaning and taking inventory of the collection.

“The obtaining of the D.P. Black structures has been a wonderful development for all three of our organizations, and we can hopefully provide an interested Moore County resident with the opportunity to obtain one of these rare structures,” said Leslie Brians, Pines Preservation Guild’s executive director.

Some of the primary structural components, such as roof trusses, of the three houses had deteriorated while they were in storage. The collection is also missing a few signature Lustron pieces, such as bathtubs.

Nonetheless, the thousands of individual pieces that remain are in high demand for other Lustron restoration or maintenance projects, and can also be repurposed for smaller concept projects, such as a Lustron-inspired barn or outbuilding.

Faust, a statewide expert on Lustrons, is overseeing the initial thrust to clean or inventory the materials. Once that job is completed, the Guild will assume ownership of the collection. Sales of the Lustron panels and other components will create an ongoing revenue source for the organization moving forward.

“What was really cool about the event in December was we were able to recruit a volunteer to help Virginia. We also had some great interest from the community. We want to build our base of people interested in historic preservation to create networking opportunities,” said Brians.

Brians has a professional background in historic preservation and architecture. However, as a military spouse, she had found it difficult to put down roots until her active duty husband was assigned to Fort Bragg.

“We have lived all over the world. Some places, like New Orleans, have a strong preservation focus. Other places, like where I grew up in Virginia, have rampant overdevelopment.”

The couple settled in More County in 2015, purchasing a historic home. She said she was surprised by the lack of a local, historic preservation advocacy group.

“We got together with a few other like-minded people and decided we wanted to fill that void. We feel there is a real need for advocacy for these heritage buildings and also the communities those structures represent,” Brians said. “The Guild is about advocating for and educating people about what makes this area special.”

Brians and Emily Yopp, who is restoring the circa 1880 Waddell-Larking House in Carthage, co-founded Pines Preservation Guild. Additional board members are Corey Moore, Cara Mathis and Kristen Moracco.

“Our organization is not only historic preservation people. It is real estate agents, planners, and people who simply are interested in historic buildings. It is a great cornucopia of people. We try to give a voice and empower people who feel the same way about historic preservation. That is what we advocate for.”

Brians added they are not opposed to development. “It just needs to be done in a holistic, sustainable way that integrates existing properties with future development.”

Upcoming events include a trades skills education series geared towards traditional craftsmen and laymen who are interested in historic home maintenance. The Guild is also coordinating with the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boyd House with an event called Bikes, Boyds and Brews on Aug. 21. Activities include a bicycle tour of historic houses in Southern Pines associated with the Boyd family.

To stay up-to-date on Pines Preservation Guild events, follow them on Instagram, Facebook or online at https://www.pinespreservation.org/.

By: Laura Douglass

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