The St. Louis International Film Festival
November 13 - 23, 2003 by Rob Levy
(excerpted from Playback's Film Festival Diary)

After almost a full week of nonstop film-watching, the sickness is starting in. This, simply, is the burnout attached with seeing gobs of films. With that in mind, and the fact that I had a superlatively busy evening planned out, I only saw one film.

This is one of two documentaries featured at an early 5 p.m. show. The theater was back, which completely threw me off guard. Lustron is almost an hour long, but in that hour, everything is complete and organized. Director Bill Kubota has made a complete and enjoyable film.

In post–World War II America, there was a massive housing problem. Harry Truman was backed into a political corner. He had to house returning war veterans and in an affordable manner. The answer appeared to come from inventor Carl Strandlund, who wanted to make affordable, assembly-line houses. His plan was to create a new housing industry, similar to the automotive industry in scope and output. His plan was to make steel housing out of sheets of steel. They would be constructed like fast-food restaurants and gas stations. They could go up in 72 hours. Lustrons were sturdy and warm, never needing painting, siding, or roofing. These would be houses of convenience. They also would be, seemingly, the wave of the future. It all went sixes and sevens, though, when more people wanted a piece of Strandlund’s pie. He battled insurmountable odds, corruption, financial heavy-handedness, and a barrage of planted negative press. Lustron’s end boiled down to politics, greed, and deception. Too many people wanted into the action and it all came down. It is ironic that Lustron homes were based on plans so simple and easy to mass market.

This film shows the aching battles to keep Lustron going and solve the housing crisis of the ‘50s. It also features Lustron owners, many whom are still living in their original homes, talking passionately about the homes they have. Clearly, this was no fad. Of the approximate 2,500 homes build, there are at least three Lustron houses in the St. Louis metro area. I especially liked how the film talked to congressmen, politicians, owners, and Lustron workers themselves. A complete view of this pop culture phenomenon was given.

I was flabbergasted at the support for this film and the following doc, Tupperware. I think that having 5 p.m. screenings for films is a great idea. It gets new people into the mix and offers alternative screenings for film buffs.

Review: Lustron - The House America's Been Waiting For

by Joe Williams
November 19, 2003

• (Highly Recommended) Full disclosure: I not only live in a Lustron, the brand of all-metal "house of tomorrow" that is lovingly celebrated in this documentary, I appear in the film with my fiancée as we merrily hose off our house and sip martinis.

That was the suburban ideal in 1949 and 1950, when visionary engineer Carl Strandlund produced these prefab structures to meet the housing needs of returning GIs. Strandlund's innovation was a low-maintenance house that did not contain a stick of wood and never needed painting.  Strandlund was touted as the Henry Ford of home-building. His Lustron delivery crews would arrive at the owner's property and assemble a modern ranch house in a matter of days.

The swank Lustron houses were landmarks of progressive design , with baked-on color, built-in shelves and an open floor plan. But politics and money awakened Strandlund from his dream, as foes in the federal government demanded repayment of the Lustron loan before the company could turn a profit. The factory was shuttered after producing only 2,500 houses. 

Then again if Strandlund had succeeded in building millions of Lustron homes, they wouldn't be collectors' items today, and mine (#2371) wouldn't have become a movie site.

Review: Lustron - The House America's Been Waiting For

by Laura Kelley
November 8, 2003

*** (3 stars) This made-for-public-television documentary focuses on Carl Strandlund, a man with the potential to have been an industrial magnate but who failed stupendously because of government intervention.

During the post-World War II housing crisis, Strandlund had the idea to build
all steel homes, which he called Lustron houses, "the houses of tomorrow." His homes were sleek, modern, inexpensive and sought after by returning GIs and their families. And his idea fit snugly in an era where big, space-age ideas were what sold, not what was "cool."

The well-researched documentary by Ed Moore, Bill Kubota and Bill Ferehawk delves into the era, the man, and the government interference that did him in

His company actually built about 2,500 homes before going under, and most are still standing. We meet a number of current Lustron homeowners, who offer testimony about their love affairs with their houses.  The filmmakers even found a singer-songwriter who grew up in a Lustron home and wrote a salute (which isn't half bad) to Strandlund.

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