Reader questions about a city landmark and early prefab homes, answered

I read that Dan's Drive In on South High Street has been listed as a city landmark. No offense to Dan's, but this seems like a pretty new and awfully modest place to be called a landmark. What's up? Your observation is understandable. It's only been a few years now that preservationists have been looking at what they call “resources of the recent past.” For a long time, anything built after World War II, with some exceptions, was considered too modern or recent to warrant consideration for historical or architectural importance. But it's been 70-plus years since the war, and the preservation community has realized that it's time to evaluate the significance of some of the huge number of buildings from the period between 1945 and 1970, particularly those associated with the automobile culture, such as drive-in movies and restaurants, classic gas stations, auto dealerships, roadside motels and so on.

Dan's, at 1881 S. High St., was part of that era. It was built in 1951, a time when South Side industrial workers were a big part of the customer base. We turned to Becky West, executive director at the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, for perspective. “Dan's is a great example of classic roadside architecture,” she says, citing its iconic sign and eye-catching checkerboard exterior. Its very modesty is part of its importance, as a representative of “small businesses that add exuberant cultural diversity to neighborhoods. … Dan's has survived the ups and downs of the South Side neighborhood and is perfectly positioned to play a role as revitalization efforts take hold,” West says.

What's a “Lustron” house? Between 1947 and 1950, the Lustron Corp. of Columbus, housed in a former aircraft factory at Port Columbus airport, produced almost 2,500 prefabricated enameled metal houses. GIs returning from World War II wanted to return to normal life and start families, aggravating an already major housing shortage. Lustrons were meant to help meet this need quickly and efficiently. Available in four colors (Surf Blue, Dove Gray, Maize Yellow and Desert Tan) the one-story Lustron came in four different models (Westchester Standard, Westchester Deluxe, Newport and Meadowbrook), all in either two- or three-bedroom versions. Sizes ranged from 713 to 1,140 square feet. They arrived onsite by truck, all 3,000 pieces and parts, and typically were built on concrete slabs. And they truly were all metal, inside and out, with a durable enamel coating. No painting needed—you just washed them down with a garden hose. No driving nails to hang pictures, either—you used magnets.

About 80 percent of Lustron homes still exist, including 21 in Central Ohio. The Ohio History Center has one on display through the end of the year in its 1950s exhibit.

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to cityquotient@columbusmonthly.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.

Sources: Becky West, executive director, Columbus Landmarks Foundation; Columbus Dispatch July 11, 2018; Ohio History Center 1950s exhibit