Of Ice Houses and Igloos

Sometimes research topics intersect in really strange ways. There I was, knee-deep in ice house research, when I got a message from a journalist friend asking, “Jen, do you know anything about the Falls Church ‘igloo houses’?” Beyond the apparent sub-zero nomenclature, unfortunately, there is no connection whatsoever between the two types of structures. The first was usually an underground pit (at least in the early 19th century) built to store ice through the summer. The second was an igloo-shaped dome made of concrete sprayed over a giant balloon, a late 1930s invention of a California architect named Wallace Neff. At the time the igloo houses were constructed in 1941, ice houses were well on their way to obsolescence thanks to the Rural Electrification Project and the advent of electric refrigerators. But the “igloo houses” and ice houses did have one thing in common–both served as a cool retreat in the summertime. Neff’s concrete dwellings apparently stayed comfortable, albeit damply so, in the heat of our northern Virginia summers, prior to the advent of air conditioning. Alas, they were razed and replaced by an apartment complex in the early 1960s. Read more about the igloo houses, officially named  Airform homes, courtesy of talented writer and historic preservation advocate Kim A. O’Connell, in the March-April 2016 issue of Arlington Magazine.