Modern Prefabs of Montgomery County

In case you missed it, Clare Lise Kelly, senior architectural historian for Montgomery County, Maryland, recently published a fantastic book, Montgomery Modern: Modern Architecture in Montgomery County, Maryland, 1930-1979. The section on one of my favorite topics–prefabricated housing–starts on page 19. It includes a mention of the late-1940s plywood-panel Gunnison Homes (possibly the cutest of all the postwar prefabs, IMO). I was honored to see, in the footnotes, that Kelly used my blog post on the Gunnison Homes in Silver Spring and Kensington, Maryland as a resource for the book. From my cursory windshield surveys back in 2010, it seemed that most of the thirteen Gunnison Homes in Silver Spring possessed sufficient integrity to warrant a National Register multiple property nomination.

Gunnison Homes: Hidden in Plain Sight

There’s an open house this weekend of a charming postwar cottage for sale in Silver Spring, Maryland, with some special qualities that are hidden in plain sight.

Gunnison prefab house

1948 Gunnison Home prefab. 9130 Walden Rd., Silver Spring, MD

The front exterior brick chimney with metal “S”-curve embellishment, metal interior chimney with double vent slits, and vertical seams on the interior walls (spaced every four feet) clearly identify the house as a late 1940s Gunnison Home prefab. In fact, it’s one of twelve Gunnison Homes constructed on Walden Road, on the block between E. Melbourne Avenue and Saffron Lane, with at least one more around the corner on E. Melbourne.

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The Aluminaire

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Aluminaire, NYIT, Central Islip, NY, Aug. 2009

The 1931 Aluminaire just can’t catch a break. It has been moved, and subsequently forgotten, not once, not twice, but thrice in its lifetime. Each time, after a brief flurry of excitement about this one-of-a-kind early American International-style house, it has faded back into obscurity, waiting to be rediscovered yet again.

Designed by architects A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey for the 1931 Architectural League exhibition in New York, the Aluminaire was one of only two houses by American architects to be included in the Museum of Modern Art’s famed 1932 International Exhibition of Modern Architecture.

In the late 1980s, a grassroots campaign helped save the house from demolition, and the New York Institute of Technology got a grant to disassemble and move the house to their Central Islip, Long Island campus. Here’s a New York Times piece about the restoration project.

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The First American Prefab?

We Americans have long been obsessed with documenting — or claiming — firsts in achievements and innovations. A claim to “being first” can be influenced by the precise definition of the achievement, the available information at the time of the claim, and yes, ego. In the case of architecture, many prefab homes have been erroneously awarded the title of “first prefabricated house in America.”

Sears & Roebuck Catalog House, "Vallonia" design (Manteo, NC)

Some folks think prefab in the U.S. dates back to the Sears Homes of the 1910s to 1930s, since they are perhaps the most successful and well-known kit homes. Many other prefab homes are mislabeled as “one of the earliest,” but actually miss the mark by at least 40 or 50 years.
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