No one could ignore the shimmering mid-century aluminum house in the Montclair neighborhood of southwest Portland.
The rectangular single-story house with grape-colored Kool-Aid walls was easily identified as a product of the Jet Age, a revolutionary era in design that fueled the imaginations of mid-century modern masters.
The 1957 beam and post house was unusual, even at a time notorious for breaking the rules. It was one of the 24 Alcoa worry-free model homes built across the country to showcase the versatility of aluminum.
Durable metal, plentiful after WWII, has been used for almost everything from the slightly pitched roof and ribbed siding to non-rusting switches and nails.
But Oregon’s only Alcoa home is now gone.
The new owners had the legendary house demolished in early September. The only way now to see one of the few experimental aluminum structures is to leave the state.
Grove Hunt of Grove Development in Portland was hired by the owners to prepare the quarter acre lot for new construction. He said the 64-year-old house was unsustainable and that his clients kept some items before it was razed.
But Cheryl Luckett, who has lived in the house for 18 years, said she was in shock at the demolition. Luckett sold the house in 2016 to a retired general contractor who restored and improved the interior.
The property was sold in December 2020 for $ 880,000. Nine months later, a bulldozer crane grabbed and crumpled the aluminum roof and knocked over the walls and ceilings.
A truck took it all away, including decorative window grilles woven from peacock blue aluminum rods and a wavy royal blue front door, leaving nothing but dirt at the top of the driveway.
âI understand that sometimes you have to let it go, but that was a piece of history,â Luckett said. âThey could have deconstructed it and saved everything. “
Nigel Maister, owner of an Alcoa non-care home in Rochester, New York, also wanted all original items to be salvaged.
âI would like to have backups for my own interiors,â he said.
âThe simplicity, efficiency and thoughtfulness of the design, as a whole and in its details, are remarkable and make living in one of these houses both a privilege and a pleasure,â he said. he adds.
Nicole Posert, CEO of the preservation organization Restore Oregon, said the loss of the house was devastating to Oregon’s mid-century modern heritage.
âOur state is in desperate need of more designations and more protections for rare and unique resources like this home of Alcoa,â she said.
Homeowners who wish to ensure the protection of their property can obtain a historic conservation easement, says Possert. Another option is for neighborhoods and communities to work together to identify, document and designate historic houses or neighborhoods, she added.
After World War II, the Aluminum Company of America, now Alcoa, sought to sell its âmiracle metalâ beyond cars, trucks, aerospace and defense. Construction was a way of creating business. So in the mid-1950s, the company opened a residential sales division and put its hopes on the middle-class housing boom.
Step One: Invent new ways to use metal in a modern home that’s easy to live with and clean. Alcoa brought together the brightest minds in design at a conference chaired by Portland architect Pietro Belluschi.
Belluschi was then the dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture and Town Planning and a great supporter of aluminum.
He gained international notoriety primarily for the design and construction of the first building with glass and aluminum curtain walls, the 1948 Commonwealth Building (originally the Equitable Savings and Loan Association Building) in downtown Portland.
Belluschi’s son, Portland architect Anthony Belluschi, said his father described aluminum as having a new kind of beauty, “clean, strong and simple”.
Just as US Steel promoted its products by sponsoring the architect project Case study house program in California, Alcoa saw its corrosion-resistant aluminum desirable for the home of the future.
Architect Charles M. Goodman of Washington, DC was hired to design the Alcoa Care-free Home with interior and exterior features made possible by large skylights, numerous windows and sliding glass doors that open. on the courtyard or the inner courtyard.
From the twin entrance windows, the house flowed from room to room. The kitchen was in the middle, enveloped by the living room, dining room and family room. The Portland house had four bedrooms and three bathrooms.
On the other side of the courtyard was a wall hiding a carport and, as originally designed behind, a large workshop.
Maister said the floor plan, particularly the kitchen as a central hub, anticipated the open-plan design popularized later in the 1950s and made it possible to integrate meal preparation into family activities and social life. the suburbs.
“The ‘carefree’ nature of the house design was aimed not only at alleviating the household responsibilities of the 1950s woman, but can perhaps also be seen as anticipating the greater movement of women into the workforce and far away. household chores that emerged after World War II, “Maister said.” The upward mobility of the expanding middle class can be seen in things like the carport or the two-car garage. “
A 1957 press release stated that Alcoa wanted to create “the biggest change in residential building materials in centuries.”
The company was hoping to sponsor a local builder in all 50 states to build an Alcoa care-free home. But he only managed to execute Goodman’s plan in two dozen âstrategic locationsâ in 16 states.
Portland builder WC Bauman rose to the challenge and erected the eye-catching modern home among the traditional homes in the Montclair neighborhood.
While Joseph Eichler in California, Robert Rummer in Oregon, and other modern home builders across the country used wood, this house needed 75,000 pounds of aluminum.
Metal was used for almost everything except the concrete foundation, brick fireplace, plastic laminate countertops, and wood finishes such as cypress planks on the ceilings. All windows, sliding glass doors, and tub walls were framed in aluminum.
And the expenses have increased. What was initially billed as affordable housing at $ 25,000 turned out to cost almost double.
In the end, aluminum could not compete with the low cost and familiarity of wood. But he made progress in the home building industry. Today, the use of energy efficient, recyclable aluminum helps projects qualify environmentally friendly building status.
Maister said the materials in Alcoa homes celebrated “light, airy and openness – in short: the modern” and the use of bright, idiosyncratic color finishes brought a vivid aesthetic to what had been a staid and conservative interior design palette.
âFor me, Alcoa Care-free Homes represented a moment of optimism and forward thinking in approaching vernacular design in 20th century America,â he said. The design and materials, “consciously or unconsciously, anticipated the changing demographics and nature of the American family.”
You can see the original 1957 Alcoa Care-free Home brochure here.
– Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072