MOUNT VERNON – After months of discussions and negotiations, the fate of Knox County’s last remaining Lustron Home has been determined: it will stay on West Lamartine Street, where it will serve as a short-term rental and tourist destination.
The Knox County Landmarks Foundation is currently collecting bids to have restoration work done on the property, board president Jeff Gottke told Knox Pages Wednesday. The Landmarks Foundation has owned the historic home since November 2018 and has contemplated several uses for it, including potentially moving it to Ariel-Foundation Park to function as an exhibit.
Gottke said the organization ultimately decided to keep it at 6 W. Lamartine St. in Mount Vernon due to financial and logistical concerns. The all-metal home, nearly 70 years old, was assembled with slot-head sheet metal screws, which Gottke said strip easily. Disassembling the house and moving it across town would have been costly, given the difficulty of doing so.
“It’s not a traditional house that they can just cut down the middle and stick back together again after they put it on a truck and move it down the street,” Gottke said. “You have to take it apart, screw by screw, and [contractors] don’t know how to do it. So it is very expensive from the estimates that we had done – just prohibitively expensive.”
Gottke also said the Landmarks Foundation liked the idea of keeping the Lustron Home on the north end of town, as doing so would encourage economic activity in the area.
“It would also help to get people to a different part of town,” he said. “We don’t need to have all of our attractions all in one spot.”
Construction crews were on West Lamartine Street this week to tear down the garage on the property, which Gottke said “was collapsing inside,” as well as a few trees. The goal is to turn that space into a parking lot – a crucial addition for a tourist attraction in a tight neighborhood.
Gottke said the Landmarks Foundation will soon begin the process of refurbishing the property. The home currently has no running water, no electricity, and no gas. Before the Landmarks Foundation bought it in 2018, Gottke said it had been home to squatters. While the inside of the home appears to be in-tact, he noted it is currently “not liveable.”
The goal is to turn the home into a mid-century time machine. The Landmarks Foundation will refurbish the home with mid-century modern furniture and appliances, Gottke said, offering visitors “the immersive 1950s experience.”
It will be marketed as a short-term rental for part of the year, where people can ‘spend a night at the Lustron Home,’ and will be utilized for tours and gatherings the rest of the time.
This will allow the Landmarks Foundation to generate revenue to maintain the property, while also keeping it a community asset.
“We don’t want to do long-term rentals, or we don’t want to sell it, because then it’s not a community asset anymore. It couldn’t be used by the community,” Gottke explained. “So if we do a short-term rental, it could still be available for gatherings or small receptions or something like that, or just having it open on special occasions for tours, while still getting people in the door to experience the house and generate some funds for its upkeep.”
Short-term rentals are “in pretty high demand” in Knox County, Gottke said in a March interview, especially on weekends when local colleges host events like homecoming or graduation. The renovation of this property would be another step toward meeting that need.
“The hotels fill up pretty quick,” Gottke said, “so people are looking for something else.”
Gottke noted that “visions change,” and that nothing is final yet with the property, as the Landmarks Foundation still needs to collect rehabilitation estimates and secure funding for the project.
Still, he said the organization feels confident in the direction it’s heading. If all goes according to plan, Gottke predicts the Lustron Home could be refurbished in the coming months.
“I think we could probably get something done this summer,” he said, “but I don’t have a set date yet.”
The house at 6 W. Lamartine St. is Knox County’s last remaining Lustron Home. It is one of approximately 200 left in the state, according to Ohio History Connection, with roughly 2,000 remaining nationwide.
Lustron Homes took the U.S. by storm in the late 1940s, as they helped remedy the nation’s post-war housing crisis. The trendy, one-story bungalows were made in Columbus and marketed toward young families across the nation. An estimated 2,700 were built over a three-year span.
The Landmarks Foundation bought the property at 6 W. Lamartine St. for $33,550 in 2018, according to records from the Knox County auditor’s office. Gottke said the previous owner had worked at a local manufacturing plant, but was forced to move when his job left town.
The home then sat vacant for 15 years before the city contacted the Landmarks Foundation about potentially buying the property.
“The city property maintenance officer knew that it was historic and knew me, so he called me and said, ‘Hey, this house is vacant, there’s squatters in it, the police had to chase them out the other day. Here’s the owner’s contact information, this might make a good project for the Landmarks Foundation,’” Gottke recalled.
The Landmarks Foundation, which works to preserve Knox County’s historic sites, jumped at the opportunity to repurpose the Lustron Home. Given the local and regional significance of the property, Gottke said the organization felt compelled to keep its legacy alive.
“Not only is it a national landmark, because there are so few of these things left… but the factory where they were built was in Columbus, so it’s of regional significance as well,” Gottke said in March.
“It also tells that story of 1950s Mount Vernon. We don’t talk about that a lot. We talk about all the Victorian buildings around town; we hear about Cooper’s, which goes back to 1833; but what was going on in Mount Vernon, in Knox County, post-war? That’s not something that we hear a lot about. So this helps to tell that story.”
To learn more about the history behind Lustron Homes and the property on West Lamartine Street, listen to this episode of Stories from the heart of Ohio from March 10: