Tuesday, March 7, 2023

An interesting piece of housing history

A few years after the ad shown here, Buster Keaton used the house-a-box concept as the jumping off point for his classic short One Week.

The story involves a newlywed couple who receive a build-it-yourself house as a wedding gift. The house can be built, supposedly, in "one week". A rejected suitor secretly re-numbers packing crates. The groom struggles to assemble the house according to this new "arrangement". The result is a lopsided structure with revolving walls, kitchen fixtures on the exterior, and upper-floor doors that open onto thin air.

The Sears homes-in-a-box were compact, well-designed and reasonably priced ( $26,982.83 in 2023 dollars). Sears was the best known provider of kit houses, but there were a number of others including, perhaps inevitably, Montgomery-Ward. The business model started dying out during the Depression, but they never entirely went away.

There is even a modern NIMBY element (and, no, in this case I'm not going to try to defend them). From the LA Times:

When a New York designer came up with a plan for a tiny cottage that could offer permanent shelter for Gulf Coast residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi officials pressed hard for federal funding.

Why build a flimsy government trailer, they asked, when it was possible to build a sturdy, long-lasting cottage -- especially one as charming as the “Katrina cottage,” designed in a Southern vernacular style, with a steep metal roof and a deep front porch?

But now that the “Mississippi cottage,” a small shotgun-style house inspired by the original, is rolling onto the coast, things have become a little more complicated: The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency provides only the cottage -- not the land -- and cities have imposed rule after rule to keep qualified residents from settling into them.

Local officials, it seems, fear that the brightly colored cottages will become permanent fixtures in their hurricane-ravaged neighborhoods. They say the cottages, which range from 400 to 840 square feet and cost as little as $34,000 to build, will hurt property values.

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