Lombard’s Lustron Houses

This is a Surf Blue Lustron.

Lombard, Illinois has a particularly interesting mix of housing from every period since its founding in 1833. We are staying in a house built from a kit purchased from Sears Roebuck in 1926, and there are several of these around town, but there is another experimental type, the Lustron House, that has more than a dozen surviving examples in Lombard. We took ourselves on a self-guided tour of some of these very intriguing houses.

Lustron Houses were developed as part of the post WWII effort to construct housing for returning GIs and their families. Carl Strandlund, a Chicago industrialist and inventor, was going to build gas stations for Standard Oil, but was told he could only get an allocation of steel if he were to build homes. He came up with the idea of building an all steel house using enameled steel panels for a maintenance-free exterior, pitching his homes as a way for families to maximize their free time together.

Desert Tan Lustron house, Lombard, IL

Between 2500-3000 Lustron houses were built, and many are still standing, due to the sturdy steel panels, the same material used to make enameled cookware, though heavier. Even the roof tiles have lasted 50 years or more. These are relatively small houses, 700-1100 sq ft. and those that have been demolished were generally removed to make way for larger homes. The enameled steel construction was quite strong and durable, but didn’t lend itself to remodeling or additions. As anyone who has chipped the corner of an enameled pot knows, the chips can’t be mended. Most surviving examples are in their original form in one of the four colors that were available. On our tour, we wondered whether the relatively small size of these houses has turned some into rental properties. About half of the Lustrons we saw had minimal landscaping and outdoor maintenance.

This Dove Gray Lustron’s original front porch has been enclosed as a vestibule.
This maize yellow Lustron is for sale, in case you’d like your own.

The built-in metal bookshelves and cupboards were handy, but there was no way to add a picture hook except for magnets. This might be an excellent house for a true minimalist. Having seen all four exterior colors in different settings, we concluded our tour, intrigued by the concept. Today Lustron houses are a collectors item, though the use of steel in home construction was ahead of its time.

You can read more about Lustron Houses, why the company founded by Strandlund failed, the politics of the time, and where to find examples in 36 states.


Lilac Park, Lombard IL

Since the first day of spring, we’ve walking Lilac Park twice a week, watching the arrival of the flowers. At first there was snow that melted rapidly, then chilly wind that demanded layers, gloves, hats, and scarves that continued into April. Finally, warmer weather has crept in. Now that it’s mid-May, we’ve been through the blooming of daffodils, a profusion of tulips, and the big event, lilacs, arrived this week. The bushes of blooms smell wonderful, not too strong, and the colors range from white through many layers of pinkish and purplish to a few dark purple blooms. This is the height of the year in the garden, and very much worth a walk. We’ve never found too many people here, making it easy to visit. My first photos taken in March are at the top, and the photos from yesterday are at the bottom.

Spring begins in Lombard, IL

Spring began Mar. 19, 2020, the earliest date in a century, but the weather hasn’t impressed me. Gradually, the cold is abating and I am wearing fewer layers when we go for our daily stroll. The landscape is responding, front lawns turning green, daffodils sprouting, accompanied by a few crocuses and tiny blue flowers.

We’ve discovered a nearby area called Churchill Woods that includes a number of paths through woods, a remnant patch of prairie, and trails along the east bank of the Dupage River. We’ve seen birds including woodpeckers, ducks, geese, sparrows, blackbirds, cardinals, and tons of robins, as well as a bunch of tiny birds we haven’t been able to identify. On a warm day there were seven turtles lined up on a log with their necks stretched out.

We passed a mound of debris in the water and Jonathan said it was a beaver dam. I was dubious until around the next corner we saw this:

Yes, it is indeed a beaver dam.

We plan to keep going back to see how springtime develops. Maybe we’ll see the beavers!

Where does wanderlust come from?

Wanderlust is the desire to move, the need to see what is over the next horizon, the inability to turn back on the trail. Everyone has it to some extent, whether it is the need to get to the back of the closet, or the far reaches of the attic, the need to hike the Appalachian Trail, or see the Pamirs.

I have always felt wanderlust. One of my earliest memories is of riding a train across the country with my parents and my sister. I was three, and we were moving from Shelton, WA to the New York suburbs. At night, the circular overhead fluorescent bulb cast a greenish glow on my mother’s face when she tucked us in. I was on the bottom bunk, the younger sister. When the train rounded a bend, we looked out the windows to see the cars stretching far ahead, pulling us toward Chicago, then New York. I don’t remember what was out the window, just the head of the train in the distance, pulling us on and on.

Our suburban neighborhood was a series of interconnected dead end streets, great for riding bicycles and roller skating. All the kids had to walk to the intersection of the neighborhood street with a much busier road to catch the bus. The bus stop was a landmark, the point beyond which no one could go without parental permission. Within the neighborhood, all roads were open. There were only four streets, but we knew everyone, and the landscape seemed pretty large.

In middle school, though, we sometimes walked or rode our bikes to the bus stop and sat on the split-rail fence and talked. I have no recollection of what we talked about, but behind our conversations was a yearning for something else, something different.

What else was out there? On vacations we visited family in upstate New York. My grandparents didn’t go to Florida, like some of my friends grandparents did. I had no concept of Florida, but I was pretty sure we were missing out. My father’s parents lived in the city of Syracuse, in an urban neighborhood. Their house was much older than our 1949 brick ranch, and their cellar still smelled like coal, dark and lit by a single light bulb on a string. With their six children grown and gone, the house seemed huge, and we raced up and down the back stairs and around the empty upstairs rooms. The attic was full of boxes and trunks.

My mother’s family lived in Penn Yan, a more rural area, and we spent more time outdoors, wandering around front yards, peering into abandoned farmyards, and climbing on Grandpa Mills’ long moribund diesel tractor in the back yard. We entertained ourselves by looking in the barn and getting used to the smell of hay–very strange to suburban noses. We swatted flies on Grandpa’s front porch all one morning, Paula and I, with cousins Michael and Carol, the four of us paired in ages. When we were together with cousins we had adventures hunting for junk and old glass bottles in farmyard dumps, or horn buttons and auto insignia from old cars abandoned in nearby fields. I believe my cousin still has some of our booty.

When we went visiting, we saw the fancy chickens my Uncle Buddy raised. They had topknots of black feathers that looked like some of the ladies hats we saw in church. The hens laid colored eggs, pastel blue and green, yellow and coral. I asked Uncle Buddy why stores didn’t have colored eggs for sale, they were so pretty. He said that no one wants strange colors, why, people practically wouldn’t eat brown eggs. For stores, people wanted white eggs. I didn’t agree.

At Uncle Jack’s house on Keuka Lake there was always a boat, and a dock to jump off. There were more cousins, too, older ones who knew about marching band, and football, and summer jobs. At Grandpa Mills’, we stood in the back yard and listened to dad and Grandpa shoot doves in the barn. We ate them for dinner that night and learned to pick the shot out before we hurt our teeth. Life in other places seemed full of adventure compared to the suburbs back home. Maybe wanderlust comes from seeing things different from what you know and deciding you like them.

(Travel) blog = Blog = Stories

What happens when a travel blogger runs out of travel? I was looking forward to getting back on the road after our winter in Peru when things started to go sideways. It wasn’t just that Jonathan broke his arm, or that I found out many retina specialists use an imaging device that doesn’t show my patch of degeneration (how can I be treated properly if they can’t see the bad spot?).

This is not the Parthenon

The real problem is the novel coronavirus. We’ve been in social isolation for two weeks, and that makes it impossible for us to leave for Athens tomorrow. We cancelled our Airbnb near the Parthenon–Oh! wound in my heart!–and today I am cancelling our flight on Iberia airlines to Athens via Madrid. As the months go by, we will cancel each of our other stops and the associated flights.

Adding to my disgruntlement is the fact that we are sheltering in place in our old stomping grounds, the Chicago suburbs. We have a lovely house here through Airbnb, but remember–when Jonathan and I left this area almost six years ago, we had NO plans to return. I would have preferred to be isolated in a new potential home town on the east or west coasts, but here we are, where the doctors are familiar and we can navigate the health care system relatively easily.

Playing dress-up outside our childhood home.

How to make lemonade? Rather than write about travel past or travel future, I am going to tell the stories of how I developed wanderlust and where it led me. How did I go from a youthful home firmly rooted in the New York suburbs–we arrived when I was 3, left I was 30–to someone who has given up a fixed home? With apologies to Groucho, perhaps my epitaph should be “I’d rather be–anywhere than here.”

I’ve decided to post these stories separately at LLLYWINDACHRONICLES.wordpress.com

Please stop by!

Social Distancing in Lombard, IL

We are living in a lovely house in Lombard, IL until the end of April, when we may know something more about the current pandemic. Our month in Athens is off, and probably the rest of our travels this season, but we will check our options at the end of each month.

We are fortunate to have found a nice place to stay. There is a historic element, here, too, as the house is one of the “Sears catalogue” houses built between 1908-1940 from kits that included all that was needed to build a house shipped from Sears to the building site. (Ours is a single story, not exactly like the pictured two story house.)

Though the house looks modest from the outside, the lower floor is completely finished and contains a bedroom and bath, media room/den, home office, laundry room, and storage. The upstairs has living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms and a bath.

The neighborhood is interesting, long settled and with a variety of homes built at different times and in different styles. Downtown Lombard is about a ten minute walk to the east, where there is a Metra station for trains to Chicago. Two blocks south of us is the Prairie Path, a regional walking/biking trail that extends more than 50 miles, from Chicago through the western suburbs.

The best known feature of the town is Lilacia Park, donated to the city by Col. William Plum, a local resident. The city was given his home, land, and the garden of lilacs that he and his wife had been cultivating for a number of years. The Plum’s began their garden with two lilac bushes they brought from France in 1907. The park was established in 1927, and today it includes over 200 varieties of lilacs. I had no idea there were that many variants! Though the plants are not in bloom yet, daffodils and tulips are coming up, and within a couple of weeks the park should begin its showiest time of the year. There won’t be a Lilac Festival this year, but the flowers will bloom no matter what. I intend to walk by regularly to keep track of them, and to smell the lilacs.

The day after I took this walk, it got drizzly and cold. I explored some of the downtown streets and didn’t pass many people. I noticed that the liquor store and smoke shop were open, and I was surprised that a hair salon and a nail salon were still open. I hadn’t been keeping up with the news, so I didn’t know that people were still crowding together at the beach in Florida and California, and standing in line to see the cherry blossoms in Washington. I suppose there are also people who still want to get their nails done. I have cancelled all appointments except for one eye doctor appointment that is already overdue.

This morning we were surprised to get up and find snow. What a change! It was so depressing to think that I’ve given up life on the beach for this–Illinois at the worst time of year. My moaning was premature, as the snow was completely melted and the sun was out by mid-afternoon. At 8 am, though, I was ready to abandon ship and go back to South America.

What do you like best about the beginning of spring? The longer days, warmer sun, options for gardening?

Guest Post #2: Virus Stories–Our Man in Paris

[Today I have another guest post. Rick Scott is an American who has lived in France for many years. In response to Joyce’s virus story, Rick provided his update on leaving the US to get back to Paris before he was stranded away from home, and what it has been like since his return.]

What a subject we suddenly have!  Never thought I would see what we long-protected boomers are seeing now. Here are a few high points of the last few days —
I was just in the U.S. for 6 weeks (New York, Philadelphia, Washington) and was getting ready to go to Richmond/Charlotte/Charleston/Florida, but started to get uneasy about all the talk about travel disruptions in the Far East and how that may spread. So I bought a ticket on Feb. 23 from Washington to Paris – and back to familiar local cafes and familiar health insurance until this virus thing sorts itself out.

3 days ago, Thursday, March 12  (two days before french lockdown)–

Life in Paris seemed totally normal.   Hardly any masks on the street. I stopped in for awhile at the local library and was thinking about going to a movie.  All cinemas were open.  Also would have been a good time to visit uncrowded museums.

That night, a reading of online international press made me realize that a lot of the world was already in lockdown mentality if not fact, and with good reason. You can be healthy as a horse but not even know – or never know – that you are/were a carrier and be endangering other people.    We’re all going to be walking in the dark for awhile with this virus.
What would Dr. Spock do?

So I decided – with the luxury of a retired person living alone – to then and there start self-quarantining or semi-self-quarantining.  No handshakes, no extended dinners with people, avoiding crowds, and spending a lot of time at home doing homework/research/errands online. I don’t have tv, but I have lots to do with a piano and the internet – and last month I spent a day at the Library of Congress in Washington getting instruction on how to access their online collection.

Yesterday, Saturday March 14 (the day of the french lockdown)–

My new rules still allowed me to take the metro and to have coffee on terraces outside. It was sunny and the terraces in my neighborhood were doing a booming business at 5 p.m. – every single  seat taken, but that night I heard from a niece in faraway Nebraska that she had just heard that France had declared a lockdown.       

I went to the French papers online, and sure enough, Edouard Philippe [Prime Minister of France] had spoken and  the police were making rounds to kick people out of bars and restaurants at midnight. (That didn’t even happen with the imminent German invasion in 1940, did it? Humphrey Bogart was still schmoozing well after midnight by the piano with Ingrid Bergman – and they seemed to have plenty of time to make further plans).

Today – Sunday March 15 (the day after lockdown)–

Out of curiosity, i went to the local supermarket this morning. Quite a few people were doing bulk shopping, but all the shelves were well stocked except for rice, pasta – and peanut butter (perhaps other things that I don’t notice  – since I don’t know how to cook). There seemed to be plenty of everything else, even toilet paper.

[The 19th and 20th arrondissements of Paris include the Parc Buttes Chaumont, the Pere Lachaise cemetery and lots of residential buildings.]

Parc Buttes Chaumont, 19th arr. Paris. M.M.Minderhoud

Then I took a walk through the 19th and 20th arrondissements – a total of 14,095 steps according to my iphone. Restaurants and brasseries indeed dead as a doornail. But – and this is a lifesaver – all the bakeries are open, even on Sunday. Fresh bread, sandwiches, quiche, patisserie  … and takeout COFFEE!  So I’ll be buying the newspapers, getting takeout coffee and reading on park benches for awhile. Not quite a terrace but not bad with proper social distancing. Then some power walking or biking in the park for exercise.

Takeout places are operating as well. Domino’s pizza outlets were all open.   McDonald’s was closed but functioning – via internet orders delivered by Ubereats, Deliveroo, etc. One enterprising brasserie was closed for food but had an outdoor takeaway stand for wine, beer, coffee. All takeaway, and socially distant.

In that walk of several miles, I saw only about a dozen people wearing masks.  

[Thanks, Rick, for giving us a snapshot of Paris at the start of the French response to the global pandemic. If you would like to contribute a Virus Story, please contact me at wcreamer151@gmail.com–Winifred]

Guest Post: Virus Stories

This is another guest post by my good friend Joyce Heard, sharing her story of how the COVID-19 virus is affecting her life that moves between Paris and Aix-en-Provence, France and Sidi ifni, Morocco.

By now you probably have your own coronavirus story. Here’s ours. First off, we are well. Jean Marie and I spent the first week of March in Paris. Before the virus seriously hit France, we enjoyed good meals, fine wines, a concert, a movie, a museum and catching up  with old friends. I also ran around to various doctors to prepare for a planned surgery in April. It will now surely be postponed.

Paris with Sacre Coeur (By Gerd Eichmann – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78750052)

Parisians were unusually friendly. Eating lunch alone at a cafe, the man at the table on my left reminded the waiter not to forget my coffee as he could see it was taking a long time. The young couple on my right eyed my chair full of bags (Yes I had been shopping) and asked if I was planning to take the metro. When I said yes, they advised me not to do so as there had been a run of metro thieves at the nearest station. I walked instead. Never before had I benefited from such solicitude from unknown Parisians.

At the Marmottan museum to see a show on how classic Italian painters influenced Cezanne even though he never went to Italy, we used the co-ed bathroom. When Jean Marie came out of the toilet and made to leave without washing his hands, I reminded him to do so. A well-dressed and perfectly made up woman about my age, the sort of Parisian who would normally ignore us, turned to me and said, “Oh they are all alike,” in sisterly commiseration. I said, “Yes, I expect to be a widow soon.” She said, “Me too, perhaps we’ll meet up again as merry widows.” Unbelievable. A friendly upper bourgeois Parisienne? Something in Paris has changed. Indeed, the taxi drivers were all on time and uniformly competent with clean vehicles. I think this is due to competition from Uber and other services, but it is such a pleasant change.

We flew back to Agadir, Morocco on Sunday, March 8 and spent Jean Marie’s birthday at one of our favorite hotels, Dar Zitoune in Taroudant. We had thought it would be nice to enjoy a last few weeks of Spring in Morocco before returning to France on April 6. Now we are stuck here.

So far Morocco only has a handful of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, all brought by Moroccans and tourists arriving from Europe. So the country has shut down all ports and flights to most European countries. 

Even in the best of times, communication is a weak point in Morocco. So of course there were scenes of chaos at all the airports yesterday as stranded tourists tried in vain to get home. Late yesterday Morocco gave permission for France to send some planes to repatriate citizens. We are not going to be on one of those planes. We have decided to hunker down at home in Sidi Ifni rather than join chaotic mobs at the Agadir airport. Since we are legal residents of Morocco, we would probably not be on a priority list to return to France anyway. 

Back in France, two of the friends we saw are showing mild symptoms that could be the coronavirus. One friend went to the hospital to have a stent put in, but as he had a low fever, the stent placement was postponed and they gave him a Covid-19 test. He waited days confined at his apartment. Finally, the hospital told him they had mistakenly sent his test to the wrong lab so it was not analyzed. This is not reassuring. The second friend was simply told to stay at home for seven days and wear a mask when going out today to vote in local elections. France is now only testing people who present with likely serious cases.

So for now, we are taking our chances where we can still go for walks on our uncrowded beach. We have books, television, Internet, Netflix and the calming presence of our cat, Rizu. Since Morocco stocked up on staples in advance of Ramadan which starts April 25, we don’t expect to run out of food here. Our local market supplies fresh local fruit and vegetables and the fishermen are still arriving daily with fish. Before Morocco confined us, we were having a big debate about trying to get back to France or not. In the end, it is perhaps easier to have let King Mohammed VI decide for us.

Social Distancing in Sidi Ifni

The Sky Falls sometimes

I was beginning to put clothing on the bed. I was starting to put away all the beach glass remaining in the studio. I was thinking about what I needed to take with me to the US.

There was still a week before we were due to fly to the US, and we agreed to take a morning to visit our friend Alex’s farm. He had new fields of avocados to look at, and there are always interesting things to see. On the way out to the fields, we passed an old cotton gin and fields of “tara” (Cesalpinia spinosa), a tree whose gum is used for cosmetics and medicines.

We stopped to visit a small reservoir, and walked up a short hill to get to the edge. Tiny fish were flopping at the edge of the water–Alex said they were tilapia. I saw one tiny fish that had flopped out of the pool and thought I’d flip it back in the water with the toe of my shoe. I did, but kept sliding, and ended up sitting in the water at the edge of the pool, mud-covered and laughing. Alex came to help me and promptly skidded into the water up to his knees. “Don’t help me! Get out!” I yelled. He couldn’t help me without sliding in even further. As Alex made his way to the edge and out of the pool, I edged up the slippery shore until I could grab a dry palm frond that Jonathan extended down to me. With it, I was able to pull myself up the bank. I was safe, but covered in mud, and soaking wet.

I headed back toward the car but part way back heard a noise. Alex and I headed back up the trail and found that Jonathan had tripped over a big log that crossed the trail. He said his arm was broken. I couldn’t believe it. We hobbled back to the car and headed for the Clinica Zavaleta. We waited a few minutes and then Jonathan was able to go in and get x-rays taken. By the time I could go inside, they knew he had broken the end of his humerus, and the doctor was setting him up to receive intravenous pain medication. His arm was put in a sling.

When we sat down with the doctor, we were told that Jonathan would need a pin in his arm, and that it would take a few days to locate the right size. Then there would be surgery. After talking with the doctor, and she in turn talked to the surgeon by phone, we decided the best course of action would be to return to the US immediately. I emailed our travel agent, as this time we’d used a travel agent to get our tickets. That turned out to be very helpful because within 20 minutes she had found a flight at 11 pm this very day to connect to Chicago. All we had to do was pack and get to the airport by 9 pm. By the time we left the clinic it was about 1 pm.

Everyone at home was helpful. Carlos got ready to drive us to Lima, Dalmira helped Jonathan pack, as he couldn’t use his arm. I started to pack, and got finished just about 5:30 pm when it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes to our neighbors, hugged everyone, and jumped into the car. It was strange to be on our way home, jerked from our life in Barranca into something completely different. We stopped in the lounge on the way to the gate where I was able to email our family in the US about what had happened, then we boarded the plane and six hours later we changed planes in Miami.

We had a few hours layover in Miami, but didn’t really notice the time. We got on the plane for Chicago and in no time it was 10:30 am and we were on the ground in Chicago. I was able to get our rental car a week early and return to the airport to pick up Jonathan. We went straight to the emergency room at the hospital closest to where we stay.

We sat in the emergency room for a very long time. After about two hours, new x-rays were taken with a very interesting portable device that rolled right into the room. Jonathan didn’t have to move much to get the pictures taken. After a lot more sitting, we talked to the physician’s assistant on call. He believed that the arm would heal on its own without surgery, and referred Jonathan to a surgeon for another review during the week. We were very relieved. That was Saturday.

On Monday, we went to see Dr. Ivey, an arm/shoulder surgeon. He suggested the most likely repair to Jonathan’s shoulder would be a small plate, but that he wouldn’t know for certain until surgery. Now we are back to planning surgery again! We tried to get another opinion, but everyone was booked up and very busy, and after waiting through all of Tuesday and Wednesday for people to call us, Jonathan decided to go ahead and book the surgery. He will go in next Wednesday, Mar. 18. In the mean time, we’ve heard good things about Dr. Ivey. Now we wait for surgery day.

Postscript: The Silver Lining

We returned to Chicago a week early, and this weekend, when we were due to arrive, the new rules for entering the US resulted in waits of between four and six hours at O’Hare airport. We would have gotten off our flight around 7 pm after traveling for twelve hours, and THEN had to stand in line for another four or more hours just to get through immigration. A good reason to have returned early, when there were no lines.

I wonder if having Global Entry would have helped?

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