"I'm just completing a new house that is a mechanical masterpiece,” writes Popular Mechanics editor Thomas Stimson in a 1955 article proudly titled "I Chose a Steel-Frame House". “The house has a steel frame like an office building. To a large extent it was put together with a welding torch instead of hammer and nails."
Stimson’s steel-frame house -- listed by Crosby Doe Associates today for a steep $US1.8 million -- was radical for its age. In a long exposition on the home, he describes wonders like an intercom system, built-in hampers, vinyl flooring, and a front door with a swivel peephole -- along with the massive, embedded fluorescent lights that cover the home’s fairly low ceilings.
In reality, the most remarkable thing about the house was its prefab steel structure, which allowed workers to assemble it on-site in a matter of weeks. Despite unanswered questions about its structural integrity during earthquakes, prefab steel offered a solution to the city's major post-War housing shortage. According to Stimson, the construction process itself was so unusual, gawkers would constantly stop by to ask about it:
There's only one thing about a house like this that's an actual handicap: It is so novel in appearance, especially when the steel frame is standing by itself, that people passing by just can't help stopping in to ask questions. Time is money and that runs up the costs.
Stimson was part of a Californian prefab tradition that began with the Case Study Homes in the 1950s and extended into the 1970s, with developers like Joseph Eichler, who built over 11,000 homes in the Bay Area alone. The legacy of prefab design articulated itself in unusual ways throughout Northern California -- for example, Steve Jobs grew up in an Eichler home, and often cited it when talking about good design. [Crosby Doe Associates via Curbed]