I stayed up late watching a PBS documentary about the Dust Bowl era a few weeks ago (yeah, I know) and I couldn’t help but notice the ramshackle homes that were captured in numerous government photographs…
The federal government commissioned hungry young photographers to travel around the worst hit areas of the United States and record images of how people were living in poverty. Many of these photographers became famous in their own right such as Arthur Rothstein and Dorothea Lange.
The images illustrated the stark reality of many people’s living situations during the Great Depression.
Many dwellings were mere shacks like this sugar beet worker’s home on the eastern plains of Colorado:
But not all homes from the 1930’s fared so badly…
Surviving Depression era homes
Modesty, functionality and affordability were king during the tough years of the 1930’s. Despite the economy bottoming out, homes continued to be built in North America for a burgeoning population. In fact, some estimates of new homes built during the 1930’s put the number as high as 4 million!
Have a look at some some houses I dug up that were actually constructed during 1930’s:
Materials now known to be toxic to humans (such as lead and asbestos) were widely used in the first half of the 20th century… I suspect the siding on the 1930’s home [above] might be made from asbestos.
Brick was more expensive but it was durable and efficient for larger homes:
Large homes were built in the 1930’s but they were less ornate and less concerned with the type of aesthetics common during the Victorian era. Wood shingle siding replaced the elaborate scaling and fretwork of earlier decades.
Locally found materials such as rock were often utilized in 1930’s home construction as a cost-saving measure.
Below is a 1932 home built from rock in Dahlonega, Georgia:
In the mid-1930’s, Frank Lloyd Wright began designing more modest homes for the common man. He called this design of home Usonian after one of the proposed names for the United States of America. These homes were to be simple, functional homes that met the needs of small families and could be built for about $5000.
– from: Flickr.com
Interestingly, Tudor revival style homes were also popular in the 1930’s. The McDougal-Jones House in Bryan, Texas is a finely preserved Depression era example of Tudor architecture in a single family home:
The staple of Depression era homes, though, was undoubtedly the bungalow.
Craftsman homes were at the end of their reign by the 1930’s but they (and more generic forms of bungalows) were still popular as mail order kit homes. Below is a 1932 brick craftsman home in Forestville, Wisconsin:
Depression era kitchens
For a peek inside of depression era homes, the best place to look is the kitchen, since kitchens have changed the most of any other interior room over the past 80 or so years.
Here are a couple of kitchens as they appeared in the 1930’s…
Below is an all-wood kitchen built in the mid-1930’s that is still intact today at a Ranger Station residence in the Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon:
Finding untouched period kitchen from the 1930’s is rare since most surviving kitchens from that era (or older) have been unceremoniously gutted to make room for modern technologies and contemporary sensibilities.
But I did find a few pics of restored depression era kitchens. Have a look:
Aren’t they lovely?
There is something about the time period of the Great Depression that I find so fascinating. Perhaps because it was a time of desperation and necessity, rather than consumerism and conspicuous consumption. There was such an honesty and authenticity about the built environments back then.
This blog post is by no means an exhaustive study of 1930’s homes – I’ve merely skimmed the surface here. For a more detailed account of Depression era homes, check out the book The 1930s Home by Greg Stevenson.
I haven’t read it yet but it is on my ever-growing book stack!