National Homes structures in Lafayette Heights a collection of hidden gems

Two dozen homes manufactured by National Homes were assembled in Lafayette Heights from 1954 to 1958.

An interesting and unique Old Town neighborhood is Lafayette Heights, located west of Public Road and south of Kimbark Street. The neighborhood was established in 1954 and is Lafayette’s first subdivision containing mass-produced homes.

The first 24 homes in the neighborhood — along the 700 blocks of S. Roosevelt and S. Longmont streets — were kit homes manufactured in 1954 in Lafayette, Indiana by National Homes, then shipped in pieces to Lafayette, Colo., where they were assembled in a matter of a few days.

Lafayette Heights subdivision was developed by Don Shaw of Shaw Homes (and Shaw Realty, based in Greeley, Colo.), and was originally part of the C.A. “Gus” Waneka Farm. The subdivision was platted June 1954 by Don Shaw and Clancy and Helen Waneka. Gus was the grandson of Adolf and Anna Waneka, Clancy was a great-grandson.

The neighborhood still contains unmodified examples of National Homes products, although many homeowners added garages and stone and brick siding over the years. But the unimposing scale of the one-story Ranch homes is still evident in the modified versions.

The typical National Home had no eaves, a center entry door with no porch, a large picture window with double hung windows on either side, and a small double hung bedroom window. Some of the National Home models along S. Longmont have corner-entry doorways.

In the 1940s and 1950s, National Homes was known as the “General Motors of homebuilding.” They shipped homes throughout the U.S. and were a source for mass-produced starter homes for returning GIs in the post-war years (who were promised homes with no down payment).

The company was also known for its pioneering building methods including unitized building panels held together with glue rather than nails. Walls, floors and roofs are mass-produced in Indiana then shipped to building sites across the country. The company was among the first to use mass-produced doors, windows and woodwork, and on the leading edge of using plywood and fiberboard as major building components. Instructions for maintaining the home, along with a serial number, were etched onto an aluminum placard attached to a laundry room wall.

A worker finishes a National Homes structure in Lafayette in 1954. The same houses as they appear in 2022.

A local building crew of six could assemble a National Homes product in 4 1/2 days. The first three National Homes in Lafayette Heights were erected in 3 days during the summer of 1954. Wiring the homes for electrical and finishing the plumbing took another 2-3 weeks.

National Homes was also progressive in its marketing campaigns and is among the first homebuilders to use “Home Merchandising” where women were recognized as having the most influence in the purchasing decision. “Sell the wife — and you’ve sold the house!” was the company’s motto, and advertising campaigns targeted women’s magazines including Good Housekeeping, Living for Young Homemakers, McCall’s, Better Homes & Gardens and Coronet.

Lafayette Heights demarcated a cultural shift in Lafayette’s neighborhoods in that prior to the 1940s, Latino families generally resided east of Lafayette along Flagg Drive and in Old Town along E. Emma and E. Chester streets. The remaining areas of town were exclusively white.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Latino families bought and built homes west of Public Road, and also purchased homes in Lafayette Heights. So much so that Lafayette Heights was a diverse neighborhood even before the last National Homes structure was completed in 1958. Original and early Latino homeowners included Dave Ortega, Lincoln Chavez (a WWII veteran) and Espiridon Torres.

Lack of new housing in Louisville also brought some of our Louisville neighbors eastward to Lafayette Heights, including Lemoine Bammer, a renowned car mechanic who operated a filling station in Louisville.

The National Homes Cadet model.

National Homes was founded in 1940 and became the nation’s largest manufacturer of prefabricated housing spurred by Federal government support. In the 1950s, the company introduced the “Thrift Line” of 2-bedroom houses priced at $5,150 not including land. The company could produce 750 homes per month and cranked out 250,000 homes by 1963. By 1972 the company shipped 2,000 homes per year to Chicago. The company went out of business in 1991.

• Boulder County Clerk and Recorder
• Boulder Valley Lens (Lafayette) Leader, 1954
• Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1987
• Preservation in Pink — Historic Preservation, Coffee, Community + Pink Flamingos |
• “Restyling the Postwar Prefab: The National Homes Corporation’s Revolution in Home Merchandising Buildings and Landscapes,” 2018. By M. Gomez Nordyke
• “Why mass-produced National Homes are interesting (to me)” By James Figy |
• A Field Guide to American Houses, 2015 By Virginia Savage McAlester