Friday, September 30, 2011

Rusty's in the Press!

Last week when AP reporter Stephanie Reitz came to visit the steel house she wrote an article about the house which has been sent out across the country on the AP wire. The story has already been run in over 100 papers!

To see the article follow this link:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Historic Preservation in New England Symposium

Work will not resume on Rusty until next week, but there is a symposium on historic preservation going on next weekend in Rhode Island for anyone who is interested in attending. Here's some information about it from preservation specialist Doug Royalty:

Rusty will be among the topics of discussion at a symposium on the future of historic preservation in New England on Saturday, Oct. 1, at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.

The day-long symposium, titled “Looking Forward: Preservation in New England in the Twenty-First Century,” will bring preservation professionals and recent graduates of historic preservation and public history programs together to explore the opportunities and challenges facing preservationists in the region. Papers will explore subjects ranging from the preservation of “gendered space” at Smith College to the development of Cape Cod's modern summer houses.

My paper, “Preserving Progress: Assessing the Significance of a Small Steel House in New London,” will be part of the symposium’s “Integrity and Treatment” section. Royalty’s paper recounts the development of the steel house preservation planning and restoration project and discusses the challenges of determining significance, assessing integrity, and developing treatment plans for the mass-produced modernism represented by Rusty.

“Looking Forward: Preservation in New England in the Twenty-First Century” is sponsored by Historic New England, the country’s oldest and largest regional historic preservation organization, and Roger Williams University. Registration for the conference is $60 ($50 for Historic New England members) and includes breakfast, refreshments, lunch, and a reception. For students, registration includes a one-year individual membership to Historic New England.

More information on the “Looking Forward” symposium can be found at Historic New England's website,, and on its Facebook events page,

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rusty at the end of the second week of deconstruction!

Photo by Doug Royalty

Day Nine

We’ve made it to the end of week two! Rusty isn’t completely disassembled, but most of the back of the house has been taken apart, packed up and sent back to Philadelphia. In addition, the interior wall panels in the bedrooms (the two rooms at the front of the house) have been removed along with all the insulation packed inside the walls. Loosening Rusty’s rusty fasteners has sometimes been slow going. That, combined with the bad weather over the last few days has put them a little behind schedule. Because they didn’t completely finish disassembly, as was the original plan, Milner + Carr Conservation will be back sometime next week to take down the rest of the house. The workers that were here this week left to return to Philadelphia this afternoon, taking with them a truck full of house parts.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Removing panels from the back wall

From the front doorway looking into what used to be the main room of the house

Day Eight

Rusty is coming apart! Today the rest of the interior panels from the main room were removed and work on the exterior panels began. The ceiling panels from the back part of the house were also removed. By the end of the day several panels from the back wall of the house were removed. The plan is to work from the back wall up to the front of the house. Most of the wall panels came off relatively easily. They are constructed similarly to the garage panels, with a metal sill running around the edge of the concrete base. This has bolts coming up through it and into the panels. The metal sill along the back edge was in better shape than the one below the garage wall panels, but it was still badly corroded.

One surprise today was a steel spacer in the ceiling that ran the width of the house. There may be more spacers farther up that will be found as the deconstruction progresses. The spacer uncovered today was a single 20-foot piece of metal that stretched from near the front door to the opposite wall of the house. It was probably put in for stability to stiffen the construction. Earlier General Houses models used steel I-beams, according to Connecticut College preservation specialist Doug Royalty, and shortly after Rusty was built General Houses changed their roof design, eliminating the need for metal spacer reinforcements. This discovery was a reminder that the house design built in 1933 was still somewhat experimental and General Houses had not finalized its construction system. Many early houses built by General Houses had differences in design as they gained more experience with prefab construction, making Rusty even more unique!

The wooden blocking beneath the cornice and the angled ends of the metal roof crosspieces
All the disassembled panels laid out and labeled

Disassembly of the garage

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Day Seven

The panel disassembly started today! The wall panels that made up the garage were removed, leaving an open concrete space where the garage previously stood. The panels were taken down one by one, and had to be detached from bolts that came up from the concrete slab on which the entire house sits. There is also an angle-iron sill that runs around the edge of the concrete, on which the panels sit. It had been very badly corroded, and will not be able to be saved. In some cases it had to be sawed off of the wall panels. The workers also sawed through some of the bolts running from the concrete slab, through the metal sill, and into the wall panels.

The removal of the steel cornice pieces revealed some wooden blocking above the metal crosspieces in the roof. The ends of the metal roofing pieces are angled in, preventing them from coming into direct contact with the cornice. This was done to stop conduction from one piece of metal to another. Because the two metal pieces don’t touch cold will not be able to flow as easily from the roof into the house, making the inside much easier to heat in winter.

One surprise in the disassembly so far is the amount of wood in the house. The inside of the garage door was reinforced with wooden studs within the wall panels, and there was all the wood along the top of the house that had previously been hidden under the cornices.

Some of the interior wall panels were also removed today. They came off relatively easily, and were all labeled and laid out on the lawn opposite the house. The insulation inside was bagged and placed in the dumpster as they went along.

It’s exciting to see the deconstruction of the actual walls begin and see Rusty begin to come apart!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two views of disassembling the garage

Photos by Doug Royalty

Day Six

Today the remainder of the roof decking and insulation was removed. This fully exposed the steel roof panels, and along with them all the corrosion holes in the roof. The insulation was packed into garbage bags and put in the dumpster. There was about six inches of insulation inside the roof, and there are several inches in-between the walls, which allowed the house to be comfortable during all seasons for the people who lived there. The house was airtight enough to retain heat in the winter, and was actually more efficient than many other contemporary houses, however condensation that formed on the inner walls of the house did contribute to the rust problems.

The metal railings around the perimeter of the garage roof were detached from the roof panels, disassembled and labeled. The area over the garage was originally a rooftop terrace that was accessed by a metal ladder attached to the garage wall adjacent to the back door.

Once the metal railing was removed, the Milner + Carr Conservation group started to disassemble the steel cornice pieces. These are the metal caps on the top of the exterior wall panels that were joined to the walls and the roof. Like the metal railings, each of the steel cornice pieces removed was labeled. It is very important to label each of the parts so they can be put back together in the correct locations after the restoration.

The frames for the steel roof panels were disassembled and labeled. The sheet metal ceiling sections that were extremely corroded and completely unsalvageable were removed from the frames and not included in the labeling. They will have to be replaced during the rehabilitation, with newly made pieces in their places when the house is reassembled.

On the interior, some of the joint covers were removed and labeled. The joint covers span the crack between two wall panels and link adjoining panels, forming a smoother seam. They all need to be removed before individual panels can be taken down.

In addition to all the work done on the house, an Associated Press reporter visited today, and will be writing a story covering the restoration project. There was also a radio reporter who visited. Hopefully their visits will help raise awareness of the project, and educate more people about the importance of the Steel House.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Removal of the garage roof

the rest of the wooden roof being removed, and the insulation being bagged

Photos by Doug Royalty

Day Five

Today the group from Milner + Carr Conservation returned to resume work on the house. They arrived around 3:00 and continued to demolish the remainder of the flat roof. They pulled off the rest of the wooden roof, asphalt and tar layers, and pulled out insulation in the roof for disposal. In addition, they got rid of the rest of the garage roof.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rusty after week one of deconstruction!

Day Four

Week one of Rusty’s deconstruction is complete! Today the wooden portico over the front entry and the entrance to the garage was taken off. This finished up the work on the house for the week, mainly leaving just the metal wall and roof panels for deconstruction next week. The wood is for the most part still in good condition, and will be able to be restored and used in the reconstructed house. With the portico taken down all the wooden parts of the house have been removed, and they will all be packed up and shipped to Philadelphia for restoration.

There is still part of the flat roof that will be taken off Monday, along with the insulation within panels. These will both have to be taken out before the steel panels can be removed. Early next week the deconstruction of the actual steel panels begins, and we’re on track to have Rusty completely taken apart by the end of next week!

Rusty, without the pitched roof

the asphalt roofing piled on the ground

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day Three

Today’s main accomplishment was taking the pitched roof off of and removing the asphalt roofing that was underneath. The roof came off without any major hitches, and most of the day was spent taking the thick layers of asphalt, tar and felt roofing off the original flat roof. The pitched roof was not original to the house’s design, but was added in the 1980s, most likely to help deal with moisture issues the inhabitants were experiencing with the flat roof. Beneath the asphalt was a wooden roof deck, probably pine, which was factory-made for the original flat roof of the house. It was still in good condition for the most part, but unfortunately could not be saved and reused in the restoration.

The removal of the pitched roof returned the house to its original silhouette. This significantly changes Rusty’s appearance, and gives us a better idea of what the house would have looked like according to the General Houses’ design. It is now much closer to the initial International Style design that shows the modernist ideas behind General Houses’ plan.

Everything on the inside of the house, with the exception of the bathtub, interior walls, and insulation, has now been taken out, and although Rusty looks a little bare, it’s great to see the original layout of the house. The open plan is more apparent, and the tight layout where everything is positioned most efficiently is more visible. Looking at the exterior walls, the amount of natural light that General Houses included in its design is also clear. There are multiple windows in almost every wall, with the exception of the one that abuts the garage, allowing the maximum amount of natural light, especially in the main room.

It’s great to see Rusty returning to its original plan, and get a glimpse of what the final product might look like!

The last of the pitched roof being removed

Removal of asphalt roofing

Photos by Doug Royalty

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day Two

The disassembly continues. After the non-historic add-ons to the house were taken off yesterday, the workers from Milner and Carr Conservation began taking out the windows, doors and some of the other fixtures. So far all the windows have been removed, along with both doors and their wooden doorframes. The original prefabricated wooden windows, including frames, sash, and panes, have been bundled in preparation for their restoration. We hope to keep as many of the original materials as possible, so they can be used in the reassembly, and remain a part of the historic structure. By the end of the day the windows were packed up in preparation for their trip to Philadelphia, where the restoration work will be done.

In addition, the copper roof on the entry portico has been taken down, and the non-original chimney was taken off.

On the inside, the removal of the screen has returned the living room-kitchen-dining area to its original space, a much more open plan. This gives us more of a sense of how it would have originally looked, although of course now it is much more cluttered with construction equipment.

The bathroom has also undergone major changes. The window, which had been filled in while the house was inhabited, has been knocked through again allowing natural light in the bathroom for the first time in years. The toilet, not original to the house, has been removed, along with the medicine cabinet and lavatory, which are original.

When the cabinets were taken off of the wall in the larger bedroom and next to the back door, the steel walls underneath were still in perfect condition. The wooden cabinets helped preserve the walls behind them allowing them to stay in good condition even when the house was neglected and the rest of it began to fall apart. It was exciting to see what the original walls would have looked like when Rusty was first built, and the General Houses logo was even still on the wall of the bedroom. We also discovered that there is no wall separating the entry space/living room from the smaller of the two bedrooms, another way the builders maximized available space and cut down on use of materials.

We’re off to a good start with the disassembly and we hope to learn more about Rusty as we get further into the process!

Rusty Looking a bit sad without his doors or windows

The main room, opened up without the screen, but cluttered up with equipment

Monday, September 12, 2011

Day 1: Disassembly Begins

The team in charge of deconstructing the Steel House arrived today, Milner and Carr Conservation, LLC. They began work documenting and taking apart the house, beginning with the non-historic parts of the house. Some aspects of the house are not original to the 1930s design and construction, for example, the storm windows. These and the screen separating the kitchen from the living room area inside the house were taken down, while the placement of all the original components to the house were photographed and documented.

A time lapse camera that takes pictures at a regular interval was also set up. It will allow us to have a series of images throughout the entire process that will show the disassembly in compressed time.

It's great to see the work beginning, and it will be very exciting over the next few weeks to see how it all comes apart!

Steel House Overview

Welcome to the House of Steel blog! The House of Steel, nicknamed “Rusty”, is an historic building located on the Connecticut College campus in New London, Connecticut. It has fallen into a state of disrepair, and a restoration project has been in place in order to return it to its former condition, and make the house usable again. Although there has been interest in conserving the house for several years, the restoration has just gotten under way. Over the next two weeks the house will be disassembled, shipped to Philadelphia for restoration. Early in 2012 it will be brought back and reassembled. This blog will document the restoration process starting with the disassembly, which has just gotten started.

For any readers at Conn, the House of Steel is located at the far south end of campus, near the Winslow Ames House, by South Lot. It is a small, rust-colored building that has stood unnoticed by most of the college community on the edge of campus. However, despite its unassuming appearance, the House of Steel is, upon closer inspection, an extremely interesting and historically important building.

Some basic history about the house:

The House of Steel was constructed in 1933 shortly after Winslow Ames saw the design exhibited in the Chicago World’s Fair. General Houses, the company which made the House of Steel, and American houses (which built the house next to Rusty, also for Winslow Ames in the 1930s) were pioneers in the prefabricated housing movement, which they believed at the time would be the answer to America’s affordable housing crisis.

Both companies were slow to take off, especially since it was the height of the Great Depression, when most people did not have enough money to build new houses, or were unwilling to spend what money they had on such new experimental designs. Ames had both the money and the interest and ordered two of the new prefab houses. At the time he was the director of the Lyman Allyn Museum, and had housing provided for him. He built the Steel House and its neighbor as rental properties. Both buildings continued to have tenants living in them even after they were sold to Connecticut College.

Why it is worth saving:

Although the house is currently not much to look at, and many people might be wondering why we are going to so much effort to save it, it is a rare example of early prefab housing. The Steel House incorporates many new design ideas that were quite revolutionary at the time. The whole concept of mass-produced parts that could be factory-produced and then assembled quickly was a huge change from standard building methods that had been in place for generations. Rusty is one of the few surviving examples of its type, and is uniquely positioned directly next to a competing prefab house from the same era, the Winslow Ames House (1934). It is also unusual in that it has no frame, but instead is made up of uniform steel panels bolted together to form the exterior walls. The inside is also an open plan, with the kitchen, dining, and living room areas all in the same open space, and only the bedrooms and bathroom separated by interior walls. General Houses incorporated modern design ideas into the plan and construction of the house, while at the same time taking into account the limitations of the time period, and designing theirs houses to be as cost effective and efficient as possible.

The Steel House is listed on the state and national registers of historic places, and is recognized as an important site, making it well worth our efforts to save it!

For more information about the house visit

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Rusty before any restoration work