A parade of homes for a growing Rochester
The 1950 saw cities across America offer model homes to a burgeoning middle class.
It was, home builders declared, the perfect time to buy a new house.
“During National Home Week 1958, home buyers have a rare opportunity to acquire a modern home on modern terms at the best possible time,” stated advertising copy in the Post-Bulletin on Sept. 5, 1958. “Not in many, many months have market conditions so favored the home buying public as much as they do right now.”
According to National Home Week officials, conditions were favorable because the federal government had eased credit controls, which had been instituted to curb inflation. As a result, “Mortgage money supplies are now more than ample.”
To add to the temptation of easier money, Rochester’s Parade of Homes, which would run from Sept. 6 through Sept. 14, offered 16 new model homes ready for inspection — and purchase. The event was sponsored by local members of the National Association of Home Builders, who affirmed that “home ownership can and should be within the reach of every American family.”
America had faced a chronic housing shortage in the decade after World War II ended in 1945. By the mid-1950s, massive new suburban-style developments were finally providing affordable, albeit relatively small, homes for the burgeoning middle class.
In Rochester, where IBM had just opened a major new plant, there was a strong need for single-family homes.
Not surprisingly, then, over half the houses on the 1958 Parade of Homes tour were offered in the northwest quadrant of the city, close to IBM’s campus.
At the same time, the expansive development known as Country Club Manor, while not part of the Parade of Homes, was holding an open house. Two models in particular were mentioned in ads: the three-bedroom, 958-square-foot “Scottie,” and the four-bedroom, 1,235-square-foot “Andover.” The Scottie could be had for a down payment of $149, while the Andover would require a down payment of $599.
The Parade of Homes models, however, were a bit more expensive. Potential buyers were invited to make a three-bedroom, two-level home in the 1700 block of Fourth Avenue Northeast their first stop. The home featured two fireplaces, a recreation room, a living room with “a wonderful view of the city,” bath-and-a-half, two-car garage and a sodded lot, all “in the $30,000 price range,” according to the ad.
In the Elton Hills neighborhood, a home in the 2500 block of 14th Avenue Northwest, featured three bedrooms, a tiled bath with tub and shower, attached garage, full basement and a fully landscaped lot, all for $18,500.
National Home Week originated in 1948 as a way to show off the quantity and quality of new homes being built. It was estimated that in the 1950s, 10,000 model homes were opened annually as part of the week.
The Parade of Homes started in 1950 in Milwaukee, and was so successful that cities from coast to coast adopted the practice.
Within these model homes, builders could tempt buyers with the latest features. In 1958, builders were touting the “multimatic wall” for the kitchen, which placed most kitchen appliances into one efficient wall unit, including oven, broiler, refrigerator with freezer, washer-dryer, cabinets and counter top. “A damp cloth will clean all surfaces,” promised the advertisement.
Well, in that case, 1958 clearly was, as builders claimed, the right time to buy a new house.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.