In an effort to popularize and promote the use of concrete in residential construction, a now-obscure booklet was published by the Portland Cement Association’s Des Moines, Iowa, chapter sometime around 1940. Simply titled
Iowa Concrete Houses, this little gem of a book features not only photographs of houses built in Iowa of concrete, but includes floor plans as well. While most of the houses featured are distinctly modern in style, a few traditional styles are included. Thankfully this booklet survives for all to enjoy on archive.org, the valiant guardian of much historic printed material.
The publication includes designs by a variety of architects practicing in Iowa at the time. Since locations are given, I thought it would be fun to take a look via Google Street View to see how these futuristic designs had fared over the past eighty-odd years! As you can imagine, their fates have been varied. Most of the houses can be classified as Streamline Moderne or Art Deco; these designs seem to have been less respected. The more traditional designs have been maintained very well.
Let’s go to Iowa!
Though atypical of the style, this Art Moderne house sported a low hipped roof from the very beginning, perhaps a nod to the concurrently fashionable Hollywood Regency style or perhaps merely practical given Iowa winters. Steel factory sash casements appear to have been painted white like the concrete block walls.
The house appears to be little-changed (aside from paint colors) in this 2013 Street View capture. It also appears to be empty. The striking and vertical glass block window seen in the historic image is here largely obscured by a tree.
This place has a rather monumental feel to it! Note the stepped recess of the entry and the diamond pattern on the door adjacent to the garage, both nice period details. Great use of glass block here, too!
Have the glass block windows been damaged here? I really can’t tell. The house appears to have otherwise come through time relatively unscathed.
This is the only traditional design in the booklet which did not fare well…
The site today.
A concrete block duplex!
Though the original metal casements have been replaced with vinyl windows and the block has been stuccoed over, the delightful zig-zag coping has survived! I actually like the stucco better than the block… painted block doesn’t ever seem to age very well.
This little house has a playful and fun exterior… I like it a lot! Especially the “dancing” diamonds on the garage door!
Sigh. The green cube in the yard adds insult to injury.
Not a real warm exterior, but interesting. I like the window sash on these houses much better when it is painted a dark color rather than white.
The house seems to have experienced numerous alterations and additions over the years (including a second story), yet somehow avoided gaining a hipped roof!
This rather non-descript house was completely transformed in later years by a new roof…
Ta-da! Same house, but now it looks like a 1930’s Craftsman bungalow! Even the curved sidewalk survives.
As the most dramatic house in the booklet, this one had me most curious about its fate. Note the huge “Sun Room” on the floor plan. Imagine how memorable that must have been to enter for the first time as a guest!
I’m not sure exactly what happened to the exterior here, but it is safe to say that the house has changed somewhat since built. Many of the windows appear to have been changed. This side of the house, the front, is not shown in the historic photo above (the sun room is at the back of the house).
The low walls add interest to an otherwise stark exterior.
A hipped roof and covered entry serve to “normalize” what had been an overtly modernistic design.
If any house ever screamed “mid-1930’s”, it’s this one.
It’s not screaming anymore! A clumsy garage extension detracts from the Moderne styling of the house, as does the loss of original window sash.
Small, but big on attitude! And who doesn’t love a roof terrace?
Hmmmm. A storage shed shaped like a miniature barn now occupies the site. The driveway, and garage floor, are all that remain of the original house.
Whoa! This Tudor mansion is built of concrete? Apparently so! Note that even though the house was less than twenty years old when photographed, ivy had already climbed to the top of the very steep roof!
I was not surprised to find this house loved and beautifully maintained today.
Any house with a solarium is OK by me! Only two bedrooms!
Exterior changes include a new room above the solarium and exterior siding resembling clapboards.
Even when new, the mortar joints of the concrete block walls were highly visible.
This house has changed little compared to many of the others featured in the booklet.
Brick has been used here for window sills and under the roofline.
Aside from a change in paint colors, the house looks much as it did when built… it even sports a wood-shingled roof!
Built in 1939, this house in Spencer, Iowa, has a sign in the yard which reads “House of Tomorrow”.