Springfield Housing Project – Royal Barry Wills, Jan 28, 1942

springfield massachusetts 1942Springfield Defense Housing 1942During World War II, there were serious material shortage — rationing — and little home construction. Except for: Defense housing — housing for employees working in the defense industry. My main man Royal Barry Wills — the most influential residential architect of the 20th century, whom most Americans have never heard of — designed one such housing project — in Springfield, Mass., in 1942.  I recently scored some press photos. So here into the historical archive they go — complete with annotation of the news release and other information on the back of the photos. Hey: Is that RBW’s handwriting?

The calligraphy on the front of the rendering provides these credits:

Defense Housing Project
Springfield, Mass., 19023
Royal Barry Wills, Architect, Boston, Mass.
Hayden, Harding & Buchanan, Engineers. — Hallam L. Movius, Landscape Architect

springfield defense housing project 1942

 

On the back of this lovely illustration, there is a piece of typewritten paper that says:

Royal Barry Wills

SPRINGFIELD HOUSING PROJECT

On January 27, 1942, bids are to be received on the new Defense Housing Job of 300 dwelling units to be located on St. James Avenue, Hobart and Carew Streets, Springfield, Massachusetts, according to Royal Barry Wills, of Boston, the Architect of this Project.

There are 90 buildings, 30 of 1-story and 60 of 2-story design. The 10story houses accommodate two families and the 2-story houses accommodate four. All of the buildings are part brick — some with brick ends and some with brick fronts. This combination of brick and wood construction gives an interesting architectural treatment.

This particular Project will be well landscaped and surrounded by pleasant lawns and play areas, with a Playing Field at the end of the Project, and an Administration Building for community functions. Smaller children will have a Play Yard and a Play Pool, where they may enjoy supervised play.

The interiors of the dwelling units are all arranged with the latest equipment, using electric refrigerators, gas ranges and oil head. The dewllings all have living-room, kitchen and bath, and one, two or three bedrooms.

January 22, 1942

Springfield Mass 1942A second photo — dated Nov. 23, 1942 — is this the completed project? So soon? Yes… I think that Defense housing was desperately needed — this units must have been built quickly.

 royal barry wills handwriting possibly

The text on the back of the photo says:

Stamped:

Nov 23 1942 (stamped)

From Royal Barry Wills
Architect
3 Joy St., Boston

Springfield Housing
Oct. 14, 1942

Stamped:

Photography by
Haskell
Architectural Photographer
21 Cedar St., Marblehead, Mass.

I got excited, thinking that maybe the handwriting was Royal Barry Wills’ own, so I sent a note to my contacts at Royal Barry Wills Associates, Inc., which is still rockin’ the architectural design, in Boston, Mass. I heard back from Richard, Royal’s son, who runs the firm. He said:

Hi Pam:
Great find on the Springfield Housing project.
That’s about all Dad had going during that time plus
A few apartment renovations’
That is when he wrote some of his books.
Re the writing on the back. It is not his handwriting.
It looks like his secretary’s.

Best:  Richard

I asked for the secretary’s name, and Richard said it was Miss Alice Schuster.

I love learning more about Royal Barry Wills!

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Comments

  1. Jana (Berniecat) says

    What an interesting piece of history! From the description of the development, I would guess that the defense housing neighborhoods were the first models for the post war suburban subdivisions? Did Royal Barry Wills design and build post war subdivisions and housing developments as well?

  2. Chad D says

    Do you know what happened to this after the war? There’s a neighborhood an awful lot like it in the town where I grew up. They were supposed to be leveled but the owner of the land, who I think loaned it or leased it to the government, sold off the houses instead.

  3. Janet in CT says

    Never heard of RBW – very interesting! I would assume the neighorhood still exists – Pam, do you know where it is now? My father-in-law told us that after the war, he went to work for a contractor putting in these suburban subdivions in Manchester CT. Alot of servicemen were coming home and getting married and needed a house to live in. Since Pratt and Whitney Aircraft in Hartford was just about the biggest employer for returning vets in New England at the time, housing was desperately needed in the area, and FAST! He said that they set up a sawmill right on the premises, and as they cleared the land, they cut up and milled the wood for the framework of the houses. I can’t even imagine all the twisting and bulging those walls must have suffered as that green wood dried! They were putting up three houses in two weeks, weather permitting, or two houses in three weeks in bad weather. They were usually sold before they were even done. I like driving through that area but most of the houses have been remodeled and updated multiple times; however, a few of them are still mostly original and very interesting.

    • pam kueber says

      I think the neighborhood is still there. I know there is a street there named after RBW. I need to go over there and check it out — it’s only an hour or so from where I live…

      • Janet in CT says

        Probably the same distance for me here in central northern CT. I would love to find out if some or most of the houses are still there! We don’t go through or to Springfield often but it would make a nice day trip!

  4. Andreas Jordahl Rhude says

    The company for which I work manufactures structural glued laminated timber at Peshtigo, WI. During the late part of WW II, they started making pre-fabricated homes. The first project was for 500 homes that were shipped to England! These were to replaced bombed out neighborhoods. Immediately after the war many housing developments were put up for returning veterans and their families. One such development was in Gary, IN another in Brillion, WI. Homes were shipped to Alaska too.

    I have a binder of 11″ x 17″ original drawings of the various models from 1950. Very cool stuff! They hired Milwaukee architect Edmund Schrang to design the line. They dropped the pre-fab house line about 1958.

    Andreas

  5. Sarah g says

    We have a similar neighborhood in my town. We are home to the now defunked Chennault airforce base ( aeroframe now uses it to repair commercial planes) and during the war years plenty of these tiny houses were brought in to house the military families. The neighborhood still exists, greenwich village, and all the streets are named after generals. Part of it is gone however when they built the I-210 loop they went right through it. The houses are sooo tiny and the ‘neighborhood’ of the past is presently just ‘hood’ now… In the past 2 years some developer has been buying them up, remodeling them, painting them funky colors and reselling them for a flat 75,000.

    The town across the lake had an entire Neighborhood for Lustron houses in the village of maplewood ( no longer officially exists but people still claim to be from there) I’ve only been able to find 2 of them and one is in really bad shape.

  6. Jay says

    Really neat, thanks for sharing!
    I like looking at old housing plans and photos. Are the houses still standing? Many times the war housing was left standing and became incorporated into the communities where they were located.

    • Rick S says

      Pam,
      I am excited to see the wonderful neighborhood designed so long ago seems to be intact and looks good. I went on bing maps and entered
      Hobart Streets, Springfield, Massachusetts. When you click show labels, the street names show up. The St James and Carew Streets form a V and Hobart joins the two at the bottom, like an upside down A. The birdseye view lets you see the homes and yards. It looks like a nice place to live. not sure if I can post “address” to bing will post if allowed.

      rick

      • Rick S says

        Pam,
        I took a tour of the streets via computer. I wen on ZILLOW. Enter zillow and any of the streets in the developement, followed by Springfeild MA, and you can “drive through the area. Some of the street names are Carwe St, Putnam Circle,Baldwin St,Farragut St,Acme Pl,Kelly Pl,Cameron St, and Ames St.
        It is like driving down the road and gives “approximate house numbers, and realtor info, ie #of bedrooms,baths,year built and sq feet. I felt like I was there.

        rick

  7. Robin, NV says

    I work at a military base that was commissioned during World War II.
    In town, we still have a small neighborhood of FHA-designed homes built for the war effort. They’re mostly rentals but are in surprisingly good condition. The population of my little town doubled during the war.

    I’m also pretty sure that Tom’s Trailer Park here in Fallon started out as war time housing. The Navy brought in about 100 mobile homes and I have a feeling a lot of them were set up at the trailer park. Speaking of which, RR should look into mid century trailer housing. It didn’t have the stigma that it does today and some of the old trailers are quite cool looking with cozy and cute interiors.

  8. Anna Best says

    I love posts like this (and the hollywood sketch one that follows it). One of my bucket list items is to own a Royal Barry Wills home from the 1940s or 1950s.

    • MARY says

      Anna
      Do you have the RBW house yet?
      My bucket list has two houses on it, RBW’s own house in Winchester, on page 25 of More Houses for Good LIving, and his Duxbury house on page 100. One for summer, one for winter. No chance of those bucket items ever happening.Good thing, since I can’t handle a lot of snow. Of all my books, this is the one I’d have buried with me.
      Why wasn’t I born rich! Sigh.
      But I’m kicking myself that my sister lived near springfield and i never knew his houses were in the neighborhood.

  9. says

    This is very similar to housing that was built incredibly quickly during WWII for workers at Marietta’s Bell Bomber plant (now Lockheed Martin!). Most of it survived until the last fifteen years or so, but now only one little collection is left. Marietta reused it as public housing, but they were really well built little brick duplexes.

  10. Tim says

    Own two RBW books – one very vintage – the other a more recent publishing. love his stuff. Even tho I dream of living in a Nuetra or an Eichler, it is a great reminder that the vast majority of Americans in the mid-century felt much more comfortable building and living in a home reminiscent of colonial Williamsburg than a FLW or a Case Study home. 🙂 Great homes, comfortably traditional and very livable. Plus the classic styling means that they aren’t as susceptible to design trends and fluctuations. Love him!

  11. tammyCA says

    My post went poof somehow, but cool find. I wasn’t familiar with RBW so I had to google & now I need to check out some books…I love house history. His Cape Cods look so charming…my favorite word. The post WWII building boom out here birthed the Ranch house and a lot of the architects/builders were themselves returning Vets.

    • tammyCA says

      Oh, wow I just saw Pam’s old posts on RBW and his own home he built and featured in the ’43 Better Homes & Gardens…I have that exact same magazine! Cool to see the interior and read his comments.

  12. Kkmk says

    I mapped Hobart street on google earth and it looks like the development is pretty intact. I wonder if the baseball field is the “playing field” mentioned in the plans.

    • Sam Kaplan says

      Lucy Mallory Village had its own baseball field, built by the village’s fathers during WW II, using scraps for a backstop. My father was one of them. Though I was only nine or ten, I laid out the diamond, my father having had excessive confidence in my mathematical abilities. The boys of the village played endless games on that field, but it no longer exists. It disappeared quite a long time ago under the relentless hand of developers and is now a small network of roads and homes. However, the village was more or less across Carew Street from a spacious city park known as King Field, which now has another name. That field still exists. We played more formal baseball games there on a greatly superior diamond.
      For the record, my family lived in Lucy Mallory Village from September 1942 until about the summer of 1953 at the corner of Fernwold St and Kelly Place. And also for the record, this note is being written in London, which as a boy living in the village I thought I would never get to visit.

      • Tom Jarvis says

        I lived at 26 acme place from 1944 until about 1958 .I went to pottenger school when it opened.Marshall Roy field replaced kings field.We use to hang around Tommy’s market, and the office were we use to pay rent. Played ball in the fields behind Cameron place.Your name sounds familliar. Tom jarvis

  13. Saundra A says

    There are a number of modest houses in the southern sections of Seattle that were built in the early ’40s for Boeing workers. My grandparents bought one in 1952 that was built in ’43. There are several demonstrations of the scarceness of materials-thin wood for the flooring for example. But there are so many things that are so much more durable than materials now-the bathroom and kitchen tile for example. And then there are the puzzles, like the marble threshold for the bathroom….

  14. nina462 says

    google maps show that the houses are still there, but it’s more run down and is in very poor condition. Such a shame.

  15. Sam Kaplan says

    I lived in this Defense Housing Project from September 1942 until the summer of 1953, from roughly my eighth birthday until I finished my freshman year at college. The project was officially named Lucy Mallory Village (after a social work whose last name was spelled Mallory). We lived at the corner of Fernwald (or possibly Fernwold, which is how it’s spelled on current maps) and Kelly Place (which now seems to be named Acme Place). To answer some questions in these comments: (1) The village (as it was generally called by the residents) was privatized, I think, in the 1960s, on the whole not with happy aesthetic effects, and the common shapes were cut up into tiny, useless cells of lawn surrounded by fencing. (2) We built a rough baseball field with a chicken-wire backstop during the war. The fathers (including my own), did the heavy labor, happy to make a field for their sons. I laid out the infield dimensions. The baseball field visible on maps was a public park known then as King Field. It had a quite serious diamond where organized teams played. Our field was hummocky. King Field has now been renamed. (3) Only families could rent units so the village was rich with children, most of the name my age or younger in 1942. We grew up together. Growing up included a lot of baseball and in the fall football. (4) It was a housing project without significant crime or juvenile delinquency, not even joyriding. There was a war on. It made a difference, I think, but the more important point is that the families were determined to be respectable. Many of them, including my own, had moved in from quite deteriorated neighborhoods, often mislabeled as slums, and were thrilled to be in the project. The first day we moved in my dad used a red crayon or red paint to inscribe the date on a beam in the cellar. (5) When my parents finally moved, my sister was in junior high school and was dismayed. The village was a great place for kids. It was pretty good for adults too.

  16. Onawa Rock says

    My house is also part of a neighborhood built during world war ii for defense workers. Thanks for this, I have found ads and aerial photos from the early 1940s for mine and am loving learning the history of it and similar homes and developments.

  17. my says

    I grew up in Springfield and lived in another defense building project during the 70’s and 80’s. My grandmother live there during the 60’s and 70’s. It is called John J Duggan Projects, and was originally housing for service families but became low-income housing. My best friend lived in the Mallory Village on Fernwald St. during the 90’s. Even though I grew up in the so-called “projects” that apartment was one of the best I have ever lived in– warm, well-built, and roomy. Of course I remember during the late 70’s when the management came in and tore out all of the original wood cabinets and replaced them with cheap particle board during an “update.”

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