This story is being updated / Jan. 2019. Since it first ran in 2012, most of these doors have been discontinued.
Super snaps to reader TappanTrailerTami for prompting today’s story by sending me this find: A company in California that still manufacturers 1950s style “mill finish screen doors.” This style of door was ubiquitous throughout mid century America.
I guess that mill finish screen doors were … cheap, cheerful — and effective. Back in the day, folks didn’t have air conditioning, so the doors at the front and back of the house were kept open to promote cross-breezes. The decorative scrolls kept the kids from busting the screen along the bottom half.
We olden folk remember, too, that you could get custom letters to insert into a particular design of scroll panel. I see these old capital letters sometimes on ebay or etsy or at estate sales — salvaged from the door when it was finally tossed out.
Hey: I love mill finish screen doors — and have two vintage one salvaged from estate sales right now, in my basement hoard (ugh) just waiting for the right opportunity. I also have a “K” insert I picked up somewhere. My basement is a museum, I am not kidding you, oh yes, it is.
What is “mill finish”?
What is ‘mill finish’ exactly. I quick-like found this info on finishing.com, “the home page of the finishing industry”:
“Mill Finish” is the natural appearance of the aluminum as it comes from the rolling mill (Alcoa, Reynolds, Kaiser, or Alcan) or the extrusion mill. It is “as is” with no external mechanical or chemical finishing…
Where to buy a mill finish screen doors:
As of February 2016 we heard that Precision Screen discontinued their Expando mill finish screen door, which was the door find that start this story. Precision Screen and Security Products, which is based in Redlands, California, still has some mill finish screen doors available, but they don not include the lovely scrollwork we associate with midcentury screen doors.
Interestingly — but not surprisingly — this company got its start in California during the post World War II housing boom. Their history page says:
Superior’s history is one of continual growth and expansion. In 1954 Paul and Angeline Oddo began a business called A-1 Louvre Window Company, located on Western Avenue in Los Angeles. They sold louvre windows to both retail and wholesale customers. Requests for window screens and components led to the expansion of A-1 to include these in their sales and distribution. Due to the constant growth A-1 was experiencing, they moved to a larger location in Los Angeles to accommodate the business.
A-1 continued to experience a need for expansion which lead to their third move in 1961. This location was at 60th and Broadway in Los Angeles, which almost tripled their size. It was here that A-1 began it’s production of sliding windows and a new rollforming division called Precision Rollforming saw it’s start.
Then in 1963 Precision Rollforming moved to Gardena to house the developing line of rollformers, making it one of the largest rollforming plants in Southern California. A-1 Louvre began the construction of yet another building directly behind Precision to accommodate an upsurge in business. In 1966 A-1 moved to Gardena, California.
Sales of sliding windows continued to increase, while the volume of louvre windows declined, resulting in the need for a name change. They were now known as A-1 Aluminum Products. 1971 began a series of changes for A-1 Aluminum. Paul and his son David decided to split off the new screen door department. This new company was developed under the name of Superior Aluminum Products by David Oddo…
[the history continues to the present]
Third source, yes, this one will not be easy:
Measure your door opening and note which way each screen door would need to swing. Put this info in your smart phone. Start looking at estate sales and at ReStores and in dumpsters and the like. The Retro Decorating Gods may smile upon you and deliver you just what you “need” just when you “need” it.
I suspect there may be more suppliers. But, my eyes ’bout popped out of my head researching this one. Let me know — in the Comments — if you know of more companies who make these and I will add them to the list! Again, though: Must be the classic mill finish!