When new houses could legally have only one bathroom

Back in the day, you were lucky if you had one bathroom in your house. Prior to, and after World War II, there were actually government restrictions on the number of bathrooms that could be built in newly constructed homes, due to materials shortages. Reader Shari D. recently posted an informative comment on a story I did a while back showing 1942 photos from the Library of Congress of Quinnipiac Terrace, of a defense housing development in New Haven, Conn. Shari wrote:  

I collect from eBay – and read thoroughly – issues of a trade magazine for the building industry called “American Builder”. Currently I am going back (again) through the issues dated through the War years. There is an amazing amount of information, with lots of pictures and floor plans, and information covering the houses built for defense workers, and military members and their families during that time. It also dealt with all the myriad, confusing and confounding government rules and edicts regarding what the building industry could, and more to the point, could NOT do during that time. You could make enough “alphabet soup” from all the different defense organization acronyms to feed everyone on the east coast three meals a day for a year!

Pam here, noting: I have also collected copies of American Builder and have found that Practical Builder also is a terrific historical resource. Note also: Both of the links earn me small commissions if ya buy. 

This photo and the one above credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Gottscho-Schleisner Collection [reproduction number, e.g., LC-G612-T-45094]

Regarding construction restrictions, that someone else brought up concerning homes built in 1942 – the current issue I am reading of the American Builder, January, 1942, has an article in it addressing that very issue, and the builder who worked day and night to lay foundations for as many houses as possible, likely did that around the first part of October, 1941. We weren’t directly involved in the War yet, it’s true, BUT, we were going crazy building “defense housing” prior to that, for the mass migrations of people to the big defense centers, such as the shipbuilding yards on three coasts (East, West, and the Gulf coast) bomber plants, right down to the little subassembly production facilities which were busy making things like seats for those big bombers.

There was also a flurry of building numerous new Army facilities from the ground up, to accommodate all the new draftees and enlistees in the other services, who were coming through the pipeline to be trained, housed, fed, cared for healthwise (hospitals, etc.) So, construction restrictions were getting tighter everyday. In January, it was reported (again, in concert with an article about other restrictions) that builders who had *completed* foundations (not half done) in the ground as of October 9, 1941, would be granted a priority to get the needed materials he didn’t already have in hand to complete those homes. That was the cutoff date for builders to have complete autonomy to buy the materials they needed to build a complete residential structure, whether it was a one-family home, a whole subdivision, or a multifamily apartment building. The cutoff date of course had been announced in advance, but the limitations hadn’t yet been finalized.

As for the restriction on the number of bathrooms a single family home (or apartment) could have (one) due to the restrictions on copper for water pipes, connections, and valves, and iron for waste stacks, and the cast iron or steel used to make bathtubs all priority materials, I’m sure I have read it in past issues (since I have been reading these for several years) of American Builder. I’m not sure of the exact dates involved, but likely very close to the others. I do know too that when we were really in the thick of things, building wise, that there were some defense homes which were built without bathtubs all together, and just had shower stalls! And even those were made with a very minimum of restricted materials.

But, the houses were also built with an incomplete second floor, for completing more two or even three bedrooms and an additional bath later on, after the War restrictions were no longer in force, and the plans which were provided to the homeowner at the time of sale included a bathroom layout that included ample space for the missing tub. In the meantime, everyone had to learn to like short showers rather than a long soak!

A few alternatives to steel or cast iron bathtubs which were either proposed but never actually constructed in large numbers due to a real lack of practicality included a tub constructed inside and out completely out of small ceramic tiles, over a wooden framework covered in some kind of cement, with the tile grouting adding to the “durability,” such as it was! Can you imagine sitting in such a structure to bathe? And, there was a period of time where all the exposed plumbing pipes and handle controls were no longer chrome plated but made from black iron in small quantities! Definitely utilitarian!

Thank you, Shari. Indeed. I will add: During this period, there also was a dire housing shortage. It is my understanding that people crowded into city apartments were over-the-moon happy to get into these new homes, no matter how small they were. This situation went on for another… 30 years or so! 

Categoriespostwar culture
  1. Shari D. says:

    Ashley – Yes indeed, that’s also been a thorn in my side for as long as I’ve been aware of the practice, which has been blamed on sub-dividers, home builders, contractors, and just about anyone else, except the RIGHT parties – the Government entities writing mortgage insurance regulations. They hold the power of the pen and the dollar over everyone’s head. Not the banks, or the savings and loans, or those buying, selling, or building the houses.

    Now, to be fair, to a point, in the 1920’s and before the FHA came about in the early 1930’s, (1934?) it definitely was the private builders and developers who set up their “Highly Restricted” communities, (which were indeed advertised as such) to keep out African-Americans, Jews, Italians, Asians, Hispanics, and anyone else they didn’t consider to be potential members of “polite society” or the “Country Club Set” or “good neighbors” because they were “different from us” and did, said, thought, ate, and went to church differently from “us,” or whatever else you want to call any member of any of the minority sets. It was always “us” and “those others.” And “they” were highly suspect in every way.

    But, with the FHA first, in 1934 and 10 years later with the GI Bill especially, came what was called “Redlining.” This really is as simple as it sounds. Real estate maps of every area covered locally for every institution were drawn and evaluated for predominantly white areas, and all the “others.” The predominantly (meaning 100%) white areas had green lines around them, usually the areas of new construction for white buyers, marking them as the “go to” areas, while other outlying areas and those somewhat closer in were still considered “a good risk” and were marked around in blue; with any “declining” or questionable areas were surrounded by yellow lines – or areas of warning – and then, you guessed it – the predominantly black communities and areas of minority settlement were heavily marked with a red pencil, meaning there would be NO investment of any kind for any reason, in such areas at all.

    And with no sources of financing, for new construction, remodeling or any revitalizing, much less purchasing of homes either in minority areas by minorities OR whites, or in new “whites only” areas by minority buyers, they were locked out completely from being able to move up into better areas with better schools and services for the families or communities, and nicer neighborhoods, and participating in the economic boom of the Post War years.

    No banks, savings and loans, building and loans, mortgage companies, insurance companies or any kind of finance company at all was able to get mortgages insured by the GI Bill/VA, OR the FHA for minority buyers in any area. And THAT was the government’s doing, not anyone else. It just “trickled down” on every one else’s head right from Washington, D.C. They did indeed make the rules that absolutely everyone else must adhere to.

    This is one thing that made the “in-house” home financing programs by the kit home companies so very popular with so many people, living in all sorts of areas. The mortgage application with the Sears Modern Homes programs were extremely popular amongst numerous members of all levels of society, no matter if they were single women, widows, first or second generation immigrants from other countries, etc. The application did not ask – nor did they care about – any of those other factors. At the time, the only things they wanted to know involved your name, how you could be contacted, did you have a job that was steady, where, could you afford to make the monthly payments, and did you have a lot to put the home on? Period.

    Even today, in spite of numerous court decisions, and lawsuits, with individually filed or class-action suits with potentially positive results in decisions, many forms of redlining, right down to the alteration of community maps to show little to no focus of loan activity in minority communities, whether African-American, Hispanic, or the LGBT community at large, or any other areas determined to be “undesirable,” right into the 21st century, and other forms of discriminatory financial and service practices are being practiced right now, today, as well. Many organizations, including one particular banking/financial service organization, which shall remain nameless here, have been taken to the courts repeatedly, and found guilty,or settled involving the payment of millions of dollars in fines. BUT, the article here:


    on the practice of redlining and its considerable financial wreckage explains a great deal. Much more than could or should be covered here.

  2. 9kkju says:

    Yes, it’s true that enough of a lag in homebuilding occured in the 15 year period of the “Great Depression” (compared with the post WWI building boom of the Roaring !++aa!aaaaaaaaaaaaaa!aaaaaa!!a!a9aTwenties, which occurred more or less for the same reasons) and the first 5 years of the 1940’s, due to the Defense efforts and pre-War concentration on producing all the food supplies, materiel, and armaments required not only to build up a very tiny post-WWI military presence of our own, into the military super power we became; but also to supply the Allies “Lend-Lease Act” contracts which were so very important to their own efforts – considering most of them had been involved in fighting the war since 1939.
    There was construction done in and around many cities, towns and urban areas which were designated as “priority” areas near important war materiel factories and other production facilities, which came up very short of living facilities due to the rapid influx of workers seeking employment in those areas. The government took on building up living quarters of various kinds, while the private sector assumed a greater percentage of small home and apartment building of a more homey, pleasant looking nature than the government’s more square, utilitarian looking apartment blocks and duplex and attached housing units. This stands to reason that anything the government took on to build was done with public funds from the get-go, while private builders did it with some public money in the form of loan guarantees, while actually planned, designed, and paid for with construction loans and buyer’s loans guaranteed by the FHA Title XI program. No public funds – aka tax money actually changed hands, other than in the form of the monthly taxes withheld from their mortgage payments each month. So, the people who bought privately funded and built homes and paid for them with private mortgages were contributing to the actual tax revenue of the government each month, and those who paid rent for publicly funded apartments weren’t.

  3. SalllyMu says:

    I really hate that snide hootenanny-era song about postwar public and private housing developments. (“Little Houses Made of Ticky-Tack” or something by a girl with a poor singing voice.) I’m glad there was public housing and small Levittown-type homes.

  4. Shari D. says:

    There are two in North Carolina. One of them has interior photos available through the link given in another poster’s comment regarding that house.

    Regarding that particular link, when I clicked on it, it did not pull up the photographs, indicating the search didn’t produce anything, and giving the search parameters used. I poked around for a little bit, and discovered that all 12 interior photos would come up by typing the name “Blandings” in the search bar, and hitting enter. So, if you experience a similar difficulty,try that and see if it comes up for you.

  5. Shari D. says:

    And mine as well! Especially when the contractor/builder breaks it down for the painter – “red, green, blue, yellow, white!”

    They never discussed the bedrooms, the maid’s quarters, or the upstairs bathrooms!

  6. Shari D. says:

    Actually, there are several in the
    following cities:

    Washington, DC*, Atlanta, GA, Louisville, KY, Greensboro, NC, Rocky Mount, NC, Chattanooga, TN, Memphis, TN, Nashville, TN.

    (*Yes, there are people who still consider Washington, D.C. as part of the Olde South! I guess all it takes is being south of the Mason-Dixon Line to qualify!)

  7. Shari D. says:

    That’s different. ???? Considering the promotion was run only for a few months in 1948, the build year of 1950 would tend to disqualify it as part of the promotion, yes?
    We all know – well, many of us anyway – that build years are notoriously inaccurate, but if the information comes to the selling agent already saying 1950, how can they come out and say it was part of the promotion?
    Not to mention that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the movie house. Some were changed in appearance, true, but still, what is it then about this house that makes it part of the movie promotion? Is there documentation? Photographs? Newspaper stories? The neighbor’s roommate’s sister’s cousin went to one on that street and is positive it was in that house? ????

  8. Shari D. says:

    Sorry about the silly typos! That’s the effect of trying to edit before entering, and having already taken my nighttime medications!???? I was trying to fix a few things, which obviously didnt get fixed before I fell asleep, and didn’t quite make it. ????

    Ah – and one thing I wish to correct here – the government mortgage and construction financing program I mentioned here should have been identified as “Title VI” (6), not “Title XI” (9) I really do know my Roman numerals, but I guess I just got them a little confused for a minute! ???? Sorry ’bout that!

  9. Shari D. says:

    And someone even tried it with houses! Other than to give the name, Lustron Homes, I will leave the details to any interested party to Google them. ????

  10. Katie says:

    Regarding the “tile box” bathtubs, my in-laws have one in their house, which was built in the mid-1960s, the builder offered it as a custom feature, and they have always enjoyed it. My FIL is 6’3″, and enjoys having a bathtub that is big enough for him to soak in comfortably.

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