November 10, 2015

Spreading Their Wings: The History of the Wingfoot Home

After World War II, the prefabricated Wingfoot “home of the future” took flight across the country.

Fresh out of high school at the dawn of the 1960s, Ken Kiko and a friend were in need of a bachelor pad. The unit the men moved into in Goodyear, Arizona, didn’t have much—255 square feet of living space, plywood walls, built-in beds and dressers—but it was plenty for them.

“At that time you didn’t think nothing about that,” Kiko, now 76, says. “It was very small, had a little kitchen and had a bathroom, and as I recall, the bedroom I think there were double bunks on each side, probably for a family but it was just the two of us.”

Kiko's house and others like it were, in fact, built for families when the simple structures first popped up in neat patches across the country a decade and a half earlier. Soldiers returning from World War II in the early 1940s faced a dismal housing shortage, so the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. developed a completely pre-fabricated “home of the future” to accommodate their quickly growing broods.

Priced at $2,650 and only eight feet wide, these nifty “Wingfoot” houses could be transported by truck (once on-site the bedrooms pulled out like drawers) and showed up in enclaves of Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Indiana, among other places, in addition to the city of Goodyear itself.

Few Wingfoots still stand. Aside from their flimsy construction, plywood interiors made models in cooler climates that required winter heating, such as those in Milwaukee, a fire hazard, according to the Milwaukee County Historical Society’s Steve Schaffer.

But in warmer places like Goodyear, the neat and colorful properties fared better. According to Sally Kiko, Ken’s wife and a board member of the Three Rivers Historical Society, two or three survive in the community, albeit with years of additions and modifications.

Wingfoot Exterior (old photo)

photo by: Sally Kiko

Undated photo of a Wingfoot house.

Wingfoot Houses 3

photo by: Kramer Woodard

A Wingfoot house as it stands today.

Wingfoot Houses 6

photo by: Kramer Woodard

Small clusters of Wingfoot houses still remain.

Wingfoot Houses 5

photo by: Kramer Woodard

These houses sometimes had no more than a couple hundred square feet.

In New Mexico, a collection of Wingfoots was brought in the early 1940s to accommodate scientists working on the Manhattan Project and their families at the Los Alamos Ranch School. Fifteen of those homes were eventually relocated from the National Treasure Manhattan Project site and, long after the nuclear bomb had been successfully developed, went on to house students, faculty and staff at the University of New Mexico’s D.H. Lawrence Ranch.

Today, those 15 units, which have been out of use for 20 years, could face demolition if UNM architecture professor Kramer Woodard and others aren’t able to secure funding to relocate or restore them.

“My plan was to transport two of the cabins to our Taos campus that has a construction technology program and have students there rebuild the cabins for the purpose of putting them on display in Los Alamos and back at the Ranch,” Woodard says.

While he’s noted interest from some he’s pitched his idea to, a financial backer has yet to come forward and the university intends to move forward with demolition if none do, English professor Sharon Warner says.

“These particular examples are an important part of the history of both [prefabrication and the development of atomic energy].”

Kramer Woodard

Woodard hasn’t given up hope just yet. With an IKEA-driven renewed interest in prefabricated housing in recent years, he says, now could be the right time to honor this particular piece of architectural history.

“With the interest in prefab and that these were associated with a major world-changing condition—that is, the development of atomic energy—these particular examples are an important part of the history of both,” Woodard says.

Despite the historic role it played in post-war America, Kiko’s Wingfoot home met its end with little fanfare in the late ’60s or early ’70s when it was razed to create more parking for the tire plant, he says. But he remembers his time in the once cutting-edge structure fondly—even if it was a little cramped.

“I saw a picture where it showed a family [living in a tiny Wingfoot home] and I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’d be awful.’ Back then probably not as bad as it would be today. Because back then it was what it was. That’s all there was so you tolerated it. Today we’re spoiled,” Kiko says. “I didn’t have any bad memories of it. It was a place to live.”

Wingfoot Kitchen (old photo)

photo by: Sally Kiko

Undated photo of a Wingfoot house kitchen in use.

Wingfoot Interior

photo by: Kramer Woodard

The interior of a Wingfoot house today.

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