Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wartime Jerry -Building: Dayton's Suburban Slums

Emergency housing projects didn't satisfy the wartime housing demand in Dayton. Ultimatley war workers--civilian and military--were forced into suburban slums of hastily constructed shacks, shantys, and small houses. Some of these were self-built, others quickly put up by builders.

Eventually entire suburban plats looked like this, blocks of shacks and small houses, without water and sewer service:


As can be seen by the 1952 "problem housing areas" map these suburban slums were found on all sides of the city. Some were recommended to be torn down while others were to be subject to selective demolition and rehabilitation:


Some of these slums were quite bad. One, Hog Bottom, was declared the "worst slum on the North American mainland" by a Federal housing official visiting in the 1950s (presumably slums in Puerto Rico were worse?).

Hog Bottom was eventually torn down and replaced by the Madden Hills urban renewal project.

Note the trailer in the following pix. Mobile homes provided a quick solution to the wartime and postwar housing crisis....and the crisis did extend beyond the end of the war.
War industry and the growth of Wright-Patterson led to a big spike in the local population, even before the war, leading to rent gouging (and the first war-era project, Greenmont). After the war automation in Appalachian coal mines and Southern agriculture threw people out of work, bringing an influx of white and black migrants looking for jobs in Dayton's booming industries.

One solution to the housing crisis was doubling up and splitting up of older housing in the city into multiple units, leading to the familiar stereotype of crowded urban slum conditions.

The less recognized slums were these suburban ones.

Why at the edge of town? Massive over-platting (without utility services) in the 'teens and 'twentys followed by the crash in property values during the Depression left a number of suburban plats mostly vacant and bankrupt. Presumably this land became available, cheap, when the wartime boom hit, so became the site of jerry-built housing.

This housing was for military as well as civilians. This pix from a military planning document notes a "cabin" occupied a staff sergeant and his extended family near Fairborn (perhaps in Little Kentucky).

The upgrading of the wartime suburban slums is one of the sucess stories of the postwar era. A good example is "Dogpatch", which became housing for war workers at the nearby Moraine industrial complex. I've been told some of the orginal housing here was built using scrap lumber from boxcars pulled into in the nearby railroad yard, so it certainly sounded like a shantytown like one sees in the above pix.

Today, however, the place has paved streets, curbs, sidewalks, and modernized and expanded houses (no doubt with some replacement housing in place of shacks) with water and sewer service.



Clearly this is no longer a suburban slum. And this pretty much was the case in nearly all the examples in the above map.

Next, a closer look at the conditions at one of the larger suburban slums, Wright View, AKA "Little Kentucky".

2 comments:

metromark said...

Jeffrey - Fascinating! I never realized these jerry-built slums existed. I was familiar with war-era housing developments such as Greenmont Village (I lived there as a kid and went to Greenmont School.)but not the outlying unzoned housing. Could this explain the odd layout of Moraine?

Jefferey said...

Moraine's layout. There is a history there, but not really related to WWII (thought there was wartime housing there, as shown in my post).

I'm going to do a few posts specifically on Moraine closer to when the GM plant shuts down, as a sort of tribute/memorial to the place.

I recall you mentioning that connection to Greenmont. I found out there is an orginal resident of Overlook, and might interview him on the place. He is 90 years old, though.