|All of these houses are constructed of Edison Portland|
cement. The light blue house just behind the pole
is probably closest to the original look of these homes.
Honestly, I wasn't expecting much. Last year I'd attended a Park Service presentation on Edison's concrete houses, and the P'burg houses were represented by a dingy photo of a depressing house that appeared to be wrapped in tar paper. What we found when we got there was pretty cheerful by comparison. The Valley View folks have commemorated the Edison connection in a nearby park, and the area is pretty nicely landscaped, overall. While the houses are fitted cheek-on-jowl in 0.1 acre lots, they've been customized by their owners over the years, sporting a variety of colors, brickfaces and even vinyl siding. I have to admit I liked the original stucco the best, but I totally understand the desire to individualize what used to be totally uniform buildings lining both sides of three or four streets. Along the way we saw a larger though still compact commercial building that, no doubt, was originally built to be a community center.
We were fortunate to be invited into one of the houses to take a look around, and true to the billing, these are sturdy structures. They're also very small. As soon as you walk into the door, you're basically in the living room, with a staircase to one side and a shallow sitting room to the other. Immediately behind the living room is a shallow kitchen, and to the other side is an elevated porch that leads to the backyard.
Ducking as not to hit our heads on the ceiling, we climbed the stairs to the second floor to find two small bedrooms just large enough to accommodate a queen-size bed. There's also a shallow front room that maybe could accommodate a small home office. In brief, you'd definitely have to take careful measurements of any furniture you'd buy for the second floor. That, or plan on getting it flat shipped from Ikea, build it in the room you'd use it in, and be prepared to break it apart when you move.
When Edison first envisioned the concrete house, he saw it as a replacement for slum dwellings, an inexpensive alternative that the average worker could buy for just $1,200 (as any real estate agent would tell you, comparing your house with a slum isn't likely to attract many buyers). Ingersoll-Rand saw them as efficiently-constructed housing for laborers working at its nearby factory. Nowadays, I'd venture that they're considered starter housing for young marrieds or singles who want to build equity or would rather have detached housing than a condo. Even as an Edison geek, I'd shy away from the opportunity, though. Just too claustrophobic.
Want to learn more about Edison's many experiments? Check our our stories on his developments in iron ore production, the first town to be fully electrified, his Menlo Park electric railroad, and his West Orange invention factory. You can also learn why his 29 room mansion was a real steal.