BY GEORGIA STRICKFADEN
Los Alamos native
Stephanie Nakhleh’s articles about Los Alamos housing are well researched and written.
There is a fallacy, however, in Los Alamos discussions about people living in refurbished “barracks”. There are actually no barracks, or even WW2 housing, left in Los Alamos except for Bathtub Row, which are former Ranch School buildings that pre-date the 1940s.
Barracks and temporary housing of all sorts were added continually for the 27 months of the Manhattan Project, 1943-1945. Very few of those wartime buildings are left. In 1946, Congress established a civilian agency, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), to take over all things Manhattan Project from the army, including Los Alamos. In an effort to attract the workforce needed after the war, a post-war building boom began.
Starting in 1946 a whole new permanent community started taking shape on vacant lands to the west. Western Area was completed in 1947. Following, in 1948, the vast North Community was started on the forested mountainside north of Pueblo Canyon. All housing was indeed built by “the government”, but now as permanent homes for the post-war influx of new people coming to work at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and its contractors. In the early 1950s, the “Iris Street” and “Gold Street” apartments were built where there had been barracks. As these new areas were being built up, the wartime barracks and temporary housing were systematically being removed to be replaced by modern post-war apartments and single-family homes.
So, what people today may think are refurbished barracks are actually intentionally well-built homes and apartments. Finally, in the mid-1960s, “the government” started “disposing” of all of those houses and businesses. That’s how my parents, veterans of WW2, were able to finally become homeowners, having arrived in Los Alamos in January of 1946. Their first assigned housing was a half of a Quonset hut with only electricity—the plumbing was in the common latrine a half-block distance. They were eventually assigned a Western Area home which they later were able to purchase from the federal government in 1966 during “disposal”.
For the definitive well-researched book about those early housing transitions, please see Craig Martin’s Quads, Shoeboxes and Sunken Living Rooms: A History of Los Alamos Housing. It is highly readable and available at the Los Alamos History Museum shop, 1050 Bathtub Row, losalamoshistory.org, and at the Los Alamos Libraries.