We have madly been trying to piece together the Alside Homes Corp. story: How long did the company operate? When did they start and stop producing the houses? What caused them to stop producing the homes? How many did they sell? So many questions.
Our attempt to reach out to Alside was not met with a great deal of help. Most of the founding company members had died, and the company had changed hands with no records dating back that far to be found. We were fortunate to have connected with an ex-employee of Alside Inc., Ms. Lay actually connected with us when she saw the story on Curbed. Ms. Lay shared with us that she worked in the computing department, and had a passion for architecture and design [she works in an Architects office today], she told us that she loved to sneak off to watch the draftsman as they worked on the 22 models that Alside Homes Corp. eventually designed. Here is more of what Ms. Lay said in her own words:
I was the administrator in the Electronic Data Processing department at Alside. One day I discovered the architectural department and I never looked back. Although I stayed in my then current position at Alside [mostly ministering to keypunch operators who had ongoing migraines….they worked in a hard-surface room operating keypunch machines all day right next to the big mainframe computers and printers with no ear protection] and fulfilled my responsibilities there, my department head was often searching the complex for me always to find me down with the guys in the architectural department who were doing the drawings for the homes….by hand of course. It would be splendid to find the archive of those blueprints. I vaguely recall that Emil and Kaufmann had a rather contentious relationship. Emil’s heart in the architecture and the beauty of it and Jerome’s in making money. I know they shared a desire to turn the Alside home into a worldwide sensation and moneymaker. I only worked for Alside for a year before finally following my new found interest and going to work for the first [very small] architectural firm I would work for in a career that eventually included most of the larger architecture firms in the country and has kept me engaged to this very day…… All I know is that job changed my life path and I am grateful.
Ms. Lay was fortunate to have met with Emil Tessin and watched the process first hand.
I ….. was privileged to meet Emil Tessin and watch as the first model home was erected on our campus in Akron/Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Ezra Stoller, the famous NYC photographer, was on hand to photograph the erection and final opening. I remember he had the brown spots in the sod out front painted green.
When they finally shut down and disassembled that first model, my father [an architecture buff] and I went to the sale of the FF&E [furniture, fixtures and equipment] and bought two of the lamps … and two of the Eero Saarinen walnut-topped pedestal tables, each of which now sit at the end of my couch and the lamps brighten my studio. Alside was way ahead of their time and I was sorry when the Homes division shut down.
We are sad to see that Alsides Home Corp. didn’t have a longer existence too. Here is our additional research that eventually lead us to a wealth of information, although there are still MANY gaps. This is the story of Alside Homes Corp. from a timeline perspective, gathered from House & Home magazines – an industry publication that is available online thanks to the generosity of US Modernist.
A newspaper article from the The Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) · 13 Oct 1958 celebrates the ground breaking of a new Alside manufacturing plant, headquarters, and a research and development center. We do know that Emil Tessin was the architect for the headquarters so he must of started a relationship with Alside at some point around 1958 – 1959. We are not sure how the relationship started, was Emil Tessin living in Ohio at the time? How did we make his way to Alside and eventually start work on Alside homes?
- Emil Tessin works with Alside homes to design and build Alside HQ in Akron Ohio.
- July – Emlin Tessin is appointed as Vice President + Chief Designer for Alside Homes
- August – Life Magazine introduces Alside Homes to the world in an article calling them the ‘instant house’
- September – House + Home Magazine mention Alside are building a new automated production facility costing $7.5 million dollars.
- December – Emil Tessin files paperwork to patent his ‘modular home’ design
- September – Patent Granted
- Targeted to be producing 200 homes a day by late 1962
- January – Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co. invest $10 million in Alside Homes
- March – Alside Homes announce that they will be targeting their 22 modular homes for odd-lot housing market, along with Alside and Dealers set to erect sales models in metro areas
- September – Sales centers have opened, and Alside are serving a 600 mike radius of Akron Ohio [to the North East, Chicago and as far as Atlanta]. Akron, Ohio sales center had 50,000 visitors, and the Detroit Michigan sales center had 60,000 visitors. Seven Sale Centers were opened with 5 owned by Alside, and the remaining 2 were owned by Builders. As a result, their 1st Alside home was sold.
- December – Emil Tessin named as a mover and shaker in the housing industry being listed as a “Top 12 Performer”, in that same month Emil Tessin leaves Alside ‘agreeing to disagree’.
- Sales were target for the year 10,000 homes.
- January – 94 homes had shipped, 30 direct to consumers, and the remaining 64 to dealers – primarily as models.
- February – Alside announce that sales have been slow, they were “priced too low for the quality that Alside promised”. The company was reevaluating the manufactured homes-project.
- August – Alside Homes Corp. lost $2.5 million in 1/2 year, and was cutting into the profits of the parent company profits. Alside closed display centers and stopped taking orders from consumers only selling to dealers.
- September – Alside finally announce that they ‘quit’ the $7.5 million trial into prefabricated home manufacturing.
- October – Emil Tessin sues Alisde.
How many were sold?
Nobody would say according to House + Home Magazine. The best guess was there were less than 200 units that rolled off the production line. We have been on search for those homes, so far we have located 26 of them across 7 states. You can see more about our search for Alside Homes here.
Why didn’t they sell?
There are various articles that mention and/or speculate why they homes were not successful. Here is a list of five reasons that we have read about so far:
- The models felt too much like a motel.
- Wives didn’t like the large expanses of glass in the bedroom areas.
- Building codes were not too keen on the styrofoam wall / floor / ceiling insultation
- The cost of materials had risen dramatically from the time the homes were designed to the time that they were delivered to the market
- Finding buildable lots that were affordable and large enough to fit the homes on was a challenge
Where to from here?
We still have many questions, and fear that we will have many left unanswered. In an attempt to fill in more gaps, we are currently reaching out to architectural firms in Akron Ohio to see if they have any connections, or employees that may have worked on the project. We are also trying to locate builder / dealers that sold the homes. And finally, we will also continue to tell our story to anyone that will listen / publish / share in the hopes that we can connect to someone else that has more stories or information. Stay tuned.