Tri City Herald, Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Sue Pritchett, president of the Richland Senior Association, holds up one of the commemorative "A" house ornaments Monday in front of the real "A" house she lives in. The government built 3,505 of the alphabet homes in the 1940s to house Manhattan Project workers.
By Chris Mulick
Herald Staff writer

Richlanders love their govermnent-built "alphabet homes".

So much so that when the Richland Senior Center began selling small "A" house ornaments in late October, they sold all 864 within two months with little advertising. Sue Pritchett, president of the Richland Senior Association, said she still is getting calls about the ornaments -- originally intended for Christmas trees -- and hopes to obtain more later this year.

"You find pockets of fanatical interest," agreed Hal Bury, chairman of the city's Housing and Community Development Advisory Committee. "I brought one (ornament) home, and my wife just went berserk." That interest is partly why Bury's volunteer committee, the city and a small group of students from Richland's Washington State University branch campus are looking for a way to commemorate the homes. The Army built the 3,505 cookie-cutter homes in the 1940s to house those working on the Manhattan Project to build atomic bombs.

Originally, the group wanted to identify a particular neighborhood with the homes, such as along Hains Avenue, and get a state designation for it as a historical housing district. The problem is, to qualify, the homes have to look like they did when built. But when Richlanders were allowed to begin buying their homes from the federal government in 1959, some started making changes. Over time, some have added garages, porches and bay windows. "Too many people have had too many changes,: said Josie Woods, Richland's housing resource specialist.

That revelation hasn't thwarted any plans so far. Picking out individual homes in a larger section of town, possibly for a walking or driving tour, is being considered. Gerald Dagle, who is organizing the effort for the advisory committee, said central Richland south of Bradlly Boulevard is a strong contender. "The whole idea is to try to improve people's pride intheir homes," he said.

Eva Krause, an associate city planner, hopes each of the 19 models of alphabet homes will be included. That would be tough, because some models are rarer than others. While there were 950 "Y" homes built, only five "T" homes went up. Each home used in the project could be marked by a plaque, which could include information about the model, and possibly by special street lights to help set the houses apart.

Carol Stape, Chris Reick and Greg Scanlan are also studying the issue for their history class at WSU. They are helping decide which houses are eligible for the project. They plan to make their recommendations to the committee sometime next month. A lot of issues remain to be addressed, Krause said, and no final decisions have been made. Without knowing exactlyl which area of town will be chosen, what amenities would be added and how to bring homeowners into the discussioon, she can't promise quick results.

"It's going to take a while," Krause said.

If that's the case, it won't be for lack of effort, Bury said. "It's amazing, the interest that's there," he said.

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