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Home Historic Preservation Programs & Officers Federal U.S. Army Capehart Wherry Era Military Housing
On March 15, 2001, the Military Construction (MILCON) Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee met to discuss Historic Properties within the Department of Defense. Among the concerns expressed by the services was the large number of military housing units that would soon be 50 years old and thus potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
GAO reported at the hearing that "about 73,600 properties within the services will turn 50 years of age over the next 10 years [and] housing accounts for about 46,400, or about 63 percent ." Major General Robert Van Antwerp, Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, in his statement to the committee, said that the Army was interested in working with ACHP to find programmatic solutions to the 19,616 Capehart and Wherry units constructed during the 1950s and 1960s. On April 5, 2001, ACHP wrote to Chairman David L. Hobson and committed to working with the Army in order to reduce compliance costs for Capehart and Wherry housing.
On April 11, 2001, ACHP met with the Army and discussed options to streamline compliance for Capehart and Wherry properties. ACHP suggested to the Army that the program comment under ACHP's recently revised regulations might provide a mechanism for streamlining compliance, and May 7, 2001, the Army notified ACHP Chairman of its intent to seek program comment.
On January 18, 2002, the Army requested public comment on its proposed program comment for management of its inventory of Capehart and Wherry era properties. After considering comments received, the Army requested ACHP issue a program comment on undertakings affecting Capehart and Wherry era properties.
ACHP published a "Notice of Intent to Issue Program Comment on Capehart and Wherry Era Army Family Housing" in the Federal Register March 20, 2002. Following the consideration of comments, ACHP approved the program comment at its business meeting May 31, 2002. ACHP published a "Notice of Approval" of the Program Comment in the Federal Register June 7, 2002, at which time the Program Comment became effective.
The Program Comment covers all undertakings to Capehart and Wherry buildings and landscape features, including maintenance and repair, rehabilitation, layaway and mothballing, renovation, demolition, demolition and replacement, and transfer, sale, or lease out of Federal control.
The Program Comment does not cover other historic buildings or archeological sites affected by undertakings to Capehart and Wherry era buildings. Army installations are no longer required to follow the case-by-case Section 106 review process for each individual management action affecting Capehart and Wherry Era housing, associated structures and landscape features.
Treatment measures required by the Program Comment include an expanded historic context, Neighborhood Design Guidelines, and video documentation. The context identified potential properties of particular importance, which were then used as the focus of the video documentation.
The historic context and Neighborhood Design Guidelines were completed in June 2003. Distribution of the final versions of both the design guidelines and historic context is limited to U.S. government agencies. The video will be completed by May 2004 and used by the Army for educational purposes.
In conjunction with Department of Defense efforts during the 1990s to review the overall history of the Cold War era, the Army contracted with the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a context study of Capehart and Wherry housing.
The CERL study produced the report For Want of a Home: A Historic Context for Wherry and Capehart Military Family Housing. This study is available from the U.S. Army Environmental Center, ATTN: SFIM-AEC- CDC, 5179 Hoadley Road, Aberdeen PG, MD 21010-5401, and is summarized below.
With the end of World War II, the late 1940s saw 15 million American service men and women returning home. This situation, coupled with a housing shortage that had grown steadily between 1926 and 1948, exacerbated an already existing housing shortage in the United States. In 1946, fully 9 percent of American families lived two or three couples to a single family home.
For the first time in the history of our nation, the buildup of nuclear weapons in the years immediately following World War II resulted in a need to maintain a large, peacetime fighting force. The increasing technological capabilities of the services, at the same time, required services to try to retain highly trained technological experts rather than having them return to civilian life.
In 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson said:
Rather than be separated from their families because of lack of Government quarters and scarcity of adequate rental housing at their places of assignment, many of the service personnel have accepted disgraceful living conditions in shacks, trailer camps and overcrowded buildings, many at extortionate rents. It cannot be expected that competent individuals will long endure such conditions.... There is nothing more vital or pressing in the interest of morale and the security of America than proper housing for our Armed Forces.
On March 5, 1949, Senator Kenneth Wherry of Nebraska introduced a bill to provide for construction of family housing "on or around military installations." Developers were to obtain low-interest loans, insured by the Federal Housing Administration on lands leased from the Army. The military was to ensure that installations where housing was built under the Wherry plan would be designated as permanent bases. Developers, known as Wherry "sponsors," were to construct, own, and maintain the houses and give rent priority to military families. At the end of a 40-year period, each sponsor was to turn the project over to the Government.
The Wherry bill did not require specific designs, so sponsors took designs for the needed housing units from existing "off the shelf" plans that were being built in the civilian market at the time. Therefore, there are no specific Wherry style homes that were built for the military.
A number of problems existed with the Wherry houses, ranging from their small size to shoddy construction techniques used by contractors. But in the end, a total of 264 Wherry projects were built for three military departments, totalling 83,742 units.
While housing construction nationwide continued at a breakneck pace, by 1957 there was still a shortfall of housing in the military, with the Army estimating a deficit of 100,000 housing units.
On August 11, 1955, Congress passed the Capehart Housing Act. Similar to Wherry, Capehart required private developers to build housing units for the military, but unlike Wherry, once the houses were completed they came under military control, which left rent setting to the services.
Because of the disparity between the larger Capehart homes and the Wherry homes, many of the Wherry developments were at less than full occupancy and some projects had defaulted. By the end of the 1950s, Congress mandated the acquisition of Wherry housing at all installation that were to receive Capehart units. The primary objective of acquiring the Wherry houses was for the military to bring these homes up to the standards of other assigned housing in size and design of living spaces, so kitchen upgrades and additional bathrooms and utility rooms were authorized.
When the Capehart program came to an end in 1964, nearly 250,000 units of Wherry and Capehart had been built for the military at its installations. At the end of 1994, about 175,000 of these homes were still in existence. Even with their shortcomings, these programs were felt to be successful in meeting the critical housing shortages that existed after World War II.
At the suggestion of ACHP, the Army held a symposium on the "Management of Capehart-Wherry Era Housing (1949-1962)" at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, May 22, 2001. Leading experts in the field of historic preservation were invited to participate in a discussion on the significance of this housing and to suggest treatment and management options in the context of the National Historic Preservation Act.
Agencies participating in the symposium included the Army, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), the Air Force, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers. Invited speakers included ACHP member Mr. Bruce Judd; Dr. Michael Tomlin, Cornell University; Ms. Kate Kuranda, R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates; Ms. Kennedy Smith, National Trust for Historic Preservation; Dr. David Ames, University of Delaware; and Mr. Paul Lusignan, National Park Service/HABS-HAER.
One of the most significant discussion points focused on the Capehart Wherry "unit" as a significant historic resource versus the broader historic significance of Capehart Wherry "neighborhoods" during the early development of suburbanization in American in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This issue was not part of the context study that was originally prepared by CERL. As a result, the Army proposes to revise the historic context to consider issues such as changing demographics of Army families and its impact on housing needs, post World War II suburbanization, housing trends, and affordable housing programs.
Symposium participants also discussed the level of significance of Capehart Wherry as a historic resource. While CERL's context study suggested that Capehart Wherry was not eligible at the national level within the Cold War context, local significance had not been dealt with as part of their report. Some States have already begun to address these issues of local significance and the possibilities that Capehart Wherry development at some installations may have associations with significant builders, architects, and developers.
There was also concern that by limiting the scope of the significance to a small number of Capehart Wherry examples that may have local associations, local developers that may acquire other Capehart Wherry units as part the Army's privatization efforts would no longer be able to obtain tax credits.
Discussion again focused on the significance of the Capehart Wherry neighborhood as the context in which to place National Register significance. Participants drew parallels between the Capehart Wherry planned development and the suburbanization that was taking place in communities outside the installation's fence.
However, it was noted that while private property ownership of civilian housing of this time period has significantly changed as housing has been modernized and tailored to homeowner's needs, military housing has been "frozen in time" by soldiers' inability to make changes to the housing with which they have been provided.
Photographs courtesy of the Department of the Army. From top