A movement to save the remaining concrete houses that RG LeTourneau built on factory property in Longview post-World War II is quickly gathering steam, according to the man leading the effort.
Longview native Stephen Cameron joined with the nonprofit Preservation Texas, and Everett Henderson Jr. — who has a doctorate in design, construction and planning — is considered one of the top scholars of LeTourneau machine-built architecture.
Everett also lived in what is called a Tournalaid home as a boy.
The men signed a letter asking Komatsu not to demolish the homes. Komatsu is the company that owns what was the LeTourneau manufacturing facility.
“The two original Tournalaid homes, which are located on property you now own and are presumably in the way of future construction and set to be demolished, are architecturally and culturally significant to the history of Longview and the legacy of RG LeTourneau and MUST BE SAVED ,” the letter to Komatsu says. “In the 1940s and 1950s, hundreds of these homes were built at various LeTourneau facilities and communities in America and abroad.
“The technology and machinery used to build these unique concrete structures was revolutionary at the time and is no longer in existence. We have confirmed it is most likely that the two homes about to be torn down are the last two in the world of their kind. We strongly believe that preserving these homes is aligned with the mission and values held by Komatsu.
“We are asking you (Komatsu) to do the following: Immediately stop any plans to disturb or demolish the homes. Work together with us to preserve these priceless artifacts. We have put together a preservation plan that involves efficiently moving these homes out of the way of your future factory within a short time frame, with support from key Longview companies to keep costs down. It is our sincere hope that you will partner with us and other community resources to save these structures for future generations.”
At one time, RG LeTourneau, who brought his manufacturing plant and LeTourneau University to Longview in the 1940s, also owned about 10,000 acres of land that stretched from where Komatsu is today to Interstate 20, through where Eastman Chemical Co. now sits, and into what was known as Talley Bottom.
He had a farm on the land and also would use the property to test equipment there. LeTourneau also built three of the concrete Tournalaid homes on the property, and one remained there as of a couple of years ago.
The Tournalaid homes were built with LeTourneau’s patented Tournalayer, which weighed 60s tons and had 10-foot tall tires. It could produce a 30-ton, 720-square foot concrete and rebar home in about a day.
Three of the concrete homes remained of a larger development that LeTourneau had built on his plant property for employees. The city of Longview had determined one of those homes, at 2701 MacArthur St., was a substandard building. Komatsu, not the city, tore it down in April 2022. That left the two structures at 2716 and 2620 MacArthur.
Komatsu is working to complete a plant expansion, and the city has approved the company’s request to abandon MacArthur as a public street.
“Somebody pointed out these homes to me,” said Cameron, who lives in California now where he is president of Level Holdings, which is described as “a strategic partner and operator of various real estate ventures in the technology, blockchain and construction sectors. ”
“A lot of my friend’s parents worked at LeTourneau when all five of the domes were there and it was still LeTourneau,” Cameron said.
He said LeTourneau used his Tournalayer to build the concrete houses all over the world, but Cameron and the others working with him couldn’t find any others in existence besides the ones in Longview.
“They’re all gone,” he said, describing the homes as a vision for affordable housing after WWII.
After sending the letter to Komatsu, a plant representative did reach out to him and started discussions about the houses, Cameron said. Also, RG LeTourneau’s great nephew, Harold LeTourneau, supports the project.
Harold LeTourneau has connections to LeTourneau University and has reached out to university officials about the possibility of relocating the houses there. More discussions are expected to occur with Komatsu and LeTourneau officials. Representative of those organizations did not immediately respond to a request for comments.
“(The houses) were picked up and put (on MacArthur Street),” Cameron said. “We want to pick them up and move them onto LeTourneau (University) property.”
Harold LeTourneau said his parents lived in one of the Tournalaid homes at the LeTourneau plant.
He is optimistic about the possibility of this project coming to fruition.
Cameron said it’s “always sad to see the last of anything go.”
“I think the housing system in this country is pretty broken,” and these homes were a pre-cursor to what could have been an answer to affordable housing.
The other piece of the project is to get partners to help relocate the homes, and the group working on the project is looking for businesses to help by remediating asbestos, preparing the homes for relocation and then actually moving them. That work requires the use of cranes and assistance of engineers.
It’s a worthy project, said Conor Herterich, program manager for endangered properties and Northeast Texas program officer for Preservation Texas. The nonprofit organization helps projects such as this connect with local preservation groups, help bring awareness to projects and identify funding.
Pre-fabricated housing took off during the post-war housing construction boom in the 1940s and 1950s, but Herterich said he had never heard of it in Texas before.
In preservation, the typical practice is to leave the building where it is, but considering the rest of the development is already gone, much of the site significance has disappeared. So, it’s probably not a viable option to leave them there. It’s unusual, he said, that the answer appears to be the second option — relocation.
The first step in considering preservation projects is whether something is worth saving — is it historically and architecturally significant?
“I think the answer is, after delving into the research, I think overwhelmingly I was in favor of saving these. They are significant. They are truly endangered… and there are really no others of their type left,” Herterich said.
For information and to contact organizer Stephen Cameron, visit tournalaid.com .