Military Modernism: The Wherry/Capehart Housing Acts

Following World War II, some “15 million” service people returned stateside to restart their lives in the new post-war society.  Developers all across the nation were scrambling to build new and affordable  housing for the expected housing need. Developers like Joseph Eichler in California, and Charles Goodman in DC were busy adapting the new technologies developed during the war to modern home construction.  Even though peace was at hand, the political realities of the emerging Cold War demanded that America also garrison large numbers of soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors. 

Military bases everywhere were poorly situated to handle the surge in population.  Housing shortages were at a critical level.  As a result, two government programs came into existence.  The first was created by Senator Kenneth Wherry of Nebraska.  Senator Wherry introduced a bill on March 5, 1949 to to build military housing on bases throughout the US.  Developers obtained “low-interest loans, insured by the Federal Housing Administration on lands leased from the Army.”1 The military ensured that installations where Wherry homes were built became permanent bases. After forty years, each “Wherry” sponsor was to transition the project over to the Government. 

Unfortunately, many of these homes were built rather poorly, and of varying architectural styles.  In the end, some “264 Wherry projects were built for three military departments, totaling 83,742 units.” 2  Still, more housing was required.

 A restored mid-century era home at Fort Lewis, WA

The second effort was headed up by Indiana Senator Homer E. Capehart.  The Capehart Housing Act was passed on August 11, 1955.  This act allowed for larger floor plans combined with newer building restrictions. Modernist ranch designs figured into several of the single-story types.  “Privacy, preservation of the natural environment, and integration of the neighborhood into existing facilities were also key issues in Capehart housing, as well as a move toward more single-family and duplex-style housing.” 3 Wherry houses were also incorporated into the Capehart program which continued until 1964.

In 2001, the military realized that many of these Wherry/Capehart homes were nearing 50 years of age, and becoming candidates for historic preservation.  Unfortunately, many of the Capehart houses have been demolished as bases are closed.  The situation has become dire for many of these houses since the military has privatized housing.



  1. Thanks for this interesting post! We have a Capehart housing project here in Sacramento -- designed by Jones + Emmons. It received awards. Thanks for the reminder I need to go visit.

  2. Thanks! I just realized that I had misspelled Capehart throughout the post, so I had to go back and edit. I bet the Jones + Emmons designs are cool.

  3. What a shame that many of these were demolished! Really great post!

    -Jamie, Marketing Assistant at Modernism Magazine

  4. Thanks! Many of the houses on active bases are being remodeled; however, the houses on closed bases are being demolished almost entirely by neighborhood. In a few cases, they become non-military neighborhoods.

  5. Nice post Mark. I visited a link a while back that had a video of sme Neutra Capeheart Housing. William Krisel designed some housing at China Lake on the way to Mammoth and Twenty-Nine Palms not far from Palm Springs. I've tried to find them on Google Earth with no luck so far.

  6. Thanks John, I would love to find any remaining homes and at least capture some photos before they vanish forever.

    1. Mark, Check Street View of Mt. Rainier street at the Reno Stead Airport. Some pic of the beautiful duplex models as well as some of the larger homes. Was in a few in the mid sixties, and then again in the late nineties. Originally, very nice mid-century modern, now some are quite nice and others dilapidated. Thank you for your post.

  7. Grissom JRB has examples of both, my family was stationed their in the late 60's in the Capehart area. Many were tri-level w/ basements for shelter in place in tornado alley region

  8. In 1960, my parents moved into the McClellan AFB Capehart Housing with their 8 children. The duplex we lived in was adequate but nothing fancy. The way that the neighborhood was arranged with lots of shared spaces was BRILLIANT for the kids. Since the Base closed the housing is now for low income families and has security officers at each entrance.

  9. When we moved into the Capehart Housing of McClellan AFB in 1960 we were the 4th family to do so. The duplex was just large enough for my parents and their 8 children but what really sold us kids were the shared spaces between and behind the houses. It seemed there were hundreds of children in the neighborhood and we spent most of the time playing outdoors.

  10. My great uncle is Kenneth Wherry would love having some pictures of the housing.Would of been nice if they could of fixed them up and save a piece of history.