I found this article by Ken Hollings (link) on Salon in March that gets to the core of what fascinates me about my grandparent’s old neighborhood in Los Alamos.
From the article:
“Levittown’s original inspiration is the planned community created in secret at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to house the technicians and scientists of the “Manhattan Project” busily engaged in developing the first atomic weapon...Levitt developed the basic models and techniques for preparing low-cost suburban homesteads out of prefabricated units while fulfilling military housing contracts during the closing years of World War II when storage facilities, dormitories, and administrative buildings had to be built quickly, cheaply, and in vast numbers.”
While Hollings is writing about Oak Ridge as a precursor to Levittown and the suburban neighborhood, He might as well be writing about Los Alamos (which was also part of the Manhattan Project.) The neighborhood my grandparent’s lived in was built by government contractors. Residents could choose from three different floor plans. My aunt has joked that as a kid, she always knew where the bathroom was in a house she was visiting.
Hollings goes on to relate the “low-cost suburban homesteads” of Oak Ridge and Levittown to the greater cultural freak-out in the United States at the dawn of the nuclear age. He makes connections between this new, pre-fabricated architecture and flying saucers, the rise of the military-industrial complex, and the creation of the American Psychiatric Association.
These relationships are what drew me to photograph in Los Alamos in 1996. The vaguely prairie-style design of government subsidized housing quietly suggested that there was much more going on in the place than you could ever capture with a camera.