Officially the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the G.I. Bill was created to help veterans of World War II. It established hospitals, made low-interest mortgages available and granted stipends covering tuition and expenses for veterans attending college or trade schools. The most profound impact was on the number of people attending college.
Through the war years, the number of students attending college in the United States was constant at around 1.3 million. In 1946, the student population exploded to 2.0 million and by 1949 it was around 2.5 million. Also, the student attending on the G.I. Bill was a different student – older, often married, and sometimes with young children. Colleges weren’t ready for the student population boom and certainly not ready to house families. Many schools, including Colorado Agricultural and Mechanical College, turned to Quonset Huts to quickly fill their student housing needs.
According to one architectural dictionary, a Quonset hut is “a prefabricated structure . . . that has a semi-cylindrical shape; commonly constructed of corrugated steel fastened to ached steel ribs that are attached to a concrete slab floor.” The Quonset hut filled a WWII need of the navy for a quickly deployable structure for housing, storage, headquarters, and a number of other purposes. Developed in only 60 days, the prefab building got its name from the location of the design team headquarters, the Quonset Point, Rhode Island Navy yard.
By October 1945, Colorado A&M and a couple of community groups were trying to find Quonset huts to fill the expected housing gap. Montgomery Ward approached the school with a solution; the company would furnish 100 prefabricated Quonset huts within 30-days of an order. The college ordered 96 units, the first arriving as promised in mid-December 1945.
Measuring 12 by 36-feet, the Montgomery Ward Quonset hut was a standard design but divided in half lengthwise. This modification provided a long flat wall that allowed the use of standard windows and made it easier to accommodate furniture. The units used the standard metal exterior but were lined with insulated board. The college newspaper reported that they contained a shower stall, toilet, kitchenette, and were completely furnished and ready to move into.
The huts were arranged in pairs, with the curved sides facing each other, making a graceful “V” shape. This arrangement also placed the windows to the outside, helping with light, ventilation, and privacy.
This image ran in a newspaper on March 28, 1946 with the caption: “Prefabricated corrugated metal houses, as shown here, are being erected in Fort Collins to help solve the housing problem of married veteran students attending Colorado State college.”
As the first Montgomery Ward Quonset huts began to arrive, the school received a Christmas present when the Navy declared 5,000 Quonset huts as surplus. By mid-February 1946, the College had secured 90 surplus huts. These were standard Quonset huts, steel clad semi-cylindrical units, with windows on both sides, measuring 20 x 48-feet. These units were divided into two apartments, entered through the bulkheads on each end. Each unit contained a combined living room, dining room, and kitchen, as well as a bedroom and bath. They joined the Montgomery Ward units, forming a veterans village on the southwest corner of West Laurel Street and Loomis Avenue. Below are two images of the village.
The Quonset huts gave the college time to plan new dormitories and Green Hall, shown in this 1955 photograph, was one of the first, completed in 1953.
This 1957 image shows the collection of Quonset huts, Green Hall, and the new dormitories being a little to the south. The photograph was used in an article about the new construction planned for the campus. This is what it said:
“The aerial photo shows open area (No. 3) which is scheduled to be transformed into an athletic plant for Colorado A. & M. The view, looking east, shows the main campus (No. 1) and the general site of a planned student union building (No. 2). The college is in the midst of a multi-million dollar expansion program aimed at major collegiate status.”
The new dormitories eliminated the need for the Quonset huts during the early 1960s. Many of the huts were sold to local residents, particularly farmers, for $200 each and recycled as shops, housing, or storage. Others, particular the large units that were harder to move, were scrapped. Quickly the veterans village was gone.
During the 1950s, a number of Fort Collins businesses found their own Quonset huts. Probably the most well known was Ladd’s Covered Wagon, a restaurant and dance hall.
Ladd’s opened in 1948, US Highway 287, just north of the Fort Collins city limits. The building used a large, 40 by 100-foot Quonset hut as its main building. The hut could hold 300 people. After a lengthy court fight, Ladd’s was able to obtain a liquor license in May 1961, the first one for a restaurant in Larimer County since prohibition. Fort Collins would remain dry until 1969.
Ladd’s was gutted by fire in 1966 and never reopened.
You can still find Quonset huts being used in the Fort Collins area, for example, there is a line of Quonset huts on the northeast side of Jefferson Street near Linden Street, but they are disappearing. Since they were meant as temporary buildings, it is a testament to their design that they have served us for so long.
Much of the information on this topic comes from a 51-page online article entitled Soldiers of the Sword, Soldiers of the Ploughshare: Quonset Huts in the Fort Collins Urban Growth Area, by Historitecture L.L.C. Estes Park, CO. The link to the article is shown below:
In next Sunday’s article, I will share some images of Fort Collins by a late 1800s photographer, Dr. C. W. Bingley.