Back in the early 1940s, when a large swath of land near the Columbia River was picked as the site of the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor, a Spokane architect was given a critical task: Design a community for the people who’d come from around the country to work there.
G. Albin Pehrson did just that, creating a break from the military feel of Hanford by making neighborhoods with cul-de-sacs and lots of green space.
The homes he designed were named for letters of the alphabet — A houses, B houses, E houses and so on.
Hundreds went up, and the “alphabet houses” still are an important part of Richland’s landscape today.
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On Saturday, a local expert is leading a tour focused on the historic homes. Seats still are available.
Organized by the Reach interpretive center, the tour runs from 9:30 a.m. to noon and includes transportation on a vintage Hanford bus.
It departs from the Reach center, 1943 Columbia Park Trail, Richland.
That two-story one is an F house. (They generally) were offered to families with several children, and someone whose job assignment was in the professional realm.
Richard Nordgren, tour guide
Richard Nordgren is the tour guide.
If you miss Saturday’s tour, don’t fret. More tours are planned this summer and fall.
Nordgren has done extensive research into alphabet houses and Richland’s wartime and post-war history.
He started out in science, but eventually made a career in ministry. He moved to the Tri-Cities in the ‘70s to work at what’s now Chaplaincy Health Care, and then became pastor of a West Richland church.
He’s always had a passion for history. And Richland’s history is fascinating, he said.
Standing near several alphabet houses by Leslie Groves Park on a recent day, Nordgren easily distinguished between the models.
“That two-story one is an F house. (They generally) were offered to families with several children, and someone whose job assignment was in the professional realm,” Nordgren said.
Next door was an E house. “It’s been modified,” with a new deck, roof, windows and more, he said.
And next to that was another E house, with less work done over the years. “It’s closer to the original,” Nordgren said.
The tour includes stops at alphabet houses, plus puts the homes — and the city’s development — in historical context and includes insight on the concepts and goals that went into Richland’s design.
Richland, if it had not been developed during the war as a military company town (wouldn’t be what it is today.) Understanding how we got to where we’re at is important.
Richard Nordgren, tour guide
Also, expect some fun facts and stories of residents. “You will learn a lot about the city that’s called the Atomic City,” Nordgren said.
He has his own personal alphabet house story. He lives in an L house. The original resident worked at Hanford and, like Nordgren, was a pastor.
The man put a baptismal in the basement. It’s still there, though Nordgren has never used it for baptisms.
Nordgren said the alphabet house tour is a lot of fun, and it has a greater purpose.
It’s important to learn about the past — “to know the forces and events that shaped the future we have now,” he said.
“Richland, if it had not been developed during the war as a military company town,” wouldn’t be what it is today, Nordgren said. “Understanding how we got to where we’re at is important.”
Additional tours are planned July 8, Aug. 12 and Sept. 30.