Skyline tin buildings

Last Updated on January 27, 2022 by Dave Farquhar

In the 1940s and 1950s, Skyline of Philadelphia manufactured and marketed a line of toy train-oriented building kits. Actually, there were two lines: One was a line of building kits made of cardstock and wood, and one was a smaller line of lithographed tin buildings, similar to the inexpensive toys made by the likes of Louis Marx, Wyandotte, and countless others in the days before ubiquitous plastics.

I’ve long suspected the two product lines came from the same company, but had no evidence to prove it until Ed “Ice” Berg produced scans of a Skyline catalog containing both paper/wood and tin litho buildings, side by side.

Yellow Skyline house
This yellow stone and siding tin house by Skyline was catalog# M4, the Oak Park house.

Skyline’s address, at least in 1948, was 1413 Vine Street, Philadelphia 2, Pa. The building still stands, and likely housed more than just Skyline even when Skyline was in business. As best we can tell, they got their start in 1940 by purchasing a line of kits from O. Schoenhut Manufacturing Co., run by Otto Schoenhut. Schoenhut was a venerable toy maker, founded in 1972, and introduced its cardstock kits sometime after 1935, and folded in 1941.

And by the time WWII was over, Skyline was selling tin buildings alongside the wood and paper kits.

Skyline tin litho buildings

I own two examples of the Skyline Oak Park and Scarsdale homes. I spotted the first Oak Park home at a train show several years ago. Money was tight that year, and I’d given myself $10 to spend, and I found that building for less than that. I was happy. Over the years, I’ve bought others as I found them. I’m sure the tin buildings were postwar issue, but I like them with both prewar and postwar tin. I know the paper kits were available both before and after World War II.

Skyline tin brick house
This tin Skyline brick house dates to the 1940s or early 1950s. Before Plasticville, this was what populated Lionel and American Flyer train layouts. This one was catalog #M5 and Skyline called it the Scarsdale.

One thing I don’t have, but want now that I know they exist, is a Skyline tin litho billboard set. As Ed notes, their design is true to the first half of the previous century, and being made of tin makes them unusual indeed. Plenty of companies made paper billboards, but as far as I’m concerned, you can never have too much metal on a train layout.

Skyline also sold a tin passenger station and signal tower and freight shed. I’ve had less luck tracking them down than the houses.

The buildings had small openings in some of the windows to let light shine though. There is a spot in the building to hold a light, which Skyline sold separately.

Skyline paper kits

I also have an unbuilt Skyline paper train station kit, including a tube of dried-up glue that came with it. I bought it intending to scan and reprint it onto heavy card stock and build the reprint, but that’s something else I just haven’t gotten around to doing yet. These kits originated with Schoenhut, and this line was much more extensive. Unfortunately they’re also very difficult to find. There were at least five buildings sold individually, and large village sets containing five or six buildings, which provided commercial, residential and industrial districts.

Skyline wooden buildings

Skyline’s wooden buildings were a continuation of Schoenhut’s line. These have some special significance. Lionel resold these buildings for a time, and used them on its showroom layout in New York City when the layout featured Lionel’s prewar T-rail track, circa 1938.

Fighting off Plasticville

I have seen painted metal Skyline buildings with plastic window inserts. These likely date from a bit later, as I haven’t seen them in the catalogs that have surfaced. The combination of painted metal and plastic windows gave these later Skyline buildings a more 3-dimensional look, but they couldn’t match the detail that molding the buildings entirely of plastic could offer.

I haven’t been able to track down what eventually happened to Skyline. But Plasticville buildings dominated 1950s toy train layouts. Skyline’s buildings are a hallmark of that transition period right after the war, when toy manufacturers hadn’t all yet mastered plastics, and so smaller manufacturers cashed in on the booming electric train craze by making buildings out of more traditional materials, simply modernizing the design in some cases. The result, at least in the instances of the Skyline ranch houses, looks like an amalgamation of prewar and postwar. The design looks like postwar Levittown, but the medium they used looks prewar.

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