SANTA ANA — Remember the movie "36 Hours," where the Nazis go to great lengths to fool James Garner into believing World War II has been over for years, so he'll spill the beans about D-day?
OK, now suppose you were the leaders of the Democratic Party in decline, and you've kidnaped Newt Gingrich in order to pry from him the details of the Republican agenda. Your only hope of doing so is to convince Newt it's not 1994, but, rather, that he's back in the cozy days of the Eisenhower Administration. When the knockout gas wears off, it's crucial that his surroundings give no hint that 3 1/2 decades have passed since that atomic time.
If the locale were Anthony Reichardt's Santa Ana home, consider the job done. The Postal Service truck driver has made his 1930's Mediterranean-style home into a model of '50s style, and the sensation of time-warp is only heightened by the seasonal decor. There's the duo-level kidney-shaped Formica coffee table, the Jetsons-looking curtain designs, the boomerang-shaped ashtrays, the Electrolux vacuum cleaner in a corner, gleaming like a Buck Rogers rocket pack. By the living room's front window is a seven-foot, chrome-bright aluminum Christmas tree, lit by a rotating color wheel. Topping the tree is an illuminated opaque satellite, with clear and gold spires.
His table settings are all in the space-age Franciscan starburst pattern. The kitchen counters feature a pink plastic GE radio, pink flour and sugar containers and a matching foil and wax paper dispenser. There's a milkshake machine, an electric "Can-omatic" can opener and other amenities with futuristic brand names.
"A lot of things had '--omatic' in their titles then," Reichardt noted. "Everything had to be automatic."
Look out Reichardt's back window, and see 10 pink lawn flamingos in frozen cavort on the lawn. Out a side window, two 1959 Cadillacs sit in the driveway, with the whimsical, fabulous and utterly useless fins that once drove Nikita Khrushchev into a rage.
Gingrich might never see Reichardt's home, but you can. It is one of four being featured in a Tea and Holiday Home Tour to be held Saturday in his Wilshire Square neighborhood. The others, built between 1926 and 1946 in the Renaissance Revival, Mission Revival and Early Ranch styles--will each express a different style of holiday decor. The home tour, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., costs $7. The tea sittings, held in an additional two homes, will be at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and cost $18, including the home tour. Call (714) 549-1478 for information.
Reichardt participated in a summer home tour and was told his house was a real hit. His \o7 is\f7 a strangely compelling bunch of stuff, touching off waves of nostalgia, perhaps made more strong because it is essentially a nostalgia for a \o7 future\f7 we never got to see.
The '50s were the jet age, the space age and the atomic age, which is a lot of ages for one decade. America's response to the fears of all that change--which included the entirely new bother of nuclear annihilation--was to act is if that change had already settled and we were already in the future.
We subsumed the inconceivable into the ordinary. We may not have understood the sonic booms that shook our homes, but they were homes stocked with aerodynamic, jet-wing-shaped furniture. The Russians have a satellite in \o7 outer space\f7 ? No matter, we've got one on our Christmas tree. The atom may kill us, but in the meantime, its image looks cool on appliance logos.
Curiously, Reichardt didn't live through the '50s. Being 33, he wasn't even born until they were good and over.
"I wasn't there for it, but I think it's like it was with my parents, where the things they liked were things they remember as kids that \o7 their\f7 parents had. It's like that with me. A lot of these things overflowed into the '60s when I was growing up," he said.
Growing up in Watertown, Wis., and Santa Ana, "everybody had the horrendous Formica and blond furniture and stuff like that, and sofas with this 'industructalon' material here," he said, stroking the textured surface of his couch.
Some of his furnishings come from his family: his TV with the picture tube hovering over the console like a robot's head, for instance.
"My grandmother did what any woman in the '50s would do after getting in a car accident: She went and bought living room furniture with the settlement. The TV was one of the things she bought. It works--we just watched the Christmas parade on it the other day.
"That chair over there was called the 'naughty chair' when I was a kid. It swivels, and when you were bad you had to sit in it and face the wall. I don't use it for that anymore. That's the third reupholstering it's had," he said.
Most of the vintage items, though, are more recently acquired, as is Reichardt's interest in them.