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So Cal at the Turn of the Century : HIP DIGS

Back to the Future

May 16, 1999|Mary Melton

Old-growth forests around the world heaved a collective, if premature, phew when Disneyland opened its House of the Future in June 1957. It looked as if a spacecraft from the planet Tupperware had landed in the middle of Tomorrowland, this all-plastic house hovering eight feet off the ground atop a concrete pedestal. Over the years, 20 million visitors traipsed through the four curvaceous fiberglass wings that housed three bedrooms, two baths, a living room, dining room, family room and "Atoms for Living" kitchen. It showcased wild innovations--toothbrushes that do the work for you!--and mod-gone-mad furnishings and a synthetic building material that would suffer neither termites nor peeling paint. Sponsored by the Monsanto Chemical Co. and engineered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "The House of the Future is a test to show that plastic houses may well be the homes of tomorrow, say 10 years hence," The Times reported back then. Alas, in 1967, Disney envisioned a new Tomorrowland and closed the beloved house (demolition reportedly took six days because the wrecking ball bounced off it "like a giant rubber ball," said a witness), and Monsanto became better known for producing Agent Orange and PCBs.


So how clairvoyant was the House of the Future? Here's what it predicted that did--and did not--come to pass:


What Dreams May Come, and Did:

* Speaker phones.

* Central climate control.

* Plastic chairs.

* Microwave cooking.

* Push-button telephones with preset dialing.

* Picture telephones.

* Electric razors.

* Electric toothbrushes.

* Insulated glass walls.

What Dreams May Come, and Didn't:

* Atomic food preservation.

* Plastic sinks with adjustable heights.

* Disappearing stoves and appliances.

* Ultrasonic dishwashers.

* Floating furniture.

* Vents that spray floral, pine tree and sea air scents (precursor to aromatherapy?).

* Foam-backed plastic floor coverings.

* Telescreen intercoms with golf-ball-sized microphones hanging from the ceiling.

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