Sunday, November 15, 2009

LIFE looks at Monsanto's Plastic House

I consider today's post a bit of a cheat, since these images don't belong to me; but they are so nice that I had to share them with you! Through Google Images you can access LIFE Magazine's photo archives. The search function could use some serious tinkering, but you never know what you might find. I decided to do a search for "Monsanto", and found these wonderful vintage images of Disneyland's Plastic Home of the Future. Some are credited to photographer Ralph Crane, from May 1957, while others are undated (and clearly from a little bit later).

How about a beautiful night shot for starters? Notice the woman in the right wing...


... she's still there the next day! At least she moved her chair. Landscaping has barely been tended to yet, and the pond has no water in it.


You can see how unfinished the plastic house is; those horizontal seams could use some epoxy filler and a little paint!


Another angle, and the woman has wiggled her nose and transported to the inside.


The next three photos are among my favorites, because they are beautiful (and scarce) interior shots! The decor feels cool and modern; lots of white accented with splashes of color. And no clutter (where do you store your stuff?). Look at all those speakers! Muzak wherever you go. The house is a bit small, hopefully our pretty hostess isn't planning any large family get-togethers. It looks like the plastic window panels have had a foggy film applied for both color and a bit of privacy.


The kitchen appears to be considerably more roomy than it did in this postcard (which is obviously from a later date); I get the feeling that something is missing! The clean and tidy contours remind me of the sample kitchens at IKEA.


I love this picture of the bathroom! Hardly a straight line in sight. The oval lights add a "sci-fi" air to things, as does the lit ceiling. Is that a small television up on the wall (no more magazines necessary!), or a picture phone? Not sure I'd want one of those in the loo. A variety of mysterious push-button controls line the walls. And judging by the towel rack and inlaid soap holder, there is an area for a shower somewhere nearby. But where? Maybe you were cleaned with ultrasonic waves.


Some time has elapsed since the previous photos; the exterior of the house has been smoothed and painted, assorted shrubbery softens the geometry, and the pool has been filled with moon water. Or something.


Pretty, ain't it? I'm telling you, I wouldn't mind owning one of these babies. Notice that there's no Matterhorn yet.


Here's one final look at the fantastic plastic house! There are a few additional pictures on the Google LIFE archives, but they consist of views that were minor variations of the ones posted here. Check them out if you are a weirdo completist (like me). Hope you enjoyed these!

19 comments:

Chiana_Chat said...

Okay. NOW I'm really getting the "thing" they were going for. And I wanna live there. In 1957!

Great assortment I hadn't seen these.

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Cheat all you want, these images ROCK!!!

In the 1957 photos the HOTF really doesn't look finished (even cooler).

Those interior shots are flippin insane! I'm having a hard time figuring out the kitchen as it related to that Postcard. The bathroom is amazing, never seen it like that before.

THANKS MAJOR!!!

Debbie V. said...

When I was a girl and toured the Monsanto house with my girlfriend and parents I remember the exciting feeling of the FUTURE !. The starkness and plastic were thought-provoking. Would we really have a push-button life some day? If I remember correctly, there was a taped voice that explained what things were as we walked through.
When I see these photos the exciting feeling almost returns to me, 50+ years later. Now plastic is vintage collectible (as is pretty much anything Made in the USA).
Thanks for showing these :)

Matt said...

Nothing else to say but...WOW! I love HOTF, wish I could have seen it live and in person.

Katella Gate said...

Stunning photos of HOTF v1.0. I have often dreamed of a minimalist life without clutter, and my mind constantly comes back to this little house.

One or two things: In the first interior picture with the Baroness setting the table, all those disks on the wall are lights, not speakers (unless this is another of Major's little jokes - on me this time).

In the second photo looking from the kitchen into the living room, there is a long, built-in credenza along the back wall: this is the media center. I'm sure there's no stereo equipment inside, but there are cabinetry cues that were obvious to jet-setters in the 1960's that are hard to interpret now.

For example, the dark square with the light circle is where the speaker goes (this was more of an early 50's thing before the advent of stereo and multi-speakers). To the right is a white module with a "towel rail" hand pull at the top: This was where the radio receiver was supposed to go. The hinge is at the bottom, so the front opens like a dishwasher to present the knobs.

The next module to the right again is for the phonograph. The pull rail is lower because this one comes straight out like a drawer. These cabinet details were more common in high-end German stereos like Blaupunkt.

Major Pepperidge said...

Katella Gate, at first I thought maybe those were lights (the ones on the ceiling especially), but the examples along the wall (in a horizontal "S" curve) seemed like a mighty strange place to put lights, so I thought they might be speakers. Which also seemed strange (why so many?!). So... OK, they're lights!

Katella Gate said...

Hi Major, I do think those disks on the wall were lights, partly because they match the ones in the overhead (which clearly are recessed canister lights), and partly because the mystique of "modern" is to do something that's not seen everyday. Those wall lights were probably very low wattage lamps for visual accent of some kind. They might even have changed color (very Jetsonian). They would also have a "showmanship" element that distracts you long enough before you realize that the wall they're on is almost barren.

Also keep in mind that, like the IKEA sales floor, the HOTF stuff only has to look good long enough to sell the idea; as a practical design, a lot of this won't work. The built in sofa against the wall is a great art concept, but only if you are just going to sit a second to tie your shoes.

Chris Merritt said...

Gorgeous shots! Thanks for finding them...

Nancy said...

oh yeah, what everyone else said!!

these are SO COOL!! thanks for posting them :D

olddisneylandfan said...

I'm pretty sure that's indeed a picturephone in the bathroom. I seem to recall seeing it when a youngster and wondering, "Who would want a phone like that in the BATHROOM?"

Jim said...

The first shot is a stunner that is evocative of the iconic work of Julius Shulman of the Stahl/ Case study #22 house, erected around the same time a mere 37 miles to the north. Was there a photo credit given? Thanks for the Sunday night treat.

Major Pepperidge said...

Jim, I do mention the photographer (Ralph Crane) in the text. Definitely wanted to give credit where credit is due.

Jim said...

Thanks Major. I gotta admit, I often get lured away from the text when the visuals commence to brainjack me. Great, great stuff.

Viewliner Ltd. said...

There is no such thing as cheating when disseminating pertinent information to the public. So having said my big words for the the week, AWESOME PICS!

The LIFE Archive is a treasure. The database search does need some serious work.

Did you notice that the exterior seams of the house are still unfinished when these pics were taken?

Katella Gate said...

Viewliner: yeah, I did noticed the unfinished seams, and they made me wonder if the interiors of the dining room (which look particularly barren, even for the tastes of the moment) were actually finished, or if they were just "finished enough" to take a few camera shots.

Major Pepperidge said...

Yep, I noticed the rough seams, and mentioned it in my text for photo #3! Now I know that nobody reads what I write. ;-)

Viewliner Ltd. said...

Sorry Major....LOL! I swear to God I read it. But I am just a MONDAY MORNING DUMB ASS! For me to think you hadn't noticed it... WHAT WAS I THINKING! :-P

Oh sure Katella - You noticed it to? :-) This is not starting out to be a good week. LOL!

I AM GOING BACK TO BED !!!

Chiana_Chat said...

Hey Maj I read! But then, I am a nobody. ;-) Just to show ya, and show everyone else up, I caught your timely moon water joke. Good 'un too. I laughed till I noticed the dust and quit so as not to stir my sister's allergies. She'd be in trouble if I hadn't used Pledge.

Anyway it does look like moon water...

Major Pepperidge said...

Chiana, you're not nobody! You're the famous CHIANA!