Sixty years ago this September, a truly unusual house was built in Bakersfield. The post WW2 war era had left 30 million people throughout America looking for a home. Tract style house construction had been introduced before WW2 but with this army of desperate house hunters begging for a home tract building resumed, only on a much greater scale than ever before. This enormous housing trend caused many building trades journeymen to form new contracting businesses in Bakersfield such as painting, plastering, plumbing and general construction. At this time my father-in-law established "W.O. Swank Painting" of Bakersfield, which in time became one of the largest painting contractors in the West.
In the spring of 1948, seventy three American cities were authorized to construct a replica of the beautiful " Dream House" featured in the hit comedy movie from RKO Productions "Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House" starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. Bakersfield was the smallest city to participate in the event which was nationally publicized for months in leading magazines and newspapers. The postwar housing boom was in high gear and it seemed as though everyone who read the book or viewed the movie fell in love with the Blandings Dream House.
Millions of G.I. families had just lived through four hard years of world war two and were facing a critical housing shortage all over America. These families were craving an affordable home equipped with those "atomic age appliances" that had previously been denied them due to war restrictions of everything except essential items. The Blandings Dream House fulfilled that desire of war weary America.
The movie was adapted from the book by Eric Hodgins, former editor and vice president of Fortune Magazine. He resigned his position with "Fortune" so as to have more time to devote to his writing career. In 1946 he re-wrote an article he had published in his Fortune Magazine titled, "Mister Blandings Builds His Castle". The new book was titled" Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House"and it was an instant best seller prompting RKO Radio Pictures to make it into a movie in 1948.
General Electric Corporation was the manufacturer of the "all electric kitchen", (electricity was cheap then), and all the "atomic age" appliances installed throughout the Blandings house, which RKO had built on The old 20th Century Fox Malibu Creek Ranch lot expressly for the filming of this movie. The "Zuzz-Zuzz" water softener, automatic washer and drier, dishwasher, garbage disposal, central air conditioning, television and all the futuristic work saving gadgets dazzled millions of young house hunters who had never before seen appliances such as these. Most households still used wringer washing machines and ice boxes. Most of the prewar built appliances had worn out during the war and couldn't be replaced till wars end. The spectacular public reaction to this post war Dream House prompted General Electric and RKO to supply Blandings Dream House blueprints to 73 cities which agreed to provide local building contractors with the plans to construct their cities own "Blandings Dream House". Thereafter the plans were made available Nationwide and are still obtainable on the Internet.
Bakersfield's Westchester Housing Tract was being constructed at that time and was selected as the perfect spot to build the house. Ralph Smith local real estate developer owned the Weschester land upon which the house was built. Gannon Construction was the building contractor supported by a host of local sub-contractors who all agreed to their services, 'at cost'. My father-in law, William O. Swank, was the painting contractor selected to paint the beautiful "Dream House". Most of the forty or fifty local businesses involved in the project are no longer with us but their beautiful creation still remains here. General Electric engineers inspected the partially finished house and commented,"of all the other Dream Homes under construction across the Nation, the Bakersfield house is the best and follows the master blueprints more closely than any other being built, and we have seen them all", a tribute to the skill of our local contractors and their employees of that era.
Promotion and sponsorship of the project was undertaken by "The Woman's Club of Bakersfield" with all proceeds earned during the month of open house going to charitable organizations such as "The Crippled Children's Society"and other needy causes. Building, decorating and fully furnishing the house became a community project with scores of local businesses using their products to make the home complete. I attended East Bakersfield High School at this time and Blandings Dream House was the number one topic of discussion for quite sometime. It seemed everyone in town attended the movie when it opened at the Fox Theater the first week in September, 1948.
On the weekend of October third and fourth, the two child stars from the movie, Sharyl Moffett and Connie Marshall, were hostesses at the open house. A free barbecue was featured along with famous local radio disk Jockey Bill Elliot taking live interviews among the crowd. So many people attended that weekend, finding a parking spot was a problem and the admission line was blocks long but everyone had a wonderful time.
Thousands of anxious families stood in line for an opportunity to tour the modern home during open house month, twenty five cents was the admission price and the Bakersfield Woman's Club raised a large amount for charity. No doubt this movie together with the Blandings Dream House presentation was the kick-off of the local post war building boom which lasted for years.
Approaching sixty years of age, how are the hundreds of Dream Homes, all over the Country surviving ? The original Blandings Dream House which RKO Pictures built near Malibu is still there, in use, fully functional and the Old 20Th Century Fox movie lot on which it is located is now a State Park, its name is Malibu Creek Park. The home built in Bakersfield's Westchester Tract looks as graceful and sharp as it did when it was originally constructed. When viewing the eternally classic appearance of the Dream House, one tends to believe this design will never die.
(C) by George Gilbert Lynch-- Apl. 30, 2006
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