Disneyland's bizarre House of the Future, of the past

As a Disney theme park enthusiast, I think if you'd asked me a couple of weeks ago to list all the attractions I was interested in, past and present, at the very bottom of the list would have been The House of the Future, which stood in Disneyland from 1957 to 1967.

It's often given as an example of how desperate Disneyland was to get anything into its early Tomorrowland. Simply a free tour of a "futuristic" house, sponsored by the chemical company Monsanto, it was cheap for Disney to install, and it took up some real estate while they gathered the plans and resources to create a Tomorrowland properly populated with top attractions.

But last week I listened to David A. Bossert, the author of the new book The House of the Future: Walt Disney, MIT, and Monsanto's Vision of Tomorrow, on the podcast The Disney Dish, and I was suddenly fascinated by the attraction.

House of the Future, September 1962

It combines the 1950s kitschy futurism that I love ironically with a mid-century modern aesthetic that I love unironically.

With the GI bill providing low-interest, zero down payment home loans for ex-servicemen, a post-war baby boom, and expansion of the suburbs, the 1950s saw the construction of single family homes skyrocket. Fast, economical production of identical, pre-fab or cookie-cutter homes was in great demand.

So Monsanto wanted a showcase for its innovative home design, developed with MIT, using the new material of the future: plastic. Monsanto was already an important sponsor of Disneyland, and so it was decided to build a proof-of-concept prototype in Disneyland.

Monanto already recognized the importance of Disneyland in bringing its message and products to the public. It considered its association with Disneyland through the Hall of Chemistry attraction to be very rewarding. Monsanto executives anticipated a consistent volume of foot traffic for their plastic House of the Future to be a "convincing use test — not only for the structure itself but also for the furnishings.

The House of the Future was a bizarre four-winged plastic structure held aloft on a central base. And to 21st century eyes it looks like an almost comical example of 1950s-1960s naive optimism — like a Googie Letittown house for the Jetsons.

Exterior of house of the future. Cartwright Collection

The book is lavishly illustrated with great photos and floor plans. The house had less than 1200 sq. feet of living space, and each of the four wings contained a small room(s): a family room/kitchen, a living room, a master bedroom, and a children's bedroom that could be divided in two at night with a sliding wall. The fiberglass pre-molded bathrooms look smaller than those on airplanes, but with a tiny shower. Looking at photos of this house kind of scratches the same itch as watching those reality TV shows about people who build and live in tiny houses.

Monsanto House of the Future brochure inside cover 1957 copy

Bossert does not hold back in explaining the dangers that we now know plastics present, so maybe it's a good thing this house never caught on commercially. But I do find the minimalist mid-century modern design and furniture, with mocked-up futuristic technology (that is now a reality), like a large-screen flat panel TV and video screen doorbell, immensely appealing. As Bossert enthuses on the podcast, many of the furniture pieces in the house are now considered classics, and some are still being manufactured.

MIT architect Marvin Goody holding the blueprints in the remodeled living room of the Monsanto House of the Future at Disneyland in June 1961
Kelvinator Atoms for Living Kitchen. Note the ultrasonic dishwasher-storage unit in the foreground. The dishwasher was said to use only one cup of water during a wash cycle. House of the Future at Disneyland, Anaheim, California, 1957

All images posted with the permission of The Old Mill Press

The book can be purchased at www.theoldmillpress.com, and I see that you can save 20% if you use the code SAVE20 through 2/10/24