Homebuilding in the United States bottomed out during the 1930s and continued to be slow during World War II. But following the war, residential construction boomed as thousands of returning war veterans sought to have a piece of the American Dream -- a house of their own!
Cashing in on this phenomenon, movie company RKO Productions released a comedy classic in the fall of 1948, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, directed by H. C. Potter and starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas (1901-1981). The film was based on a bestselling novel of the same name by Eric Hodgins published in 1946, a fictionalized account of his own house building nightmare in New Milford, Connecticut. It is likely that Hodgins also drew on material from the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman play George Washington Slept Here (1940) and its spin-off movie released in 1942.
In the Blandings movie, successful advertising executive Jim Blandings, his wife Muriel, their two daughters, and a maid decide to trade life in a crowded New York City apartment for the fresh air of rural Connecticut. First they buy a 170 year old house—a true fixer-upper -- which they soon discover can’t be fixed. Hiring an architect and contractor, the comic saga begins as the Blandings undertake their harrowing and costly venture.
Producer David O. Selznick promoted the film by encouraging contractors throughout the country to replicate the movie-set house. He had RKO’s publicity department send blueprints to builders nationwide, hoping 100 cities would join in the fun. Seventy-three cities did. Most of the contractors built variants of the original plan. Only one Blandings house was built in Washington -- in Spokane.
Spokane’s Dream House
Housing construction boomed in Spokane in the late 1940s and new areas were opened for development. Local contractor Morris Donato decided to build a Blandings house and chose a location in the King Addition on Harlan Boulevard (now High Drive), on Spokane’s south hill, a neighborhood where he had already built several other homes. The location was on the south side of Spokane and at the time was a good distance from the center of town. Fidelity Savings and Loan financed the house. Other partners included Hughes Electric, Zappone Industries, G.E. Supply Corporation, mechanical contractors Warren, Little & Lund, and landscaper C. Norb Balzer. The house was lavishly furnished by the Crescent store in Spokane and sided with what a newspaper ad called “the most advanced building material ever offered” (Spokesman Review, October 3, 1948) -- Kaiser Aluminum.
Lines began forming at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, September 26, 1948, to tour the completed Blandings House in Spokane. Despite a chilly and drizzly day, thousands of visitors reportedly took their 10-minute tour through the home. The tour averaged about 500 people an hour, the line never slackening until closing time at 9 p.m. The house remained open daily for two weeks.
Feature attractions of the home were its atomic-age amenities: a dishwasher, a garbage disposal, a mangle (ironing press), an automatic washer and drier and -- new at the time -- a master bedroom with separate closets for husband and wife, plus an attached bathroom and dressing room. The most popular Wow! feature, however, was reported to be the automated garage door which was kept zipping up and down throughout the day.
The house was priced at $75,000. Real-estate manager Mal (Scotty) Thompson of R. L. Emacio and Co. was on hand on opening day to talk with potential buyers.
The Spokane Blandings House still stands. Years ago a pediment was added over its doorway to provide rain protection. The film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House continues to be popular and is available on DVD. A more recent update with a similar plot is the Tom Hanks (b.1956) and Shelley Long (b. 1949) movie, The Money Pit (1982).