House of the Future Construction – March 1957

House of the Future Under Construction
Detail of Construction – March 1957
by Todd James Pierce

While the park was under construction, Walt repeatedly struggled with how to design Tomorrowland.  Early ideas for Tomorrowland gravitated toward attractions that embraced the type of science fiction popular in 1950s B-grade movies.  These concepts were mainly produced by the first art director for Tomorrowland, Gabe Scognamillo.  Scognamillo was specifically chosen to oversee plans for Tomorrowland because he’d recently finished a near-future robot film for Republic Pictures called Tobor the Great.  What’s Tobor’s story?  Here’s the quick version: Tobor (which for you non-dyslexics out there is robot spelled backward) was designed to pilot unmanned exploratory voyages into outer-space.  Under Scognamillo’s direction, plans for Tomorrowland explored the design ethos of the 1950s B-movie spectacular–including one proposed Tomorrowland dark ride in which guests would travel over the surface of Mars.  Don’t believe me?  You can find a piece of 1954 very early concept art for that ride here, which for years was displayed in the living room of an early WED employee.  (Thanks to Scott Wolf for hosting that photo.)

But as 1954 progressed into 1955, Walt’s vision for Tomorrowland evolved from a cinematic exploration of near-future science fiction to a showcase for inventive technologies and realistic scientific discoveries.  There were still some attractions built in Tomorrowland tied to those early kitschy ideals (such as Space Station X-1), but as Tomorrowland developed through the 1950s, Walt saw Tomorrowland as a showcase to present the real-world wonders of science and technology, such as the House of the Future.

Detail of Construction – March 1957

Up on the blog today are a series of color photos that show the construction of Monsanto’s House of the Future.   The House of the Future was the second (of three) major attractions underwritten by the chemical giant, with their best known–and most costly–attraction being Adventure Thru Inner Space.  Though I’m sure other color photos exist of the House’s construction, these are the only color images I’ve ever seen taken by a guest.

One of the aspects I find most surprising about these photos is the openness of construction.  From the hub, there’s no construction fence or visual barrier enclosing the work area.  Also the attraction marker is corporate signage, not the type of storybook illustration that the park tended to use during those years (from 1956-1959) for  pretty much every other major attraction as it was built.  These photos here were taken in March 1957.  At this point, Monsanto workers had erected the under-floors for two of the four wings–with each, according to Monsanto’s literature, capable of supporting 16 tons.  Though it’s difficult to make out clearly, it appears that pre-molded flooring (or perhaps roofing) sections are set off to the side, waiting to be lifted into place.  When finished the House would enjoy a unique location in the park, right beside the castle: the medieval home abutting up against the space-age home.  The House would also serve as a design icon for Tomorrowland, signaling that kitschiness of those early Tomorroaland attractions would soon pass away.

So that leaves just one question left for today’s post: whatever happened to the first art director of Tomorrowland, Gabe Scognamillo?  Well, according to Joe Fowler (who oversaw much of Disneyland’s early construction), Walt and Scognamillo repeatedly fought over the design direction of Tomorrowland, with Walt claiming that Scognamillo was inflexible and egotistical, driven by a desire to commemorate his own concepts rather than do what was best for the park.  Also, according to Fowler, Scognamillo was fired before the park even opened, giving Scognamillo a rare honor: to the best of my knowledge Gabe Scognamillo is the only designer personally fired by Walt Disney who later received his own window on Main Street.

House of the Future Construction – March 1957

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