Back to the Future in Portland, Oregon
A Tour of Midcentury Modern "Houses of Tomorrow"
In the years before and after “The Jetsons” first aired in 1962, Americans got caught up in imagining what houses would be like in the future. Flush with postwar industrial success, we wondered what new advances in technology would improve our lifestyles. Would we park our self-driving hover cars in floating garages and sit down to meals prepared by robots? A more efficient, streamlined way of living seemed just within of reach.
This weekend, Restore Oregon will revisit that optimistic midcentury mindset with its “House of Tomorrow” tour. Kicking off with a lecture this Friday night, May 13 (at the Pietro Belluschi-designed Central Lutheran Church in Portland), the self-guided tour of seven Portland-area houses will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 14.
Each residence on the tour was designed in the 1940s, '50s, or '60s, using the latest products and materials and embracing a way of life that was more focused on physical comfort and leisure time than in the past.
“It was that postwar attitude where technology was solving problems and making life easier,” says Peggy Moretti, executive director of Restore Oregon. “There was a sense of renewed prosperity and turning toward the family. People were spending money on things they never would have before.”
Among the “houses of tomorrow” on the tour:
The lumber company executive who commissioned the 1957 Miller Residence filled it with different species of Oregon wood as a way of demonstrating his product’s versatility. Oversized windows that brought views inside represented a departure from the old way of thinking, in which indoors and outdoors were completely separate.
Wedgewood Home of Tomorrow
Well-known Portland architects Donald Blair and William Fletcher designed this 1959 model house for local developer Wedgewood Homes. The Scandinavian-style freestanding fireplace (shown at top) creates a groovy vibe, as does the zigzag roofline. Bright blue and red accents on the exterior fall right in line with the Pop Art sensibilities of the ‘60s.
A newfound emphasis on openness and transparency played a big role in the design of this 1968 house for Ruth and Bernard McCue. The flowing floor plan and large windows of the main level capture views of Mount Hood, while downstairs spaces—a canning kitchen, a game room, and craft rooms—catered to the couple’s interests and hobbies.
Reedwood Model Home
The 1958 Reedwood Model Home showcased building products made in Oregon. It was supposed to be part of a 150-home development of houses costing between $30,000 and $40,000, but that project was never realized. Its split-level plan and long, low roofline are classic Midcentury Modern elements, and so is its focus on entertaining: the lower level is devoted to a party room with a dedicated kitchen and fireplace.
As one might expect with a house built for a former U.S. Navy physician, the 1948 Rathkey Residence evokes a ship, with rounded corners and efficient use of space. Innovative materials such as Marlite (a reinforced plastic) and aluminum lent the kitchen a futuristic feel. So did a shipshape dining nook that doubles as a storage area, with drawers built into the seating. These features, as well as most of the original appliances, are still intact.
To learn more about the "House of Tomorrow" tour and to buy tickets, visit restoreoregon.org.