The Legacy of Modern Housing

While most of the buildings at all the fairs were designed and constructed to last only one season or two, many fair buildings—especially the model houses—had a lasting impression on fairgoers.  Designing Tomorrow curators have heard of many people who visited the  fairs, toured model houses, and subsequently built replicas to live in—some of which still stand today.  We included two such stories within the exhibition (including “Washington’s 1939 New York World’s Fair Home” and the “House of Steel,” currently being preserved by Connecticut College.)

However, we just heard about another replica in Wichita Falls, Texas—this time, of the Stran-Steel House that was on display at A Century of Progress in Chicago.

Stran-Steel House brochure

Stran-Steel House brochure, page 23. University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center.

According to current homeowner Pete D’Acosta:

“A woman named Margaret Bowen (and her husband) saw the Stran-Steel home of the future at the 1933 Fair.  She came home, wrote a letter to Stran-Steel, bought the blue prints for $8.00 $15.00 and set out to build a “colony” of homes in a new neighborhood in Wichita Falls.  Her plan was to build every one of the homes on display at the Fair, but this Stran-Steel home proved so difficult, this was the only home she completed.”

Pete sent us a few photographs of his house as it stands today as an illustration of the legacy of the modern houses that were so memorable at the fairs:

Wichita Falls Stran-Steel House front.

Courtesy Pete D'Acosta.

Wichita Falls Stran-Steel House back.

Courtesy Pete D'Acosta.

Thanks for sharing your story, Pete!

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Fair Sites as Cultural Landscapes

Fair Park, Dallas. Photo by Charles Birnbaum, 2000. The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Recently, Designing Tomorrow curators partnered with The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) to provide information on the three still-existing sites where world’s fairs took place in the 1930s.  TCLF has a great program called “What’s Out There,” which is a database of over one thousand entries of “cultural landscapes,” or sites associated with a significant event, activity, person or group of people, and they wanted to add exposition fairgrounds to their collection. 

The three fair sites which still exist in some form include San Diego’s California Pacific International Exposition, or today’s Balboa Park; Dallas’s Texas Centennial Exposition, or today’s Fair Park; and San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition, or today’s Treasure Island.  Each of these fair sites have unique stories of development.

For example, Balboa Park has been constantly evolving since the nineteenth century and has become the largest urban cultural park in the country. Many landscaping features, buildings and murals in Fair Park were restored to reflect how they looked during 1936 exposition season. And Treasure Island was used by the Navy for decades and is practically abandoned right now, although plans are in place to develop a sustainable community on Treasure Island, incorporating the remaining exposition buildings alongside new compact housing, mass transit, and parkland.

Read more about the landscapes of all six fairs in TCLF’s latest article here, and feel free to explore other excellent cultural landscapes in their database to see what’s really out there!

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Hearing from our docents: part 3

Our next final World’s Fairs docent: Kate Meenan-Waugh

If you would like to go on a tour led by one of our excellent docents, here is some information:

  • Schedule: Walk-in tours are available Monday-Friday at 3:15 pm; Saturday 10:45 am and 3:15 pm; and Sunday 11:45 am and 3:15 pm.
  • All tours are subject to docent availability. Please call 202.272.2448 to make sure a docent is available for a scheduled tour.
  • All tours are FREE and reservations are not required for individual or groups fewer than 10. For groups of 10 or more, please see Custom Tours for more information.
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Hearing from our docents: part 2

Our next featured World’s Fairs docent: Cecil E. Talbott

If you would like to go on a tour led by one of our excellent docents, here is some information:

  • Schedule: Walk-in tours are available Monday-Friday at  3:15 pm; Saturday 10:45 am and 3:15 pm; and Sunday 11:45 am and 3:15 pm.
  • All tours are subject to docent availability. Please call 202.272.2448 to make sure a docent is available for a scheduled tour.
  • All tours are FREE and reservations are not required for individual or groups fewer than 10. For groups of 10 or more, please see Custom Tours for more information.
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Hearing from our docents

We asked the National Building Museum’s exhibition docents to tell us what they like most about the exhibition Designing Tomorrow and World’s Fairs, and we recorded their responses. Check out the first response by Diane Schwager.

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Designing Tomorrow on the BBC

Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s was featured on BBC World and BBC America on December 22. Check out the video, featuring co-curator Laura Schiavo on the BBC’s site. The exhibition title is incorrect on their site – we’ll try to get that fixed! They also put together a nice online slideshow. We hope you enjoy!

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What made these fairs “international”?

If you come to view Designing Tomorrow at the National Building Museum, you will not see very many examples of international pavilions on display. So you may wonder, like other visitors before you, why some of the world’s fairs of the 1930s were called “International Expositions.”

The fact is, four of the six fairs did have a number of foreign pavilions, and all of them had at least some representation of foreign culture, especially in their entertainment zones.  While we chose not to focus on the foreign presence at the fairs within the scope of our exhibition, here are some facts and figures that will prove to you how “international” these fairs actually were.

A Century of Progress International Exposition,  Chicago, 1933-34

Streets of Paris

Streets of Paris (Chicago Historical Society ICHi-19897)

  • Number of nations represented: 31
  • These nations included Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, USA, China, Japan, Palestine, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine
  • The fair had a number of ethnic villages in their amusement zone, including the Belgian Village, Chinese Village, Old Mexico, Moroccan Village, Oriental Village, and Streets of Paris in 1933.

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