Home inspired by 1948 film being highlighted

Tribune-StarJuly 10, 2014 

— Spurred in 1948 by a newly released movie starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, coupled with a growing post-World War II housing market, General Electric partnered with Hollywood's RKO Studios to build "dream homes" throughout the country.

Seventy-six dream homes were built, including one at 2400 Ohio Blvd. in Terre Haute. That home, based on the movie "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," will be featured this month in a home tour/pool party as part of a fundraiser for the Vigo County Historical Society.

Newlin-Johnson Development was the contractor on the project, which agreed to build the home according to architectural specifications from RKO Studios.

"It was built before I joined the firm," said John T. Newlin, whose father founded Newlin-Johnson Co. Inc. in 1932. "They used steel framing for the house that was made locally at the former Stran Steel company. During the war, that company built Quonset huts for the Army and Navy." John Newlin is chairman of the board of directors of the company.

It was the only dream home built with a steel frame, Vigo County Historical Society executive director Marylee Hagan told the Tribune-Star (http://bit.ly/TV3zIs ).

Indiana had two other sites for the dream homes, one in Indianapolis and a second in South Bend. RKO's architectural plans had several designs, including ranch-style homes, to fit different sections of the country.

Concrete was used for the flooring of the Terre Haute dream house. An Oct. 9, 1948, newspaper account states that concrete "was poured upon a corrugated metal base which was mounted on the structural Stran Steel joists. The floors were poured to a thickness of 2 inches. The flooring is vermin proof, sound-proof and termite proof."

Footings and walls of the house are reinforced concrete, 12 inches thick.

"It is a fortress. Except for commercially built buildings, there is nothing stronger" in Terre Haute, said Bryan Sponsler, who now owns the house with his wife, Catherine.

"The only time you hear anything is when someone is walking up or down the stairs," Sponsler said, as the stairs are made of wood.

Sponsler, who purchased the home in 2004, said it came with the original "Mr. Blandings" blueprints.

Yet what may have fascinated most who toured the home in 1948 were GE's newest home electronics, including automatic washer and dryer; two-temperature refrigerator; range; 8-foot home freezer; dishwasher; a sink combination complete with a disposal unit; cabinets; a flat plate ironer; water heater; vacuum cleaner; and radios.

The home also included an intercom system called "Teletalk" as well as an electric Westminster doorbell chime. Sponsler said he recently discovered a company that still makes replacement parts, and so he plans to restore the chimes. In addition, the home featured central heating and cooling.

"At the open house, it was arranged that tickets would be sold by a sorority," Newlin said. "It was quite something," Newlin said, "and it has proven to be an excellent home."

The open house was held Oct. 10, 1948, and members of Tri Kappa Sorority, chartered in 1921, served as hostesses. "Their job will call for poise, patience and a fund of knowledge about the model home and its furnishings in anticipation of the many questions which will be put to them by the inquisitive visitors," the newspaper account states.

The showing of the dream home was a community event, with tickets costing 25 cents to tour the home. Of that price, 21 cents went to the Community Chest, the forerunner of the United Way of the Wabash Valley. The remaining 4 cents went to federal taxes.

As keepsakes, match books were distributed. The inside of the match book listed the 28 companies that worked to bring the home together, supplying plumbing, painting, plaster, furnishings, steel frames and concrete, to name a few.

One company was Industrial Supply Co., which remains in business in Terre Haute. Then-president and general manager John B. Scofield touted the use of American Standard fixtures in the two upstairs bathrooms.

"We have been very fortunate to remain in business, and customers in the Wabash Valley have contributed to that success," said Don Ireland, president of Industrial Supply. "We started in 1915, and next year it will be our 100th anniversary. I think the (dream) home bodes well for American Standard brand of fixtures. Back then, they likely had 5-gallon tanks, but now (toilet) tanks are 2.5 gallons or even less," Ireland said.

Sponsler said at least one bathroom still has original fixtures, with "the guts" replaced several times from components purchased at Industrial Supply.

Sponsler said he had no idea the home was a "dream home" when he and his wife purchased it. "Funny, right after finding out about the house, I went to Sam's and there as a DVD two-movie pack of Cary Grant, with 'Mr. Blandings' as one of the movies," Sponsler said.

The Historical Society's executive director said a home tour is planned with a 1940s theme. Greeters are to be dressed in period clothing. Also, the society hopes to have a period vehicle parked in the driveway, just like with the 1948 tour.

That vehicle, a dark green Packard Custom Eight touring sedan, according to a newspaper account, "was equipped with a button on the instrument panel which, when pressed, opens the garage door without entailing the driver's moving from the car or any extra effort."

"It really was a model home, but (it would) cost a fortune to build a home like that now," Sponsler said, adding the home also has electrical conduit for all wiring.

Sponsler is the fourth owner of the home. He said the original owners were Sam Smith and his wife, who owned the former Smith's Department Store at the corner of Fourth Street and Wabash Avenue

His son and wife, Soloman and Jane Smith, then owned the home. They sold the home in 1988 to Daniel and Donna Wolfe, who own Wolfe's Auto Auction. The Wolfes in 1995 added a concrete outdoor pool and pool house in the backyard.

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Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

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