November 30, 2023

Photo Essay: The Future Becomes Retro at Howard Johnson Anaheim

I've often thought about spending the night in Anaheim, California so I can take advantage of one of those three-day ticket deals at Disneyland. Since my annual pass expired in 2016, I think I've only gotten to go twice.

So far, I've taken a tour of the Grand Californian, and I've skulked around the Disneyland Hotel. I've gawked at the Alpine Inn and the Camelot Inn as I've driven past them.

But I had no idea Anaheim had such a mid-century masterpiece as the William L. Pereira-designed Howard Johnson's, just steps away from Disneyland.

And now there's something even more spectacular about it: They created a suite that's somewhat of a recreation (more of a transcreation) of the short-lived Monsanto House of the Future walk-through attraction from Disneyland's Tomorrowland, circa 1957 to 1967. 
They call it the House of the Retro Future Suite—and it's located on the fourth floor of Building 5 of the HoJo complex. 

It's available to book for overnight stays just like any other room type in the hotel—but this one goes for upwards of $400 to $800 per night, depending on the day of week and time of year. (Based on a cursory search of a few check-in options.)

I was lucky enough to access it during a free open house last weekend, when I could see the reproduction "lazy Susan" table take a spin in person. 

The kitchenette is a nice amenity for overnight guests—especially since it features updated and contemporary versions of, say, a microwave. (The House of the Future had one of the earliest microwave models available at the time, albeit in a full "Atoms for Living Kitchen" in the center of the home). 

An artist faithfully reproduced a peacock painting by Disney artist Mary Blair, which now hangs framed on the wall of the kitchenette—illuminated by the perforated, hourglass-shaped lights of the pendant chandelier above the turning turntable.

It feels like a slice of Palm Springs Modernism Week in Anaheim...

...with Midcentury Modern touches everywhere...

...especially with a custom painting of the original House of the Future (with the Matterhorn visible through the window) by artist Josh Agle (SHAG) hung above the couch in the living room. 

The textiles—including the upholstery and the carpeting—are modern, though vintage-inspired. The patterns aren't exactly the same as in the 1950s or 1960s—and perhaps the biggest difference between today and the former "Living Room of the Future" is the bygone focus on plastics and certifiably unnatural materials (like vinyl foam and acrylic fabrics). 

But you can have a swingin' time with furnishings by Henry Miller and Modernica...

...while watching your flatscreen TV, something the House of the Future actually featured decades before they became commonplace in American homes.

Listen to some space-age music on vinyl (since everything old is new again), played on a turntable of a musical sort (though no longer housed in a Philco Corporation stereophonic sound system). 

The original house was comprised of four cantilevered wings offering "A good balance of beauty and function" for a modern family of four—but at HoJo, it's just a two-room suite (plus a bathroom).

So, there's only one master bedroom and no separate children's bedrooms.

And now, instead of the Matterhorn and Sleeping Beauty Castle, guests of the House of the Retro Future Suite get a view of the common area swimming pool below. 
During your stay, you can even make a call on a vintage-style landline telephone...

...though a push-button model would've been pretty futuristic in the original Disneyland attraction, as touchtone didn't come out until 1963.

circa 1958 (Photo courtesy Orange County Archives)

The House of the Future is one of those things I agonize over not having been able to visit in person—and seriously feel the loss of. Like Old Penn Station in New York City and pretty much the entirety of the 1964/65 World's Fair. 

The House of the Retro Future Suite gave me a nice little taste of it.

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