by Paula Bosse
I watch a lot of old movies, and one of my favorites has always been Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, the 1948 comedy about the trials and tribulations of home renovation and construction starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I learned there had been a nationwide promotion in which replicas of the “dream house” were built in cities around the country. And, to my surprise, one of those houses was built in Dallas! To be exact, in Preston Hollow. To be precise, at 5423 Walnut Hill Lane (the northwest corner of Walnut Hill and Hollow Way). Sadly, when I went looking for it last week, I found an empty lot. (Figures.) The photo above shows the house in September, 1948 when it (and, not so coincidentally, the movie) opened to the public.
Ahead of the movie’s release, Selznick Studios approached local builders around the country and provided them with architectural plans, asking that they build houses as near to the specifications of the movie house as conditions would permit. The studio contracted Dallas builder A. Pollard Simons and supervising architect Lucien O’Brien to work on the Dallas dream house, seen below in a rendering (all images are larger when clicked).
Simons greatly increased the size of the original two-story, three-bedroom house quite a bit (of course he did!), and he allowed the Junior League to raise money by selling 25-cent tickets to curious dream-house-wanters clamoring to wander through the house and gawk at its plush interior and its state-of-the art appliances. Afterwards, Simons put the completely furnished house on the market (in some cities the houses were put up as raffle prizes), and life, presumably, returned to normal for all concerned.
It was a clever way to promote the movie, and, as most of the contractors rushed to boast of their participation by taking out large ads (likely bought in conjunction with studio money), it was also an advertising bonanza for local newspapers. In amongst such ads I discovered that the company owned by my mother’s uncle and my grandfather — Fred Werry Electric Co. — did all the electrical work for the house!
Below are some of those ads that appeared at the time — and, trust me, this was just the tip of the iceberg. The ads were non-stop. This was a huge campaign, going far beyond traditional Hollywood promotion — and it certainly paid off. I’m fairly certain that most Dallasites who read the paper during that time were aware of the house (and the movie), even if they had absolutely no interest in houses (or movies). It was that that unavoidable. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to listen to a FABULOUS commercial-slash-PSA made by actor Melvyn Douglas at a local radio station during a trip to Dallas to tour the Preston Hollow house.)
There were other Texas “Dream Houses” built in Fort Worth (still standing, see link at bottom of page), Austin, Houston, and Amarillo. I only wish Dallas still had its “Dream House,” but I fear a tasteful-but-puny, little ol’ 3,000-square-foot house would not meet today’s definition of a “dream house” in ultra-swanky Preston Hollow.
I really like the Wyatt’s Cafeteria ad below, which begins with an itinerary. “Program for today: go to church, eat at Wyatt’s, drive out to see the Mr. Blandings’ ‘Dream House’ in Preston Hollow.” This cafeteria ad sneaked in a mention of the Wyatt’s grocery stores by informing the reader that they had supplied the food for the Dream House’s refrigerator and pantry shelves. But this was my favorite part: “When Mr. Blandings takes his family out for a delicious meal you may rest assured that he will take them to a Wyatt’s De Luxe Cafeteria where each may choose the foods of his own liking from Wyatt’s tremendous varieties. Mr. Blandings won’t mind paying the bill because Wyatt’s prices are really modest.” If Cary Grant was going to be dining at a Dallas cafeteria, I only hope he was choking down large slabs of Wham.
The original “dream house” from Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House — cute, but much smaller than its Dallas counterpart.
Sources & Notes
All ads relating to the Dallas Dream House appeared throughout September, 1948.
A nice look at the still-standing Fort Worth Dream House can be found in “Standing at the Corner of Hollywood and Cowtown,” here.
A short radio promo about the Preston Hollow Dream House was recorded on Aug. 10, 1948 by the wonderful Melvyn Douglas, one of the stars of the film (who, by the way, went on to win an Oscar for his role as the family patriarch in the brilliant — and iconically Texan — film Hud in 1963). It was recorded when he visited Dallas in August, 1948 at station KIXL (in which he was an investor), and it can be heard here. (By permission of the great Dallas DJ and broadcasting archivist, George Gimarc.) I LOVE THIS! Thank you, George!
UPDATE: I wrote this post in 2014, and at the time I could find no information about this Dallas Blandings house outside contemporary newspaper archives. Which is the only reason I took some small amount of credit for the house showing up in a Preston Hollow-centric mural in 2015 at the then-new Trader Joe’s at Walnut Hill and Central. I took the photo below in 2015, but, sadly, this tribute to Mr. Blandings and his Dallas dream house is no more. Last time I stopped in, it had been painted over. But here it lives on!
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.