When it was nearing time to release the 1948 comedy “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, the studio had a novel promotion idea. The story features two harried New Yorkers who move to the country and get in over their heads trying to renovate an old house. In what must have been one of the more elaborate promotional stunts of the time, RKO Pictures built 73 “dream houses” throughout the United States, including two in North Carolina, in Greensboro and Rocky Mount.
The dream houses were fully modern buildings, often equipped by General Electric, which used the opportunity to show off many of their new products. The houses were open to public tours for about a month, often with the price of admission going to local charities. They were later sold by raffle.
The dream house in Rocky Mount was located at 1515 Lafayette Avenue. According to the 1950 Rocky Mount city directory, the house was originally owned by Samuel L. Arrington. Local photographer Albert Rabil photographed the interior of the house, probably around the time of its opening. Rabil’s photographs are preserved in the Braswell Memorial Library (Rocky Mount, N.C.), and many of them are available on DigitalNC, including twelve showing the interior of the dream house.
The dream house was clearly a nice promotional opportunity for businesses all over town. The photographs show signs listing the companies that provided everything from the furniture to the windows. Most notable is the kitchen, filled with gleaming GE appliances. The images are not as clear as Rabil’s studio photographs but there is definitely enough detail to get a sense of what a modern “dream house” looked like in 1948.
Thank you to Local History Librarian Traci Thompson at the Braswell Memorial Library for providing information about the Rocky Mount dream house and also for sending links to websites and articles with more information:
- Wikipedia article on the movie Mr. Blandings Dream House, including a list of the locations of all 73 dream houses.
- General Electric Dream House ad from the June 28, 1948 issue of Life magazine.
- Article about the dream house in Spokane, Washington, from HistoryLink.org.
- Article about the dream house in Portland, Oregon, from Vintage Portland.