Silver Spring World’s Fair Home Featured at National Building Museum

Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s is a new exhibit opening Saturday at the National Building Museum and running through July 10, 2011. The exhibit includes a section on a house built in the North Four Corners part of Silver Spring: Washington’s 1939 New York World’s Fair Home. As far as the available evidence suggests, the Silver Spring developers who received a license from the New York World’s Fair Corporation were the only ones who built an exact duplicate using the plans and material specifications for the demonstration home that was on display in the Long Island fair in 1939 and 1940.

I moved to Silver Spring’s Northwood Park neighborhood in 2002 and walked by the Scandiffios’ former home at least several times a week. The unassuming one-and-a-half-story asbestos-shingle-clad Cape Cod house was like dozens of other period revival homes in the neighborhood: it was an ordinary looking house in an unremarkable twentieth century suburb.

A couple of years ago, when my wife began serving on the neighborhood association’s board of directors, she started telling me things she had heard about some of the “older” houses in the neighborhood. For example, neighborhood oral tradition suggested that a brick Tudor Revival on a prominent corner in the neighborhood was built as a Washington Gas Light Company model home.

Former Washington Gas Model Home. 1938 Washington Post front page photo (top) and 2009 view (bottom).

As a professional historian and member of Montgomery County’s Historic Preservation Commission, I could not pass up the opportunity to do a little out-of-pocket history. Just a few minutes into a historical Washington Post database search, I encountered newspaper articles with headlines reporting on Washington’s World’s Fair Home.


Pauline and Mario Scandiffio on side porch at Silver Spring World's Fair Home, c. 1944. Photo courtesy of Ann Scandiffio.

Mario and Pauline Scandiffio  were just the kind of homebuyers Garden Homes, Inc., wanted to move into Northwood Park. In 1939 Mario Scandiffio (1902-1996) was a Washington pediatrician who was gaining national prominence in a growing battle over the new field of managed healthcare. His wife, Pauline (1903-1989), was a singer and radio personality who also worked as a Bureau of Engraving tour guide. After spending the first nine years of their marriage living in a Washington apartment, the Scandiffios wanted a home in the suburbs near Dr. Scandiffio’s new Silver Spring medical office; Mrs. Scandiffio, an avid golfer, wanted to live near the Indian Spring Country Club.[1] The Northwood Park subdivision and the Scandiffios were a perfect fit when in August of 1939 a Washington Post photographer captured the image of Mrs. Scandiffio taking the key to the couple’s new house: Washington’s New York World’s Fair Home.

Platted in early 1936, Northwood Park — located about 2.5 miles north of Washington, D.C. — quickly sprouted single-family homes marketed to young professionals like the Scandiffios. Using common real estate trade tools, Garden Homes lured prospective buyers through creatively illustrated and worded display ads hawking Northwood Park’s rustic charm, affordability, and proximity to Washington. The firm used themed models like the Bachelor Girl Home and the Bride’s Home which were fully furnished and equipped with the latest modern gas appliances. Some of these model homes came with a brand new car in the garage and a supply of groceries.[2]

Northwood Park subdivision. Silver Spring, Maryland. Map by David Rotenstein.

For three years Northwood Park’s marketing efforts shared affinities with subdivisions throughout Montgomery County and the nation. Then, in February 1939, in anticipation of the spring sales campaign to try and sell off its remaining properties, Garden Homes set out to capitalize on the growing publicity surrounding the opening of the World’s Fair later that May. The research from which this post is drawn explores the intersection between Northwood Park’s efforts to sell suburban homes and the 1939 World’s Fair’s mission to sell dreams of modern convenience and technological wonder to Americans visiting the fair as well as those experiencing it through the media.

1939 World’s Fair

The 1939 World’s Fair was an important turning point in American history. The Fair was conceived in 1935 as monumental marketing scheme neatly packaged to sell American heritage alongside America’s future to eager consumers emerging from the depths of economic depression.[3] In “Building the World of Tomorrow”, Fair planners drew upon the imagery of America as a young Republic by inventing a celebration of the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as they worked with leading consumer products manufacturers and the building industry to put on a show meant to get people to buy homes and all the things they would need to live in them. The American Gas Association and all of its public utility members and appliance makers were well represented as were the electric industry through the Edison Electric Institute and its members, companies that generated and transmitted electricity to power a wide array of modern conveniences, from televisions to air-conditioners and kitchen appliances. “The World’s Fair in New York is to differ from most World’s Fairs in being a forward-looking display,” wrote H.G. Wells just before the Fair opened. “Its keynotes are not history and glory but practical anticipation and hope.”[4]

The New York World’s Fair Corporation divided its show into multiple divisions which in turn had several stages keyed to themed focal exhibits in seven interest zones.[5] The Town of Tomorrow was a spurious cul-de-sac located north of the iconic Perisphere and Trylon. The Town of Tomorrow’s fifteen demonstration homes had twelve single-family homes that relied on historical stylistic vocabularies and three modernistic homes. All of the homes recapitulated the Fair’s embedded theme of looking forward with an eye on the past.[6] Fair planners viewed domestic architecture as a product. To them, “a home was not just a house. It was the  demonstration of the impact of technology on the most mundane aspects of human behavior.”[7] Families were not groups of related people; they were consumer units and all of the most familiar American brands, from Heinz and Coca Cola to General Electric, RCA, and Westinghouse, were there to reach consumers.[8]

Each of the Town of Tomorrow’s demonstration homes had several corporate sponsors. These were companies who made the appliances inside the home, the utilities that connected it to the outside world, the stores that provided the furnishings, and the various building industry entities who supplied the designs and materials for each home. Most of the homes carried a primary sponsor’s name plus that sponsor’s key contribution to the home. There were the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company’s “House of Glass” and General Electric’s “Electric Home” along with the Celotex House and the Kelvin Home. Each home had a promotional brochure that described that home’s attributes and underlying philosophies.

Map illustrating the 1939 World's Fair Town of Tomorrow.

Demonstration Home No. 15

Demonstration Home No. 15. Library of Congress photo.

Sponsored by the Johns-Manville Company, Demonstration Home No. 15’s official name was the Johns-Manville Triple-Insulated House. Described in Fair marketing literature as a “Long Island Colonial Home,” House No. 15 was aptly described by its architects as a fusion of Colonial architectural vocabulary with all of the modern conveniences – the latest household appliances — including air conditioning —  new building materials, and innovative internal spaces – designed to appeal to contemporary homebuyers.[9] Home No. 15 was one of three demonstration houses the Fair contracted with the New York City firm Godwin, Thompson & Patterson to design for $3,500.[10] The Johns-Manville house was a one-and-a-half-story T-plan cottage with a symmetrical front façade and interior center chimney. Johns-Manville asbestos shingles clad the exterior walls and roof, except the gable ends; the gable ends were whitewashed brick veneer attached to hollow concrete blocks.

Demonstration Home No. 15 brochure cover.

The $9,500 Johns-Manville house was co-sponsored by the American Gas Association as an “all gas house.” Appliances included a Servel Electrolux refrigerator and a Magic Chef Gas Range. Heated by a Crane Co. system and cooled by a Janitrol air-conditioner, the interior included a finished basement, a first floor with a kitchen, dining room, living room, workshop, maid’s room, and a bathroom. The second story had three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The house could be entered through the front door, a side door into the kitchen, or through the rear attached garage.  Singled out by the media as one of the most desirable homes in the Town of Tomorrow, the house was featured on the cover of the June 1939 issue of American Builder and Building Age and it was illustrated in McCall’s magazine as well as in the Washington Post and the New York Times.[11]

"Which House Will You Have?" McCall's Magazine, March 1938.

Silver Spring’s World’s Fair Home

Northwood Park had been touting all-gas homes since its first marketing campaigns in the summer of 1936. In 1938, for example, the company marketed its “Second Anniversary Home” which was equipped with “Every Available Modern Gas Home Appliance.”[12] James Wilson appears to have forged a strong relationship with the American Gas Association’s Frank Williams.[13] At Williams’ suggestion, Wilson in February 1936 wrote to Edward Wilke, director of the Fair’s Shelter Exhibits, asking for permission to construct a “duplication of house number 15 in the Town of Tomorrow” in Northwood Park just south of what is now the intersection of Lorain Avenue and Sutherland Road.[14] Fair officials quickly replied with their conditions for licensing the Fair’s name and Home No. 15. The conditions required, “that the plans and specifications used by the Fair Corporation in the construction of House No. 15 of the Town of Tomorrow will be followed exactly” and that Garden Homes retain the original architects, Godwin, Thompson, and Patterson:

The architects will be given credit for the design of this house and that they will be compensated for the use of these plans. This compensation would be around $100 although this is a matter that would have to be worked out between you and the architects.[15]

In the letter sealing the deal between Northwood Park and the Fair Corporation, Wilke wrote to James Wilson: “You are to be congratulated on having the perception of the tremendous values attached to this venture … and I have no doubt that you recognize that this program properly announced around Washington will draw thousands of interested visitors to your nice development at Northwood Park.” Wilke added, “I believe this to be the greatest publicity stunt ever available to developers.”[16]

After selling the Fair Corporation on the idea, the clock began ticking on Garden Homes’ carefully crafted marketing campaign which was strategically timed to coincide with the Fair’s grand opening at the end of April 1939. Nelle Wilson quickly stepped in to take over all communications about the project. “It is my privilege to handle the publicity for the New York World’s Fair Home,” wrote Nelle to the Fair upon learning that Garden Homes could proceed with its project. “We are planning a publicity campaign that will cover the entire construction period as well as the actual time the house will be open to the public.”[17]

The Garden Homes project was an ideal undertaking for a key Fair Corporation division: the Department of Collateral Advertising. Established in July of 1938, this department was responsible for licensing the Fair’s name and logos to “advertisers interested in keying their sales messages to the exposition.”[18] Nelle Wilson worked relentlessly to secure logos, brochures, and other information to link the Garden Homes enterprise as closely as possible with the Fair. Nelle cajoled Fair executives to lend their names as “honorary” committee members and she coordinated visits to the Fair by Garden Homes contractors so that they could  duplicate Home No. 15 as faithfully as possible.

Washington's World's Fair Home, c. 1940s. Photo by Pauline Scandiffio and courtesy of Ann Scandiffio.

When Garden Homes, Inc., executed its contract with the New York World’s Fair Corporation to build an exact replica of Demonstration Home Number 15, the Johns-Manville “Long Island Colonial Home,” the developers were required to build a faithful copy. According to the contract, Garden Homes was to “follow exactly” the “plans and specifications used by the Fair Corporation in the construction of House No. 15 of the Town of Tomorrow.”

Garden Homes got some leeway in adapting the original design to the home planned for Silver Spring. For example, since the original Demonstration Home No. 15 had no basement and therefore no heating or hot water appliances, the Fair Corporation allowed Garden Homes to, “use equipment to suit local construction.”

Demonstration Home No. 15. Drawings included in Town of Tomorrow promotional brochure. From the author’s collection.

Exterior features that clearly were modified include the building’s footprint and porch railings. Because of the unusual lot size Garden Homes selected for its replica and inadequate rear yard setbacks to construct the rear ell as designed by architects Godwin, Thompson, and Patterson, the garage was brought into the basement level beneath the workshop. Unlike the original Demonstration Home 15, which was built on a level surface, the Silver Spring house was built into a bank. The modifications to the design compressed the footprint fit all of the rooms into the envelope designed by the architects.

Another significant deviation from the World’s Fair original involved modification of the front and kitchen side porches. The Silver Spring home’s front porch was built with metal porch rails instead of wood balusters. Photos show Demonstration Home 15 with wood porch rails, painted white. Because of the lot’s topography in Silver Spring, the rear yard drops significantly and the kitchen side porch is located back far enough from the home’s front plane that steps from the side yard are required to access the door. The original, again because it was built on level ground, had no steps leading to this porch.

Construction progress photo. The Washington Post, June 11, 1939.

Garden Homes staged a ceremonial groundbreaking 7 April 1939.[19] Over the next three months the Washington Post published articles documenting the progress on the house, all in keeping with real estate marketing best practices to place articles in newspapers at various stages of construction.[20] When the house was completed in July 1939, Garden Homes hosted another event that included a parade from downtown Silver Spring and up Colesville Road ending at the World’s Fair Home. The 14 July 1939 dedication included a speech by Maryland’s Secretary of State followed by a private cocktail party for local, state, and federal officials as well as the project’s various corporate sponsors.[21]

The home remained open to the public throughout July and into August of 1939. According to the Washington Post, about 4,500 people visited the first day of public viewing. By the end of the publicity campaign more than 27,000 people had visited the home and Northwood Park. On August 13, 1939, Garden Homes held its last public event at the home when James Wilson gave the house’s key to new owners: Dr. Mario and Pauline Scandiffio. [22]

The Scandiffio family inside Silver Spring's World's Fair Home. Photograph courtesy of Ann Scandiffio.

The Scandiffios paid for the house with the help of a nine thousand dollar mortgage from First Federal Savings and Loan Association.[23] Over the course of the next dozen years the Scandiffios raised their son and daughter in the home. Daughter Ann Scandiffio recalls walking to nearby St. Bernadette’s Catholic School and playing with other children in the neighborhood. The Scandiffio home had an African-American live-in maid, Lucille — the kids called her “Sha”. Parties were held in the finished basement and Mrs. Scandiffio documented the family’s life in the home with her Crown Graphic camera, developing the photos in the room designed as a workshop. The Scandiffios lived the suburban ideal until 1952 when Dr. Scandiffio sold his practice and moved the family to Florida. Ads for the home’s sale in the Washington Post noted that it was “Washington’s Official New York World’s Fair Home of 1939.” John L. and John C. Kirby, along with their wives, bought the home in June of 1952. More than fifty years later, the home remains in the Kirby family.[24]

Silver Spring World's Fair Home. 2009 photo by David Rotenstein.

The Silver Spring World’s Fair Home is featured in the final part of the exhibit: Legacies of the Fairs. Plan to spend a few hours among the artifacts, photos, and text panels in the exhibit. The opening reception was last night and the gallery opens to the public following Art Deco Society of Washington events this weekend.

Designing Tomorrow opening reception. National Building Museum, September 30, 2010. BlackBerry photo.

NOTES


This blog post is drawn from a paper, “The Greatest Publicity Stunt Available to Developers”: Washington’s 1939 World’s Fair Home, delivered at the 2010 Vernacular Architecture Forum conference.

[1] Ann Scandiffio,  interview by David S. Rotenstein, September 5, 2009. Mario Scandiffio graduated from the George Washington University School of Medicine in 1928. After serving an internship and residency in New York Dr. Scandiffio returned to Washington and entered private practice. In November 1937 he was hired as a pediatrician by Group Health Association, Inc. Dr. Scandiffio became Group Health’s medical director in early 1939.  Shortly after being hired by Group Health Dr. Scandiffio lost his privileges to practice at local hospitals and he, along with other Group Health doctors, was expelled from the District of Columbia Medical Society. The actions spurred a Justice Department investigation and charges were brought against the District of Columbia Medical Society and the American Medical Association for restraint of trade. Found guilty by the lower court, the case was appealed and the decision was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943. American Medical Association v. United States of America, 317 U.S. 519 (U.S. Supreme Court 1943).

[2] “Bride’s Home Advetrising Brings Out the Crowds,” American Builder and Building Age, 1939; “Display Home is Built to Suit Bachelor Girl,” The Washington Post, June 26, 1938.

[3] David Hillel Gelernter, 1939, the Lost World of the Fair (New York: Free Press, 1995); Dawn of a New Day: The New York World’s Fair, 1939/40 (Flushing, N.Y: Queens Museum, 1980); Pamela Lee Post, “East Meets West: The Model Homes Exhibit at the 1939-1940 New York and San Francisco World’s Fairs” (University of California, Santa Barbara, 2000); David E. Nye, “Ritual Tomorrows: The New York World’s Fair Of 1939,” History & Anthropology 6, no. 1 (1992): 1-21; Gardner Ainsworth, “The New York World’s Fair: Adventure in Promotion,” The Public Opinion Quarterly 3, no. 4 (1939): 694-704; Joseph J Corn and Brian Horrigan, Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future, ed. Katherine Chambers (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Joseph P. Cusker, “The World of Tomorrow: The 1939 New York World’s Fair” (diss., Rutgers University, 1990).

[4] H.G. Wells, “World of Tomorrow,” The New York Times, March 5, 1939.

[5] Dawn of a New Day, 6-7.

[6] Post, “East Meets West.”

[7] Dawn of a New Day, 13.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Post, “East Meets West,” 126.

[10] Contract with Godwin, Thompson & Patterson, 10 March 1938. New York World’s Fair 1939 and 1940 Incorporated Records.

[11] William Hamby, “Which Will You Have?,” McCall’s, 1938; “Scientific Planning for Modern Kitchen,” The New York Times, April 30, 1939; “Homes of Contrasting Types in the Town of Tomorrow at the World’s Fair,” The New York Times, May 28, 1939; “Long Island Colonial with Home Workshop,” American Builder and Building Age, 1939; “Northwood Pk. Home Praised By Magazine,” The Washington Post, April 30, 1939.

[12] Advertisement, The Washington Post, August 7, 1938.

[13] “Gas Association Sponsors Home in D.C. Region,” The Washington Post, July 31, 1938; “Home Contest Capital Entry Opened Today,” The Washington Post, August 7, 1938.

[14] Nelle Wilson to Edward Wilke, February 10, 1939, New York World’s Fair Corporation Records. Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Edward Wilke to James Wilson, February 27, 1939, New York World’s Fair Corporation Records. Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library.

[17] Wilson to Wilke, February 10, 1939.

[18] Ainsworth, “The New York World’s Fair: Adventure in Promotion,” 700.

[19] “Federal Housing Official Breaks Ground for Local World’s Fair House of Tomorrow,” The Washington Post, April 9, 1939.

[20] Mason, “Tested Merchandising,” 65.

[21] “Federal, State and buisiness Circles Represented at New York World’s Fair Home’s Opening,” The Washington Post, July 23, 1939; “Ready to Handle Local World’s Fair Home Crowds,” The Washington Post, July 9, 1939.

[22] “4,500 Visited World’s Fair Home Sunday,” The Washington Post, July 23, 1939; “Local Fair Home Presented to Owner,” The Washington Post, August 20, 1939; “World’s Fair Home, the Last Word, Opens,” The Washington Post, July 16, 1939.

[23] Montgomery County Land Records, Liber 765, Folio 478.

[24] “Washington’s Official New York World’s Fair Home of 1939,” The Washington Post, May 11, 1952. Montgomery County Land Records, Liber 1682, Folio 590.

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© 2010 David S. Rotenstein

7 thoughts on “Silver Spring World’s Fair Home Featured at National Building Museum

  1. Pingback: The Legacy of Modern Housing | Designing Tomorrow: America's World's Fairs of the 1930s

  2. Interesting read. I actually own a home on Long Island that was also from the 1939 Worlds Fair Town of Tomorrow….Home #2 the Bauhaus styled “House of Plywood.”

  3. Pingback: The Silver Bee Real Estate by Debbie Cook » Northwood Park Real Estate and Home Sales – Silver Spring

  4. I was trying to locate the house on a map, but Google Maps and Bing Maps keeps wanting to take me to Takoma Park. Where exactly is the house located?

  5. Back in the 1990s, I documented a replica Town of Tomorrow House in Sevierville, Tennessee, and published the research in “The Historic Architecture of Sevier County, Tennessee” in 1997. I also interviewed the original owners, who toured the exhibit on their honeymoon in 1939 and purchased the plans for a replica of Garden Home No. 13, designed by Verna Cook Salomonsky, in 1940. And, I nominated this house to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The NR nomination can be downloaded at the link below. There is more info on the Internet as well. Great research and article! http://focus.nps.gov/GetAsset?assetID=c159c60f-2a2e-450b-8a5a-8576c2fce2fb

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