Home > buildings, cities, columns, nostalgia > Back to the ’50s

Back to the ’50s

February 12th, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:


A model home built in Prairie Village presented a new and exciting lifestyle option to Kansas City area residents in 1954. The number of people who toured the house that year, 64,000, was equivalent to the population of Johnson County at the time.

Dave and I recently visited this all-electric‘50s home which is now part of the Johnson County Museum in Shawnee. The house had long been on my list of places to see, so when Dave and I were in Bonner Springs to visit Moon Marble, we drove into the city.

The first thing we did, however, was to eat lunch. I’d heard good things about Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue, located in a gas station at 47th and Mission in Kansas City, Kansas. We stood in a line stretching out the door, but it moved fairly quickly. Peering through the dining area divider, we couldn’t imagine there would be a place to sit when we got our food, but tables opened. And the barbecue was as good as promised.

Then we were off to the Johnson County Museum to explore the history of suburban living.

The 1950s was a booming decade for Johnson County – and for the entire country. A short film, which was part of the house tour, noted that Johnson County’s population doubled between 1940 and 1950 and that it doubled again during the next decade.

The film suggested that the ‘50s were “a time of promise and prosperity” in the United States. The country had been through World War I and II, the Great Depression, and the Dust Bowl. But mid-century, things were looking up. Babies were booming. Suburbs grew.

Ranch-style architecture was the new must-have design and it was used for this model home. This one-story, wood-frame house has an open floor plan; the kitchen leads into the dining room which shares a roomy space with the living room. A large picture window behind the sofa lets in plenty of natural light.

The house was constructed in 1954 by Kansas City Power and Light to showcase an all-electric residence. It featured a heat pump which maintained climate control year-round. A switch in the bedroom activated a percolator in the kitchen, and the living room blinds were opened by a motorized curtain rod. An attached garage featured an electric garage-door opener.

In the kitchen, the modern housewife used an automatic dishwasher and electric range. A washer and dryer were contained within a single machine. A lazy-Susan shelf was a handy item in the refrigerator – and there was a foot lever to open the refrigerator door when your hands were full. Hey – that’s a great idea; I want one of those.

I was born at the end of the ’50 and this house seemed pretty familiar. Many of its features were similar to my childhood home. My dad built our own house around us. My first year was spent living in a basement residence while Dad added on the main floor.

My father embraced many of the modern features that we saw in this model home. Our house, too, had a wall of quality wood paneling and recessed lighting along the ceiling. Dad included a lot of built-in features in our home – cabinets and bookshelves.

Linoleum tile in the model home’s kitchen reminded me of that on our own living room floor. In a corner of this kitchen sat a rotary-dial telephone. We also had a built-in nook for a phone.

But, our house didn’t have a hidden television over a fake electric fireplace. In this model home, you could push a button and a painting of an ocean scene would slide away to reveal a television screen.

Walking into this house with its ‘50s style and décor was like stepping back into childhood, back to the days when the words “modern convenience” were used in countless ads aimed at housewives.

Maybe it was my own experiences from that era, but while touring the house, I could feel the excitement that must have been present in the ‘50s – that time of prosperity that was equipped with modern appliances and electrical doo-dads which must have seemed almost magical at the time. A new world was indeed at hand.

The Johnson County Museum is at 6305 Lackman Road in Shawnee. For more information, visit www.jocomuseum.org, or call 913-715-2550.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh

buildings, cities, columns, nostalgia

  1. heineken160
    February 13th, 2013 at 07:34 | #1

    Back to the future!

  2. Janet Fish
    February 13th, 2013 at 09:21 | #2

    Interesting they started that in Kansas. I remember seeing an all electric dome house at Disneyland when I was a kid. It seemed perfect. But that was in California. Here in Kansas when people’s heat depends in any part on electricity, they wind up having to leave home in a power outage that lasts longer than a few hours in the dead of winter.

    So, I have never understood why people without another source of heat would make their heat anywhere dependent on electricity. Some it’s simply that the ignition is electric. That one little thing can stop a house from being heated.

  3. Parkville, MO # 2 Fan
    August 28th, 2013 at 22:16 | #3

    Another GREAT article Cheryl.

    I also grew up in central Kansas in the 1950s.

    As a five-year-old kid, I vividly remember my Mom & Dad dragging me to Kansas City in 1954. One of the sites we saw on that trip was the brand-new KCP&L All Electric House.

    I was in awe. The house was so neat and was so huge!

    I revisited that same house in 2013, almost 60 years later.

    Although the house had been moved to the Johnson County Museum site, it had not changed much.

    I was surprised at how much I remembered about the house, as well as how much I had forgotten in those 59+ years.

    The main thing that struck me in 2013 is how “dated” and small the “House of the Future” actually is!

    So, apparently I had grown some since I was five years old, and technology has expanded exponentially!

    The 1950s and very early 1960s were truly a great time to grow up in.

    Best Wishes,