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New ‘House of the Retro Future’ suite in Anaheim is a blast from the past

The entryway to Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel's "House of the Retro Future" suite.
(Andy Castro)

Since opening in Anaheim in 1955, Disneyland Park has influenced the world around it, and Anaheim’s surrounding hotel properties are no exception.

During the mid-1950s, lodging options in Anaheim created a sense of place that adopted themes to emulate the fantasy of the park. Originals like the Princess Motel, the Fantasy Motel and the Candy Cane Inn, which is still operational today, lined Anaheim’s streets.

“The Candy Cane Motel opened on Dec. 25, 1957. It is like the last surviving classic from the 1950s,” said Charles Phoenix, a midcentury pop culture expert. “But we don’t say ‘motel’ any more because that kind of became déclassé.”

Kitschy themed lodging also fell out of fashion, and even the Candy Cane Inn lost its original red-and-white striped candy canes crowning its sign.

The trend may be making a comeback however, as Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground opens the “House of the Retro Future” suite this month. The newly renovated set of rooms is a step back in time styled after the Monsanto House of the Future, a Disneyland attraction open from 1957 until 1967.

Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel's "House of the Retro Future" suite.
(Andy Castro)

“All these years later, there has never been a house that either looks more midcentury modern or looks more futuristic or is as timeless and classic as this one is,” Phoenix said of House of the Future. The humorist, historian and author was tasked with educating visitors on the attraction’s history before an exclusive preview of the suite on July 27.

The original House of the Future was a white curved X, floating atop a concrete base and surrounded by a pond and landscaping. It was located in what is now known as meet-and-greet area, Pixie Hollow (though the concrete base is still there), and was sponsored by Monsanto Chemical Co., then based in St. Louis, Mo.

So how did an agrochemical company come to sponsor a theme park attraction? Monsanto was exploring new markets for its latest plastic products, and homebuilders were struggling to meet the demand for new homes as families moved to the suburbs in droves. Monsanto funded research at MIT to create designs for a prefabricated, plastic house. A tour of the house was one of two free attractions at the park sponsored by Monsanto in the 1950s. The Hall of Chemistry, which closed in 1966, was the other.

The original house featured a flat-panel TV (a prediction that came true), as well as a microwave oven, an ultrasonic dishwasher, midcentury home furnishings and a design that felt like a cozy space pod.

Howard Johnson’s “House of the Retro Future” suite captures the same feeling, with all of the modern conveniences of 2022.

“This room is mostly designed to be authentic to the Monsanto House of the Future,” said Jonathan Whitehead, general manager at Howard Johnson Anaheim.

The "House of the Retro Future" Suite at Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel has modern conveniences.
The “House of the Retro Future” Suite at Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel has modern conveniences and technology of the past.
(Courtesy of Nicole Long Photography)

The renovation took about three years, mostly due to pandemic-related delays, but has the expected amenities like a kitchenette, with fridge, microwave and coffee maker, two queen beds, a flat-screen TV and an Amazon Echo. The 700-square-foot suite is equipped with custom period furnishings, design elements of Googie architecture, a working record player with a curated LP collection and custom wall art by Shag. Guests who stay in the room receive a matted, deluxe print of the Shag art, “Suite of the Future,” to take home as a souvenir.

Artist, Shag, contributed original work to the "House of the Retro Future" suite at Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel.
(Andy Castro)

“We created this kind of time machine as you walk in and see the original George Nelson table and Modernica chairs,” said Whitehead. “You put the music on, you sit down here, you feel like you are in the 1960s.”

Howard Johnson Anaheim is a midcentury building itself. It was constructed in 1965 and famously welcomed guests one day before Disneyland’s 10th anniversary. In recent years the resort has committed to its midcentury past. The hotel features similar touches from the ‘50s and ‘60s in every room. Vintage reproductions of the Tomorrowland posters line the halls and lobby, and the Garden Pool has also been subject to a midcentury makeover. The total cost of renovations for the whole building, including the suite, was $9.7 million.

“We wanted to create an icon for our hotel that puts the stake in the ground and says we believe in our midcentury modern roots,” said Whitehead.

Midcentury design at Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel's "House of the Retro Future" suite.
Midcentury design at Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel’s “House of the Retro Future” suite.
(Andy Castro)

Guest reservations for “House of the Retro Future” suite open on Aug. 12 and will be available for two-night stays on Tuesday and Wednesday nights or Friday and Saturday nights priced at $1,957, a reflection of the year the original house opened, including room, tax and parking fees.

“Our vision is recreating the idealized family vacation from the 1960s,” Whitehead said. “This is just taking that up a notch.”

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