In 1948, Hollywood released a film entitled "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.”
Our own version of the dream house was in David Bohannon’s Hillsdale development in San Mateo.
The movie, which starred Myrna Loy and Cary Grant, was a great success. It was based on a popular 1946 novel. The film has since been remade under different titles at least three times. The original plot has to do with a New York family that decided to build a new home in the suburbs. It then becomes a matter of everything that can go wrong does go wrong. It was supposed to be a comedy. The homes used for the film sets were in Southern California, disguised to look like Connecticut.
The film’s PR department suggested building replicas of the Dream House as an advertising promotion. Around the country, 73 dream house adaptations sprang up. The Hollywood tie-in to the Blandings Dream House was just the thing on which Bohannon would capitalize. He had quite a knack for promotion.
Contractor Bohannon ceremoniously began his version with a radio broadcast and the participation of various public officials. The completed home was to be open for tours at 25 cents to benefit youth organizations. The finished model, completely furnished by Macy’s, was to be raffled off for charity. The house was estimated to be worth $19,000 and the furniture added another $10,000. Life magazine ran an article about the dream house.
General Electric was actively involved in the promotion. All 73 replica houses were equipped with GE products. At the last minute it was discovered that the film version of the house did not hold GE equipment. A quick revision was made assuring that the Blandings house had the newest GE appliances in the kitchen. When the movie finally opened, proud GE officials found that all the kitchen scenes had been cut out.
San Francisco born David D. Bohannon had started in real estate as a salesman in San Carlos. He went on to found the David D. Bohannon Organization in 1928.
He was a national leader in real estate development by the ’30s. He bought acres of open land in Burlingame and San Mateo. Bohannon had been in the middle of constructing his Hillsdale development when World War II started. His project was then put on hold.
Immediately after the war, Bohannon resumed work on Hillsdale. Like other major builders, he envisioned a complete community within his development. Shopping, recreation, schools and diverse forms of housing were part of the plan. New materials and mass production techniques helped keep prices affordable for the middle class. This was right in the middle of the post-war building boom here on the Peninsula. All those returning veterans, backed by the GI loans, were looking for homes. Critics of urban sprawl, of course, think in terms of the loss of all that open space.
Another of Bohannon’s innovations in the ’50s was his commissioning of artist Benny Bufano to create statues to decorate his Hillsdale Shopping Center. Since then millions of people have enjoyed this art at the mall.
Hillsdale took many more years to complete. Now with a major shopping center and thousands of homes, Bohannon certainly has left his mark here. The David D. Bohannon Organization, run by a younger generation, is still going strong. The Bohannon Foundation is a family non-profit charitable organization that is still giving back to the community.
Rediscovering the Peninsula appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal. For more information on this or related topics, visit the San Mateo County History Museum, 2200 Broadway, Redwood City.