Why you should care
This 1950s house features modern to-die-for technology.
Rose Grimes, a child care provider, often brings her charges to the old King Louie bowling alley in Overland Park, Kansas. But they aren’t here to knock down pins. Recently renovated, the rounded Brady Bunch–esque structure houses the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center and her children’s favorite: the 1950s All-Electric House.
The house, which sits inside the bigger museum, looks like a run-of-the-mill ranch. But this one is special: It was built in 1954 by the Kansas City Power & Light as a means for celebrating electricity and its uses in a modern home. Now, after decades of serving as a family dwelling, it has been returned to something closer to its original state: showcasing 1950s home technology. “At the time, there was a big debate [over whether] gas or electricity would be our primary fuel source in residential homes,” explains Mindi Love, the museum director. (An all-gas home was built by the gas company nearby.)
This county was really built on suburbia.
Mindi Love, Director of the Johnson County Museum
After five owners and decades of decoration changes, the home was donated to the museum in the 1990s. Curators got to work, digging up documentation about the original furnishings. “We know down to the title of books on the bookshelf and the pattern of silver in the kitchen drawers … the color of the original rooms, the flooring,” Love says, describing the restoration efforts and how they added a bit of soul to give it a true 1950s feel for visitors.
The home’s furnishings have all been donated by locals. “We had those bowls!” is a common refrain from older guests — also, “My mama had that sewing machine.” But for young and old alike, the home has plenty of hidden treasures. The fun begins at the doorbell, which folks are invited to press. Behind the front door, dials with numbers one through nine enable lights around the house with a single turn. This same technology allows those in the bedroom to turn on the kitchen coffeepot. Moon glow lights, activated by a photocell in the garage, serve as night-lights throughout the home, and through the speakers in the ceilings you can hear what’s being played on the phonograph or television in another room, even the patio. Ever felt annoyed by needing to arrange furniture based on the location of your electrical sockets? Outlets here were installed along the baseboard every 24 inches in the living room, dubbed the“lazy man’s paradise.”
Love’s favorite feature is the television: “I love asking kids if they can tell me where the TV is when I’m giving tours.” They say there is no television, she explains, but then with the flip of a switch, the painting above the fireplace drops back to reveal one. Another button operates the curtains.
The museum documents the history of Johnson County, which had been an agricultural community through the 1930s. Back then, there were only 30,000 people in the area — by 1960 it was 120,000, and today it’s 600,000. “This county was really built on suburbia,” Love says, which is why the All-Electric House takes pride of place in explaining the region’s history.
Annually the All-Electric House has seen 35,000 visitors, but in its new location since June, it’s already set to double those figures for the year. Grimes comes every few weeks, and the kids never bore of the trip. “Every time, they spot something new and different.”
Go there: The Johnson County Museum
- Address: 8788 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, Kansas.
- Daily tours: Monday to Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Cost: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 children.
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