In the mid-century era, there were a lot of partnerships between homebuilders wanting to sell houses and companies wanting to sell products. Often, a homebuilder would come up with a gimmick (kitchen cabinets that opened with the wave of a hand, a car that “talked” to you in the driveway, etc.) as a method to sell the houses they’d built. This is the tale of two such houses.
Structure: “Mrs. America” All-Gas Home
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Robert (Bob) Carroll
Story: The Worsham Brothers were local Knoxville homebuilders, and they had an epic collaboration in mind that they thought would really get sales of their houses going. Partnering with the Knoxville Gas Association and Whirlpool, they dreamed up a house that was billed as the “only truly modern all-gas home in Knoxville.” The house would feature all sorts of gas-powered amenities: a gas-powered A/C, a gas stove, and a fireplace with a gas starter.
To design the house, the Worsham Brothers commissioned Knoxville architect Bob Carroll (an architect at the Knoxville architectural firm Lindsay & Maples) to design the house. Carroll did not disappoint. He designed a house clad in Douglas fir, supported by stone pillars made of rocks from nearby Gatlinburg.
However the architectural design was not the standout feature of the house. At that time, Whirlpool was the national sponsor for the Mrs. America pageant. To make sure the house got press, the brothers brought the 1960 Mrs. America (Mrs. Margaret Priebe) to welcome the guests who visited the house. Mrs. Priebe was there to exemplify an ideal “hostess and housewife,” a symbol of what good homemaking in 1960 could be.
After her house-welcoming duties were over, Mrs. Priebe would be whisked away to star in fashion shows (at the Knoxville department store Miller’s) and record radio + TV promos (for the Mrs. America pageant, I assume).
Alright. Let’s talk about the next all-gas home!
Structure: All-Gas Home
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Good & Goodstein
Story: The Mrs. America All-Gas house had been a great success, and local homebuilder Ted Daffer wanted in on the idea. Daffer was in the midst of concepting a new subdivision, and he needed a model home (the first house built in the subdivision) that would stand out and draw attention to his development.
Imitating the Mrs. America All-Gas house idea, Daffer commissioned the architectural firm Good & Goodstein to design a modernist all-gas house. Ted Daffer’s construction company (the aptly-named Ted Daffer Construction Company) built the house. The resulting creation is one of the most modernist houses in Knoxville. And, as luck would have it, it was (later on) bought by an architect who lives there to this day and has taken immaculate care of it.
One other thing to note. Although the old papers that I looked through didn’t mention it, architectural historian Mason Toms (founder of Arkansas Modernism) has suggested that one (or both) of these houses may have been part of the Blue-Star Homes promotion, a promotion which paralleled the Gold Medallion All-Electric Home program created by electric companies.
Essentially, gas companies would create houses with certain specifications (namely, they would have all of their key systems powered by gas) and then they’d give the house an easy-to-identify emblem so that potential customers would know about the under-the-hood features of the house.