Open House

Looking out the window of the History Center, you can’t hear the freeway. It’s totally quiet, save the sound of the children playing in the distance. Crossing through the playroom with careful displays behind glass, one encounters a faux building that claims that there is an “Open House.” Inside it, there were many strange noises—all canned.

A volunteer or staff-member just inside the door reassures the visitor that it is okay to touch things, to look at them. There was a large magic lantern nearby, with slides carefully enclosed in Plexiglas. The entry room describes the exhibit as being about five families and the space that they inhabited; each room describes a different family from a different time. Besides the obvious tactile appeal, there were sounds. Some were subtle at first, the sound of steam radiators for example. The dining room and kitchen seemed orderly and sterile, complete with plaster-of-paris bread. Occasionally a narrating voice boomed with background noises.

Turning the corner into a bedroom, the light comes on in an adjoining bathroom. A disembodied voice describes the morning regimen of bathing the children. The sink is cardboard and two-dimensional. A slide shines on the bed demanding “sit here,” but I don’t. I can’t get used to the transparencies gleaming from the windows, or the sheer cleanliness of it all. No families lived here, in my estimation—who are you trying to fool? This is just a cheesy museum exhibit.

But the worst part was “outside.” There was Astroturf, a painted skyline, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, little red wagons and hopscotch. The “History HiJinx” seemed more like performance art than a real experience. The radiators really freaked me out—creaking radiators in the summertime? Each time you moved through a room, some canned sound played. It was just so plastic, so unreal.

I kept remembering S. Michael Halloran and Gregory Clark’s paper at RSA. In designing a trip through a vintage home, they felt the focal room of the house was the kitchen. To experience this house as its residents did, Clark and Halloran argued that you would need to feel the heat from the ovens. It would have been like hell. This house, with its antiseptic pinks and greens, didn’t tell anyone’s story except some creative teams.

1 thought on “Open House”

  1. Hello,
    I visited the Open House exhibit last week. I thought it was a wonderful exhibit. I lived in that area myself for part of my childhood and know some of the people who lived in the house. I don’t know whatever happened to them; as I am sure they don’t know about me.
    The only thing that was grating was the piano. Some schoolchildren who had escaped from their chaperones kept plunking the keys.
    One other thing I didn’t understand was the lack of any books or souvenirs from the exhibit.
    Thank you for all you do.
    Stephanie Boone

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