This flying saucer in California is one man’s vacation home
(CNN) — Is it a UFO? An art installation? A mod pod?
The harvest-gold flying saucer perched on a rocky ledge high above Idyllwild, California, is a Futuro house. It’s also Milford Wayne Donaldson’s 520-square foot vacation home.
Built in 1969, the plastic prefabricated home offers a glimpse into the optimism of its time, when space was a new, exciting frontier and people believed that new technologies could solve the world’s problems.
First designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen as a ski chalet, the idea behind the Futuro was to create a lightweight home that could be placed in a variety of landscapes. Futuros were initially manufactured in Finland, then licensed to companies worldwide. As many as 100 Futuros were built between 1968 and 1978, according to The Futuro House, a site documenting the history and whereabouts of the homes. Only 67 remain, with 20 in the United States.
Donaldson, a preservation architect who was President Barack Obama’s appointee as chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, has made saving old buildings his life’s work. So when this Futuro was crushed under a wrecking ball, he had to step in.
“I was just thinking of saving the building,” he said. “I really wasn’t interested in restoring it and keeping it. But once I started finding out how unique the Futuro was, I really got involved. It took me over.”
Saving the Futuro
The Futuro Donaldson rescued was made by a company in Philadelphia and delivered to an entrepreneur in San Deigo in 1969. After it failed to sell as the home of the future, it was used as a Navy recruiting office for a time and eventually stashed in a parking lot behind the San Diego Design Center, all but abandoned.
Donaldson, who gave architectural tours in the area, always brought groups to the parking lot to see the Futuro, which was brush painted with green latex paint at the time.
But when new owners purchased the Design Center in 2002, the Futuro had to go.
“I got a call from one of the neighbors saying that the new owners tried to demolish the Futuro by dropping a wrecking ball on it, busting out one of the windows and cracking the top,” said Donaldson. “I contacted the new owners and said, ‘I will take that off your hands.’ They said, ‘Fine, but get it out of here in a week.'”