Suburbia: Exhibit Experience

For immediate release

Release dated: 
July 2, 2015
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org
Lauren Peck, Marketing and Communications, 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org

Suburbia: Exhibit Experience

This exhibit is presented in three immersive settings: Building Suburbia, Living in Suburbia and Shopping in suburbia. Throughout the exhibit, guests are invited to look back and reflect on the successes and failures of Suburbia and what’s in store for the future.

Suburbia Intro

As you enter the exhibit, a large floor map of the Twin Cities showcases the area’s suburbs.

Building Suburbia
Walk through a house under construction to learn about the post war building boom and the hope of realizing the “American Dream.”

  • Explore the changing economic and policy factors that helped increase rates of homeownership, the army of builders who filled the demands for new, modern housing, and the conditions that resulted in racial groups being left out of the dream.
  • Learn about the Smith family who moved from Rondo to Maplewood where, despite encountering racial discrimination, they built their “dream home.”
  • Multimedia: View Parade of Homes & Home-A-Rama footage from the 1950s, marketing films and a builder’s showroom with home plan books.
  • Multimedia: See how popular images from TV and movies depicted living in the suburbs as part of the “American Dream.”
  • Activity: Learn how houses have changed over the decades with a nesting activity that shows the increase in house size and changes in style, number and layout of rooms.

Living in Suburbia
Enter a model ranch-style home where the baby boom generation grew up amid ideals of suburban domesticity and the nuclear family.

  • See how the home reflected changes in family size, gender roles and sexual mores.
  • Look back at how cocktails, cigarettes and cards were once fashionable, but now are considered vice.
  • View items of modern living, including kitchen appliances, the color TV and household decorative items.
  • Multimedia: Meet Betty Bach, Mrs. Minnesota 1958, through TV clips and hear about the ideal housewife, plus get her donut recipe.
  • Multimedia: Hear from Poppy Cannon author of “The Can Opener Cookbook” and the mixed message of home cooking as an ideal at the same time that convenience foods dominated the market.
  • Activity: Toss a beanbag “newspaper” on the porch and avoid the barking dog or breaking a window in the house.

Shopping in Suburbia
Be transported to Southdale Shopping Center when it opened in 1956 as a revolutionary model that was copied around the nation.

  • Designed by Victor Gruen, learn how the architecture of the enclosed mall and massive sea of parking, radically changed consumer practices, preferences and expectations across the nation.
  • Reflect on your own memories of shopping at Southdale and explore Gruen’s ideal and how he ultimately became a harsh critic of consumerist American mall culture.
  • Multimedia: See how the geography around area shopping malls has changed with a drag-and-drop multimedia table.
  • Multimedia: Climb inside a 1956 Chevrolet Townsman station wagon and explore how suburban growth catered to drivers with expanded freeways, parking lots, shopping centers, drive-in restaurants and movie theaters.
  • Activity: Test your memory by matching parking lot animal icons.

Suburbia Today
Consider how the suburbs have changed today. With millennials marrying and establishing families, will they stay in the urban core, or follow the trend of previous generations and opt for the greener pastures of the suburbs? Tell us what you think. Join a poll that asks if the suburbs reflect your ideal “American Dream” and compare your answers with other exhibit visitor.