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Matmail:

What is that UFO-looking thing behind the Design Center building at Fifth and Brookes in Hillcrest?

-- Rachel, UCSD

The green spaceship in the canyon was one man's dream of the mobile home of the future. It is called the Futuro and was the brainchild of Finnish designer Matti Suuroonen in 1968, who hoped to mass-produce the 26-foot-diameter, 500-square-foot polyester-and-fiberglass pods. They would be inexpensive, durable, and easy to move. In the end, only 20 were made, so the one in Hillcrest is a rare item. The prototype Futuro is displayed in the design collection of the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, Netherlands.

A Playboy article from the 70s shows a Futuro being whisked away by a Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter and set down at the edge of the water in a tropical lagoon. The lagoon is populated with Bunnies draped around the landscape. Playboy recommended the Futuro as the perfect "funhouse hideaway." Because the legs are adjustable, you could site it on land with up to a 20-degree incline, so it could be a ski chalet. Or a lakeside fishing cabin or maybe a simple backyard pen for the kids or your in-laws.

You could buy just the shell, or for $14,000 it came fully furnished with compact built-ins: a full kitchen with fridge and freezer, master sleeping area, two guest double beds, bath, couches and tables, electric radiant heat, air conditioning, dimmer lighting, shag carpet, and a hooded gas fireplace/barbecue in the middle of the single circular room. The trap door on the side is the retractable staircase. The ventilation system kept the home dust-free. It came in your choice of blue, gold, green, or white, though there are photos of it in bright orange. Furnishings were color-coordinated with the exterior.

A man named Stan Grau had the local sales rights to the Futuro and set up a demo model in Mission Valley. But in 1975, when he bought the Design Center from its architect, Lloyd Ruocco, he moved the model into the canyon behind it. Without benefit of the city's okay, he got a house-moving truck to haul the thing up to Hillcrest in the middle of the night. He'd already determined that the fine for doing that was less than the cost of the permit.

Don't know whether Grau ever sold any Futuros. But the one at the Design Center has been used off and on as office space. At the moment it's a creative retreat for one of the Design Center's tenants.

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