1942’s ‘Dream House’ remains unique, though leaky, haven


story tease

By jessica hardin

jhardin@vindy.com

BOARDMAN

The view outside the kitchen window of the home at 25 Jennette Drive does not change with the seasons.

In fact, it even remains steady through different times of the day.

The window is merely a frame for a painting of a leafy tree against an eternally blue sky.

That’s because the majority of the house, including the kitchen, is underground.

“There were fake plants all around here and little fake birds,” said Kevin Shannon, who rents the house where he lives with his father, Tim.

Kevin added, “I always thought it was something someone did to drive someone insane if they were locked in here, like a vague reminder of what the outside world looks like.”

The home was built by C.M. Chorpening, a radio engineer who headed Studio Homes Inc., and designed by architect Clarence Kissinger.

The house has four bedrooms and 31⁄2 bathrooms. The first floor has 2,412 square feet, and the second floor, which is level with the ground, has 1,647 square feet.

“Chorpening and his associates believe this is the home of the future, and that some day thousands of durable, underground houses will be built by people who want to shut out dirt, noise, bacteria, unpleasant surroundings and bad weather,” read a Vindicator article published in 1942 that touts the “Dream House.”

The article claimed the structure is impervious to disaster.

“Everything I read about [Chorpening] was that he was pretty paranoid” about nuclear fallout, said Kevin.

The house also solved another pressing threat.

“It eliminated the risk of peeping Toms. I guess peeping Toms were quite a problem,” said Tim Shannon.

The underground house, which was built in 1942, preserves several popular aspects of mid-century American homes.

Knotty pine paneling lines the great room on the ground-level floor and surrounds one of the staircases leading to the underground floor.

For Tim and Kevin, the historical home’s crown jewel is its kitchen.

A red vinyl booth wraps around a corner, and black and white tiles cover the floor.

“I feel like I’m in a French new wave movie when I’m sitting in that booth,” said Kevin.

Across from the booth are Youngstown Kitchen cupboards, the coveted line made popular after World War II. The cabinets and counter tops are made of stamped steel, and then completed with a baked porcelain finish. The product ushered in the era of the pre-fabricated modern kitchen.

The Youngstown Kitchens line was “advertised in Life magazine, Look magazine. It was a big deal,” said Tim.

Several accommodations make up for the house’s absence of sunlight.

For example, the automatic lights go on inside the kitchen cabinets when they’re opened.

“I think at one point, they had stars projected onto the ceiling,” said Tim.

For those who don’t mind the absence of sunlight in their living space, the underground home offers some benefits, namely security.

“Most people I invite over here, they’ve been on this street. Usually they can’t find it at first ... They didn’t even know it existed. So I feel safer in that regard. We’re kind of hidden away,” Kevin said.

“I imagine in a tornado, we’d be in pretty good shape,” added Tim.

The most challenging aspect of living in an underground house in Boardman does not come as a surprise: It often floods.

“All the time, in there,” Kevin said as he pointed to water stains in the dining area. “Pretty bad.”

“In any room down here, you’ll see it buckling up,” Tim said.

Those curious about the house have the opportunity to see for themselves.

The family rents out a room on the ground-level floor for Airbnb, dubbed “Stella’s B&B Underground” for the family’s friendly feline.

“It’s a great Airbnb house, because it’s intriguing and different. Kind of a destination Airbnb,” said Tim.

Guests agree. Kevin’s mom Kris kept a guest book, which is filled with positive impressions about the home’s character.

In historic Boardman, the home preserves history a bit more subtly.

“Every house up here is not just above ground, but above ground in a grandiose fashion, and this looks like a little shotgun house,” Tim Shannon said.

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