This is a free excerpt from my book, You Wouldn’t Believe! 44 Strange and Wondrous Delmarva Tales. More info about that and my other books exploring the history, travel, and culture on the Eastern Shore and in Delaware here.
Unless you’re a pilot taking off from the tiny Eagle Crest Airport or a worshipper bound for Burton Chapel AME Church, there’s no reason to take a westbound turn off Coastal Highway onto Eagle Crest Road. But if you do take that detour a little north of Lewes, Del., your reward will be a flying-saucer sighting.
No, really: The science-fiction-looking saucer that soon appears off to your right is an old-school affair, evoking UFOs as imagined back in the 1950s and 1960s. Think “The Jetsons,” “Lost in Space,” and “My Favorite Martian.”
Starting with the Finnish
The story of how this strange sci-fi contraption landed in Milton, Del. begins across the ocean in Finland. That’s where the architect Matti Suuronen was born in 1933. Early in his career, Suuronen got interested in using high-tech plastics as a building material. The first time he employed his favorite fiberglass-rein-forced polyester plastic was in building a dome atop a grain silo.
Suuronen is best remembered today for putting that material to use in the so-called “Futuro Homes”—that’s the official brand name of Milton’s flying saucer. This episode began with an old school-days pal of Suuronen’s asking a favor: Would the architect build a really cool ski cabin? That friend had two special requests: First, the cabin should heat up quickly upon returning from the chilly slopes, and second, it should be easy to build, even on hilly terrain.
Suuronen dubbed his first stab at this the “After-Ski” cabin. It was made of 16 pieces of his favorite plastic bolted together into the flying-saucer shape that geometry buffs know as ellipsoidal. You could ship the cabin in pieces and put it together on-site, or you could airlift the fully assembled product in by helicopter.
The cabin was elevated on four legs, each bolted to its own concrete “pier”—those piers were much easier to lay than a full foundation. Thanks to the then-latest innovations in polyurethane insulation, the interior could heat up from minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit to a comfy 60 degrees in just 30 minutes.
The cabin stands 13 feet off the ground. Its entrance would have seemed like magic in an old sci-fi movie, but it works basically like a modern garage door opener: Push the button on a remote, and a stairway descends to the ground. The saucer you then climb up into has a diameter of 26 feet. Squeezed inside: a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining room. Later on, some models would offer a fireplace option.
When the Futuro Was Now
When that “After Ski” cabin started getting attention, Suuronen decided to turn his flying saucer into a new product available to the public. And for a brief stretch of the late 1960s and early 1970s, it seemed like his Futuro homes might really become the next big thing on the second-home real estate market.
Contracts were signed with factories where the homes could be mass-produced. Regional sales agents signed on to start marketing flying-saucer-style weekend abodes. Prices started at $16,000. The target market was young adults with money to spare and hobbies to pursue—not just skiing, but beach trips and hiking excursions as well.
A man named Joe Hudson served as a Delmarva sales rep, operating under the corporate name of New Dimensions of Delaware. He arranged to showcase a Futuro model on land southwest of Lewes, where the Coastal Club housing development is today. He had high hopes at first, as he explained to the Cape Gazette newspaper in 2015:
“We had long lines of people wanting to see inside, especially on weekends. Sometimes it was so crowded inside people couldn’t move. We had a lot of orders.”
But the Futuro house never became a hit. One problem was global in nature. The oil crisis of the early 1970s sent the price of plastics through the roof—tripling almost overnight. The other problem involved local resistance to an exotic new housing style. In one of the smattering of articles on this topic that appeared in regional newspapers, the mayor of Lewes came out “dead set against” placing “spaceship-type homes” in his municipality. The powers that be in that town followed his lead, classifying Futuros as “mobile homes.” That meant the spaceships were only allowed in less desirable locations. (Is there a little irony in the way history buffs today want to protect the Futuro homes that their preservation-minded predecessors rejected as too ugly and radical for their town?)
Hudson tried again, this time in Milton. He promised to build a development that would mix traditional homes with Futuros. He promised that the spaceships in that project would be hidden from public view, set behind trees or more traditional-looking buildings. One story in the Wilmington News Journal in 1971 paraphrased Hudson bragging that this would be the first real-estate project in the country to feature a sizable number of Futuros.
Alas, the project fell by the wayside. I have been unable to figure out exactly why things went wrong. Perhaps it was those oil-crisis-fueled pricing problems. In Delaware, as in the rest of the country, the Futuro’s moment soon passed, though not before at least three of the flying saucers went up in the state.
One was located near Broadkill Beach—that one was torn down, reportedly for scrap. But two survivors are still standing as of this writing. One is in Houston, a small town between Harrington and Milford. It’s still there, at 4388 Deep Grass Lane. The third is in Milton on the aforementioned Eagle Crest Road.
Postscript: Of Nude Photos and Cremora Commercials
I can’t close this episode without sharing a couple of fun Futuro tidbits. According to Hudson, the Broadkill Beach Futuro was once the site of a risqué nude photo shoot. Hudson also reported that one of his Futuros found its way to Washington, D.C., where it was featured in a TV commercial for Cremora, in which the futuristic hatch opened upon a scene of space-suit clad actors using the powdered coffee creamer. In New Zealand, a Futuro did brief duty as a bank branch.
Nowadays, according to the Hudson family members quoted in the Cape Gazette, “not a week goes by” without some stranger stopping to take a photograph. I was part of that parade of goofballs, and if you do the same, you’ll be participating in one of Delmarva’s stranger travel traditions.
Excerpt from You Wouldn’t Believe! 44 Strange and Wondrous Delmarva Tales posted by Claudia Colaprete in April 2023 for Whimbrel Creations LLC/Secrets of the Eastern Shore. All rights reserved. Thank you so much for spending a little time with this story and on this site!