Thursday, July 28, 2011

Watching YouTube: See Xanadu, Home of the Future!

There are many things named "Xanadu."  The original was the now-vanished summer capital of Kublai Khan, the "stately pleasure-dome" written of by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem about (and named after) the Mongol emperor.  It was a disastrous 1980 roller-disco musical starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly.  It was the Hearst Castle analogue in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, which a newsreel announcer calls publisher Charles Foster Kane's "never-completed, already-decaying pleasure palace."  And it was the name of three "houses of the future," built in the early 1980's as tourist attractions in Kissimmee, FL, Gatlinburg, TN, and the Wisconsin Dells.

The buildings were made of polyurethane foam, sprayed over large balloons which were subsequently removed.  This resulted in dome shapes.  So no doubt the builders were thinking of Coleridge's poem when they named the houses "Xanadu."  Myself, I can't help thinking of Kane's Xanadu, a crumbling dream.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Here's a segment from a documentary, featuring Xanadu and its designer Roy Mason.

With the benefit of hindsight, they seem like slightly late bits of '70s futurism (an idea enforced by the round bed and the hot tub in the video above).  And, like many examples of the type, they were cool and thought-provoking, but didn't leave most people with the urge to move in.

I can't remember if I ever visited Xanadu.  I recall wanting to, and my family went to the Wisconsin Dells frequently.  And yet, I don't know if the few bells these videos ring are from actually having been there, or just from gazing longingly at the brochure.  I do know that I visited fellow Dells attraction Tommy Bartlett's Robot World but I remember that because a) it was outstandingly cheesy and disappointing; and b) I knew as I was going through it that it was built from a design my father rejected for a vacation home, so I was thinking of it as the (not very comfortable) place I could have been spending a couple weeks a year.  It looks like Xanadu would have been (or was) more entertaining to visit.

According to the description on the video's YouTube page, this was a promotional video, but frankly, I find it a little creepy.  The calm, disembodied voices, ostensibly of computers mindlessly going about their tasks, remind me of Ray Bradbury's story "There Will Come Soft Rains," and of the Dimension X and X Minus One adaptations of same.  I expect the voice to read a poem, and get stuck on, "Would scarcely know that we were gone... that we were gone... that we were gone."

It's almost too bad that the house wasn't saying that as the creators of the following videos conducted their "urban exploration" of the abandoned Florida Xanadu in 2005.  The other two were demolished in the 1990's.  This one was closed in 1997.

And then (while we're talking about Citizen Kane), in 2010, as it must to most buildings, death came to Kissimmee's Xanadu.  (This video was shot in the aftermath, so there's not a lot to see here.)

Now, especially with the sign still holding vigil, it brings to mind another poem, Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandius":

And on the pedestal these words appear--
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Read the Wikipedia page for more about Xanadu.

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