Home Sweet Homer

By Frank Decaro

© TV Guide, January 3-9, 1998.

One lucky Simpsons fan won a four-bedroom replica of Springfield's most colorful habitat. Here's a tour.

Thirty-three thousand people have already traipsed through Barbara Howard's new house, but she still says there's no place like Homer's. The 63-year-old Kentucky great-grandmother won the top prize in a Simpsons House Giveaway last November -- a life-size replica of the Simpsons' house worth about $100,000. Ever since, she and her extended family, all fans of the long-running series, have been woo-hooing it up. "I was so happy when they told me I won that I laughed and cried at the same time," Howard says. "I never won anything so big." Or so colorful.

The four-bedroom house, located in Henderson, Nevada (just outside Las Vegas), nearly duplicates TV's favorite animated abode. Painted 25 different colors (including Power Orange and Generator Green), the home is decked out in Springfieldian splendor, right down to Marge's corncob kitchen curtains and Lisa's yellow saxophone. The attention to detail in the 2,200-square-foot cartoon house is astounding. There's an oil stain on the driveway, a mystery door under the stairs, even a mouse hole next to the couch in the living room. Only the Simpsons themselves are missing.

To get it so right, a design team watched tapes of 96 Simpsons episodes. "We really nailed that house," says Manny Gonzalez, chief architect on the project. "The only way we could top it is to build something out in space for The Jetsons."

The builders, the Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation, who sponsored the contest along with Fox and Pepsi, chose the outskirts of Las Vegas because the city already has the most cartoonish skyline on the planet. "They have a pyramid, an Empire State Building and pirate ships. Why not the Simpsons' house?" says Kaufman and Broad's Anna-Marie Hintgen. The company renamed the community of 156 homes Springfield in honor of the brightest house in the neighborhood. "We could have built it in California, but we wanted to do it in a place that was in line with the 'real' Springfield," says vice president of marketing and communications Jeff Charney.

Last summer, when the house was open to the public for 22 days over six weeks, it drew crowds of tourists from as far away as Belgium, not to mention curious locals who were willing to wait two to three hours in 100-degree heat for a 15-minute guided tour. "There was a group from Long Island. Everything was 'gaw-geous,'" remembers Victor Allen, who ran the tours on 20 of those days. Another visitor was a woman who had a roomful of Simpsons memorabilia back home. "She screamed in every room like she was being murdered," Allen says.

Although the house tours went off with only one minor mishap -- a visitor took an empty can of Duff beer from the living room floor but felt so guilty he left it in a closet in Maggie's room upstairs -- giving the house away had contest organizers rolling in Doh! After the winning number was announced during the show's season premiere, no one came forward with the matching game piece (from specially marked beverage packages). So, according to the contest rules, the house would be given away via a random drawing from the nonmatching game pieces that contestants sent in to win lesser prizes. (Fifteen million were submitted.) Did that go smoothly? No. When they called Howard, who had sent in just one game piece, to tell her she'd won the house, her farmer-electrician husband, J.B., hung up on them twice. "He thought it was a joke or something," she says, adding, "I call him Homer."

He shouldn't have been so surprised. His wife, a retired factory worker who lives on a farm 20 miles outside of Lexington, Kentucky, has won plenty before. "I've won a washer, diamond earrings, a go-cart, a deer rifle, a VCR, a camcorder, a microwave oven, a small TV," she says. "I don't really know why, but usually I've done something nice for someone just before. Like I bought groceries for somebody that needed them and won $1,000 that night from an instant ticket. About two weeks before I won the house, I said 'I've won everything but a house, a car, a motorcycle, a boat and a dryer.' I'm hoping the car is coming next."

Although her 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren want her to keep the house exactly as it is, Howard is not sure whether she'll move in and redecorate the place or sell it altogether. (One Simpsons fan reportedly offered Kaufman and Broad a half million dollars before the house was even finished.)

Whatever Howard decides to do inside, the outside is going to be painted beige to match the other homes in the development. "I would want to leave it just like it is, but the neighbors would probably throw rocks at me," she says.

Maybe not. "It doesn't bother me if it stays like that," says her Springfield neighbor Sharyl Stavers. "I think it's kind of neat, but then I don't live right next door." Of course not. Flanders does.

Frank DeCaro is a frequent contributor to TV Guide.

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