THE FLORIDA LIVING MAGAZINE OF THE MIAMI NEWS
Dec. 31, 1961; p. 2-3

 
                              
A LOOK AHEAD THROUGH FRESCO'S WINDOW

by Mac Smith


THERE IS a revolution hatching here, maybe.

Its perpetrator does his planning alone in a crate-like, converted shanty at 3112 SW 23rd St. He is a wispy self-educated scientist . . . and bearded. But his revolution – if it is one – has nothing to do with Cuba.

His name is Jacque Fresco. He is the son of a Frenchman and was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.

He is cooking up a new way of life for us over an ancient gas stove. Some of the finer details he delicately hews out of stainless steel. Meticulously, he spends hours shaving the steel parts with an assortment of ordinary files. The parts are held in an old iron vise in a cubbyhole corner that used to serve as a bathroom.

His homemade stainless instruments and aluminum models (shaped over the kitchen stove) line neat ledges that encompass his real work room. Bright-colored panels of pegboard slide back and forth in front of his books . . . and his manuscripts.

Lanky, double-jointed drafting lights hover over great black slabs of drawing tables. A late model portable typewriter is stationed in one corner of one of the tables.

A first interview with Jacque Fresco is, of necessity, something of a jousting match performed on a highwire of speculation. He has multiple strikes against him before he picks up a slender piece of chalk and goes to bat.

At 45, his career has been heavy on the colorful side and lightweight in any practical success.

His Doctor of Philosophy degree from small, unaccredited Sierra State University (Los Angeles) does nothing to document his scientific work. It is a detriment in pure academic circles, he frankly admits.

Jacque's first job – while still in high school in New York – was a part-time designer of modernistic plastic window displays. At 19, he hitch-hiked to California "to get into the aircraft industry." With a batch of futuristic drawings of saucer-like aircraft as his credentials (this was in 1935), he surprisingly landed a job in the design department of Douglass Aircraft. Two years later he was designing space stations for the movie industry. He went to Hawaii, designed a model village for Hawaiian laborers; went on an expedition to study the folkways of the Polynesians; returned to California to a laboratory where he designed and built an all-aluminum-and-glass "house of tomorrow" that was featured in Architectural Record and attracted 20,000 visitors while displayed at Warner Brothers Studio. Los Angeles smog and a new expressway that claimed his lab sent Jacque Fresco to Florida.

Here, he set up a sideline as a psychological consultant. When he ran head-on into a barrage of criticism by the American Psychological Association directed at non-accredited psychologists he gave up his psychology business. He still conducts periodic public lectures designed to help modern man understand his part in "today's complex and rapidly changing world."

His reading list for the lectures range from Ashby's Design For A Brain to Wells' The Shape of Things To Come. His subjects range from "Where is America Going?" to "Tranquilizers, Alcohol, and Kicks."

When he first arrived in Miami he lived (and worked) on a boat. He taught his son and daughter (now 8 and 5) to swim by an "instinctive technique" he learned from the Polynesians. ("Richy learned in 15 minutes; Bambi could swim by herself in 20 minutes.")

All that is left of Jacque's sea-faring life today is his uniform. He still wears a captain's cap, gray shirt and trousers and a black tie. He lives (and works) in a narrow framed house which he describes as a "transplant from Tobacco Road."

During the past few years he has transformed the interior into a vision-paneled gallery of tomorrow. His drawings of the American city of the future overlook Formica drafting tables in three cubicle work rooms sandwiched one after the other in the narrow house. The unorthodox planning center for the future development of the world is a do-it-yourself project from start to present (it isn't finished.) Jacque did the carpentry as well as the planning.

The house approximately 15 feet wide by 65 feet long – except for one bulge at the side where he added an eight foot "carport" in which to assemble his car of tomorrow (a streamlined fiberglass roadster with a mere 32 mechanical parts.)

Anyone wise to "crackpots" and keen on conventional procedures for progress would never stray beyond Jacque Fresco's front door. Maybe that would be a wise precaution for us all. But then again there's a chance (who can guess the odds?) that this wirey son of a French horticulturalist has an accurate bead on the future. Jacque was the kind of kid growing up in Brooklyn who might skip math class to sneak into the library to read an exciting treatise on trigonometry. He publicly lugged home five-pound books on philosophy when reading of any kind was considered distinctly anti-social in his neighborhood.

The daily grind of an unpopular desire to learn might have frayed the tried-and-true principles for the under-sized kid from Brooklyn. Somewhere along the line he seems to have broken out of the web of todayslipped beyond the threads of thought that keep most of us thinking one step at a time.

Listening to him; and watching him sketch ideas that are like balloons far off in space, unattached to any present earthly base – you begin to wonder if Jacque Fresco could be a modern day version of another Frenchman of the past, a Jules Verne with a real-life vision of the future. . .OR if he is the kind of crackpot Galileo was in his day and Edison in his with a real grasp of the working principles of tomorrow.

He chips off the words "Project Americana" in thick chalk on the worn blackboard built into one wall. "Americana" is to be the culmination of a 10-year plan launched by Jacque some eight years ago. It includes life-like drawings and word descriptions of the Machine-Machine Age. But its main concerns are the social consequences of life in an age where machines not only will do all of man's labor for him but most of his thinking.

The heart of "Americana" is the new machine planned city. It is a city, Jacque proclaims with affectionate intensity, "that thinks." Sensitive machines react directly to our environment and direct other machines (to heat, cool, clean the city, close flood gates, direct air and ground traffic. . . ) all without the intervention of man.

In the advance of automation (Time Magazine capsuled the portent of automation this week) Jacque observed that man's limited mental faculties are already becoming a stumbling block to progress. The "wasted" time involved in human assimilation of data, subjective weighing of alternatives would be largely eliminated in his machine-oriented community.

The Machine-Machine Age Jacque envisions would be a far cry from Orwell's image in his book, 1984 of human robots' with all their senses spoon-fed mechanically. Neither does it resemble the social speculations of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their cumbersome Communist Manifesto propounded on society back in 1848.

He concedes, almost apologetically, that society would have to be planned – "just as it is now, only better." He adds "but in America today if you talk of even a national traffic control plan, someone will say you aren't democratic."

As he talks and chalks in the details, erases and starts over again, it becomes clear that the thing that is manifest in his Project Americana is man himself. The individual, not the conglomerate society, is to be the beneficiary of ingenious mechanical aptitude. If machine is the heart of his city, man is its soul.

Jacque's "thinking city" includes sphere and space for human creativity and expression. Cultural centers, libraries, universities, laboratories will be cushions of freedom.

It also will provide better-than-average fishing in uncontaminated streams and watersheds. Natural resources and scenery will be regenerated.

"The Machine-Machine Age is inevitable if an atomic war does not blow up the potential," Jacque prophesies. "The most important thing is for us to beat the Communists to it."

His plan for beating the Communists is already roughed out. It includes: A ten-year plan for America. National planning for an inevitable ("and universally beneficial") way of life, but with private individuals (and private industry) creating both the way and the machines. Utilization of planning machines and scientists for solving, within a few years, the world's present politically unsolvable problems. Practical help for undeveloped nations today – by use of prefabricated factories, houses and cities. He has many of the working sketches (and models) ready – including a mile-long factory that can be erected in eight hours.

Jacque bases his industrial scheme on studies of Soviet and Swedish technology. . ."what good is it if Americans are taught to think, if their technology is based on making inferior products designed to break down at a given time. . ."

The essential first step, Jacque maintains, is a national plan aimed at a specific objective, a tangible way of life.

"This is what is needed," he explains, "to get American youth away from the Coke counters; to give them an incentive to learn and to work enthusiastically for their country. Russia has its five-year plans. Its young people know what it is they are working for. What does America's youth have to work toward? Many of our biggest industries don't know what they'll be doing six months from now."

His next step would be to begin installing the school of tomorrow today: By 1980 the standardized elementary school curriculum should include communications, physical and manual dexterity, human relations and individual training in self-sufficiency. High school would include introduction to earth sciences, the life sciences, evolution of cultures, semantics, human relations. College level courses would include behavioral engineering, human factors, bio-physics, computer technology, space sciences, systems engineering, artificial intelligence (intellectronics), speech and time compression studies, ecological mechanics and earth sciences.

In school, the milestone-makers of science – men like Galileo and Edison – would be studied but not revered.

"Today we are taught that men like these were men ahead of their times," Jacque says. "There were other people in their day who thought their way. We say these great men invented all these things. Our children feel, gee, I could never do that.

"We should teach them that all things are done serially. Nothing comes to you; everything comes by hard work. We should teach children how ideas develop; that it's hard to say who did this and who did that."

"The Arabs had primitive movies 400 years ago. The pictures were on oiled animal skins. A light was beamed through and pictures of moving shadows resulted. A Frenchman brought back the idea. Edison viewed and purchased a brass movie machine from the Frenchman and then invented the movie as we know it."

"The Arabs had a crude model of the electric battery years before Christ."


*    *    *

At the present moment Jacque Fresco is mostly occupied with finishing the conversion of his "Tobacco Road" house into the laboratory of tomorrow. He manages to work 10 or 12 hours – mostly after midnights – on his Project Americana. He occasionally takes a welcome time out for a paying job as an industrial designer.

His last "big job" was as a consultant for Major Realty Company, a land development company now experimenting with "insulated aluminum" prefabricated houses. Major (with offices in Philadelphia and Miami) collaborated on the project with Alcoa.

Harold M. Gerrish, manager of Major's Florida properties, reported that models of the first aluminum sandwich houses (aluminum exterior and hardwood interior sandwiched around foam insulation panels) are being erected in Tampa now.

"Mr. Fresco's ideas were very helpful," Gerrish said. "We flew him up to Philadelphia to work with our architect and engineer. But a lot of the stuff he does, you might say most of it, is way ahead of the times."

"We couldn't use a lot of the things he designed – like the molded plastic bathroom. In ten years, maybe yes. But you can't revolutionize home-building overnight. The public just won't buy those bananas!"

*    *    *

South Florida's so-called crackpot population will never be in short supply.

If you are inclined to devote fulltime to thinking things out or whatever, what better place is there to do it than here where the climate is right.

But it is dangerous to lump all these thoughtful citizens in the same pot. As in all fields of endeavor, there are a fair share of phonies. These are the ones intent on deceiving their gullible brethren. Whatever the subject they pretend to be "cracked" upon is all an act.

On the other hand, there occasionally arises from the legion of devoted and sincere crackpots a jolting idea that knocks the level-headed rest of us a notch or two higher on the ladder of human progress. What better time to go looking than New Year's Eve?