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The Story Behind ‘The Doll House’ In Iowa

On the edge of downtown Council Bluffs, diminutive house snuggly between two taller buildings. It’s “The Doll House,” so named by the local newspaper when it was constructed in the early 1900s. The real name is the Bregant House, and you’d miss it if you blink. Once you hear the story of its famous inhabitants, you’ll give it the attention it deserves.

The exterior of the Bregant Home in Council Bluffs

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Who were Inez and Jean Bregant?

Inez and Jean Bregant were best known as the “Candy Kids” in advertisements for John G. Woodward and Co. At 42 inches and 45 inches tall, they were known as “the little people” in Council Bluffs.  

Woodward's Candy advertisements featuring the Bregants

Inez (Lewis) Bregant was not a native of Council Bluffs, but she became a source of pride from a young age. Inez was born in Denver, Colo., and moved with her family to Council Bluffs when she was 2.

Inez was a born performer. She was as strikingly talented as she was small. She performed in shows in the Omaha metro area in school and church productions, and was a Spanish dancer at an amateur night at Orpheum Theater. She eventually went to New York City to pursue a Vaudeville career.

Inez met Austrian-born Jean Bregant while in New York. They both were working in a vaudeville troupe at Midget City at Dreamland in Coney Island.  

In 1904, they paired up to perform together. Despite a large age difference, a year later, they were married. The ceremony was on Christmas Day in Council Bluffs. Inez was age 18 and Jean was 35.

What are their connections to Council Bluffs?

The Bregants had lived in New York City and toured extensively, yet they chose Council Bluffs as their home once they retired. At the time, it was a bustling city where they could be quite social. Jean was active in the Elks and Shriners, and Inez was an engaged church member.

The sign by the Bregant House in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Plus, Inez’s family lived in town. They had their home, nicknamed “The Doll House” by The Daily Nonpareil, built next to Inez’s parents’ house. They settled in Council Bluffs and operated Inez’s family grocery store.

The Bregants may be most remembered for their work with Woodward & Co., a candy company owned by John G. Woodward in Council Bluffs. Woodward held a patent for Butter Brickle, and supplied it as the ingredient for Blackstone Hotel’s famous Butter Brickle ice cream. The confectioner was so popular, it held its own against Ghirardelli’s in sales west of the Mississippi.

A box of sugar sticks made by Woodward's & Company

Anyway.

The story goes that after a fortuitous chance meeting at candy store, Jean and Inez were hired to become pitch people for Woodward & Co. The ads portrayed them as a sophisticated couple.

The Bregants lived the rest of their lives in Council Bluffs. Jean passed away in 1944 and Inez passed away in 1969.

Interesting features in the Bregant House

The Bregants had their Craftsman style bungalow built to their need. Windows and window sills were lower to the ground, as was the fireplace mantle. Their bathtub was incredibly small.

The living room of the Bregant House, where architectural elements are scaled down three-quarters

Most things were scaled down to 3/4 size…except for some furniture. The couple was very social, after all, so they had full-size furniture for guests.

Can you tour the Bregent House?

Yes, but it wasn’t always the case.

The Bregant House, located at 517 Fourth St., hasn’t been open to the public much until recently. Now a National Historic Landmark, the home is cared for by the Pottawattamie County Historical Society (the same caretakers of Squirrel Cage Jail). In past years, the home would open during a holiday home tour once a year, and occasionally open for other small events.

When I visited in August 2022, the tour guide noted that tours had only recently opened up online for booking. It was easy to reserve, select one of the available dates, pay the small fee, and then be there at your scheduled appointment.

My tour was originally a group of three, but two canceled so I got a private tour. Tour groups can’t be too large anyway. 

It’s not a large house, remember?

The tour includes the living and dining rooms, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Sadly, many items are not from the Bregants, though the historical society tried its best to locate artifacts from Inez’s parents’ home. A lady’s hat with a large feather was found there, and since it’s well known that Inez preferred hats with large plumage, the hat is now on display at the Bregant House.

The tour guide will share a lot of interesting stories about the Bregants and the era they lived in. It’s fascinating to hear about Council Bluffs in the early 1900s.

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