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Alhambra Abuse

The Alhambra was a fine-looking Spanish-flavored bungalow, and a very popular model for Sears.

However…

In my travels, I’ve seen these little pretties subjected to all manner of abuse.

The most egregious abuse is typically inflicted by vinyl-siding peddlers, those plastic-pushing pernicious parasites who roam the country, seeking whom they may devour with their polyvinyl chloride products of pestilence.

Not that I have strong feelings about this, mind you.

Several years ago, a vinyl-siding salesman appeared at the door of my 1925 Colonial Revival home, asking me if I was getting tired of painting the old cypress clapboards. He said he had a product that would make my house “maintenance free,” and asked if I’d like an estimate.

“Mister,” I said in a low growl, “You just need to back away very slowly, for BOTH of our sakes. Now just be on your way, and don’t ever EVER come back.”

I never did see him again. And that’s a good thing.

When applied to older homes, vinyl siding is very damaging to old houses, and can trap moisture between interior and exterior walls, causing mold, mildew, bug infestation and eventually wood rot.

In “The Vinyl Lie” (an article that can be found here),  Architectural Conservator Gary Kleier writes,

During the installation of vinyl siding a layer of styrene insulation board is applied over the wood siding, and the vinyl siding is applied to that. This insulation board forms an effective barrier to the passage of water vapor, thereby trapping it within the wall. During the winter months this water vapor will condense to liquid water and began rotting the wood materials. Over a period of years the structural integrity of the exterior walls can be completely destroyed. Further, the presence of deteriorating wood has been shown to attract termites and other wood attacking insects.

Gary specializes in restoration architecture and architectural forensic service. You can visit his website here.

To read some VERY well-done articles on the damage of substitute siding on older homes, click here.

Or read the full text of Gary’s article here.

To see a WONDERFUL documentary on the damage that vinyl causes, click here.

Click here to see some pretty Alhambras!

If you’d like to spend several days reading articles on how much damage vinyl siding does to an older home, google the words, “benefits of removing vinyl” plus “historic home.”

If you’d like to see what happens to the curb appeal of houses with vinyl siding, scroll on down.

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The Alhambra

The Alhambra, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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Its unique floorplan makes it easy to identify!

It's unique floorplan makes it easy to identify!

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Lets start by showing a VERY pretty Alhambra (in Gaffney, SC).

Let's start by showing a VERY pretty Alhambra (in Gaffney, SC). What a fine-looking house!

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Oh man.

Oh man. that's really, really bad. And this time, it wasn't the vinyl siding salesman that ruined the home's original beauty. No, this house was attacked by an older version of the VSS. This house was attacked by a real ASS! (Aluminum Siding Salesman). Location: Ohio.

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Eek.

Somewhere in Ohio, an Alhambra is missing its identify.

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Ouch. Again.

Ouch. Again. By enclosing the front porch, they made those distinctive front windows disappear. They're still visible inside the house. Can this house be restored to its original appearance? Yes, but it'd be a whole lot of work. Location: Wisconsin.

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Yikes.

Substitute sidings wreak havoc on historic homes. Location: Michigan.

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Somewhere in Washington, DC, an architect has lost his mind.

Somewhere in Washington, DC, an architect has lost his mind. Yes Virginia, this is a Sears Alhambra. Or was. Gosh, I'm sure this house is MUCH more valuable now!!! NOT.

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And lets close on a happy note. One of my Top Ten All-Time Favorite Alhambras. This beauty is in Lexington, VA.

And let's close on a happy note. One of my Top Ten All-Time Favorite Alhambras. This beauty is in Lexington, VA. Notice the fan light over the door! And it still has its original downspouts. Beautiful!

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To read more about Alhambras, click here.

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  1. Dale Wolicki
    May 14th, 2013 at 12:17 | #1

    How in the world did you figure out the Washington DC was an Alhambra?

    Sad to say but most architects don’t have much respect for kit homes because they “aren’t architecture.”

    And I can say that because I have a Masters in Architecture and deal with architects all the time. Such a shame that a really nice house was brutalized!

  2. May 14th, 2013 at 15:55 | #2

    Dale, Mary Rowse identified this from the mortgage records, as I recall.

    Otherwise, I would have never known!

  3. Donna
    May 14th, 2013 at 20:33 | #3

    Those Ohio Alhambras are both in Cincinnati. The first in Norwood and the second is on Eastwood Circle (home of small collection of Sears homes0.

  4. Jeff Fowler
    May 17th, 2013 at 14:29 | #4

    Hey, don’t make such sweeping generalizations. I am an architect.

    I have been practicing for more than 20 years, and I am fascinated with the kit homes.

    I have a collection of reproduction plan books of the kit home era. They may not have been well respected at the time, but they are irreplaceable classics now!!!

    I can assure you that none of the messed up Alhambras photographed above got that way at the hands of an architect! Had the owners CONSULTED an architect, they’d have been much better off.

  5. May 24th, 2013 at 13:30 | #5

    @Jeff Fowler
    Jeff, I surely do hope you’re right!

    And it gladdens my heart to know that there are architects who understand that these “simple little kit homes” truly are historically significant.

    Thanks for your comment! :)

  6. kp
    August 22nd, 2014 at 01:23 | #6

    A truly beautiful Alhambra is on St. Dunstan Circle, Asheville, North Carolina. It looks ‘exactly’ like the advertisement picture for this home in 1920-1924.

    You would never think this home on two lots was constructed from a ‘kit’.

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