Archive for May, 2014

The Sears “Groot-Mokum” in Scranton

May 16th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

How fitting that Sears would name one of their finest Dutch Colonials “The Amsterdam.”

After all, Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands!

In Dutch, the word Amsterdam translates into “Groot-Mokum” - hence, the title of this blog.

I did a blog on The Dandy Amsterdam more than two years ago, but since then, I’ve come across another Amsterdam in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I’m guessing that - due to cost and size - the Groot-Mokum was a pretty rare model for Sears. I’ve only seen one “in the flesh” and that was the model in Scranton. For reasons I’ve long since forgotten, I did not photograph the house in Scranton when I was there about 10 years ago, and just recently re-discovered these photos, sent by a Sears House Aficionado.

Unfortunately, the SHA did not include their name on the photos, so I don’t know who found this Amsterdam and/or who shot the photos. If it was you, please leave a comment below!  :D

BTW, if you have an Amsterdam in your neighborhood, take a photo and send it to me!



At $3,578, the Groot-Mokum was a pricey affair (1928).


Lots of room

The Groot Modum was a spacious house. Even had a Music Room!


Four spacious bedroms

Love the four bedrooms, but not sure about the bathroom on the home's front.


Beautiful house

The Amsterdam (1928)


Whomever took this photo did a perfect job of getting it from the same angle as the catalog page.

Whomever took this photo did a stellar job of replicating the angle in the catalog page.


The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting!

The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting! But who wrote it?



Side-by-side they're a nice match (minus the gabled porch add on).


This Groot-Mokum is in

This Groot-Mokum is also in Pennsylvania, specifically Pittsburgh. (Photo is copyright 2011 Melody Snyder and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)


To  learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

If you know who photographed the Scranton house, please leave a comment below!

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Just One More Post on the 1950s…

May 15th, 2014 Sears Homes 8 comments


Maybe.  ;)

I’ve come to think of Mr. Inge as my supplier.

He knows I can’t resist a good 1950s architectural book, and the most recent “hit” he’s provided is a bound volume of a years’ worth of “House Beautiful” magazines (1958).

“I’ve got too much to do,” I thought as I began to browse its many pages, and then I saw a 1958 pink Caddy.

You could have stuck a fork in me right then because I was cooked and done. You see, I’m also a real car buff, and in my personal opinion, American automotive styling hit its peak in the late 1950s.

Too many pictures for me to clog up the blog with words.

Enjoy, and please leave a comment!

To see pictures of 1950 kitchens, click here.

Want to see my Atomic Powder Room? Click here.



The image that hooked me, and then dragged me into the abyss. A pink 1958 Cadillac. *SWOON*


In 1966, our family piled in a 1957 Cadillac and drove from Portsmouth, VA to Santa Monica, CA, a 3,000 mile journey. I loved that car. And I still do.

In 1966, our family of six piled into 1957 Cadillac and drove from Portsmouth, VA to Santa Monica, CA, a 3,000 mile journey. I was six years old. For two weeks and 6,000 miles, I rode in the front seat, sitting on the fold-out arm rest.


I cant read this text without hearing the narrative in Don Drapers voice.

I can't read this text without hearing the narrative in Don Draper's voice, complete with dramatic pauses.


Our 1957 Cadillac was black, but I think I could have settled for blue if they were out of pink.

Our 1957 Cadillac was black, but I think I could have settled for blue if they were out of pink. Check out the rubber-tipped bumpers on the front. I could use a set of those on my Camry Hybrid.


While were on the topic of luxury...

While we're on the topic of luxury...


Is that Betty Draper in the back seat of the 1958 T-Bird?

Is that Betty Draper in the back seat of the 1958 T-Bird?


So you dont

In 1974, I was forced to sit through a HORRIBLE "Driver's Safety Class" that mainly consisted of a sadistic gym teacher forcing us to watch gory films of people being turned into bloody hamburger meat via Detroit steel. As a sensitive soul, I was truly traumatized. I'd close my eyes whenever possible and then the gym teacher would screech at me to "pay attention." One of the stories was a paralyzed woman who had not buckled in that fateful day because she didn't want to wrinkle her dress. I guess society really did judge you by the wrinkles in your dress.



I love this caption. It's from Bing Cosby's song, "Did you ever see a dream, walking..."



Poor hat boy. He knows that this is the closest he'll ever come to a new T-bird. And look at those pedestrian souls admiring that shiny new thing. They're such simpletons in their plain-jane clothes. But at least they have a shot at the shiny new thing - one day - if they marry well. I'd like to caption this, "Envy."



Well, it's good of her to give the two Plain Janes a ride to the bus stop.


My husband tells me that hes secure enough in his masuclinity to wear a pink shirt.

My husband tells me that he's secure enough in his masculinity to wear a pink shirt. Back in the day, apparently men were secure enough in their masculinity to show up in a pink Chevy.



Looks like Mom and Dad are driving home from a party with Timothy Leary.


Many of these car ads have a random plane.

Many of these car ads have a random plane. And Junior is playing with planes in the back seat.



Nobody in these ads have their eyes on the road. Maybe she's looking for low-flying aircraft. It seems to be a big problem in 1958.


And I had to look up two words in this text.

By 1958, we were using sex to sell cars. "Come hither look?" I guess the car is inviting you to "slip into something more comfortable" such as its "smart fabrics."


Looks like shes hailing a cab.

"We knew Mildred had lost her mind when she started trying to hail a taxi from her new Chevy."


Ive no idea whats happening here, but of course, Mother has baked goods in her left hand.

I've no idea what's happening here, but of course, Mother has baked goods in her right hand. OOOH, edited to add: Shari (see comment below) observed that it was The Boy in the yellow helicopter and in this shot, the helicopter is behind The Boy. He and Mother have both "landed" here.



That's one fine-looking car. Love the two-tone paint job.


More random airplanes.

More random airplanes.



Looks to me like someone's making a run for it. Lots of luggage there.



When I bought my new Camry in 2012, no one said a word about "gay silk pillows."



Tufted leather bench seats. Be still my heart.



Wait til you see this Vicuna lap robe.



There's the Vicuna lap robe.


And heres a Vicuna.

And here's a Vicuna (still wearing his lap robe).



"Iridescent leather features channeled insets of darker blue." Wow.



My Camry has a "symphony in gray" going on, but it's a really quiet symphony.


To see pictures of the kitchens from this era, click here.

Want to see my Atomic Powder Room? Click here.

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1959 Was a Very Good Year - For Kitchens!

May 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 14 comments

My friend Bill Inge knows that I am trying to finish a book on Penniman, Virginia and yet today, he threw a real monkey wrench into the works. He lent me a 54-year-old book titled, “Better Homes and Gardens; Kitchen Ideas.”

Turquoise refrigerators, canary yellow cabinets, stainless steel countertops, pink built-in ranges - who could possibly gaze upon these gorgeous mid-century miracles and then look away!

Not I!

So this afternoon, instead of reading dusty old newspaper articles or scholarly tomes on WW1 munitions plants, I sat down and read this 1959 publication cover to cover.

And my oh my, these were gorgeous kitchens.

Take a look for yourself!

And many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing this treasure with me (I think)!  :D

To read about my very own “Atomic Kitchen” click here!


The publication Mr. Inge brought over is titled - innocuously enough - Kitchens

The publication Mr. Inge shared is titled - innocuously enough - "Kitchen Ideas." It should be titled, "How to spend 4.5 hours grinning from ear to ear whilst looking at pretty, pretty pictures of old kitchens."



This is artwork in architecture. I have one word: Wow



Dad eats potato chips while the children play with arsenic-laden Lincoln Logs on an asbestos floor. Their next stop was to go sample some of the lead paint on the home's exterior. And the coup de grace would be drinking water right out of the garden hose. The best part is, little Jimmy there probably washed his hands less than once a month, and played with sticks and dirt most of the time. And he'll probably live to be 117.



In the 1950s, we gave ourselves permission to enjoy bold colors. I love the yellow and red. And notice the wallpaper - it's gold and black. Just stunning. I'm not sure what that appliance next to the sink is, but I really want one.



Yes, the original caption says all this magic was created with spray paint.



Check out the lighting over Betty Crocker's head. And again - look at these colors. Pink and deep green.



Yellow and Robin's Egg Blue with pink accents (see the phone and curtains). So pretty. When did we decide that it was a good idea to have "industrial-looking kitchens" in our home? This kitchen exudes warmth, beauty and comfort.



I'm not even a fan of green, but this kitchen is stunning. Stainless steel counters, and yet it has a copper pendant light fixture. And the wicker furniture is a nice touch too.



A pink kitchen. And with red accents. Visual poetry. If I were a gazillionaire, I'd throw money at some smart contractor and have this kitchen re-created in my own home. And it has a built-in dishwasher, too.


My favorite:

My #1 favorite: A purple kitchen. Words fail me.


To read about my own “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

To learn more about the book that I should be writing, click here.

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HUD: Destroying History One House At a Time?

May 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 10 comments

If HUD gets its way, a beautiful, mostly original Sears Alhambra  in Portsmouth, Virginia will soon be remuddled into a homogenized plasticine mess.

The old Sears kit home is in a historic district of Portsmouth (Cradock), and - speaking as an architectural historian - I can say with some authority that this is a one-of-a-kind house.

What makes this house special?

It’s a Sears Alhambra (one of Sears finest homes), and it’s 85-years-old, and it’s still in mostly original condition.

Inside, it has an original porcelain bathtub, original light fixtures, unpainted oak trim (a $160 upgrade!), vintage plaster, and original wood windows (some casement; some double-hung).

Through the decades, these beautiful old houses often get remuddled into an almost unrecognizable form.

The Alhambra in Cradock was spared that fate because it was owned by one family for 75 of its 85 years.

And if those 85-year-old walls could talk, they’d tell quite a story.

In 1929, Swedish immigrant Gustav Emil Liljegren picked up a Sears Roebuck catalog and ordered his Sears kit house, an Alhambra.

Price: $2,898.

The 12,000-piece kit arrived within six weeks later in Portsmouth, Virginia and a few weeks later, Gustav’s new home was ready for occupancy.

For years, Gustav Emil Liljegren had toiled and sacrificed and saved so that he could provide a fine home for his family (a wife and four children).

In April 1929, Gustav was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his kit house from Sears.

He had saved enough money to pay cash for the house. His wife was pregnant. He had a good job at the Proctor and Gamble plant in Portsmouth (near the Norfolk Naval Shipyard).

Only five years earlier, Gustav had immigrated from Malmö, Sweden, working as a steward to pay for his passage. It was on the ship - bound for America - that he’d met William Proctor (of Proctor and Gamble fame) who was so impressed with this young Swede that he promised him a job at the Portsmouth plant.

Within a year, Gustav was able to send for his wife and four children. And in 1929, it all fell apart.

His wife’s pregnancy ended in miscarriage. She contracted blood poisoning and died three weeks later, leaving Gustav with four little children. And 12,000 pieces of house coming to Portsmouth.

A short time later, the market crashed and Gustav lost his life savings.

But Gustav pulled it together and pushed on. He picked up the pieces of his life and the 12,000 pieces of his house and slogged through the hard days. Gustav, after all, was a survivor.

In 1937, he married his second wife. In 1954, Gustav retired from Jif and moved to Florida, and sold the Alhambra to Ingvar (Gustav’s son) for $8,000. In 2004, due to declining health, Ingvar Liljengren, (born in 1923) had to sell the house.

A few years later, the house went into foreclosure and that’s when it became a HUD house (in 2014). A long-time Portsmouth resident had always admired the house and put in a bid to buy it. Her bid was accepted.

But that’s where it went off the rails.

After inspecting the house, HUD demanded that the following repairs be completed.

1)  All existing wooden windows were to be replaced with new windows.

2)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, all interior woodwork had to be painted (encapsulated). Yes, all that solid oak, varnished, stunningly beautiful woodwork must be painted.

3)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, the plaster walls had to be covered with sheetrock.

In other words, HUD wants the new buyer to destroy the home’s historic significance (prior to moving in).

I’ve never dealt with HUD but I suspect it’s a massive bureaucracy awash in red tape. I suspect that the local HUD representative doesn’t understand that this house is in a historic district within a very historic city (Portsmouth, Virgina).

I suspect he/she has never read the Secretary of Interior’s preservation briefs on the importance of saving a home’s original features.

I suspect he/she doesn’t understand what they’re asking of a woman who purchased an old house because she fell in love with its inherent unique historical characteristics and charms.

That’s what I suspect.

I hope this is just a massive misunderstanding.

Because if it’s not, our old houses are surely doomed.

If you’ve any ideas how to stop this, please leave a comment below.

Gustav and I thank you.

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The Alhambra was first offered in 1918.

The Sears Alhambra was first offered in 1919.


In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.

In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.


And it was a very beautiful home.

And it was a very beautiful home.



The dining room featured a built-in buffet (shown above).


But who doesnt love a sun porch!

But who doesn't love a sun porch - and with a chaise!


One of Gustavs hobbys was wrought iron work, so he did a little embellishing of the homes exterior railings.

Gustav ordered the Alhambra in Spring 1929. Inside, the house retains many of its original features, such as an oversized porcelain tub, varnished oak trim, original light fixtures and more. This Sears House is now 85 years old, but is still a real jewel. However, if HUD has its way...


One of the homes best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor.

One of the home's best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor. BTW, one of Gustav's hobbies was wrought iron work. He added the wrought iron railings when he built the house in 1929. In 2002, I was given a full tour of the home's interior, and I was blown away. It is a real beauty, and has been tenderly cared for through the many decades. It's truly a gem.


It truly saddens me to think that HUD wont be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin.

It truly saddens me to think that HUD won't be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin. And yes, that's an Alhambra, all dressed up for the 21st Century.


Please leave a comment below. I’m feeling mighty sad these days about the future of these old houses.

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Carney’s Point, NJ: Then and Now

May 7th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

Last month, we drove from Norfolk to Philladelphia to visit the National Archives and Records Administration.

En route, we took a slight detour to Carney’s Point, NJ to check out the houses in that neighborhood. Carney’s Point, like Penniman, eventually became the site of a World War 1 DuPont munitions plant.

In 1891, E. I. DuPont de Nemours bought the land from the descendant of an Irish immigrant (Thomas Carney). DuPont wanted the 17-mile-square-tract to build a manufacturing plant for one of their best-selling products: smokeless gunpowder.

When The European War began in July 1914, demand for smokeless gunpowder exploded (so to speak). (World War I began in Europe in July 1914, and was originally known as The European War.)

After The European War started, Carney’s Point went from a population of 2,000 (pre-War) to 25,000 (early 1917).  In their rush to provide housing for their employees, they turned to Aladdin, and created - literally - a neighborhood full of Aladdin kit homes.

We went to Carney’s Point with a photograph in hand and a mission. I wanted to take a photo that replicated a pre-WW1 photo of the same neighborhood. Mark Hardin found this vintage image (see below) and even figured out what street it was on. Milton and I both snapped several photos, trying to re-create the original image from the vintage photo.  And his photos came out much better than my own. I hate it when that happens.  ;)

Actually, I was very grateful to find that his photos had come out so pretty.

Do the folks in Carney’s Point know that they live in a neighborhood full of Aladdin kit homes?

To learn more about Virginia’s Own Ghost City (Penniman), click here.


Mark Hardin found this photo from about 100 years ago.

Mark Hardin found this photo of Carney's Point ("DuPont's New Village). We suspect the photo was taken in the late 1910s. Perhaps someone who's familiar with children's clothing can give a better guess. On the left, is an Aladdin Georgia, followed by an Edison. On the right is a Cumberland model, an Edison, a Jackson/Grant, and another Edison. This neighborhood had dozens of Aladdin kit homes.


My friend Milton snapped this photo (which came out better than my own photos) and it shows the neighborhood from the same angle.

My friend Milton snapped this photo (which came out better than my own photos) and it shows the street view. From our best guess, these photos were taken more than 90 years apart. Photo is credit 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.



Side-by-side comparison of the two images. I was hoping some kids might come running out, as it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, but no kids ever appeared. They were probably inside playing with their Wii or their Ipad or something. Unlike the 1910s, when kids were sent outside and expected to entertain themselves for several hours with a stick and some dirt.


To read about the other cool houses I found in Carney’s Point, click here or here.

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