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Webster Groves, Missouri: Part II

July 30th, 2015 Sears Homes 4 comments

A few days ago, I sent Rachel pictures of an intriguing bungalow I’d found in Webster Groves. I thought I’d seen it somewhere before, but she quickly identified it as “Design #122″ from Henry L. Wilson’s planbook (published 1907).

Henry L. Wilson was a Chicago architect who self-identified as “The Bungalow Man.” More than a century later, a search of his name brings up a surfeit of reprinted planbook catalogs on Amazon.

Planbooks were a forerunner of kit homes, but were far more popular. Kit homes included blueprints and building materials. Planbooks were blueprints sans building materials, and they became ubiquitous during the Bungalow Craze in early 20th Century America.

During my tour of Webster Groves, I found several kit homes (which I’ll feature in future blogs) and plan book homes, too, but this particular bungalow is a rare beauty and a fun find.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for providing vintage images.

Thanks to Webster Groves for having so many undiscovered treasures! More to come in the following days!

To learn more about why Americans abandoned their fancy Victorians for the simple bungalow, click here.

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Henry Wilson was a popular Midwestern architect that created and published several plan books in the first years of the 20th Century.

Henry Wilson was a popular Midwestern architect that created and published several plan books in the first years of the 20th Century. This design appeared in 1907.

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Henry L. Wilson identified himself as The Bungalow Man (1910 catalog).

Henry L. Wilson identified himself as "The Bungalow Man," and his love of the bungalow shines through in his designs. Shown above is "Design #122" (1907 catalog).

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House

Pretty progressive for its time, with a first-floor half bath. Notice the cold-air closet in the kitchen? I had never heard of this before. Apparently, the goal of the space is to "preserve the chill of the night air," and it provided a place to store vegetables.

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house house house

The three upstairs bedrooms are unsually spacious, and each has a window seat within the bump-out. The second-floor balcony is also a nice feature.

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House house

And here is Mr. Henry's 1907 design in the flesh. What a treasure to find a 100-year-old house in the heart of the bitter-cold Midwest with its original wooden windows. Major kudos to the owners for keeping this house in such gorgeous condition (and original too). I wonder if it still has the cold-air closet?

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A closer look at this beautiful old bungalow.

A closer look at this beautiful old bungalow.

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Nice comparison

Nice comparison of the original sketch and subject house.

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To read more about Webster Groves, click here.

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Webster Groves, Missouri: A Happy Memory

July 28th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

In Spring 2002, my new book on Sears Homes had just been published, and the Webster Grove Public Library (Missouri) was one of the first places that offered me a speaking gig.

A few days before the big event, someone called me and asked, “Have you been out to the Webster Groves Library today?”

I told them I had not, and asked why. The response was, “I’ll pick you up in a minute. Ride out there with me. You need to see this.”

When we pulled up in front of the building, there was a massive banner spanning the tall columns outside and it said, “The Houses That Sears Built - Rosemary Thornton - This Friday at 7:00 p.m.”

I’d never seen a sight like it. My name - on a great big banner - way up high where the whole world could see it.

That night, I sold 40 books, which was about 32 books more than I’d ever sold before. People stood in line to buy a book. People stood in line, waiting patiently for me to autograph their book. People said many nice things to me. It was one of those defining moments in my life, where I first had hope that maybe - just maybe - I could turn this passion for old kit homes into a real job.

Earlier this month, I returned to Webster Groves to poke around and see if I could find some kit homes I might have missed the first time (in 2002).

Not surprisingly, I found several, but my #1 favorite was this Aladdin Sonoma, just about one mile from the Webster Groves Library.

I’ve been hoping to find a real-life example of this sweet little house for a long, long time so it was quite a treat to find it in Webster Groves.

To read a more recent blog on Webster Groves, click here.

And “Webster Groves, Part III” can be found here.

Part IV is here.

And you can read Part V here.

Want to learn more about Aladdin kit homes? Click here.

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Because of its diminuitive size, this was known as an Aladdinette house.

Because of its diminutive size, this was known as an "Aladdinette" house (1919).

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An interesting feature of this house was that it had roll-away beds.

An interesting feature of this house was that it used a roll-away bed to save space.

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Oh, what a cute little house!

Oh, what a cute little house! This "Sonoma" is the mirror image of the house shown above, and the pergola and exterior door has been converted into an enclosed porch. It's hard to see from this angle, but the roofline for the original house is a perfect match to the catalog page.

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That extra-deep eave is missing from the chimney

That extra-deep eave is missing from the chimney but I'd surmise that it went missing after the first roof replacement job in the 1940s.

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Houw

That extra bit of depth on the eave by the chimney is distinctive, but would have been a hard item to countenance when it came to maintenance (1919). I've flipped the image (above) to match the house in Webster Groves. Notice the clipped gable.

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The view down the long side is also a good match.

The view down the long side is also a good match.

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And last but not least, this darling home still has its original windows.

And last but not least, this darling home still has its original 9/1 windows.

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What a fine house! And to think that I found it in Webster Groves!

What a fine house! And to think that I found it in Webster Groves!

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To learn more about identifying Sears Homes, click here.

Want to learn more about Aladdin kit homes? Click here.

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A “Country House” in the heart of Augusta, Georgia

July 24th, 2015 Sears Homes 3 comments

The word Villa literally means, “country house” and it’s also the name of Aladdin’s finest home.

Just like Sears, Aladdin sold kit homes through mail order catalogs. Aladdin was actually a bigger company than Sears, and lasted longer. Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business (1908-1940). Aladdin started earlier (1906) and stayed in the game for 75 years (1981), and sold more than 75,000 homes.

The houses arrived via boxcar, and probably had more than 12,000 pieces and parts! Each kit came with detailed blueprints (designed for novices) and a 75-page instruction book that told the homeowner how all those pieces and parts went together!

As a resident of Virginia, I can happily report that there are more Aladdins in this part of the country than Sears Homes. Proximity is probably part of this. The Midwest is loaded with Sears Homes. Aladdin had mills in  North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Several months ago, someone told me about this Aladdin Villa in Augusta, Georgia. (Unfortunately, I don’t remember who originally provided the tidbit about this Aladdin Villa in Augusta, Georgia. Was it you, Rachel? ) Today I was poking around for a new blog topic and found this older file.

The photos shown below are from Steve Bracci Photography. Click on this link to learn more about this artist’s beautiful work.

To learn more about Aladdin, click here.

To visit Dale’s website, click here.

Dr. Rebecca Hunter also has a wonderful website here.

And Rachel Shoemaker shares many rare photos of kit homes here.

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The Aladdin Villa was really their biggest and best home (1919).

The Villa was Aladdin's biggest and best home (1919).

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See what I mean about being big?

The home had a front staircase and a servants' staircase (accessible from the ktichen).

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And its also a genuinely beautiful home - even in black and white!

And it's also a genuinely beautiful home - even in black and white!

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Is there a more perfect house anywhere in Augusta?

Is there a more perfect house anywhere in Augusta? And that's not a rhetorical question. This house is breathtaking, and the color is perfect. This looks like a picture postcard. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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Oh man.

The landscaping, fence and house create the perfect medley of colors. Mature landscaping and tall shade trees are one of the elements that make older homes so desirable. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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Everything about this house is beautiful.

Everything about this house is so very beautiful. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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And once you go inside, it only gets better.

And once you go inside, it only gets better. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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And better and better.

Inside the home, the colors are equally striking. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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Inside

Classic Villa staircase, still elegant after all these years. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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And better.

That fireplace doesn't appear to be original, or it might have been an upgrade, but it's a nice fit for this fancy room. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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House

The living room is 16x26 and filled with light. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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Stunning

Can you imagine sunning on this stunning sunporch? If there are houses in heaven, this is the kind of place where I'd like to spend a lot of eternity. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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House

Typically, I'm not a big fan of red wallpaper with red accents, but this really works. The bright white trim and dark floors are the perfect complement. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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What a house.

What a house. Like something out of a dream book. Photo is copyright 2015 Steve Bracci Photography.

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And to think it came from a mail-order catalog!

And to think it came from a mail-order catalog!

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The photos shown above are from Steve Bracci Photography. Click on this link to learn more about this artist’s beautiful work.

To learn more about Aladdin, click here.

To visit Dale’s website, click here.

Dr. Rebecca Hunter also has a wonderful website here.

And Rachel Shoemaker shares many rare photos of kit homes here.

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“Save the Clock Tower!”

July 23rd, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

Anyone familiar with the movie Back to The Future” will recognize that refrain.

Early in the movie, an older woman thrusts a coffee can toward Michael J. Fox, and bellows, “Save the clock tower!”

It was 30 years ago that I first saw that movie, and yet even then, I bonded instantly with that delightful character. Somewhere deep inside my heart, I knew I was glimpsing my very own future.

That day has arrived.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a native of Portsmouth, Virginia. I grew up admiring the architecture of this historic port city in Southeastern Virginia. When I was a little girl, my father would drive me around downtown Portsmouth and I’d study the architecture. One of the most impressive images of the landscape was the Confederate Monument at High and Court Street.

This monument has been an icon in Portsmouth for more than 130 years, and now Portsmouth’s city council is seriously considering taking it down.

Construction on the 55-foot tall obelisk was started in 1876, after the horrors of Reconstruction had loosened their grip on Portsmouth, Virginia. After the war, Portsmouth was broken and bankrupt, with more than $300,000 in debt. In today’s dollars, that’s $4.3 million.

Eleven years after the Civil War ended, the Ladies of the Confederacy - women who had lost everything in this war - banded together and created the Portsmouth and Norfolk County Monumental Association, with the hopes of erecting a memorial to their sons, their fathers, and their husbands.

It took more than 11 years for the people of Portsmouth to raise the money to finish the statue. It’s one of only three statues in the South that feature all four branches of service.

When the Civil War began, Portsmouth had 900 registered voters, and yet more than 1,200 soldiers were mustered from Portsmouth. Of those 1,242 soldiers, 199 died in the war. Many of the war dead were buried where they fell. Others were left in the fields to rot. Some were laid to rest in mass graves, or unmarked graves, far from their home in Portsmouth, their names forgotten in time.

This monument is a grave marker for those men who were never given a proper burial.

To read about the Northern view of our Confederate monuments, click here.

If you’re interested in donating money to help in the legal fight to save this 139-year-old monument, please click on this tab or the “Tip Jar” tab at the top of this page. All paypal funds received into that account within the next 60 days will go directly to Stonewall Camp #380, to help defray their legal expenses.

If you’re interested in learning more about this remarkable and rare monument, scroll on down, and read the captions on the pictures below.

To donate directly to legal fees to save the statue, please send a check to:

Stonewall Camp

P. O. Box 8484

Virginia Beach, VA  23450

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Portsmouth

I was in my 20s when I first saw this movie, but even then I knew that one day, I'd be this woman.

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Save the clock tower!

The infamous clock tower, as seen in "Back To The Future."

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Save the

The monument in downtown Portsmouth is on the National Registry, and is considered historically significant for many reasons. For one, it's one of only three monuments in the South that feature all four branches of service.

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Confederates

The wrought-iron fencing is original to the statue.

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Clock tower

It took 11 years for the people of Portsmouth to raise the money for this monument. When the statue was dedicated, schools and businesses were closed for the day, as the happy throngs filled the streets to celebrate its completion.

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Four gents

The four branches of service honored on this monument are the Infantry, Navy, Cavalry and Artillery. When commissioned, the zinc soldiers were to be 6'3" tall, but when they arrived, they were a mere 5'8" tall (according to contemporary newspaper accounts). After much discussion, it was decided to accept the shortened statues.

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Save the clock tower.

According to the National Registry application for the statue, the four soldiers featured on the statue were Portsmouth men. The Artillery man was modeled after J. Shirley Hope; Frank Wonycott - Cavalry; William Henry Buchanan, a Civil War veteran was either the Cavalry representative or the Navy man. James W. Nicholson was the other model. The sailor (shown here) was my favorite fellow.

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One of my earliest childhood memories has been this tall statue in downtown Portsmouth. It's an important part of our history.

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To donate money for legal fees to save the statue, please send a check to:

Stonewall Camp

P. O. Box 8484

Virginia Beach, VA  23450

To read more about the historical significance of this statue, click here.

To learn more about old houses, click here.

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