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Archive for December, 2015

Coming Up - A Comprehensive Blog on The Hillrose

December 30th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the last few days, I seem to have crossed the Rubicon with search engines, and am now consistently getting 1,500+ hits per day, and sometimes more than 2,000. That’s certainly happy news, as I’ve been faithfully blogging for five years and it is a major time sink.

Thus far, I have written 942 blogs here, each heavy laden with photos.

Ever since August, I’ve been wanting to do a blog on one of my favorite finds: A Sears Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia but I knew that this would be a time-intensive blog (requiring 4-5 hours to complete). With the holiday season, there is no time, so I thought it was time to do a truncated version of that time-intensive blog.

We’ll just call this a preview!

To read my earlier blog about another Hillrose, click here. (You should really read this blog first, as it gives some background on how the Hillrose came to be.)

Brandy Station is also the site of a famous Civil War campaign. Learn more about that here.

This Hillrose was owned for many years by J. M. Cunningham, a famous Confederate war hero.

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The Hillrose has long been one of my favorites - and apparently is several peoples favorites! It won a design prize (sponsored by Sears) in 1914.

The Hillrose has long been one of my favorites - and apparently is several people's favorites! It won a design prize (sponsored by Sears) in 1914.

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1916

According to this image from the 1916 Sears Modern Homes catalog, there are also Hillroses built at Griffith Indiana, Alvado Ohio, Stratford Iowa, Waterman Illinois and Houghton New York.

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Nice spacious floorplan, too.

Four bedrooms and good layout.

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fff

While it's true that I love them all, the Hillrose is a favorite.

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And heres the Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia.

And here's the Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia. And best of all, for many years, it was owned by a famous Civil War hero, J. M. Cunningham, the highest ranking surviving field officer of the Confederate Army at the time of his death in 1939. He was 96 years old when he passed. More on this hero in the next blog. And interestingly enough, I discovered this glorious house thanks to a comment left at my blog! The home's owner contacted me and said he had a Sears Hillrose. If I had a nickle for every time I heard that! ;) But in this case, he really did!

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Beautiful, isnt it?

Beautiful, isn't it? It's a historically significant home, located in a historically significant city, and formerly owned by a historically impressive Confederate war hero. Wow.

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From the aft side

A true beauty from every angle!

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What a house.

What a house, and it sits in such a beautiful, bucolic place. My oh my.

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In the next blog, well take a look at the inside of this fine old home.

In the next blog, we'll take a look at the inside of this fine old home.

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To read my earlier blog about another Hillrose, click here. (You should really read this blog first, as it gives some background on how the Hillrose came to be.)

Brandy Station is also the site of a famous Civil War campaign. Learn more about that here.

This Hillrose was owned for many years by J. M. Cunningham, a famous Confederate war hero.

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Montrose - or Something Like It…

December 29th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

Sometimes, looks can be really deceiving.

Take Hubby for example. He’s a handsome fellow, and a tough-as-nails litigator, and yet he has a tender heart and a sweet nature.

Wayne

Wayne, the hubby. With his Christmas tie. And his tender heart.

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And heres another place where looks can be deceiving.

And here's another place where looks can be deceiving: Sears Homes and their clones. These are two different houses - theoretically. They sure do look alike.

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This is a Sears Montrose.

This is a Sears Montrose (1928).

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This is not.

This is a design from the 1923 Homebuilder's Catalog: "The Arlington."

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Heres the floorplan for the Sears Montrose (1st floor).

Here's the floorplan for the Sears Montrose (1st floor).

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Heres the floorplan for the other house.

Here's the floorplan for the Homebuilder's Arlington.

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Heres a comparison of the two - side by side.

When you compare the two side-by-side, you can see some minor differences, but not a lot. They're almost the same house. Interior room dimensions were shifted just a wee bit, but other than that, these two are mighty close.

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And a comparison of the second floor.

And a comparison of the second floor shows a few other minor differences - again - mainly with room dimensions. And these are line drawings, so the proportions are not always accurately reflected.

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So how do you distinguish these look-alikes? How can you tell if its a Sears House (or an Aladdin, or GVT or Lewis), or its twinkie from Homebuilders?

So how do you distinguish these look-alikes? How can you tell if it's a Sears House (or an Aladdin, or GVT or Lewis), or its twinkie from Homebuilder's?

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Its a question that may have no easy answer.

It's a question that may have no easy answer. Shown above is a Montrose in Kirkwood, MO.

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And within my collection of Sears Montroses - I am left wondering, how many of these are Homebuilders designs?

And within my collection of Sears "Montroses" - I wonder, how many of these are Homebuilder's designs? (House shown above is in Moorefield, WV.)

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Its a puzzler!

It's a puzzler! (Portsmouth, Virginia)

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Good thing theres only one Wayne! ;)

Good thing there's only one Wayne! ;)

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To learn more about the Montrose, click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

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Another One Bites The Dust! Part II

December 22nd, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

How many homes must a nation tear down, before they can say it’s enough?

Old kit homes, that is.

Earlier this week, I wrote about a kit home in Haymarket, Virginia that is now on Death Row. Through the years, I’ve written about many kit homes that have been torn down. It does get depressing.

Today, there’s a new one: The Sears Crescent in Godfrey, IL.

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It started when a dear reader left this comment.

It started when a dear reader left this comment.

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You heard it here first.

You heard it here first.

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Sadly.

Sadly, it died sometime in late 2014 or early 2015.

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Google

A Google view of the site shows a fresh wound on the earth, where our Sears Crescent stood for more than 80 years. The "street view" (captured 12.21.2015) was taken by Google on July 2015.

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House

Here's an old 35mm slide of the house from about 2004 (or earlier).

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Heres an old 35mm slide of the house from about 2004 (or earlier).

In February 2010, I photographed the house for inclusion in my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." It's so disturbing to see the Midwest tearing down these homes.

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The Sears Crescent was a popular house for Sears, and probably arrived at the Alton train station in about 12,000 pieces. Some family labored for months to assemble their fine kit home (1929 catalog).

The Sears Crescent was a popular house for Sears, and probably arrived at the Alton train station in about 12,000 pieces. Some family labored for months to assemble their fine Sears Crescent (1929 catalog). Each house came with a 75-page instruction book and a promise that "a man of average abilities" could have the house assembled in about 90 days.

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When are we going to decide, enough is enough?

When are we going to decide, enough is enough?

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To learn more about what makes Sears Homes historically significant, click here.

There are several other kit homes in the Alton/Godfrey area. One of my favorites is here.

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Another One Bites The Dust?

December 20th, 2015 Sears Homes 1 comment

Several folks sent me a link about a kit house in northern Virginia that is being offered for sale with one very substantial condition: It has to be moved from its existing location.

Color me jaded, but in the last 15 years, I’ve seen this happen time and time and time again. Something (a college, government agency or corporation) wants to expand beyond its current borders, but an old house is blocking “progress” (a word I’ve come to hate), so to appease the crazy local historians, the bungalow-eating entity offers to “sell” the house in question.

But alas! No one comes forward and offers to buy the old house, so the onus is no longer on the bungalow-eating entity (hereafter called “BEE”); rather it’s the “lack of interested buyers” that have killed the home’s second chance at life.

It’s a win-win for the BEE, and a lose-lose for anyone who loves history and/or old houses and/or reducing waste at landfills and/or anyone who abhors waste.

Generalizations are only generally true, but generally speaking, moving a bungalow from Point A to Point B in a metro area is going to cost $75,000 - $100,000 and sometimes more. There are many other hassles and headaches involved in modern-day house moving. Let’s just say that it’s not something the average Joe has the financial resources and/or experience and/or ability to undertake.

Nonetheless, I’ll try to be hopeful during this holiday season that this house will prove to be the exception. We’ll know - by April 2016 - how this plays out.

Here’s the blurb from the site.

Historic Lewis House - Haymarket, Virginia The Town of Haymarket, Virginia is selling a historic house manufactured by Lewis Manufacturing of Bay City, Michigan, transported as a kit home by rail in about 1926 and erected at 14710 Washington Street, Haymarket Virginia. The identification of the house as a Lewis Manufacturing product is based on site findings such as the eaves bracket type, window and door trim taper treatments, pillar design and handwritten numbers in grease pencil in the attic. This house is the La Vitello model Craftsman-style bungalow. The Town of Haymarket, Virginia is accepting offers on the house in an effort to preserve it by having it relocated off site. All offers must be submitted to the Town Manager at 15000 Washington Street, Haymarket, Virginia 20169. Offers should include the purchase price and plan for relocation off site. The house must be moved by the end of April, 2016.

To read more about how homes were moved 100+ years ago, click here.

One more reason old houses should be preserved, not destroyed: The quality of lumber.

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The house being offered for sale in northern Virginia is the Lewis La Vitello (1924).

The house being offered for sale in northern Virginia is the Lewis La Vitello (1924). Lewis was a kit home company based in Bay City, Michigan (as was Aladdin).

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Nice floor plan, but the house in Haymarket, Virginia has had a massive addition globbed onto the side.

Nice floor plan, but the house in Haymarket, Virginia has had a massive addition globbed onto the side. That's a busy little hallway behind the dining room. And that "breakfast room" is quite massive!

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Maybe if it gets moved, theyll leave this unappealingappendage behind.

Maybe if it gets moved, they'll leave this unappealingappendage behind.

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It looks a lot better from the front.

It looks a lot better from the front.

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house

That decking is unfortunate. The stonework is stunning. That will go bye-bye if the house is moved. It'll also go bye-bye if the house is destroyed. It's all such an egregious waste. As mentioned in a prior blog, about 40% of everything in our country's landfills is construction debris.

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From

The view down the side. One of the lovely features of this old house is that it still has its original siding, and the eaves - those magnificent eaves - have not been chopped into bits and encased in aluminum.

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And

Those oversized eaves make me swoon. What a house. What a pity.

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Inside the La Vitello

Inside the La Vitello

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house

Another view of the La Vitello from the 1924 Lewis Homes catalog.

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Heres a La Vitello in Bowling Green, Ohio. Photo is copyright 2012 Dale P. Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Here's a La Vitello in Bowling Green, Ohio. Photo is copyright 2012 Dale P. Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read more about how homes were moved 100+ years ago, click here.

One more reason old houses should be preserved, not destroyed: The quality of lumber.

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“Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work”

December 18th, 2015 Sears Homes 5 comments

A few years ago, my friend Bill Inge reminded me of this “First Commandment” of old house preservation:  “Thou shalt not destroy good old work.”

It’s so succinct and so accurate and most of all, so vital. And it makes good sense.

Unfortunately, it’s the diametrical opposite of the position taken on most of the programs on HGTV.

Or as my friend Mark said: “HGTV - Houses Getting Totally Vandalized.”

If you’re planning to buy an old house so that you can rip out every single thing that makes it unique and special and historic and charming, WHY buy an old house?

Please, rather than destroying the charm of an old house and sending all that debris to a landfill*, just do everyone a favor and buy that 12-year-old McMansion in suburbia. No one cares if you decide to “re-beige the bathroom” or rip out the black granite countertops and replace them with concrete countertops. Or vice versa.

Because of the old-house violence that regularly occurs on HGTV, I can no longer watch these shows. However, due to a recent bout of the flu, I was stuck at home in front of the TV, feeling immeasurably sorry for myself and I happened upon an episode of Property Brothers.

This particular episode featured the home of Tory and Darren (Episode 2, Season 5), and the remodeling of several rooms in this late 1920s New England Colonial.

There was so much wrong with what they did, but the remodel that set my teeth on edge was the downstairs bathroom. The existing bathroom featured a porcelain-enamel double-apron tub, vintage  toilet with wall-hung tank and original basket-weave tile floor with complementing wainscoting. It all appeared to be well-maintained and in beautiful shape (no cracks, chips, etc).

The tile floor and walls in that 1920s house were “thick set” or placed in a mortar bed that was 2-4″ deep. The end result is an incredibly strong tile job that (with proper care) will last for a very long time.

I could write for days on the many reasons I loathe HGTV, but another reason is this: It is the worst kind of materialism. It heavily promotes the idea that you must always have the latest, shiniest, brightest, fanciest and newest bauble. If something has an imperfection, then it’s “dirty and tired” and must be removed and put into the waste stream. HGVT breeds a need that nothing in your home will ever be good enough, unless it’s shiny and new.

No longer are we trying to keep up with the Jones’ family next door; now we’re trying to keep up with the Hollywood elite and their ilk. It’s a perfect recipe for spiritual and emotional and financial disaster.

And this insatiable desire for “shiny” is also destroying the unique features of old houses across America.

As this article from the UK states, “The obsessive modernising of old houses is one of the great vandalisms of our time.”

We need to keep our focus on the First Commandment of Preservation: Thou Shalt Not Destroy Good Old Work.

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*Up to 40% of all debris in landfills is construction debris. These same people who religiously recycle every scrap of paper show no compunction in sending tons of material to overburdened landfills. It’s despicable.

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Project was at this house

Recently, "Property Brothers" featured the remodeling of several rooms inside this spacious two-story Colonial, somewhere in New England.

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Wnetwork photo

Several rooms were remodeled, but the destruction of this vintage 1920s first-floor bathroom was the most painful part of the progam. Photo originally appeared at Wnetwork.com.

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Another view

A screen shot from the program shows the vintage toilet, wall-hung tank and double-apron tub. Note the classic basket-weave tile floor, set in several inches of concrete.

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Basket weave and severe storms

Yes, it takes a jackhammer to bust up that concrete. And the destruction of this double-apron tub makes me crazy. These tubs are hard to find, and the destruction shown here (where the porcelain was chipped off the edge) was probably caused by a few blows from a sledge-hammer. At the very least, this tub could have been salvaged. At the very least.

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Jackhammer to get out the cement

During extreme weather, homeowners are often advised to seek refuge in their bathroom. Part of the reason for this are these thick-set mortar and tile walls. An early 20th Century bathroom is a room with concrete walls, and will offer more protection than other rooms in the house. It pains me greatly to see this "good old work" destroyed.

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house

When you're done destroying 4" of mortar, this is what's left.

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Teris beige bathroom

This is such an abhorrent waste.

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Removed after being trashed

Having completely trashed the double-apron tub, they're now going to remove it. As I said above, there's no reason on earth they didn't - at the very least - salvage the tub.

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What do they have when theyre done?

And for what? So they could put up some composite wood walls and an MDF vanity and engineered wood floor? These materials have a 20-30 year lifespan (at best), and then they'll have to be replaced. More garbage for the waste stream. Photo originally appeared at Wnetwork.com.

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But this

They had timeless elegance and beauty. And they threw it right into the trash.

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Up to 40% of all debris in landfills is construction debris. These same people who religiously recycle every scrap of paper show no compunction in sending tons of material to overburdened landfills. It’s despicable.

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Fenestration Devastation

December 15th, 2015 Sears Homes 5 comments

Years ago

Sometime in 2005 or 2006, a nice fellow named Bill Inge told me about a Sears Alhambra in his town. I'd heard of Bill through several mutual friends, but I had assumed he was some really old guy that wanted only to give me a 4-hour lecture on every thing I was doing wrong in my little career. Plus, 73% of the time, people who report a Sears House sighting are 100% wrong. When I pulled up to this house a little town in western Virginia, I was delighted to see that Bill was right: It was a Sears Alhambra.

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House

On January 1, 2007, I married a nice fellow named Wayne and moved to Norfolk (from Alton, IL), and that's when I met Bill Inge for the first time. He was not a tottering old man in his dotage (as I had suspected), but he was younger than me. In fact, he was an old soul (like me) who loved old houses and had become Norfolk's #1 architectural historian. And when I started spending all my spare time doing research at the Norfolk Library Local History Room, I got to know Bill. It was nice to meet someone equally rabid about historic architecture. Photo is copyright 2007 Dave Chance and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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In 2007, I married a nice fellow named Wayne and moved to Norfolk, and thats when I met Bill Inge for the first time. He wasnt a tottering old man in his dotage (as I had suspected), but he was a little younger than me.

Everyone loves the Alhambra, and Bill told me that the Alhambra is his favorite Sears House, and there's one in his own neighborhood. How sweet is that? (1925 Sears Modern Homes Catalog)

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But then yesterday, I started receiving texts on my phone from Bill.

Bill contacted me and said that this lovely old Sears house (built 1923) was now "under the knife." It's always troubling to hear about an old house suffering these indignities.

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If you look

For 92 years, this house had a set of original wooden windows and then - in a quick moment - they were gone. Judging by this image, we must surmise that Santa was overcome by emotion. Photo is copyright 2015 Bill Inge and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Apparently some smooth-tongued traveling salesman (perhaps a masher) convinced the homeowner that double-glazed vinyl windows would pay for themselves in 27 years.

Apparently some smooth-tongued traveling salesman (perhaps a masher) convinced the homeowner that double-glazed vinyl windows would pay for themselves in 12 years (which is most likely not even close) or that the repairing the old wooden windows was just a chore (yes, they do need maintenance every 40 years or so), or perhaps the most egregious lie of all: Fancy new windows would give the house more value when it was sold. Photo is copyright 2015 Bill Inge and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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What he did NOT

What he did NOT tell them is that low-to-mid-range vinyl windows typically have a lifespan of 15 years, and then they rot, crack, warp of the seals fail, and there is no repairing them. That's it. You're then on the roller-coaster of replacing those windows every 15-20 years for the rest of the home's life.

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What he did NOT tell them is that low-to-mid-range vinyl windows typically have a lifespan of 15 years, and then they rot, crack, warp of the seals fail, and there is no repairing them. Thats it. Youre then on the roller-coaster of replacing those windows every 15-20 years for the rest of the homes life.

Bill, being almost as "unique" as I am, attempted to salvage the old wooden windows from the Alhambra but someone beat him to it! I have a sneaking suspicion that they're not going into another Alhambra.

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House

I'm hesitant to name the city where this Fenestration Devastation occurred, but I can tell you this: This old Virginia mountain town is not kind to old houses. This is what happened to an Aladdin Colonial on a dead-end street, not terribly far from the Alhambra. The Colonial was one of Aladdin's biggest and best; key word - WAS.

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Im hestiant to name the Virginia city where this Fenestration Devastation occured, but I can tell you this: Theyre not kind to old houses. This is what happened to an Aladdin Colonial on a dead-end street, not terribly far from the Alhambra.

The Aladdin Colonial from the 1916 catalog.

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It’d be easy to write an entire blog on this topic alone: WHY you should save your home’s original windows, but this is a much better piece than I could write. Take a minute and read it.

To read more about the other kit homes I found in this unnamed Virginia town, click here.

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Something For My “Wish List”

December 3rd, 2015 Sears Homes 2 comments

Updated! Jennifer found one!

Of the 370 models of kit homes offered by Sears & Roebuck, there are about 150 models that I’ve never seen. One of the most intriguing is the “Monterey.” It was very similar to the highly popular Sears Alhambra, but with a few minor differences, both inside and out.

The Monterey was offered only in the 1924 catalog, which is a fairly rare catalog. The Alhambra was offered for about a decade and proved to be highly popular and yet its “kissing cousin” seems to have never caught on. And of the two houses, I’d think the Monterey would be more popular.

One very commen complaint about the Alhambra is that roof leaks behind those dormers are very common (see image below), and “crickets” have to be added to deflect rain water away from the dormers. If you look at the photos below, you’ll see that the Monterey was designed with those crickets already in place. And the Monterey has a gabled roof over the staircase wing, rather than a flat roof (like the Alhambra).

I’m a big fan of the Alhambra but the Monterey’s dramatic parapet is snazzier and more appealing. And to think that I’ve never seen one in real life! The humanity!

Is there a Sears Monterey in your neighborhood?

If so, please let me know.

To read more about The Alhambra, click here.

Do you have a Sears Home? Learn more here.

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The Sears Monterey was offered only in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears Monterey was offered only in the 1924 Sears Modern Homes catalog, which might be one reason why there aren't many of these (if any) in the world.

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In this image, you can see the cricket behind that dormer.

In this image, you can see the "cricket" behind that dormer, which deflects rain water and helps prevent leaks behind that dormer. Plus, that staircase wing has a gabled roof, instead of the flat roof present on the Alhambra.

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Its very close to the Sears Alhambra, and in the 1924 catalog, theyre on opposing sides of the same page.

The Monterey is very similar to the Sears Alhambra, and in the 1924 catalog, they're on opposing sides of the same two-page spread. The "interior photos" are apparently a fit for either the Monterey or Alhambra.

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A side-by-side comparison of the two floor plans show some minor differences of the two houses.

A side-by-side comparison of the two floor plans show some minor differences of the two houses. The Monterey is on the right. The most striking difference is that someone moved the baby grand piano.

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There are several differences on the second floor, too.

In this image, the Monterey is on the left side (oops), and the Alhambra is on the right. One curiosity is that bathroom. In the Monterey, the sink was placed in what seems to be a very awkward spot. Closets have also been shifted around a bit.

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fff

That living room is just dazzling, and I love the chaise on the sunporch. That floor lamp with the fringe is pretty sweet too, and who doesn't love pink curtains? The 1924 catalog had several color images (such as shown on this blog) and yet it's a fairly rare catalog.

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tes

I wonder how often people followed the color suggestions for these homes.

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Sears

Now that is a fine-looking house! I'd love to find one - somewhere.

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To read more about The Alhambra, click here.

Do you have a Sears Home? Learn more here.

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