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Posts Tagged ‘aladdin homes’

Did You Remember To Put The Bed Back In The Ceiling This Morning?

June 18th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Whilst researching Beaver Board Walls in the 1917 Sweets Architectural Catalog, I came across something I’d never seen before: An invisible ceiling bed.

At first blush, one might think this is an ideal solution for house guests that you wish were invisible, but in fact, it’s a close-cousin of the Murphy Wall Bed.

Instead of the bed “hiding” in a closet or wall, the Sorlien Ceiling Bed stows in the ceiling when not in use.

I’m sorry to say, I’ve never seen one in real life, but I bet that there are a few old house owners mystified by a massive hidden panel in the ceiling of their early 20th Century bungalow.

It’s quite a concept, and it’d be fun to know how popular these “ceiling beds” really were!

Thanks to Bill Inge for loaning me this awesome old catalog!

To read all about the Murphy Bed, click here.

To see a youtube video of a Murphy Bed in action, click here.

Click here to read about a 1950s invention!
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Beds from ceilings

"Beds from ceilings" (as seen in the 1917 Sweets catalog).

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Sorlien Ceiling Bed

An iron bed with a sagless spring! But the best part: "It may remain in ceiling witout collecting dust." Really? Does it collect rats? Nutria? Roof rats? There's lots of cool stuff like that in *my* attic!

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Sorlien Ceiling Bed

Kind of an interesting concept. I doubt anyone would be willing to try this today. Imagine the lawsuit potential!

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Sorlien Bed two

I'm not sure how this "false ceiling panel" closes automatically.

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text

Yes, you read that right: 790 pounds (first paragraph). And it's also interesting that this thing only works for houses with an "attic above." Can you imagine cranking this thing down and finding a rat sitting on your bed? Blech.

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Bed

And you can use it with a double bed!

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Sorlien Ceiling Bed View

Looks like a lot of work to me.

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Ceiling

Now that's a serious pulley.

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Sorlien Ceiling

Close-up on the prior image.

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Ceiling

The text above says that the "bed is raised or lowered with a removable crank." Wonder if that's a subtle reference to his visiting mother-in-law?

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To read all about the Murphy Bed, click here.

To see a youtube video of a Murphy Bed in action, click here.

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One Word for Sandston: Oopsie

June 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

When you drive into Sandston (Virginia), you might see this historic marker (shown below) which states that Sandston (a WW1-era DuPont munitions site) had “230 Aladdin houses, that were erected for plant workers.”

That’s the “oopsie.”

Yes, they were built for plant workers, and yes, they are houses, but they’re not Aladdin houses.

For some time now, I’ve been researching Penniman, Virginia (another WW1 DuPont munitions plant) and that’s how I came to learn about Sandston. (Sandston was renamed in 1921. Prior to that, it was known as “Seven Pines.”)

In June 1918, DuPont signed a contract with the US Government to supply smokeless powder for the guns of The Great War. By later Summer 1918, thousands of women were employed at The Seven Pines Bag-Loading Plant. The women, all members of Virginia’s Women’s Munition Reserve, were charged with sewing silk bags and filling them with smokeless powder. The silk bags of propellant were for use in large caliber guns on ships and on the battlefield.

Seven Pines is located about seven miles from Richmond. The location was not considered ideal because the cigarette factories in Richmond provided stiff competition for attracting quality workers (which would be predominantly women). As an enticement, DuPont decided to build a village with 230 modest bungalows, some shops, churches, and more. The little houses would be rented out to the employees.

DuPont turned to a Grand Rapids contractor to build 230 darling bungalows in one big hurry. The contractor “Owen-Ames-Kimball” turned to North American Construction Company to supply the lumber for the houses. In 1918, North American Construction Company (based in Bay City) was also known by another name: Aladdin Homes.

According to my dear friend and architectural historian Dale Wolicki, it’s most likely that Aladdin provided the building materials in pre-cut lengths. Dale surmises this is most likely because, during WW1, boxcars were in short supply. And the US Government had done a full-court press to get the Seven Pines plant up and operational immediately. Pre-cut lumber would expedite the construction process. And we know that DuPont and Aladdin had a corporate relationship.

But the houses in Sandston were built based on DuPont designs. These same designs were built at other DuPont plants, such as Carney’s Point, New Jersey, Hopewell, Virginia, Penniman, Virginia, Old Hickory, Tennessee, and more.

It’s my opinion that, for a house to be a true “kit house,” both building materials and the architectural design must come from the kit home company; in this case, that’d be Aladdin.

As you scroll through the photos below, you’ll see that the houses in Sandston are unquestionably DuPont designs.

In short, the houses in Sandston are not Aladdin kit homes.

Sorry about that, Sandston.

Perhaps you can get that sign fixed now!

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Oopsie

Perhaps they could put a piece of black electrical tape over the part where it says, "Aladdin" and save the expense of redoing the entire sign. Photo is copyright 2010, Leon Reed.

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Drove through and found many DuPont Houses, but only two Aladdins - and they were iffy!

In November 2013, my buddy Milton and I went all through Sandston and I found only two Aladdin kit homes! However, I did find a surfeit of DuPont designs, such as this "Denver."

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You may notice the pretty blue house shown above looks just like the DuPont Denver model.

You may notice the pretty blue house shown above looks just like the "DuPont Denver" model. (House above is a mirror image of the model shown in the vintage catalog.)

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Another example the Arlington

Another example of a "DuPont Model" is the Arlington (shown above).

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Arlington Dupont

This is one of several fine-looking Arlingtons in Sandston.

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The Ketcham

The Ketchum was a fine spacious house, but it did not have plastered walls; rather, it had an "interior finished with beaverboard" (an early 20th Century compressed wood-pulp product).

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Ketcham

There are several Ketchums in Sandston.

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Aladdin Contract 2b

And here's where it gets really interesting. This paperwork (supplied by Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University) shows that Owen-Ames-Kimball Company turned to Aladdin to supply them with building materials for "75 DuPont Houses" and "51 Painter Houses." Oops (again). Is it possible that the 230 number is also wrong? Hmmm... (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).

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Contract 2aaaa

Seven Pines was still gearing up when Armistice ended the war. It's likely that the contract for these houses was canceled, which is why many of the "painter houses" were never completed. BTW, what is a "painter house"? That question plagued me for some time. (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).

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Contract 3a

Page 2 of this agreement shows that 149 of those painter houses were not built. (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).

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Hagley

So what is a "painter house"? This map helped me figure that out. In 1918, the government asked DuPont to provide a detailed map of Penniman. This map shows the layout of the village and the plant. In the image above, you'll see that there's a section of houses in the village that's labeled "plastered houses." If you look at the description of the modest homes offered by DuPont for their workers, you'll see it states that many of the models had interior walls finished with "beaverboard." This was, in short, a cheap wall covering made of compressed wood pulp. Its best feature was that it was very "economical." The better-class homes (probably for supervisors) had plastered walls. Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Hagley two

Close-up of the 1918 map of Penniman shows that this section in the village features "plastered houses." So there were "plastered houses" and "beaverboard houses." Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Ruberoid

This inventory of Penniman houses, done by the US Army after the war had ended (1919), provided another clue to "painter houses." The houses are broken down into two groups: Ruberoid houses (tar-paper siding) and painted houses (with wooden siding). If you're not a big architecture buff, and you're assigned with the task of inventorying houses, the houses in these DuPont villages had two categorizations: Ruberoid Houses and Painted Houses. Made it simple and sweet.

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Contract 2aaaa

The DuPont Houses were - probably - the Ruberoid Houses with tar-paper siding. The "Painter Houses" were the houses "of a more permanent nature" with wooden siding. (Image is courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University).

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The DuPont Houses and Painter Houses erected at Seven Pines were built with lumber supplied by Aladdin, but in that these were DuPont designs, they can not accurately be described as Aladdin Homes.

So, who has some black electrical tape for that sign?

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To read more about what got me started on DuPont’s villages, click here.

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You can read an earlier blog about Sandston (with many more photos) here.

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HUD: Destroying History One House At a Time?

May 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 9 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.

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

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

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And it was a very beautiful home.

And it was a very beautiful home.

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Dining

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

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But who doesnt love a sun porch!

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

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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...

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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.

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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.

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

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Another Mystery in Richmond!

March 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 16 comments

My blog on the Sears Houses in Richmond has gotten several hundred views in the last few days. I am tickled pink to see it, but I wish I knew what led folks to a 15-month old blog!

But in the meantime, I’ve made another *fascinating* discovery, which might lead me to a neighborhood of Sears Homes in Richmond!

Today, David Spriggs and I were doing research at the Norfolk Public Library, and I found this article (June 16, 1921) in the Richmond Times Dispatch. At first glance, it looks like another 1920s ad, but look closely.

Article

The "beautiful bungalow" shown in the advertisement is a Sears Elsmore.

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Check out the fine print.

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And you can buy “all the material necessary to build this charming bungalow” - from Sears!
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If you look closely at the house in the ad, youll see its a Sears Elsmore.

If you look closely at the house in the ad, you'll see it's a Sears "Elsmore." In fact, it's the picture right out of the Sears Modern Homes catalog!

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This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

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Heres an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these beautiful bungalows built in Richmond?

Here's an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these "beautiful bungalows" built in Richmond?

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Perhaps someone familiar with Richmond can help me find this neighborhood! Was the builder successful in pitching these Sears kit homes to the people who bought his lots?

This could be fun!!  Please leave a comment below if you know where this area is!

To learn more about the Sears Homes I found in Richmond, click here.

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The Home of C. F. Sauer, in Richmond

February 28th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

UPDATED!  See new photos below!!

Today, I was at the Norfolk Public Library reading an old Richmond Times Dispatch from October 23, 1921 when I stumbled across this “pictorial record” of a fine old house in Richmond.

It caught my eye for several reasons:

1)  In the 1921 article, it was claimed that this was one of the oldest houses in its neighborhood (”The Lee District”).

2)  It had been moved from another location (from Broad Street to Grace Street).

3)  It’s massive and grand, and has a brass fireplace mantel (yes, brass).

4)  It was occupied by General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War (”Battery #10″).

And it’d be interesting to know if the owners are aware that these interior photos were featured in a 93-year-old Richmond newspaper.

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House

"Talavera is probably the oldest house in Lee District, being built 90 years ago when this part of Richmond was all woods" (Richmond Times Dispatch, October 23, 1921)

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Heres my favorite part

And was moved from Broad Street (I wonder where!), and was moved to Grace Street.

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Mr. C. F. Sauers home had a brass fireplace mantel.

Mr. C. F. Sauer's home had a brass fireplace mantel.

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Sitting room

Wonder who the fellow in the picture is?

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According to the caption,

According to the caption, the sideboard (barely visible in this image) is more than 100 years old (in 1921) and is made from solid oak. Despite repeated efforts, this was the best photo I could get from the old newspaper pages.

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Is the old C. F. Sauer house still alive and well?

Is the old C. F. Sauer house still alive and well?

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Ooh, a nice update! The house is alive and well! Heres a picture of it, as seen on February 28, 2014. Thanks to Brice Anderson for snapping a picture for me!  (Picture is copyright 2014 Brice Anderson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Ooh, a nice update! The house is alive and well! Here's a picture of it, as seen on February 28, 2014. Thanks to Brice Anderson for snapping a picture for me! (Picture is copyright 2014 Brice Anderson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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House

What a pleasure to see that this old house still looks much like it did when photographed for the Richmond Times Dispatch in 1921. What a pure joy!

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And this is the same C. F. Sauer that, at the tender age of 21, founded his own spice and seasonings company.

And this is the same C. F. Sauer that, at the tender age of 21, founded his own spice and seasonings company, which is still in business today. (Picture is copyright 2014 Brice Anderson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To read about the Sears Homes I found in Richmond, click here.

And to see what I found in Sandston, click here!

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Those Riverview Bungalows and a Virginia Ghost Town

February 7th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

If you love history or if you just like looking at pictures of old houses, you won’t want to miss our talk at the next CPRV Civic League Meeting.

David Spriggs and I will give a talk Monday night, featuring more than 100 vintage photos (many of which were recently discovered) showcasing a chapter of Riverview’s history that has been all but forgotten.

The talk is at 7:00 pm at the Eggleston Garden Center at 110 Lavalette Avenue in Norfolk (February 10th, Monday).

Scroll on down for a quick preview of some of the images we’ll be featuring Monday night.

Enjoy the photos below - and hope to see you Monday night!

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The image on the left

The house on the left is on Ethel Avenue in Riverview (circa 1948). The house on the right shows the same bungalow in Penniman, Virginia (Spring 1918). The photograph on the right was taken shortly after the house was built. Penniman was located six miles east of Williamsburg, and it was a town "built by DuPont." After World War I, the houses in Penniman were placed on barges and moved to several cities, including Norfolk! Cheatham Annex is now located where Penniman once stood. Photo on right is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Penniman was located on the York River and covered more than 6,000 acres.

Penniman was located on the York River and covered more than 6,000 acres. At its peak, Penniman had about 15,000 residents, and had its own hospital, hotel, movie theater, bank and post office. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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If

If you look closely at the screened-in front porch of this Riverview house, you'll notice the original railings in place from its former life on the York River. This house is also on Ethel Avenue (1948).

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Penniman was

The houses that now sit on Ethel and Lavalette were the "permanent houses" built at Penniman, and they can be seen in the background (near the water's edge). Most of the houses seen in this photo were temporary structures with tarpaper siding and roofing. Pretty primitive. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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If you look

If you look closely at these 1948 photos, you'll see extra skirting around the bottom of the houses. This is probably from "the big move" and was an effort to cover up the new foundations built for the incoming houses.

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The houses were shipped from Penniman by barge.

The houses were shipped from Penniman by barge. The houses shown here ended up in the Riverfront neighborhood (Major and Glenroie Avenue). The photo is from the December 1921 Virginia Pilot. Many thanks to Robert Hitchings for finding this newspaper article!

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One of our big breaks came when fellow researcher Mark Hardin discovered that our Ethels had been built at Dupont, Washington (another DuPont plant) and Ramsay, Montana.

One of our big breaks came when fellow researcher Mark Hardin discovered that our "Ethels" had been built at Dupont, Washington (site of another DuPont plant) and Ramsay, Montana. (This photo is courtesy of Mark Mckillop and may not be reproduced without written permission.)

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This

This photo shows the original placement of the Ethel Bungalows at Penniman. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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And we discovered that this house (and a second one on Beach Street) also came from Penniman.

We discovered that this house on Ethel (and another one on Beach Street) came from Penniman.

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Hope you can join us Monday night, at 7:00 pm at the Eggleston Garden Center at 110 Lavalette Avenue in Norfolk.

To see images of several “Ethel Bungalows” from 1948, click here.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

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Moving Houses in 1916: Slow, But Doable!

December 17th, 2013 Sears Homes 7 comments

Whilst researching Penniman, I’ve had the occasion to talk with many historians and museum curators and too many to count have told me, “One hundred years ago, houses just weren’t moved. People didn’t have the means to move an entire house like they might today.”

Typically, I try really hard not to roll my eyes.

And sometimes, you can convince them that, yes, ours was a much more thrifty society in the early 20th Century and we were not likely to waste anything, certainly not anything as big (and labor intensive and expensive) as an entire house!

And then they’ll say, “Well, little tiny houses maybe, but not big houses.”

Alas!

Last week, I was reading through a book that Bill Inge found for me, “Manufacturer’s Record” (December 1916) when I discovered this small advertisement for a house-moving company. Check out the photos below, for it’s almost unbelievable.

Thanks again to Bill Inge from providing me with another cool vintage book on historic architecture!

To read another blog about house moving 100 years ago, click here.

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Word press

Before Bill Inge, I'd never heard of "Manufacturers Record." It's quite a large tome!

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barge Dec 1921

My interest in moving houses was piqued when I learned that more than 60 houses were moved from Penniman, Virginia to Norfolk. And better yet, these 60 houses were moved to Norfolk by barge! (Photo is from the Virginia Pilot, December 1921). Thanks to Robert Hitchings for finding this wonderful photo!

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house house house

While reading the Manufacturers Record, I found this advertisement at the bottom of a page. This fellow claims that he had been moving houses since 1875!

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house that is shown here

And see the description he has offered here? The house that was moved was an all brick house, and it measured 50' by 75 feet, and it was raised four feet, turned 90 degrees and moved 300 feet. I love this photo because it demonstrates that the house was moved on rails. YES, on rails. The rails (typically two) were laid in front of the house, and it was slid across those rails, which would then be moved from the rear, back to the front.

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househouse

Close-up of the house. Now that's a big house!

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hou house

And I love the description: "Largest movers of Buildings in the United States."

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Shiawassee

One of the finest examples of early 20th Century moving that I've ever come across is this picture from the Shiawassee History website. See link below. If you look at the image above, you'll see rails laid down in front of the house. At the website (below), there's a thorough explanation of how this move was accomplished, but in short, the horse walked in a circle around that capstan which was anchored to a tree or some solid object. The winding of the rope around the capstan acted like a winch, pulling the house forward on those rails, SLOWLY.

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Many thanks - again - to Bill Inge - for sharing his knowledge and his cool old books!

To visit the Shiawassee History website, click here.

To learn more about the mechanics of moving houses in the early 20th Century, click here.

To read more about Penniman, click here.

Looking for the story about Penniman soldiers? Click here.

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Bob Beckel’s Christmas Crescent

December 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Friday night, Milton and I turned on the television and saw “The Five” (talk show on Fox News, with five commentators, including Bob Beckel).  Within 30 seconds, the program showed a picture of Bob Beckel’s house, and I exclaimed to Milton, “Oh my goodness. It’s a Sears Crescent!”

Sure enough, after I got a close look, I saw it was a Christmas Crescent.

What is a Sears house? Sears homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days. The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

Or one television show at a time.  :)

At some point, the classic Crescent windows in Mr. Beckel’s house were discarded and replaced (and that’s a real pity) but the house does have its original cypress clapboards. The small shed dormer was probably added later, but it *might* have been original to the house. There was some usable space on the 2nd floor, and dormers are a frequent addition to the Sears Crescent.

Mr. Beckel, did you know you have a Sears house? If you’re like 90% of Americans, you did NOT know - until now!

To read more about the Sears Crescent, click here.

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Bob Beckels house, all decked out for the holidays.

Bob Beckel's house, all decked out for the holidays. Although it's barely visible in this photo, at the top of the porch's arch, you can see a faint triangle there. This is one of the classic signs of a Sears Crescent.

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Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Judging by the placement of the fireplace, Mr. Beckels house is a

This photo shows that triangle on the porch's peak more clearly. And notice the three large columns on the corners of the porch. All classic Crescent features. And it has its original siding!

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Flippped

The Crescent was offered from 1918-1928. Image above is from the 1928 catalog. Note the unusual windows, the triangle in the porch's peak, and the three columns. That massive porch is its most distinctive feature.

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RaleighThe dormers were original to this Crescent in Raleigh, NC.

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A darling

A darling little Crescent in Wheeling, WV, sitting like a jewel atop the hill.

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One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL.

One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL. It still has the original lattice work, as shown in the catalog images. And like Mr. Beckel's house, it has the optional fireplace.

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In 1928

In 1928, the "super-sized Crescent" (as Mr. Beckel has) was a mere $2,195. The larger floorplan is shown in the upper right. The 2nd floor layout is on the lower right.

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This testimonial

Jerome Kelly from an unnamed city really loves his little Crescent.

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To learn more about the Sears Crescent (with interior views), click here.

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

Are there more kit homes in Beckel’s neighborhood of Brookmont? Without a doubt. There was a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center nearby, and these were only placed in communities where sales were already strong. Plus, sales went way up after one of these retail stores was opened in the area.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Travel Back In Time With Me and Say Hello to The Ethels!

November 25th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

Thanks to a well-organized city assessor’s office in Norfolk, I was able to see and photograph several vintage photos of our “Ethels” (in Riverview - Norfolk) from the late 1940s and early 50s.

And I must say, it was very interesting!

These were the houses that were built at Penniman, VA (DuPont’s 37th munitions site) and moved - by barge - to Riverview. You can read more about that here.

The main reason for today’s blog is that I just *LOVE* looking at vintage pictures of houses, and the only thing better than looking at them myself is sharing the images with others. These early 20th Century bungalows looked so pure and simple and sweet back in the day. Best of all, when most of these photos were taken, the siding salesman hadn’t been invented yet.

And because of the Penniman connection, I have a special fondness for our Ethels.

So stroll down Ethel Avenue with me through the 1940s, and take a peek at our Ethels!

(Photos are courtesy Norfolk City Assessor’s Office.)

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Ethel

To begin, here's an Ethel in its native habitat: Penniman, VA. These homes were built in Spring 1918 by DuPont to house the munitions workers at the plant. While built based on DuPont plans, the construction of these homes was actually funded by the U. S. Government. After The Great War ended, the government sold them off as salvage in an effort to recoup some of their investment. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Lava

Here's an "Ethel" in 1948. In the back yard, you can see the rear of another Ethel. And check out the sweet ride in the driveway. When photographed, this Ethel was a mere 30 years old, and had lived in Riverview for 25 years.

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Lava Eth

Some of the photos were crisper than others, and some photos were newer than others. Wish I knew what kind of car that was (right corner). That might help "date" the photo.

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238

This Ethel is looking so pretty and pure, but then again, it's still so young.

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more

And this Ethel has a flower box. How sweet is that? Pretty house!

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house hosue house

The Ethels looked a lot better without substitute siding.

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hello

Fine-looking house, and check out the curious housewife.

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oeek a boo

I recognize that look. It's a "what-the-heck-are-they-doing-photographing-my-house" look.

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house house

You can see the original railings on the other side of the screened porch.

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houseie

People loved their porches in the days before air conditioning.

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house hosue

And there's a curious feature I've noticed in these vintage pictures: There's additional wooden siding below the home's skirt board. I suspect that this has something to do with the house being built elsewhere and moved to this site, but exactly what it means is a mystery.

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house house

Here's another close-up on the extra clapboards *below* the skirt board. I don't recall ever seeing anything like that before, and I've seen a lot of pre-1920s housing.

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Amptjer

Another close up, and this one has cedar or cypress shakes to fill in the gaps. On most frame houses (such as our Ethels), the skirt board is the bottom-most vertical trim piece. Why did they add the extra trim?

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notice

In these Penniman photos (from 1918), there is some skirting but it's vertical planking and is used to keep the rodents and wind out of the crawl space. That extra siding below the skirt board was done at the Riverview site for reasons that elude me. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Mr. Hubby has mixed feelings about spending his lunch hour at City Hall, helping the crazy wife organize files and study old pictures, and yet, he remains a good sport about it all.

Mr. Hubby has mixed feelings about spending his lunch hour at City Hall, helping the crazy wife organize files and study old pictures, and yet, he remains a good sport about it all.

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To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Want to see how many houses you can fit on a barge? Click here.

If you have a theory as to why that extra material was added below the skirt board, please leave a comment below!

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William & Mary and Penniman, Virginia

November 16th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

After the War to End All Wars ended (November 1918), the whole world changed.

The bloom of Virginia’s youth had gone to Europe to fight in The Great War. Between mustard gas and powerful munitions, many suffered crippling injuries and many never made it back home at all. Most of the young men who saw battle were never the same again.

Returning vets got hit with two obstacles to home ownership: During the war, resources had been diverted to the front, and housing analysts estimated that 1-2 million housing units were needed immediately for the returning soldiers. Secondly, after the war, the cost of building materials soared, with prices doubling and tripling in the months following.

These were challenging times for many colleges, and William and Mary was no exception.

Due to a growing enrollment, the college needed more space for dorms, classrooms and dining areas. Perhaps someone at the college pointed out that with the closing of Penniman, there would be many buildings available for sale - cheap.

According to the Board of Visitors’ minutes from June 8, 1920, William and Mary’s Committee on Student Accommodations paid $985 for their first two “temporary” Penniman buildings, with $3,000 set aside for their re-building.

In reading the minutes I was interested to learn that the college did not merely “move” these structures. They disassembled them, and then hauled the building materials to the campus and re-assembled them, board by board. Kind of like building a pre-cut Sears kit home, but without a 75-page instruction book or numbered lumber.

On October 4, 1920, the BOV minutes stated that the, “President of the College was authorized to dismantle and bring the buildings recently purchased from the government at Penniman to the College and rebuild them here at an approximate cost of $5,000.”

I hope President Chandler was handy with his hands.

On January 8, 1921, The Flat Hat (student newspaper) reported that the “Hotel at Penniman has been bought and will be moved on the campus in the near future,” with construction beginning in mid-January.

Judging by the description, this was a large building.

One “wing” of the new building was for the Biology Department (five large laboratories and a lecture room). Another wing would be used as a dining hall (with seating capacity of 150 students) and another wing would serve as a dorm, with space for 50 students.

In June 1923, the BOV minutes reported that there was a great need for additional class room space. Mr. Bridges and Colonel Lane were instructed to run out to Penniman and “make some purchases at Penniman on the 13th of June, so that the temporary buildings may be constructed cheaply.”

Reading these minutes, you get the impression that they were running out to Penniman like we run up to the Home Depot.

It was recommended that the new building be placed behind the existing Citizenship Building “even though it may look bad to connect cheaply with the steam pipes” (that’s my favorite part).

William and Mary thought much more highly of these “temporary buildings” after they were erected on the hallowed grounds of the campus. In a document titled, “Valuation of College Land and Building,” they estimated that the value of two of their Penniman buildings (presumably the two with an estimated $5,000 outlay), to be $45,000 (June 1923).

Wow! At that kind of appreciation, they should have bought everything Penniman had to offer!

In June 1925, a fire destroyed the “Penniman Building”  (the one used as a dining hall/biology building). In 1926, the college was given a $60,000 grant (by the Virginia General Assembly) to put up some prettier buildings that did not look bad or connect cheaply with the steam pipes.

To learn more about Penniman, click  here.

To read about another interesting facet of Penniman’s history, click here.

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house with iron

According to the caption that appeared with this photo in "The Romance and Renaissance of the College of William and Mary in Virginia" (1924), the original tar-paper siding on this lovely building was replaced with "galvanized iron." Frankly, I think that's got to be a misstatement. Perhaps they intended to say galvanized metal. You have to wonder if the W&M folks went to Penniman and said, "Could you please sell us the ugliest structure you have on this 6,000 acre site?" Now *that* would be a believable story. And who decided to ramp up The Ugly by covering this building with metal? Did W&M have an abundance of students that liked to practice archery with flaming arrows? (Photo is from "The Romance and Renaissance of the College of William and Mary in Virginia," William & Mary Endowment Association, 1924, with special thanks to Terry Meyers and Kris Preacher for providing a digital version of this wonderful old photo.)

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house longer

Here are the Twin Uglies in their native habitat at Penniman, Virginia (1918). The vertical line is from the stitching of the two photographic images into one glorious whole. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Longer view

Longer view showing The Twin Uglies at Penniman, with the York River in the background. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house

Also shown in "The Romance and Renaissance of the College of William and Mary in Virginia," is this building. The book states that it was moved to the college campus about 1924, which isn't right, unless you put a lot of weight on that word "about." "The College of William and Mary, A History, Volume II" states that these buildings were built at Penniman in 1914. That's also a little boo boo. (Photo is from "The Romance and Renaissance of the College of William and Mary in Virginia," William & Mary Endowment Association, 1924, with special thanks to Terry Meyers and Kris Preacher for providing a digital version of this wonderful old photo.)

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house house house

Construction on Penniman began in April 1916. Within Penniman, this was known as a "boarding house," (admittedly, a much gentler term than "barracks," the word that was used to describe these buildings in W&M literature). As built, the structure might have had as many bedrooms as there are windows (40+), with 4-8 bathrooms and a long central hallway. No need for a kitchen because there was a mess hall in another part of the village. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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house house house

As you can see from this 1918 photo, W&M had many buildings from which to choose. At its peak, Penniman had 15,000 people within its borders. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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Penniman Hotel

As to the 1921 acquisition, there's only one building at Penniman that resembles a hotel, and that's this long structure shown above. When "The Flat Hat" stated that W&M had purchased the "hotel at Penniman," surely they didn't mean those crummy boarding houses or one of the Twin Uglies. If so, I hope that the student that wrote that piece had a chance to travel around a bit after he graduated. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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hotel hotel hotel

A more expansive view of The Penniman Hotel. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)

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barge Dec 1921

Here in Norfolk, our 50+ Penniman houses arrived whole and intact (and by barge!). Thanks to Robert Hitchings for finding this wonderful photo in the December 1921 Virginia Pilot.

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house house

By May of 1921, The Garden City Wrecking Company (a 1920s term for architectural salvage) was inviting the general public to come pick at the bones of Penniman. Pretty depressing, really, and yet also shows how prior generations took recycling very seriously. The same colleges that rant and rave about saving every scrap of paper don't hesitate to tear down old houses, thus sending 300,000 pounds of irreplaceable building materials to the landfill. I now have first-hand evidence of three colleges tearing down three rare kit homes in the last 10 years. This advertisement appeared in the May 1921 Virginia Gazette.

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After the war, building material costs soared.

After the war, returning vets wanted homes of their own, but the cost of building materials had soared. Plus, housing analysts estimated that 1-2 million housing units were needed immediately. It was the high cost of lumber that probably inspired W&M to turn to Penniman for their building needs. (This photo came from Stereoscope cards that I found at a friend's house. The images are quite clear, given their age and original purpose.)

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To read more about Penniman, click here.

To read about Penniman’s forgotten flu victims, click here.

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