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Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business,” I tell folks at my lectures, “but judging from my emails, you’d think that number was 70 million kit homes.”

Some people really, really, really want their house to be a kit house, but not every 1920s house is a kit house.

And if I were queen of the world (a title I aspire to), I’d make that Hopewell’s town motto.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003, I caused a stir when I proclaimed that 36 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills weren’t really Sears Homes. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well.

And the fact is, I might have made a mistake.

Rachel Shoemaker and I have reviewed some of the photos, and we now believe that 38 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes may not be Sears Homes.

Still, that leaves six Sears Homes in Crescent Hills (Hopewell).

After the “stir” in 2003, I didn’t hear back from Hopewell. But then, several years ago, I offered to help Hopewell do a proper survey of their kit homes - for FREE!

The town never responded to my emails or letters.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011 (wearing a wig and a fake nose), I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only a few Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing a few of the fake Sears Homes.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Let’s make this simple.

It’s not.

It has a gambrel roof and a chimney and some windows, but that’s about it.

The photos below make that pretty clear.

Learn about the Aladdin homes in Hopewell here.

Read my favorite blog on Hopewell here.

Hopewell, if you’re listening, you can contact me by leaving a comment below!

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The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Note

Notice the double windows centered on the 2nd floor, and the double windows on the first floor. Notice also the placement of the home's chimneys. These things do matter.

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Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

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This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but its not a Van Jean.

This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but it's not a Van Jean. The 2nd floor windows are wrong, and the front porch is also not a match - for many reasons. The Van Jean has those oversized cornice returns. This house has none. I'd expect that the footprint for this house is also wrong. In short, it's *not* a Sears kit house.

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Close-up, comparing the porch.

The edges of Van Jean's porch roof are aligned with the primary roof. The Hopewell porch roof extends well beyond the roofline. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell porch roof terminates at the cross member.

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Hopewells brochure explains the differences (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean.

Hopewell's brochure explains the "differences" (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean. Oopsie. They neglected a few details. And a few facts. And one big reality: This ain't no Van Jean.

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Will there ever be a day when someone in Hopewell exclaims, “Enough of this! Let’s call that gal in Norfolk and get this right - once and for all!!”?

I wonder.

In the meantime, Hopewell certainly does offer a lovely opportunity of how not to promote historic architecture.

To learn more about the real kit homes in Hopewell (and they’re not from Sears), click here.

To read about Sandston, click here.

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Is That Really a Sears Kit Home? Nine Easy Ways to Tell.

May 21st, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

The number one question I’m asked again and again - How do you identify a Sears Kit Home?

First, begin by eliminating the obvious. Sears sold these homes between 1908-1940. If your home was built outside of that time frame, it can not be a Sears catalog home. Period. Exclamation mark!

The nine easy signs follow:

1) Look for stamped lumber in the basement or attic.  Sears Modern Homes were kit homes and the framing members were stamped with a letter and a number to help facilitate construction. Today, those marks can help prove that you have a kit home.

2) Look for shipping labels. These are often found on the back of millwork (baseboard molding, door and window trim, etc).

3) Check house design using a book with good quality photos and original catalog images. For Sears, I recommend, “The Sears Homes of Illinois” (all color photos). For Wardway, there’s “The Mail-Order Homes of Montgomery Ward.”

4) Look in the attic and basement for any paperwork (original blueprints, letters, etc). that might reveal that you have a Sears home.

5) Courthouse records. From 1911 to 1933, Sears offered home mortgages. Using grantor records, you may find a few Sears mortgages and thus, a few Sears homes.

6) Hardware fixtures. Sears homes built during the 1930s often have a small circled “SR” cast into the bathtub in the lower corner (furthest from the tub spout and near the floor) and on the underside of the kitchen or bathroom sink.

7) Goodwall sheet plaster. This was an early quasi-sheetrock product offered by Sears, and can be a clue that you have a kit home.

8 ) Unique column arrangement on front porch and five-piece eave brackets (see pictures below).

9) Original building permits. In cities that have retained original building permits, you’ll often find “Sears” listed as the home’s original architect.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read another article, click here.

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Numbers

The numbers are usually less than an inch tall and will be found near the edge of the board.

The Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089

See the faint markings on this lumber? This mark was made in blue grease pencil and reads, "2089" and was scribbled on the board when the lumber left Cairo, Illinois. This was a photo taken in a Sears Magnolia in North Carolina. The Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089

Sears Magnolia was also known as #2089

Sears Magnolia was also known as Model #2089.

Shipping labels can also be a clue that you have a Sears Homes

Shipping labels can also be a clue that you have a Sears Home.

"The Sears Homes of Illinois" has more than 200 color photos of the most popular designs that Sears offered and can be very helpful in identifying Sears Homes.

Ephemera can help identify a house as a Sears Home

Ephemera can help identify a house as a Sears Home. This picture came from an original set of Sears "Honor Bilt" blueprints.

Ephemera

Ephemera and paperwork can provide proof that you do indeed have a Sears Home.

Haa

Plumbing fixtures - such as this bathtub - can provide clues, as well. I've found this "SR" (Sears Roebuck) stamp on bathtubs, sinks and toilets. On the sink, it's found on the underside, and on toilets, it's found in the tank, near the casting date.

Goodwall Sheet Plaster

Goodwall Sheet Plaster was sold in the pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalogs. This was a "fireproof" product that was much like modern sheetrock.

About two dozen of Sears most popular designs had a unique column arrangement that makes identification easier. The Vallonia was one of those 24 Sears Homes with that unique column arrangement.

About two dozen of Sears most popular designs had a unique column arrangement that makes identification easier. The Vallonia was one of those 24 Sears Homes with that unique column arrangement.

Close-up of the columns.

Close-up of the columns.

And in the flesh...

And in the flesh...

Houses should be a perfect match to original drawings found in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Houses should be a perfect match to original drawings found in the Sears Modern Homes catalog. This is where people get into trouble. They ignore the details.

Sears Mitchell in Elgin, Illinois.

Sears "Mitchell" in Elgin, Illinois.

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The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

The Sears Winona, as featured in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. The house in Raleigh (see below) is just a spot-on match, a rarity in a house of this age!

Sears Winona in Raleigh, looking PERFECT!

Sears Winona in Raleigh, looking PERFECT!

Sears Auburn in Halifax, NC

Sears Auburn

And a dazzling Auburn in Halifax, NC.

And a dazzling Auburn in Halifax, NC.

Sears Pheonix from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Pheonix from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog.

And a lovely Sears Pheonix in Newman, IL. Photo is courtesy Rebecca Hunter.

And a lovely Sears Pheonix in Newman, IL. Photo is courtesy Rebecca Hunter.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Send Rose an email at thorntonrose@hotmail.com

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort. (Part 6)

April 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

When I last visited Hopewell in 2003, many good things happened, and I was treated kindly.  Sadly, I discovered that many of Hopewell’s “Sears Homes” were not really Sears Homes at all. There were some folks in Hopewell that were pretty unhappy about that.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011, I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only EIGHT Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here, here, and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing these almost-kinda-but-not-really Sears Homes. For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Hmmm.  Let’s compare the house on Prince George with a catalog picture of the Sears Van Jean.

The alleged Van Jean in Hopewell

The alleged Van Jean in Hopewell, Virginia

The Sears Van Jean

The Sears Van Jean

It’s true that these are both Dutch Colonial homes, but that’s not enough. Sears patterned their houses after the popular housing styles of the day.  In fact, Sears offered several Dutch Colonial kit homes. So you can not say: “I see a Dutch Colonial. Sears offered a Dutch Colonial; ergo this Dutch Colonial must have come from Sears.”

And that’s apparently what’s happened with this pretty Dutch Colonial in Hopewell. Someone made a boo boo.

When you look a little closer at the details between these two homes, you see several differences in these two details. And it’s the details that make or break comparisons such as this.

First, look at the front porches.

Porch

Hopewell house.

porch also

The Van Jean

comparison

This detail may seem insignificant, but in fact, it's the very kind of detail that is so very important. The peak of the porch roof on the Van Jean goes up to the top of that first-floor roofline. The Hopewell house does not. Accordingly, the bottom of the porch roofline on the Van Jean is aligned with the bottom of the first-floor roofline, where the Hopewell house drops down several inches *below* that roofline. Also, the gabled porch on the Hopewell house is configured differently from the Sears House. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell house terminates at the cross member. That detail carries around the side.

Another important detail are the cornice returns. Again - in my book (and I’ve written lots of ‘em), cornice returns are very important details that can not be overlooked or discounted, because details are the very thing that’ll distinguish a Sears Van Jean from your average (but lovely) Dutch Colonial.

Cornice

Notice the serious cornice returns on this Van Jean. They're an important detail!

Cornice

Strike TWO! The Hopewell house has no cornice returns!

The third big hard strike against this being a Sears Van Jean is the placement of the furnace chimney. Houses may undergo significant remodeling, but chimneys don’t get moved around! The only exception might be a missing chimney. Today, modern, high-efficiency boilers and furnaces use pvc “snorkels” for exhausting combustion gases, and that paves the way to discard and remove old crumbling chimneys. But a chimney in the wrong place - well that in and of itself can be a deal killer.  (The Van Jean shows the furnace chimney on the end of the house. The Hopewell house has its furnace chimney more toward the center.)

The fourth and final strike for the Hopeful Hopewell House is the fenestration. Gosh I love that word. Unless the Hopeful Hopewell House underwent some transmogrification (I love that word too), the fenestration (window arrangement) is wrong.

windows

The front door has no sidelights. And judging by the width of the porch roof, it never did have sidelights. That's not good! On the second floor, we have two windows (bedroom), one window (bath) and two windows (bedroom).

housie

On the Van Jean we have sidelights, and a porch that spans the width of the door plus sidelights. Plus, we have one bedroom window, paired bathroom windows and another single window. ****BUZZ***** Doesn't match the house above!

In conclusion, the Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a real beauty, and fine-looking home but it is not the Sears Van Jean.

To read more about Hopewell’s Aladdin homes, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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