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Sears Modern Home, “The Winston”

January 31st, 2016 Sears Homes 4 comments

It’s been 17 years since I wrote my first article on Sears kit homes, and I’ve learned a lot in those years. Yet even now, there are still lots of surprises. That’s the nature of history, and probably the #1 reason I love history so much - it’s always shifting and changing - and there’s always something new to learn.

When Bob Gentzel posted pictures of his “Sears Winston” in our Facebook group, I was skeptical. I took a moment to study the house, but then I scrolled on to the next shiny bauble on Facebook, hoping that someone else might gently explain to him that it wasn’t really a Sears House. I was running out of nice things to say to people who were similarly confused.

A couple days after he posted his photos, I was looking up something in a plan book house and I stumbled across a Standard Homes Plan called, “The Winston.” Better yet, it was a spot-on match to Bob’s house in Pennsylvania. I went back to Bob’s photos on Facebook and posted the images I’d found from Standard Homes and explained to him that it was a plan-book house and people often confused plan-book houses with kit homes.

Bob was grateful to see his house in a plan-book catalog, but he remained insistent that it was a Sears House.

I asked how he knew it was a Sears House. His reply piqued my interest: “The name ‘Sears & Roebuck’ appears on the home’s original blueprints.” Frankly, I was still a little doubtful. I asked for photos, and Bob supplied them.

That’s when I became a believer. Bob Gentzel’s custom Sears House in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a real doozy. And it’s a real Sears House!

Thanks so much to Bob Gentzel for sharing this fascinating story and providing me with the photos below.

To read about another custom Sears House, click here.

Learn more about plan-book houses here.

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Its a Sears House, they always tell me, and I have to be the one to tell them, Sorry, Charlie. Its not even close. But in this case, I was wrong - this really IS a Sears House, built with plans from Standard Home Plans.

"It's a Sears House," is a refrain that's quite popular, but sometimes wrong, and often I have to be the one to tell them, "Sorry, Charlie. It's not even close." But in this case, I was wrong - this really IS a Sears House, built with plans from Standard Home Plans. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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When I found this image in the Standard Homes Planbook (1920s), I thought, Poor guy. Hes got a plan book house and he thinks its a kit home.

When I found this image in the Standard Homes Planbook (1920s), my first thought was, "Poor guy. He's got a plan-book house from Standard Homes and someone told him it's a kit home." Well, Bob's house is two amazing homes in one! It's a plan-book house - with blueprints and building materials from Sears & Roebuck, Chicago, Illinois.

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There's no arguing with this little tidbit, on the corner of the blueprints for Bob's house. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The describe the house as "Special Winston." Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

And its special in other ways, too. The Winston (as shown in the SHP floor plan) is 26 feet wide. Bobs Special Winston is 34 feet wide, adding a lot of extra square footage to the house.

And it's special in other ways, too. The Winston (as shown in the SHP floor plan) is 26 feet wide. Bob's "Special Winston" is 34 feet wide, adding a lot of extra square footage to the house.

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Upstairs, there's a darling little alcove in that front gable.

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Bobs Special Winston has Sears La Tosca hardware.

Bob's "Special Winston" has Sears "La Tosca" hardware (1930 catalog image).

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Which

"La Tosca" was very popular in Sears Homes (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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Bob found this

Glued to the back side of the blue prints, Bob found this unique tape. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And Bob has the o

And Bob has all manner of original documentation for the house, such as this wonderful letter. My favorite line is, "If you have any irregularity of any kind, write to us and we shall take prompt action." In other words, if you find anything missing or in error, we'll make it right. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And

This list delineates the special changes made to the Special Winston. And there were quite a few. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And its even signed!

And it's even signed! Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And theres this...

And there's this. All these documents were passed along to Mr. and Mrs. Gentzel when they purchased the house in 1985. The Gentzels purchased the house from the daughter and son-in-law of the original owners. God bless the home's prior owners for hanging on to all this documentation and ephemera! Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Its a mighty fancy kit house!

It's a mighty fancy "kit house"! You don't often find exposed beams in a 1930 house. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The fireplace mantel is fairly unusual, too.

The fireplace mantel is fairly unusual, too. I wonder if that's rock that's been locally quarried. I'm in awe that the house retains its original varnished woodwork. It's stunning. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The entry foyer made me swoon.

The entry foyer made me swoon. Every piece and part of that staircase is breathtakingly beautiful unpainted wood. I'd be interested to know what that little door is for. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And who doesnt love a breakfast nook?

And who doesn't love a breakfast nook? Unfortunately, these darling little nooks are often removed by an aggressive remodeler. Nice to see the original nook in this old house! Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Upstairs

Here's a view of the nook upstairs, in that front gable. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The house is a spacious beauty from top to bottom. Heres a view of the master bedroom, looking in to what is now a master bathroom.

The house is a spacious beauty from top to bottom. Here's a view of the master bedroom, looking in to what is now a master bathroom. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the master bedroom, looking toward the hallway.

Another view of the master bedroom, looking toward the hallway. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Returning to the first floor, theres this little mystery.

Returning to the first floor, there's this little mystery. That's a door leading into the closet, and that's a small inward-swinging casement window inside the closet, but is that a SINK in the corner of the closet? Sure looks like it to me. But why a sink in the corner of a coat closet? Is it a graphic for a hat shelf? If so, it's a mighty odd one.

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Bob very graciously supplied a picture of the house from that angle, just to assuage my curiousity.

Bob very graciously supplied a picture of the house from that angle, just to assuage my curiosity. He also explained that his house had been modified, so that little closet wasn't present in his Special Winston. Photo is copyright 2015 Bob Gentzel and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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I found Bobs house in this reproduction of a 1920s Standard Home Plans catalog. I bought it a few years ago on Amazon. And I love that design on the front cover.

I found Bob's house in this reproduction of a 1920s Standard Home Plans catalog. I bought it a few years ago on Amazon. And I love that design on the front cover.

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And look whats next door to Bobs Special Winston.

Ruh Roe. Just look what's next door to Bob's "Special Winston."

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To read about another custom Sears House, click here.

Learn more about plan-book houses here.

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Levittown, Norfolk Virginia

March 29th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

“Rose, do you know what this thing is?”

That’s what my neighbor asked me Friday night, as we were standing in the front yard, enjoying the pleasant evening.

In the back of his truck, he showed me a 2×6 with a metal ring recessed into a matching groove. I closely examined the board and the ring and the groove. Then I had to admit, I didn’t have a clue.

“It came out of that house that they’re remodeling down the street,” he said. “It’s a roofing joist. I didn’t know what it was either, and I asked my nephew and he said it was a fastener. It had a square bolt that went through it, and that’s what held two pieces of wood together.”

“Like a nailing plate,” I said.

“Yeah, like a nailing plate.”

Back at home, we looked it up on the computer (using the patent number) and found it was a Teco Timber Ring.

Looking at this curiosity, I got to thinking it might help me solve another riddle. This Teco Ring came from “Bromley” (an adjacent neighborhood).

I’ve always wondered, why does Bromely have so many “Levittown houses”? We’ve got more than 75 “Jubilee” models, and they are identical to the houses built in Levittown (NY and PA).

Was there a connection between Bromley and Levitt’s assembly-line-method-of-house-building? Or did someone in Norfolk just “borrow” the Jubilee floorplan and build it en masse?

We know that William Levitt (creator and builder of Levittown) had a presence in Norfolk. In the early 1940s, he developed a tract of 750 homes in Norfolk known as “Oakdale Farms” (just off Little Creek Road).

According to Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010), “Before Oakdale Farms, [the Levitts] undertook a detailed study of prefabrication techniques and erected several test houses. They saw the exigencies of war as ideal circumstances for adopting the practice for the construction mainstream” (p. 136).

On the following page, the Levitts pointed at Oakdale Farms as their “watershed that was crucial to their large-scale projects of the post-war years.”

William Levitt is quoted as saying that Norfolk “infected us with the fever of mass building…We saw house-building…with a tract of land as a factory, turning out low-cost houses as its product.”

Are our Norfolk “Jubilees” in Bromley a Levittown product?

The discovery of this Teco Timber Coupler adds some intrigue. The house where it came from is not the “Jubilee,” but it’s smack-dab in a neighborhood full of these Levittown-lookalikes.

Take a look and the pictures, and if anyone can shed any light on this new mystery, let me know!

Read more about the Teco Timber Ring here.

To read an excellent article on Levittown, click here.

A final thought: One of the sweetest parts about being the local “expert” is having friends who pull cool stuff out of trash piles and haul it home and show it to you.  ;)

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This Teco Timber Ring was found in a house in Bromley (section of Norfolk).

This Teco Timber Ring was found in a house in Bromley (section of Norfolk).

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It came out of a 1950s house thats been torn down to the studs and is being rebuilt. Curious thing is, its in a neighborhood full of Jubilee Levittown houses. Is there a connection?

It came out of a 1950s house that's been torn down to the studs and is being rebuilt. Curious thing is, it's in a neighborhood full of "Jubilee" Levittown houses. Is there a connection?

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This iconic image from Life Magazine shows the Levittown NY neighborhood in the late 1950s.

This iconic image from Life Magazine shows the Levittown NY neighborhood in the late 1950s. Now take a good look at the houses in the background. Notice the long thin windows on the 2nd floor? This was the "Jubilee" model found in Levittown NY and PA.

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Heres a picture of a Levittown Jubilee in New York.

Here's a picture of a Levittown Jubilee in New York. See photo credit directly below.

The photo above came from a blogger who wrote a terrific piece on Levittown. You can enjoy more of his wonderful images and photos by clicking here.

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And heres one of our Jubilees in Norfolks Bromely neighborhood.

And here's one of our "Jubilees" in Norfolk's Bromley neighborhood. Notice, it even has the same attic vents (in the peak of the gable) as the NY Jubilee.

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Ive not counted yet, but Id guess we have more than 75 of these models.

I've not counted yet, but I'd guess we have more than 75 of these models.

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This Jubilee in Levittown, NY is for sale. Its on Vermillion Way.

This Jubilee in Levittown, NY (Vermillion Way) is for sale. I'm posting it here because it shows the back side of these houses. The house in the foreground has had some modifications. The white house next door is more original.

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Just like its Levittown twin, the house in Norfolk has a bathroom dormer (on the rear) with an off-center window.

Just like its Levittown twin, the house in Norfolk has a bathroom dormer (on the rear) that comes off the peak with an off-center window.

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werid angle

Another curious feature is the different angle on that garage roof. It's a different pitch than the primary roof. This house is in Levittown, Pennsylvania.

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The mismatched roof pitch on the garage/carport is also a match.

Our Jubilees in Norfolk also have this feature (unusually pitched garage roof).

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This Norfolk Jubilee has its original windows.

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As does this one in Levittown, PA.

As does this one in Levittown, PA. And they're the same style of window that's present in the Norfolk homes.

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Was Bill Levitt involved in creating our own mini-Levittown here in Norfolk?

I’d sure love to know.

One things for sure - the houses are a perfect match - down to the windows, vents, and other details.

You can read a fun little article about The Jubilee here.

More information on Levittown can be found here.

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Our New Home, Part II

August 21st, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Today, we celebrate 10 days at our new house, a 1962-built brick ranch in Norfolk’s Bromley neighborhood.

Every day, I find something new about this house that affirms it is indeed, The Perfect House for us. And it also has The Perfect Backyard.

Yesterday, I saw an Snowy White Egret perched atop a branch in the canal, just waiting for his breakfast to swim by. And yesterday, our new fence went in, so that Teddy the Dog could have her freedom restored. Heretofore, she’s been crying like a baby, due to being tethered on a tie-out in the back yard. It was a pitiable sight, and now we have a fenced yard again.

Despite our ten days here at the new house, it still makes my heart leap when I look out the back windows and see that beautiful canal out there. I’ve spent 52 years dreaming of life on a lake, and here I am, living the dream. It sure is lovely.

Here are some photos of our perfect backyard at The Ringer Ranch.

house

We spend a lot of time sitting in that bench!

Today, our new fence was installed, enabling Teddy the Dog to be free again.

Today, our new fence was installed, enabling Teddy the Dog to be free again.

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And it's a beautiful house, too!

Back

Better view of our canal.

view

The other photos (above) show the canal leading up to Lake Whitehurst. This is a view of the canal leading down stream.

Another view of our beautiful lake-front property!  :)

Another view of our beautiful lake-front property! :)

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It really does feel like a little bit of heaven. :)

The

The view from the master bedroom.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s books, click here.

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Customized Kit Homes: A Puzzle!

March 29th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

About 30% of kit homes were customized when built. That’s almost one out of three, and that’s one of the things that makes identification of these homes so difficult. And that doesn’t count modifications and remodeling!  Today, some of these kit homes - first built in the early years of the 20th Century - are almost 100 years old. Lots of things can change in 100 years, especially when it comes to old houses.

Below is a picture of a house in Dublin, Virginia (Pulaski County) taken by Mike and Bev Pinkerman. As a kindness to me, he went through town snapping photos of several old bungalows, and this is one of the photos that he took. And Bev has been faithfully sending the photos to me via email!

At first glance, I thought, “Well, it kinda looks like an Aladdin Detroit.”

Like Sears, Aladdin was another kit home company that sold entire kit homes from their mail-order catalog. The 12,000-piece kits were then shipped by boxcar. The homes came with a 75-page instruction book, detailed blueprints and a promise that a “man of average abilities” could have the house ready for the wife and kids in 90 days.

Looking at the Pinkerman’s photo, I started thinking, “This is a Detroit, but one that’s been modified.”

If you look at the catalog image, you’ll see a small shed dormer. If you look at the Dublin house, you’ll see it has an enlarged shed dormer, but what’s really interesting is that those unusually shaped windows - in the center - are a spot-on match to the Detroit’s dormer windows. And while the center window is a perfect match, the extra windows (on either side) are more traditional double-hung windows!

An interesting find, to say the least! And yes, I think it is an Aladdin Detroit, with extra space on the second floor!

Click here to learn more about identifying kit homes!

Click here to buy Rose’s book!

Aladdin Detroit from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Detroit from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Detroit in Dublin

Aladdin Detroit in Dublin, Virginia. Photo is courtesy of Mike and Bev Pinkerman.

Floorplan

Adding width to that shed dormer on the second floor would have the effect of giving more square footage to the second floor bedrooms and also adding one window to each of those bedrooms.

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Close-up on the windows

Close-up on the windows shows that it is the same casement windows as used in the Aladdin Detroit.

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Close-up

Close-up of the catalog image of the Aladdin Detroit.

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Comparison the two houses

Comparison of the two houses

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House

The Aladdin Detroit

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A perfect Aladdin Detroit in Chesapeake

A perfect Aladdin Detroit in Chesapeake, Virginia. This one has an addition on the rear of the house. Notice how the foundation changes at the same point where the roofline changes.

To read the next article, click here:

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Charleston, West Virginia: A Plethora of Sears Homes

August 23rd, 2010 Sears Homes 1 comment

How did Charleston, West Virginia end up with a large collection of kit homes from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward and Aladdin Homes?  Were these homes purchased for industry workers? Were they built by a local  builder or developer? Or did word about these well-built kit homes just spread by word of mouth? I’d love to know.

In 2008, Ersela Jordan, Billy Joe Peyton and Henry from the Historical Society and I toured Charleston and found many kit homes, from several companies.

These early 20th Century kit homes were true kits, and were shipped via rail, arriving at the local train depot in 12,000 pieces.

Each kit came with a 75-page instruction book that told the hopeful homeowner how all those pieces and parts went together. Today, finding these homes is especially challenging. Unfortunately, when Sears closed their Modern Homes department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed.

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

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

The Sears Dover as shown in the 1936 catalog

The Sears Dover as shown in the 1936 catalog

The Sears Dover - with a slate roof - in Charleston, West Virginia. This is one of the prettiest Sears Homes Ive ever seen!

The Sears Dover - with a slate roof - in Charleston, West Virginia. This is one of the prettiest Sears Homes I've ever seen!

Sears Chateau - from the 1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Chateau - from the 1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Very unusual house and unlike the more "traditional" Sears catalog homes.

Sears Chateau:  In my many travels, this is the only Sears Chateau that Ive seen. Note that the front door was moved from the left side (catalog image) to the middle. The homes living room spanned the full width of the house, so this was a simple change to make. Note the detail on the brick work above the windows.

Sears Chateau: In my many travels, this is the only Sears Chateau that I've seen. Note that the front door was moved from the left side (catalog image) to the middle. The home's living room spanned the full width of the house, so this was a simple change to make. Note the detail on the brick work below the windows. This Chateau is next door to the Sears Dover (pic above).

Sears Lexington, from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Lexington, from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Lexington in Charleston, WV. A real beauty!

Sears Lexington in Charleston, WV. A real beauty!

Sears Alhambra - one of their most popular designs.

Sears Alhambra - one of their most popular designs.

Sears Alhambra dressed in brick, in downtown Charleston

Sears Alhambra dressed in brick, in downtown Charleston

Sears Vallonia, another one of Sears most popular designs

Sears Vallonia, another one of Sears most popular designs

Sears Vallonia in Charleston.

Sears Vallonia in Charleston. Dormer windows have been replaced, but note original porch railings and columns. One of the unusual features on the Sears Vallonia is the small space between the two windows on the dining room bay.

Aladdin kit home: The Maplewood

Aladdin kit home: The Maplewood

A perfect Aladdin Maplewood in Charleston. We found several of these kit homes in one section of town.

A perfect Aladdin Maplewood in Charleston. We found several of these kit homes in one section of town. this Maplewood is in remarkably original condition, and even retains its original batten shutters. Note the detail around the front porch roof.

Gordon Van Tine catalog page.

Gordon Van Tine catalog page. GVT was a large kit home company based in Davenport, Iowa.

Gordon Van Tine Roberts in Charleston

Gordon Van Tine "Roberts" in Charleston

To read more about Sears kit homes in West Virginia, click here.