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Posts Tagged ‘bill inge’

A Penniman Bungalow - in Larchmont!

March 13th, 2016 Sears Homes 1 comment

Larchmont is a prestigious neighborhood in Norfolk, filled with stately Colonial Revivals, Cape Cods, Dutch Colonials and Neo-Tudors from the 1920s and 30s. As far as older neighborhoods go, Larchmont is one of Hampton Roads’ most expensive communities, and prices range from $350,000 to $1.2 million.

If you had asked me last month, which early 20th Century neighborhood in all of southeastern Virginia is least likely to have a Penniman house, I would have said “Larchmont.”

But you might be asking yourself, what’s a Penniman house?

Penniman was a World War One munitions plant, built by DuPont, about six miles from Williamsburg. The village of Penniman sprung up around the plant, and by Summer 1918, about 15,000 people were living on the 6,000-acre site, with two miles of frontage on the York River. More than 5,000 laborers and carpenters worked long hours building dorms and apartments and cottages and houses.

Large caliber artillery shells were loaded at the plant and sent onto Newport News, by rail, where they were loaded on troop transports and shipped to the Western Front in France. Penniman was one of the largest shell-loading plants in the country and according to The History of Explosives, workers at Penniman produced more than 27,000 shells per day.

The war’s end on November 11, 1918 took many folks by surprise. Most thought that the war would go on for months if not years. When Armistice came, construction at Penniman ceased immediately and the government canceled contracts. As one local newspaper said in 1919, “Penniman was deserted almost overnight.”

The houses built at Penniman were designed by DuPont, built by Hancock-Pettyjohn, a Lynchburg contractor, and paid for by Uncle Sam. The finer houses were closer to the York, and were occupied by higher-end management, and were offered in more than a dozen designs. “The Cumberland” (shown below) was not the biggest and not the smallest, but probably leaning toward the upper tier of housing options at the plant.

When the plant closed down after The Great War, the houses (most of which were less than six months old) were not torn down but salvaged. Two Norfolk men (Warren Hastings and George Hudson) purchased several of the houses and moved them - by barge - to Norfolk.

Before last week, we knew of 20 Penniman houses that had been moved to Riverview, 27 to Riverfront and 4 to Willoughby Spit. That was it, and frankly, that seemed like a lot, but we suspected there were more. How to find them?

My buddy Bill Inge took this task on last week and had phenomenal results. While we’d been looking around waterways and inlets, Bill had a novel approach: He went looking for land records. In his searching, Bill found that Warren Hastings had also purchased a lot in Larchmont. Converting the legal description to a street address, he found the precise location. Bill then texted me and said, “Is it possible that there’s a Penniman house in Larchmont?”

When I first saw his text I thought, “Whoa, wouldn’t THAT be a story!” but I had my doubts. After all, Larchmont is a high-dollar, impressive community full of fine homes. Was it really likely that someone had moved a war-time frame house into Larchmont?

I googled the address he gave me and within a few seconds, I realized Bill was right: It was a “Cumberland” from Penniman. When I write about unusual Sears Homes, I often wonder, “Do the people living in this house know what they have?” Based on my research, about 75% don’t know that they’re living in a Sears House. What are the odds that people know they have a Penniman? I’d say it’s a lot less than one percent!

Thanks so much to Bill for all  his help and for finding this house!

If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with friends or post the link on Facebook!

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Penniman was a very crowded place.

Penniman was a very crowded place, occupied by 15,000 at its peak. The houses that were moved to Norfolk are the two-story houses in the background of this photo. Picture is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Cumberland

The model that ended up in Larchmont is The Cumberland. Designed by DuPont for their plants, this house was also built in Old Hickory, Tennessee, another munitions plant.

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house

The Cumberland was one of their nicer homes, but it's still not very big.

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Floorplan

That's upstairs bedroom is 8x11. In the 21st Century, we call that a closet.

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Cumberland

The Cumberland was a traiditional foursquare. A distinctive feature of many of these DuPont houses is the windows flanking the front door, and a fixed transom over the door.

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Hanckcok

About 50 years ago, this metal tag was found near the site where the Penniman houses were originally built, and probably served as a chit for workers checking out tools from the tool shed. The "H-P. Co." is for Hancock-Pettyjohn, the Lynchburg-based company that built the houses at Penniman.

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house house

In December 1921, this appeared in the "Virginian Pilot," showing the houses coming from Penniman to Norfolk. To the right are two Cumberlands - back to back.

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Riverfront

Here's a Cumberland in Riverfront (on Major Avenue). Notice the windows next to the door. There's another Cumberland next door to this one. Prior to Bill's discovery, these were the only two Cumberlands we knew about in Norfolk.

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Larchmont

According to assessor records, the porch on the Larchmont "Cumberland" was removed in 1957, which is a real pity. As shown here, the house has been covered in substitute siding, and that's probably when the windows and transom disappeared (by the door). This photo was taken in 1959.

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house house house

The city records say the house was built in 1920, but in fact, it was built in Spring of 1918 by Hancock-Pettyjohn and moved (by barge) to its current site in 1921 or 1922.

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dimensions

According to the city's information, the dimensions for the house are correct.

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Google

An image from Google Maps (2015) show the house with new siding (third layer) and replacement windows.

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Penniman

Yesterday, when Milton and I drove past the house, the porch had been restored and it looks like the homeowner did a fine job. And it looks far better with a porch. Not sure what's happening with the transom.

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Penniman

Do they know that their house was born in Penniman, and then traveled by barge to Larchmont?

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Cumberland 1918

Do they know that their house looked like this in 1918?

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Location

If you look at a map of the home's current location, you can see how accessible it is by water.

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Mr. Hastings who brought this house

Here's a picture of Mr. Warren Hastings, standing in front of the homes in Riverfront.

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DO they know

And it all started here - in Penniman.

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To learn the details of how Mr. Hastings moved these homes by barge, click here.

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Pottstown and Penniman and A Mystery School - SOLVED!

March 6th, 2016 Sears Homes 2 comments

We found Pottstown, and it isn’t the one in Pennsylvania.

About a month ago, I wrote a blog about a mystery school house mentioned in the Newport News Daily Press. The story, from December 1922 said that the school would soon be built for African-American children in Pottstown, using salvaged brick from the Penniman smokestack. Problem was, no one seemed to know anything about a community called “Pottstown” near Williamsburg.

Then not one, but two of my favorite researchers found a bibliographic reference in a book, mentioning Pottstown and citing a plat book at the James City County Courthouse.

I toddled down to the courthouse one day (about a 50-mile drive from my home) and went into the clerk’s office and asked to see page 31 of “Plat Book Number Three.” The mystery was quickly solved. In the early 1900s, Pottstown was an African-American community in the heart of Williamsburg, and the school in question was the James City County Training School, built (finished) in 1924, and sitting at the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt Streets.

The article in the Newport News Daily Press (December 20, 1922) said that Williamsburg School Board Chairman W. L. Jones had purchased the smokestack while it was still vertical, in hopes of using the slightly-used bricks to build a public school for black children in James City County. After discovering the location of the school in question, I was still left wondering, “Did he use those bricks from Penniman?”

After a lot of digging around, I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have a strong suspicion. Based on the voluminous materials I’ve studied in the last three weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that W. L. Jones probably did use those bricks from the Penniman smokestack for the James City County Training School.

In short - financial reasons.

The first bids received for the James City County Training School, came in at about $30,000. The school board’s budget for building the solid-brick, six-room schoolhouse (with a center auditorium) was $13,000. Even in 1924 dollars, that was a trifling amount for a schoolhouse (about $180,000 in today’s money). There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth as school board members struggled to figure out how to reduce costs. One of the suggestions was to lop two classrooms off the plans.

Ultimately, two African-American contractors (Sylvester L. Vaughan and J. Andrew Jones) stepped forward and managed to shave the bid down to $16,650. The plumbing, heating, electricity and insurance were not factored into these early bids, raising the final price to $20,280. Local black patrons raised an additional $3,700 and the Rosenwald Fund contributed $1,500. A Williamsburg contractor, R. W. Holmes, offered to supply the plumbing and heating system (and all materials) and wait one year before billing the school board.

In 1924, salvaged bricks cost about $15 per thousand (clean) or $10 per thousand (not clean). In other words, if  you’re willing to sit down and chisel mortar off a whole lot of bricks, you’ll save about 33% on your costs. Some ciphering shows that the school would have required about 44,000 bricks. And some extra-fancy ciphering shows that the 250-foot tall tapered Penniman smokestack contained more than 150,000 bricks (and probably closer to 300,000).

In December 1922, W. L. Jones told the newspaper he was buying those bricks to use in a school building for Pottstown. Given the enormous budget constraints, it seems likely that he did just that. Other sources revealed the following:

1) In July 1922, Reverend Thomas Potts had sold two lots to the school board for $1,300. When Jones bought those bricks, a lot had already been purchased for the new school (School Board Minutes, July 1922).

2) Years earlier, Jones had given the black community a personal promise that he would build them a new brick school house. The promise was re-stated in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Daily Press in May 1923.

And there’s this: In the early 1900s, Americans were very thrifty and smart when it came to recycling quality building materials, and the bricks used in a DuPont smokestack would have been of the very highest quality. As of 1902, W. L. Jones had owned a brickyard in Williamsburg and he probably knew quite a bit about bricks. Buying salvaged bricks was such a common practice in the early 1920s that their prices were advertised in building journals and magazines. And salvaged bricks were considered a fine alternative to the higher cost of new bricks, as long as they were being used in a one-story structure. More on that below.

Bids for the new school were solicited in May 1923, and the contract with Jones and Vaughan was closed in July 1923. On Monday, September 15, 1924, the James City County Training School welcomed almost 200 new students on its first day.

Unfortunately, the James City County Training School fell into terrible disrepair in the early 1930s. The biggest problem facing the school was moisture intrusion on the interior plaster walls and non-stop leaks throughout the predominantly flat roof. Was this a failure of building materials or workmanship? Given the age of the structure, I’d have to lean toward workmanship, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

Perhaps one of the main problems was that, according to the July 1935 minutes of the school board, they’d hired “Mr. Leakey” to fix the problems in the roof. That doesn’t seem like a good choice.

By February 1935, Rockefeller’s restoration of Colonial Williamsburg had caught up to Nicholson Street and the school board decided to stop repairing the dilapidated building. The school board officially decided that ugly was good. “Money spent [on repairs] should be spent on the inside and not on the outside, in the hope that the Restoration might buy the property if its appearance were too unsightly” (February 1935).

Estimates to repair the building ranged from $8,000 to $10,000, and in early 1936, the 12-year-old school was condemned. The restoration committee stepped up to the plate and paid $10,000 for the old school building and donated a new lot for the new school (Bruton Heights). The new school would be built at a cost of $245,000 (and completed in 1940).

For a time, Penniman’s bricks lived on, a little bit more.

The school board minutes from June 1940 showed that gravel was being tracked into the shiny new Bruton Heights School. It was suggested that school board member, Mr. Byrd, contact the “Restoration People” and ask if the brick from the old building could be used for walkways around the new building. In August 1940, it was reported that the “bricks from the old building have been hauled over to the school grounds.” Children from the NYA (National Youth Administration) were sought to help remove all that mortar and lay the pavers in place. Additionally, bricks from the old school were used for the underpass walkway (a pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks, by the new school).

Last week, as I strolled the grounds of the old Bruton Heights school, I saw only concrete walkways at every point and turn. The underpass, classic 1930s Art Deco construction, is also 100% paved in concrete. Do our Penniman bricks rest quietly under all that concrete?

I can only hope.

Thanks so much to Mark Hardin, Milton Crum, Bill Inge, Pat Spriggs, Dale Wolicki and Anne Hallerman for providing research help.

And thanks to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for providing the vintage images of the James City County Training School.

To read the prior blog on this school, click here.

And I’m eager to know - did the desks come from Sears and Roebuck?  :)

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This plat from James City County Courthouse

This plat from James City County Courthouse shows that "Pottstown" was a small community within Williamsburg, and James City County Training School was located at the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt Streets. Outlined in red (for emphasis) is the school in question. Harmon Athletic Field is in the upper right-hand corner of this plat.

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And right on the face of this plat is our answer: Pottstown.

And right on the face of this plat is our answer: Pottstown.

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Bill Inge

Norfolk historian Bill Inge found this 1933 Sanborn Map, which says that the JCCTS was built with hollow tile and brick. These were very common building materials in the early 1920s. Plaster could be applied to the interior face of the hollow tile, creating a fire-proof wall, and this was of utmost importance in early 20th Century America. In more expensive applications, the interior face of the hollow tile was glazed, creating a finished appearance that required no plaster.

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James City County Training School - on the hoof.

James City County Training School - on the hoof. This 250-foot-tall smokestack dominates most views of Penniman. According to the Daily Press, it took 35 sticks of dynamite to topple this behemoth.

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My smart friends and I are flummoxed by this view.

My smart friends and I are flummoxed by this view of the smokestack. Is that brick on the exterior? It looks very squarish. Is the brick turned "end out"? Based on contemporary building standards, we know that the smokestack walls were more than four feet thick on the first 20' section near the base, a little less than four feet thick at the second 20' section, and so on. That means that there's a whole lot of brick within this "tall chimney" (as they were then known). Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

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Heres what started the ball rolling. This article states that school superintendant W. L. Jones bought the bricks to use in the schoolhouse in Pottstown.

Here's what started the ball rolling. This article states that School Board Chairman W. L. Jones bought the bricks to use in the schoolhouse in Pottstown (Daily Press, December 20, 1922).

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And

And it was reaffirmed two days later (December 22, 1922).

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ff

In May 1923, Jones wrote this letter to the editor of the Daily Press, re-stating his promise to build a brick school house for the African-American children of Williamsburg.

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Thanks

And he made good on that promise. The James City County Training School is shown here, in all of its solid-brick glory. Judging from the muddy mess, it seems likely that this picture was taken soon after the school was built (1924). Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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Another view

Another view of the James City County Training School. The auditorium was in the center of the building, with clerestory windows (barely visible in this photo). These windows provided an abundance of natural lighting. Photo is courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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HB

Bricks and mortar bind mechanically. That bond is compromised on salvaged brick. New mortar and old bricks don't have the same strong "bond" as new brick, because the old brick's pores can be clogged from prior use. For this reason, only one-story applications would have been recommended - even in the 1920s. Today, used brick is considered suitable only for pavers and short non-structural brick walls. The image above is from the 1927 Homebuilder's Catalog.

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Bricks for sale. Cheap.

This one is a puzzler. W. L. Jones apparently had quite a few bricks on his hands. This advertisement appeared in May 1923 (Daily Press). And why are the bricks pricier at Penniman? That's another mystery.

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Seems like he was anz

And he was offering extra-cheap bricks to people who bought his lots in College Heights. This appeared throughout March 1923 in the Daily Press.

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By February 1935, the school had fallen into disrepari.

By February 1935, school board minutes reflect that the JCCTS had fallen into disrepair, and the school board hoped that the "Restoration" might buy the property. Ultimately, they were successful, and the school and lot were purchased by Rockefeller for $10,000.

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fff

School board minutes from August 1940 show that the bricks from the JCCTS had been carted off to the new school, to serve as pavers. Are those our Penniman bricks? I think it's likely. NYA (National Youth Association) was a "New Deal" program.

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Today, every place where our Penniman bricks should appear is covered in concrete.

Today, every place where our Penniman bricks should appear is covered in concrete, such as this pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks (near Bruton Heights school) and the walkways around Bruton Heights.

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J. Andrew Jones was a professional carpenter and brick layer, and he did a beautiful job on the brick work. What a pity that it was razed a mere 16 years later.

J. Andrew Jones was a professional carpenter and brick layer, and he did a beautiful job on the brick work. What a pity that it was razed a mere 16 years later. Photo is courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

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Sears Schoolhouse specialty catalog

Did you see that part about The Rosenwald Foundation providing $1,500 in funding for the JCCTS? How fun is that? Wraps it all up in a neat and tidy bow, doesn't it? I spent more than three weeks of my life chasing down every detail on this story and it all comes back in full circle - Sears was involved! In 1908, Richard Warren Sears retired from the company he'd spent 22 years building, and Julius Rosenwald became president of the mail-order business, and also became a very wealthy man and a philanthropist. Catalog shown above is from 1926.

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Thanks so much to Mark Hardin, Milton Crum, Bill Inge, Pat Spriggs, Dale Wolicki and Anne Hallerman for providing research help.

And thanks to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for providing the vintage images of the James City County Training School.

To read the prior blog on this school, click here.

Did you know Sears sold school desks too?

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

June 18th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

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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Just One More Post on the 1950s…

May 15th, 2014 Sears Homes 8 comments

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Maybe.  ;)

I’ve come to think of Mr. Inge as my supplier.

He knows I can’t resist a good 1950s architectural book, and the most recent “hit” he’s provided is a bound volume of a years’ worth of “House Beautiful” magazines (1958).

“I’ve got too much to do,” I thought as I began to browse its many pages, and then I saw a 1958 pink Caddy.

You could have stuck a fork in me right then because I was cooked and done. You see, I’m also a real car buff, and in my personal opinion, American automotive styling hit its peak in the late 1950s.

Too many pictures for me to clog up the blog with words.

Enjoy, and please leave a comment!

To see pictures of 1950 kitchens, click here.

Want to see my Atomic Powder Room? Click here.

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Pink

The image that hooked me, and then dragged me into the abyss. A pink 1958 Cadillac. *SWOON*

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In 1966, our family piled in a 1957 Cadillac and drove from Portsmouth, VA to Santa Monica, CA, a 3,000 mile journey. I loved that car. And I still do.

In 1966, our family of six piled into 1957 Cadillac and drove from Portsmouth, VA to Santa Monica, CA, a 3,000 mile journey. I was six years old. For two weeks and 6,000 miles, I rode in the front seat, sitting on the fold-out arm rest.

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I cant read this text without hearing the narrative in Don Drapers voice.

I can't read this text without hearing the narrative in Don Draper's voice, complete with dramatic pauses.

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Our 1957 Cadillac was black, but I think I could have settled for blue if they were out of pink.

Our 1957 Cadillac was black, but I think I could have settled for blue if they were out of pink. Check out the rubber-tipped bumpers on the front. I could use a set of those on my Camry Hybrid.

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While were on the topic of luxury...

While we're on the topic of luxury...

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Is that Betty Draper in the back seat of the 1958 T-Bird?

Is that Betty Draper in the back seat of the 1958 T-Bird?

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So you dont

In 1974, I was forced to sit through a HORRIBLE "Driver's Safety Class" that mainly consisted of a sadistic gym teacher forcing us to watch gory films of people being turned into bloody hamburger meat via Detroit steel. As a sensitive soul, I was truly traumatized. I'd close my eyes whenever possible and then the gym teacher would screech at me to "pay attention." One of the stories was a paralyzed woman who had not buckled in that fateful day because she didn't want to wrinkle her dress. I guess society really did judge you by the wrinkles in your dress.

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T

I love this caption. It's from Bing Cosby's song, "Did you ever see a dream, walking..."

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Wow

Poor hat boy. He knows that this is the closest he'll ever come to a new T-bird. And look at those pedestrian souls admiring that shiny new thing. They're such simpletons in their plain-jane clothes. But at least they have a shot at the shiny new thing - one day - if they marry well. I'd like to caption this, "Envy."

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we

Well, it's good of her to give the two Plain Janes a ride to the bus stop.

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My husband tells me that hes secure enough in his masuclinity to wear a pink shirt.

My husband tells me that he's secure enough in his masculinity to wear a pink shirt. Back in the day, apparently men were secure enough in their masculinity to show up in a pink Chevy.

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fe

Looks like Mom and Dad are driving home from a party with Timothy Leary.

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Many of these car ads have a random plane.

Many of these car ads have a random plane. And Junior is playing with planes in the back seat.

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were

Nobody in these ads have their eyes on the road. Maybe she's looking for low-flying aircraft. It seems to be a big problem in 1958.

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And I had to look up two words in this text.

By 1958, we were using sex to sell cars. "Come hither look?" I guess the car is inviting you to "slip into something more comfortable" such as its "smart fabrics."

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Looks like shes hailing a cab.

"We knew Mildred had lost her mind when she started trying to hail a taxi from her new Chevy."

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Ive no idea whats happening here, but of course, Mother has baked goods in her left hand.

I've no idea what's happening here, but of course, Mother has baked goods in her right hand. OOOH, edited to add: Shari (see comment below) observed that it was The Boy in the yellow helicopter and in this shot, the helicopter is behind The Boy. He and Mother have both "landed" here.

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fds

That's one fine-looking car. Love the two-tone paint job.

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More random airplanes.

More random airplanes.

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fdd

Looks to me like someone's making a run for it. Lots of luggage there.

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sef

When I bought my new Camry in 2012, no one said a word about "gay silk pillows."

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fff

Tufted leather bench seats. Be still my heart.

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ffee

Wait til you see this Vicuna lap robe.

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fefe

There's the Vicuna lap robe.

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And heres a Vicuna.

And here's a Vicuna (still wearing his lap robe).

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house

"Iridescent leather features channeled insets of darker blue." Wow.

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fe

My Camry has a "symphony in gray" going on, but it's a really quiet symphony.

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To see pictures of the kitchens from this era, click here.

Want to see my Atomic Powder Room? Click here.

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1959 Was a Very Good Year - For Kitchens!

May 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 14 comments

My friend Bill Inge knows that I am trying to finish a book on Penniman, Virginia and yet today, he threw a real monkey wrench into the works. He lent me a 54-year-old book titled, “Better Homes and Gardens; Kitchen Ideas.”

Turquoise refrigerators, canary yellow cabinets, stainless steel countertops, pink built-in ranges - who could possibly gaze upon these gorgeous mid-century miracles and then look away!

Not I!

So this afternoon, instead of reading dusty old newspaper articles or scholarly tomes on WW1 munitions plants, I sat down and read this 1959 publication cover to cover.

And my oh my, these were gorgeous kitchens.

Take a look for yourself!

And many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing this treasure with me (I think)!  :D

To read about my very own “Atomic Kitchen” click here!

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The publication Mr. Inge brought over is titled - innocuously enough - Kitchens

The publication Mr. Inge shared is titled - innocuously enough - "Kitchen Ideas." It should be titled, "How to spend 4.5 hours grinning from ear to ear whilst looking at pretty, pretty pictures of old kitchens."

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Wow

This is artwork in architecture. I have one word: Wow

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Wow

Dad eats potato chips while the children play with arsenic-laden Lincoln Logs on an asbestos floor. Their next stop was to go sample some of the lead paint on the home's exterior. And the coup de grace would be drinking water right out of the garden hose. The best part is, little Jimmy there probably washed his hands less than once a month, and played with sticks and dirt most of the time. And he'll probably live to be 117.

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WYlloe

In the 1950s, we gave ourselves permission to enjoy bold colors. I love the yellow and red. And notice the wallpaper - it's gold and black. Just stunning. I'm not sure what that appliance next to the sink is, but I really want one.

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Se

Yes, the original caption says all this magic was created with spray paint.

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Www

Check out the lighting over Betty Crocker's head. And again - look at these colors. Pink and deep green.

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Wow

Yellow and Robin's Egg Blue with pink accents (see the phone and curtains). So pretty. When did we decide that it was a good idea to have "industrial-looking kitchens" in our home? This kitchen exudes warmth, beauty and comfort.

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E

I'm not even a fan of green, but this kitchen is stunning. Stainless steel counters, and yet it has a copper pendant light fixture. And the wicker furniture is a nice touch too.

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Wow

A pink kitchen. And with red accents. Visual poetry. If I were a gazillionaire, I'd throw money at some smart contractor and have this kitchen re-created in my own home. And it has a built-in dishwasher, too.

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My favorite:

My #1 favorite: A purple kitchen. Words fail me.

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To read about my own “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

To learn more about the book that I should be writing, 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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Pennsgrove: Up Close and Personal

November 12th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

When I first learned that a Baltimorian had discovered a Pennsgrove in their very own neighborhood, I was more than a little dubious. After all, neither me nor my slightly obsessed house-hunting buddies had ever seen a Pennsgrove in the wild.

And yet, not only had my Baltimorians found a Pennsgrove, but now we’ve learned that they found THE Pennsgrove that had been used as the model for the image in the 1932 Sears catalog.

Now that’s an exciting find.

The Baltimorians (Tom and Jada Lawson) were kind enough to send me some high resolution photos so that we can really get a good look at this sweet thing.

And then last week while I was hanging out at the Sergeant Memorial Room (Norfolk Public Library), doing research on Penniman, Bill Inge (my #1 favorite librarian), sat down next to me and quietly confessed, “I think that Pennsgrove is  my favorite Sears House.”

Bill is not just an world-class librarian, but he’s also an incredibly interesting fellow and an indefatigable resource of historical knowledge. If there’s a person in this world that loves early 20th Century American history more than moi, it might just be Bill.

Many thanks to Tom and Jada for the wonderful photos and thanks to the city of Norfolk for having the wisdom and foresight to hire a true historian like Bill Inge.

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The Pennsgrove, as seen in the 1932 catalog.

The Pennsgrove, as seen in the 1932 catalog.

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Living Room 1932

Also in the 1932 catalog is a view of the living room in the Pennsgrove. Oh it'd be fun to get inside the Baltimore house and get a picture of the living room today - from the same angle!

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Garage

As kit homes go, this was a very busy house. The two-car attached garage was very unusual for a house of this vintage, and even more unusual for a Sears House. In fact, I believe that this is the only Sears House with a two-car attached garage (1932 catalog).

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send floor

The second floor makes the house seem crowded and small. And from an architectural standpoint, there's a lot of wasted space on this second level. And check out that third bedroom. It's a mere eight feet wide!

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house

Ah, but it sure is a beauty!

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house house h

Tom did a flawless job of photographing this house from the same angle as the original catalog image. And the best part: Even the shadows are falling in the same places. Check out the shadow on the arched entry by the garage. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Compa

The side-by-side comparisons are my favorite. What a house!

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phenomenal

The Pennsgrove is a real beauty, and the stone, brick, stucco and slate provide a stunning complement to one another. I love the half-timber look on that front gable. Personally, I think the balloons look a little tired though. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house

Check out that slate roof. Most likely, it's Buckingham Slate which weighs 1,400 pounds per square. Yes, you read that right. One ten by ten section of Buckingham Slate weighs 1,400 pounds. Houses with slate roofs are built extra sturdy to accommodate the tremendous weight. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Thanks to Toms great images, we can really see the details.

Thanks to Tom's great pictures, we can really see the details. Notice this Pennsgrove still has the original light fixture! Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house hosue house

And original windows, too. I understand the house recently changed hands. Hopefully the new owners will also be good stewards of this historic home. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house house

Nothing makes my heart go pitter-pat like the details. Check out the round downspouts. They may not be original, but they do look good. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house

Several people commented on the fact that the stone work around the front door is a perfect match to the old catalog image. That's when I started to realize that this is THE house shown in the 1932 catalog. This close-up proves it!

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What a house!

And I can't help but ask, do the owners know what they have? I surely hope so. Photo is copyright 2013 Tom Lawson and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Don’t replace that slate roof! Read this first and it will change your life! No kidding!

To learn more about the Pennsgrove, click here.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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