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Posts Tagged ‘catalog homes’

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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A Sad Story That Needs a Good Ending: Carlinville’s “Standard Addition”

September 26th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the early years of the 1900s,

About 1918, Standard Oil purchased 192 kit homes from Sears & Roebuck. Carlinville ended up with 156 of these homes (offered in eight models). The 12-block area where these homes were built (in an old wheat field) came to be known as Standard Addition. Sears proudly touted this sale to Standard Oil as "the largest order ever placed," and pictures of Carlinville appeared in the front pages of the Modern Homes catalog for many years. This letter (shown above) appeared on the back page of the catalog until 1929.

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House

Standard Addition's homes - some of which were not wholly finished - appeared in the 1919 and 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Of the 192 houses sold to Standard Oil, 156 ended up in Carlinville, 24 were sent to Wood River (where Standard Oil had a large refinery) and 12 ended up in Schoper, IL (site of a large coal mine). Pictured above is the Warrenton model (left) and the Whitehall (right).

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In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood first appeared in the Searsm Modern Homes catalog.

In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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house house house 1921

Close-up of the "birdseye view" from the 1921 catalog. From left to right is the Gladstone, Roseberry, Warrenton, and Whitehall. And look at that darling little building behind the Whitehall. Is it still there?

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House

These homes were occasionally featured in "The Stanolind Record," an employee newsletter put out by Standard Oil. This image appeared with the caption, "Carlinville is coming out of the mud," which simply meant that streets would soon be laid, replacing the muddy roads.

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All of which brings me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition is at great risk of being lost.

And all the photos above bring me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition - this unique, historic and one-of-a-kind community - is at great risk. This "Roseberry" on Johnson Street caught fire in early 2013 and has not been razed yet. Derelict houses (such as this) contribute heavily to blight, and once blight takes root in a neighborhood, reversal can take decades. At best, this house poses a threat to public health and safety. At worst, it's an anchor that's dragging this historic neighborhood further into the muck. Would you want to live next door to this? How many months before this house gets torn down?

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Last month

Last month, a suspected meth lab was discovered in the 1000-block of Johnson Street, in the heart of Standard Addition. Once a house is used for "cooking" meth, making it suitable again for habitation can be expensive.

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Full story here: http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x1367241203/Two-suspected-meth-labs-found-in-Carlinville

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And theres also the problem on insensitive remodeling.

And there's also the problem of insensitive remodeling. And it is quite a problem.

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Another

As built, these homes were very small (less than 1,100 square feet) but there are ways to increase square footage without diminishing the historicity of these unique homes.

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In short, it’s time for the state legislature and/or city council to step in and figure out what legislation is needed to protect this one-of-a-kind historic collection of Sears Homes in Carlinville. I’ve remained “astonished* that there is no signage, no billboards, no announcements of any kind welcoming the flat-lander tourist to come visit “Standard Addition.”

At the very least, there should be billboards in St. Louis, Alton (by the casino), Edwardsville and other “hot spots” inviting people to come see this fun collection of kit homes. There should be a website, self-guided driving brochures, maps, etc, promoting the area.

But there is nothing,

In my 14 years of experience in this niche field of America’s architectural history, I’ve never come across another collection of Sears kit homes quite like Standard Addition.

One week ago today, I drove through Standard Addition, admiring the pretty houses and dismayed by the blighted ones, and I glimpsed, more now than ever, something must be done to preserve and protect this neighborhood.

Before it’s too late.

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To learn more about the eight models in Standard Addition, click here.

To learn more about the building of Standard Addition (and the female supervisor of the project), click here.

In 2003, CBS Sunday Morning News came to Standard Addition.

To read about Illinois’ own ghost town (Schoper, IL), click right here.

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Hey, You Good-Looking Norwood, You…

January 27th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Thanks to Kit House Aficionado Andrew Mutch, I now have pictures of a picture-perfect Wardway Norwood in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Truthfully, if I’d been driving past this Wardway Norwood, I probably would have kept driving because I would not have recognized it as a kit home!

But major kudos to Andrew for not only spotting it, but correctly identifying it! And more kudos to Andrew for sending me a picture!!  :)

Do you have remarkable pictures of kit homes that you’d like to share? Please contact me at Rosemary.ringer@gmail.com.

And thanks so much to Andrew Mutch for sending along this photo!

To learn a LOT more about Wardway Homes, please click here.

To learn more about kit homes in general, visit Rebecca Hunter’s website, here.

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Boy, I tell you, if Id been the one driving past this Wardway Kit Home, I probably would have KEPT driving!!  Thanks to Andrew Mutch for finding and identifying this house!

If I'd been the one driving past this Wardway Kit Home, I probably would have KEPT driving!! Thanks to Andrew Mutch for finding and identifying this house! (1927 catalog image). And the title of the blog, you may notice, comes from the headline above: "Good Looking and Roomy!"

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Nice floor plan, too!

Nice floor plan, too! CLASSIC foursquare design!

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I love these descriptions!

I love these descriptions! The plain lines are "skillfully relieved"!

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Ward

Not a bad deal, either. And for $16 extra, they'll throw in some shades.

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It is a good-looking house.

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And here it is in Ann Arbor, Michigan! Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

And here it is in Ann Arbor, Michigan! Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Thanks again to Andrew for sending along the photos!

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

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Richard Warren Sears: My Hero

November 26th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

Richard Warren Sears is one of my favorite characters in American history. He truly was a marketing genius, a fascinating entrepreneur and a real family man. Throughout his life, he maintained a deep and profound devotion to his family.

Richard Warren Sears was about 16 years old when his father died. That’s when Richard went to work to support the family.

By the mid-1880s, he’d found gainful employment as a railway station agent in Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Early in his career, Sears paid a mere $50 for a shipment of watches that arrived at the train station and had been refused by a local merchant. Selling them to other railway agents and passengers, Sears turned $50 worth of watches into $5000 in a few months.

His timing could not possibly have been any better.

With the advent of the steam locomotive, people could now travel easily throughout the country, but there was one problem with all this zipping to and fro:  In the early 1880s, our country had 300 time zones.

Many rural communities still relied on sun-time. Travelers headed west we’re expected to subtract one minute for every 12 miles of travel. Travelers headed east did the opposite.

Hope youre good at ciphering!

In November 1883, railway companies lobbied Congress to establish four time zones, to help standardize complicated train schedules. And what need did this new-fangled law breed? Watches.

Suddenly, they were a very hot commodity.

In 1886, 23-year-old Sears invested his $5000 cash profit into a new watch business and called it the R. W. Sears Watch Company. He advertised in regional newspapers and soon moved the business from Minneapolis to Chicago.

Occasionally the watches came back needing repairs, so in 1887, Sears decided it was time to hire a helper. A young watch repairman from Hammond, Indiana responded to Sears help wanted ad and was hired immediately.

And what was the watch repairman’s name?

Alvah Curtis Roebuck.

Richard and Alvah became good friends and eventually partners.

In 1891, Sears and Roebuck published their first mail order catalog (52 pages), offering jewelry and watches. By 1893, the little catalog had grown to 196 pages and offered a variety of items, including sewing machines, shoes, saddles and more. By the following year, the catalog hit 507 pages.

In 1895, Alvah Roebuck decided he wanted out. The 31-year old watch repairman’s health was collapsing under the strain of this new fast-growing business. The enormous burden of debt coupled with Sears wild ways of doing business were too much for mild-mannered, methodical Alvah.

He asked Sears to buy his one-third interest in the company for $25,000.

Of course, Sears didn’t have that kind of cash on hand, so he offered Chicago businessmen Aaron Nusbaum and Julius Rosenwald (Nusbaums brother-in-law) a one-half interest in the company. The price - $75,000, or $37,500 each. Six years later, in 1901, Rosenwald and Sears decided to buy out Nusbaum and offered him $1 million for his share of the business. Nusbaum refused and asked for $1.25 million, which he received.

(Pretty tidy profit for six years!)

Following a nationwide depression in 1907, Rosenwald and Sears were at loggerheads on the best course of action to weather the economic storm. This disagreement really did highlight their radically different concepts about everything.

On November 1, 1908, 44-year-old Richard W. Sears emerged from a terse, closed-door meeting with Rosenwald and announced that he would resign as President from his own company.

Sears reason for retiring: He didnt see the work as fun anymore. A short time later, Sears sold his stock for $10 million dollars. There was another reason for his departure. Sears wanted more time to take care of his ailing wife, who had suffered from ill health for years.

In September 1914, at the age of 50, Sears died from kidney disease, having turned $50 worth of pocket watches into a multimillion dollar mail-order empire. His estate was valued at more than $20 million.

Not too bad for a kid that got his start selling unwanted watches at a little train depot in Redwood Falls.

To read Part II of this blog, click here.

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Richard Warren Sears was one smart cookie. Hes shown here in his office in Sears World Headquarters (Chicago).

Richard Warren Sears was one smart cookie. He's shown here in his office the Sears' Headquarters (Chicago), at the corner of Homan Avenue and Arthington Street. It's claimed that Mr. Sears had one of the very first telephones in the state of Illinois. He had another telephone installed in his mother's home in Oak Park. Now *that's* a good son! :)

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Look at that telephone!

Look at that telephone! I bet that would fetch a pretty price on eBay! And you may notice that Mr. Sears is holding a Sears catalog in his right hand. He was quite the promoter.

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Sears retired from his own company in 1908, which was the same years that Sears issued its first Sears Modern Homes catalog (shown above).

Sears retired from his own company in 1908, which was the same years that Sears issued its first "Sears Modern Homes" catalog (shown above).

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Did you know that Sears sold cars in the 1950s? You’ll never guess the brand name they gave to their vehicles!  :)

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another really fun blog, click here.

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The Glendale: A Good Substantial House of Nice Appearance

November 8th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

World-famous Realtor and Sears House aficionado Catarina Bannier found this Glendale in the DC area, and sent me a bevy of wonderful photos, showcasing this beautiful Glendale.

Probably built in the early 1910s, this house is in amazingly original condition. And Catarina got some great photos!

The double windows situated at the corners of this foursquare make the Glendale easy to spot. The smaller windows (front and side) with the diamond muntins are also a distinctive feature.

To learn more about the Sears Homes that Catarina has found in DC, click here.

To learn more about Sears Houses in Illinois, click here.

The Sears Glendale, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

The Sears Glendale, as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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An unhappy Glendale in Mounds, Illinois (just outside of Cairo).

An unhappy Glendale in Mounds, Illinois (just outside of Cairo). This photo was snapped in 2010. Most likely, this house has now been torn down.

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Mounds

"Every bit of space has been used to the best advantage..." And all this for $1,748.

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And heres Catarinas Glendale in the DC area.

And here's Catarina's Glendale in the DC area. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view.

Another view. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Did I mention that this house is in wonderfully original condition?  WOW, look at the details!

Did I mention that this house is in wonderfully original condition? WOW, look at the details! How many hands have brushed past the finial on this newel post in the last 100 years? Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up from the original catalog page.

Close-up of the newel posts from the original catalog page.

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Original windows, too!

Original windows, too! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Out

The Glendale had two small fixed sashes on the first floor.

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Inside, it looked like this!

Inside, it looks like this! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The newel posts inside are even prettier!

The newel posts inside are even prettier! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And further down the staircase, youll see the distinctive plinth block that is typically found in Sears Homes. The problem of matching up difficult compound joints was solved with this simple block.

And further down the staircase, you'll see the distinctive plinth block that is typically found in Sears Homes. The problem of matching up difficult compound joints was solved with this simple block. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And theres an original light fixture in one of the bedrooms.

And there's an original light fixture in one of the bedrooms. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Built

This massive built-in China hutch retains its original finish. And it's beautiful! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Original hardware, too!

Original hardware, too! Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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original

If you look closely at the floorplan, you'll see the built-in hutch in the dining room. Also, take a look at the lone column in the doorway between the "parlor" and the dining room.

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wino

The second floor shows four tiny bedrooms and a very long hallway.

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A view of those original windows from inside.

A view of those original windows from inside. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Inside, there's a column and small shelf on just ONE side of the living room/dining room entry. This is also shown on the floorplan (above). Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

To read about the PERFECT Christmas gift, click here. You’ll be glad you did!  :)

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In Memoriam: BGSU Popular Culture House

August 13th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

The Sears Lewiston/Wardway kit home at Bowling Green State University was destroyed last Friday - and in quite a rush.

This demolition went forward, in spite of an impressive groundswell of support, imploring BGSU president Mazey to delay the demolition for a few days. An online petition (asking Mazey to spare the house) quickly garnered 2,000+ signatures.

Others wrote and called the president’s office, begging them to have the house moved rather than destroyed. The cost to move the structure would have been about $18,000 (not a lot more than the cost of demolition).

All to no avail.

The college administration is probably hoping that all the upset over this old house will die down and be forgotten.

Please, don’t prove them right. Don’t let this singular act of wanton destruction and callous disregard for America’s history be forgotten.

Please think about the Popular Culture program at BGSU, which was housed in this old kit home. Many current and former students left comments at this blog and at the Facebook page, sharing happy memories of their time in this historically significant house.

Please think about Virgil Taylor, who spent countless hours poring over old mail-order catalogs, choosing just the house he wanted. Don’t forget Virgil’s dad (Jasper), who gave him the lot so that Virgil could build his fine Wardway Home.

Don’t forget about those two men, toiling side by side to unload the boxcar that arrived at the Bowling Green Train Station in November 1931. The house in that boxcar, a custom order from Montgomery Ward, contained 750 pounds of nails, 10 pounds of wood putty, 27 gallons of paint and varnish, 840 square yards of plaster lath, and more. In all, Virgil’s kit home came in a boxcar with more than 12,000 pieces of building materials.

Don’t forget how Virgil and Jasper lugged all those building materials out of the boxcar and into a wagon, and then onto the building site.

Working with a 75-page instruction book, Virgil and his father (and probably other family and friends) worked long hours, assembling their 12,000-piece kit home.

They started work on the house in early November and by late February (1932), they were mostly done. I’m sure a lot of “blood, sweat and tears” went into that house.

And last week, it took one big bulldozer less than a couple hours to reduce Virgil’s home to 1,500 tons of debris, soon to be buried and forever preserved at the local landfill. (By the way, that estimate of 1,500 tons is the approximate weight of the original structure, exclusive of all additions.)

To read earlier blogs on this topic (and learn more about Virgil’s house, click on the links below.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

The Sorry Ending

Above all, please don’t forget about the little house that Virgil built.

As of Friday, this was the condition of Virgil Taylors beloved home.

As of Friday, this was the condition of Virgil Taylor's beloved home. As my friend used to say, it takes someone special to build something special. Any jackass can tear down a barn. (Photo is copyright 2012 Marsha Olivarez and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Virgils house a few days before President Mazey had her way with it.

Virgil's house a few days before BGSU administrators had their way with it. Notice the clean, straight angles on the roof. The house is still square and true, and it's truly reprehensible that the college decided to demolish, rather than relocate the house. (Photo is copyright 2012 Marsha Olivarez and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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It was a fine-looking house. And now its just a memory.

It was a fine-looking house. And now it's just a memory. (Photo is copyright 2012 Marsha Olivarez and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Original hardware (from Montgomery Ward) was still in evidence throughout the house.

Original hardware (from Montgomery Ward) was still in evidence throughout the house. (Photo is copyright 2012 Marsha Olivarez and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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A page from the 1931 catalog shows the door for the Wardway Tudor Homes.

A page from the 1931 catalog shows the door for the Wardway Tudor Homes.

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There was other Wardway hardware throughout the house.

There was other Wardway hardware throughout the house. (Photo is copyright 2012 Ray I. Shuck and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Despite some serious searching, Ive not been able to find a corresponding fireplace design in either the Sears or Wardway catalogs.  Virgil would have hired a local brick mason to do the fireplace mantel and exterior veneer, and perhaps the local mason had his own ideas about what pattern to use on the fireplace. The pattern used here is a match to the pattern on the brick exterior.

Despite some serious searching, I've not been able to find a corresponding fireplace design in either the Sears or Wardway catalogs. Virgil would have hired a local brick mason to do the fireplace mantel and exterior veneer, and perhaps the local mason had his own ideas about what pattern to use on the fireplace. The pattern used here is also seen on the home's brick exterior. (Photo is copyright 2012 Marsha Olivarez and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Brick

See the brick pattern over the window? This was found on the lintels (over the window) and also in the front gable, and the fireplace. (Photo is copyright 2012 Michael Wiatrowski and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Another view of the homes interior.

Another view of the home's interior. Note the build-in china hutch. (Photo is copyright 2012 Marsha Olivarez and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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In Virgils home, this would have been the dining room.

In Virgil's home, this would have been the dining room. (Photo is copyright 2012 Marsha Olivarez and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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An old light fixture in the hallway.

An old light fixture in the hallway. (Photo is copyright 2012 Marsha Olivarez and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Virgils house arrived from the train station in a boxcar. These early 20th Century boxcars were massive and were loaded to the ceiling with buillinger materials.

Virgil's house arrived at the train station in a boxcar. These early 20th Century boxcars were massive and were loaded to the ceiling with building materials.

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mortgage

When Virgil bought his house, he also obtained a 15-year mortgage from Montgomery Ward. Sadly, he lost his house when Montgomery Ward foreclosed on him (and his wife) in 1936.

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A page from the 1931 Wardway catalog, from which Virgil ordered some of his hardware and plumbing fixtures.

A page from the 1931 Wardway catalog, from which Virgil ordered some of his hardware and plumbing fixtures. At the center of the page is the traditional Wardway fireplace.

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Virgils house in 1932, soon after completion.

Virgil's house in 1932, soon after completion.

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Virgils house, shown next to the catalog image for the Sears Lewiston. I find it fascinating that Virgil took his photo from the same exact angle as the picture shown in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Virgil's house, shown next to the catalog image for the Sears Lewiston. I find it fascinating that Virgil took his photo from the same exact angle as the picture shown in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Lumber from Virgils house. Photo is

Lumber from Virgil's house. It reads, "29722 (probably a model number), V. H. Taylor, Bowling Green Ohio, 128 No Church Street. (Photo is copyright 2012 Ray I. Shuck and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To learn about the other kit homes in Bowling Green, click here.

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Itty Bitty Homart Homes: Prefab vs. Precut

November 14th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Sears Modern Homes - the kit homes that were sold from 1908-1940 - were not (emphasis on NOT) prefab houses. Prefabricated houses are - as the word suggests - prefabricated. In other words, they’re pre-built at a central plant, broken down and then transported to the building site, where they’re re-assembled, quickly and efficiently in sections.

Sears Modern Homes were kit homes, and there is a big difference. Sears Modern Homes were 12,000 piece kits and came with a 75-page instruction book. They were made with superior quality building materials (#1 southern yellow pine framing members and cypress for everything exterior). You can read more about Sears kit homes here.

And then there’s Homart Homes. From 1948-1951, Sears sold prefabricated houses known as Homart Homes. These houses were shipped in sections. The walls came in sections of 4′ by 8′ to 8′ by 8′ and were shipped by truck. Fasteners came with these diminutive homes, and the houses were bolted together at the site. They were very modest homes with very simple lines and shallow roofs. Most were 600-850 square feet.

Sears also sold a line of hardware and home merchandise (electric fans, water heaters, tools) which bore the brand name “Homart.” In the first decades of the 1900s, Sears headquarters was located in Chicago, at the corner of Homan and Arthington Street. Homart is a combination of those two street names.

To see pictures of Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

Homart Homes were very modest prefab homes offered after WW2. Today, its nearly impossible to find these houses, because they were so plain and in subsequent years, most have been covered with substitute sidings.

Homart Homes were very modest prefab homes offered after WW2. Today, it's nearly impossible to find these houses, because they were so plain and in subsequent years, most have been covered with substitute sidings.

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In the catalog shown above, there were several addresses of known Homart Homes in Illinois. This house (in Monmouth, IL) was listed in the catalog as a Homart Home. Thanks to Carol Parrish for sending in this photo!

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL

An old Sears Homart (prefab house) sits on the edges of the city, not far from the Sears Mill in Cairo, IL. Homart Homes were post-WW2 Sears Homes that were shipped out in sections, which were then bolted together at the building site. These were radically different from "Sears Modern Homes" which were pre-cut kit homes. And usually, they just don't "age" as well as the sturdier "Modern Homes" (Honor Bilt homes).

To learn more about kit homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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When CBS Sunday Morning News Came to Carlinville, Illinois

June 19th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The Houses That Sears Built came out at just about the same time that my long-term marriage had a surprise ending. Doing a little back of the envelope ciphering, I figured I had enough money to last for about 60 days, and then I’d be flat busted broke. And I’d only make it to 60 days if I stopped buying groceries and lived very simply. If my book wasn’t supporting me by then, I’d have to do something I’d never done before: Get a real job.

The very idea scared me half out of my wits.

I did a lot of praying and a lot of scrambling. And I ate a lot of meals at friends’ houses.

Six weeks after the book hit the streets, I had a call from a reporter at the New York Times. They were doing a feature story on Sears Homes and they wanted to interview me. The story ran on the front page of the Real Estate section. Next came a phone call from a producer who was putting together a new history show for PBS. He’d seen the piece in the New York Times and wanted to know if I could appear on one of their first episodes.

The show, he told me, was tentatively titled, “History Detectives.”

Next I heard from CBS. They wanted to do a piece on the Sears Homes in Carlinville. We arranged a date and met at the town square. Russ Mitchell was the reporter, and he’d been raised in nearby St. Louis, so this was a great assignment for him.

We tooled around the town and I talked about the Sears Homes of Carlinville, explaining that this was not the largest collection of Sears Homes (Elgin has that honor), but it was the largest contiguous collection, with 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. As we drove along, I rattled off the names of the eight models of Sears Homes featured in Carlinville.

It was a wonderful day, and as a result of that show, I was then invited to appear on A&E’s Biography.

It was nine years ago (almost to the day), that we filmed that show for CBS Sunday Morning News. I went on to write five more books, and turns out, I made it past those first 60 days, with a little money left over!

Best of all, I never had to get a “real job.”

:)

Filming

CBS film crew starts shooting the Sears Homes from the top of their specially modified Chevy Suburban.

filming

Wish I could remember this fellow's name. He was incredibly polite and a whole lot of fun.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

To learn more about Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, 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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Hopewell’s Historic Kit Homes: And They’re Not in Crescent Hills! (Part VII)

April 1st, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Yes Virginia,there’s an awesome collection of kit homes in Hopewell but they’re mostly kit homes from Aladdin!  Hopewell does have a few Sears Homes. In fact they have eight in their Crescent Hills area.

But the Aladdin kit homes number in the dozens.  And in addition to the Aladdin kit homes in the downtown area, it seems likely that Hopewell might have kit homes from Sterling Homes (yet another kit home company).

And I would never have guessed this on my own, without the help of fellow kit home aficionados Mark and Lisa Hardin.

In downtown Hopewell, there are dozens of Aladdins, but amongst those Aladdins are also several models of house that I’ve not been able to identify.  In Mark’s email, he theorized that at least one of the “mystery models” might have come from Sterling Homes.  After looking at the pictures, I think he might be right.

If he is, this certainly adds even more intrigue to the mystery of those little houses in Hopewell. Are all of them kit homes? We know that Hopewell has kit homes ordered from Sears and Aladdin. Do they kit homes from Sterling , too?

An exampele of a Sears Home (The Puritan) in Hopewell

An example of a Sears Home (The Puritan) in Hopewell

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Pretty little Puritan on City Point Drive in Hopewell

Pretty little Puritan on City Point Drive in Hopewell

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The Aladdin Edison was a modest home, but darn cute. And easy to identify these many years later.

The Aladdin Edison was a modest home, but darn cute. And easy to identify these many years later.

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First, my favorite Edison in Hopewell.

A real-life example of the Aladdin Edison in Hopewell.

The above photos provide two of the many examples of both Sears and Aladdin kit homes in Hopewell.

And then there’s Sterling Homes. Like Aladdin, Sterling Homes was based in Bay City, Michigan. While Sterling was successfull in selling their kit homes nationwide, they were a much smaller company than Aladdin or Sears. To learn more about Sterling, click here.

Pictured below is the catalog page for the Sterling Homes “Browning-B.” The “B” is usually a reference to a different floorplan for the same house design. (Despite looking through my reference materials, I never did find a “Browning-A.)

Compare the catalog page with the Hopewell houses. The roof on the back of the house doesn’t drop down near as far as the front. And look at the pair of gabled dormers, connected by the small shed dormer. Most interesting is the bay window on the front of the house, next to the front door.

Sterling

From the Sterling Homes catalog.

Sterling

There are several of these models in Hopewell's downtown area, interspersed with Aladdin kit homes. Is this the Sterling "Browning B"? It sure is a perfect match. The only flaw is the size of the eaves on the dormer window. Everything else is perfect, and that's remarkable, because this is a very unique house.

Aladd

Another Sterling Browning-B in Hopewell? Appears to be!

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Sterling

A close-up of the house as it appeared in the catalog.

Another one

Side-by-side comparison of the two houses.

Thanks again to Mark and Lisa for this find! I don’t think I’d ever have thought to check my Sterling field guides to identify these houses in Hopewell, Virginia!

Part I can be found here. Part II is here. Click here for Part III.

The fourth series is here. And number five is here. And after you read the sixth part, you’ll be all caught up.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.