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What Do George Bailey and Sears Roebuck Have in Common?

July 19th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

One of my favorite movies is the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Many folks think it’s a movie about one man’s life making a difference in this world, but I saw it a different way. I saw it as a movie that explained why homeownership is so important.

In the first years of the 20th Century, magazines and newspapers of the day declared that Americans had a patriotic duty to be homeowners. It was well-understood that home ownership was a boon to individuals and their families, but the “patriotic” angle made the point that homeownership also benefited neighborhoods and communities, and by extension, it benefited cities and even the country, as a whole.

To put a contemporary spin on this, what better modern-day model do we have than Detroit? How much of Detroit is now rental (non-owner occupied)? Despite 30 minutes of searching, I wasn’t able to find an answer, but I’d guess it’s a lot. (Heck, how much of Detroit’s housing is just not occupied by anyone?)

The early Sears Modern Homes catalogs made this point in a variety of ways, but in short it said this: Homeowners have a vested interest in their community and communities with a large percentage of homeowners will enjoy a greater proportion of prosperity, stability and peace.

In the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey sees what Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born. Without George’s positive influence and his ever-fledgling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and many residents would have remained renters, rather than homeowners.

Without the Bailey Building and Loan, George finds that Bedford Falls is full of substandard rental properties.

And because there are so many rental properties, there is less stability in the family, and in a broader context, there is less stability in the community as well.

Look at Bert (the cop) and Ernie (the cab driver).

In this alternate “George-less” world, Ernie does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, he lives is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is largely to blame for the fact that Ernie’s wife “ran off three years ago and took the kid.”

The streets of this alternate-Bedford Falls (now named Pottersville) are lined with liquor stores, night clubs, pawnbrokers, striptease shows and pool halls. Gaudy neon signs flash “girls, girls, girls” and illumine the night-time corridors of Main Street. Citizens are neither calm nor law-abiding and brusque policemen struggle to keep peace and order.

George’s revelation that he really had a “wonderful life” stemmed in part from the realization that his meager efforts to give people the chance to become homeowners gave them a feeling of accomplishment, prosperity, security and pride. By extension, the whole community benefited in important, significant and enduring ways.

I’m of the opinion that Sears was, to small communities in the Midwest, what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls.

Sears empowered and enabled tens of thousands of working-class and immigrant families to build their own home. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?

How many towns in the Midwest were spared the fate of becoming a Pottersville, thanks to these little kit homes? Probably many.

Sears Modern Homes made a significant difference in many communities throughout the Midwest.

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In the movie, Its a Wonderful Life, the real heroes are the people who kept this little Building and Loan afloat, enabling countless residents to become homeowners.

In the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," the real heroes are the people who kept this little Building and Loan afloat, enabling countless residents to become homeowners.

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In the end, George realized he had a wonderful life because he had touched so many peoples lives, enabling them to become homeowners. He saw that his town would have collapsed into blight had it not been for Bailey Brothers Building and Loan.

George realized he had a wonderful life because he had touched so many people's lives, enabling them to become homeowners. The angel ("Clarence") showed George that Bedford Falls would have collapsed into blight had it not been for Bailey Brother's Building and Loan.

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The value of homeownenrship was also touted in

The value of homeownership was also touted in the front pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalog (1921).

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Father is throwing out rent receipts - because theyre worthless - whilst dreaming of his very own home.

Father is throwing out rent receipts - because they're worthless - whilst dreaming of his very own home.

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Meanwhile, Father and Mother are dreaming of owning their very own Sears Hathaway.

Meanwhile, Father and Mother are dreaming of owning their very own Sears Hathaway. Even the little girl is lost in bliss! Is there a Hathaway in Lima, Ohio? It'd be fun to know!

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A real live Hathaway in Hampton, Virginia (Old Wythe section).

A real live Hathaway in Hampton, Virginia (Old Wythe section).

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Learn more about the biggest and best Sears Home by clicking here!

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Quite Possibly, The Most Beautiful Elsmore in the World

December 10th, 2012 Sears Homes 9 comments

The Elsmore was a hugely popular house for Sears, and it was probably one of their top five best selling models.

Since all sales records were destroyed during a post-WW2 corporate housecleaning at Sears, it’s hard to know for sure, but I do know that I’ve seen a whole lot of Elsmores in my travels.

Earlier this year, I posted another blog on the Elsmore (click here to see that), but I was inspired to post a second blog, due to this home’s incredible popularity and also because Cindy Catanzaro found and photographed one of the prettiest (and most well-cared-for) Elsmores that I’ve ever seen.

To read more on the Elsmore, click here.

Refinement and Comfort here.  How elegant sounding!

"Refinement and Comfort here." Sounds lovely!!

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Heres an Elsmore that was built in Cairo, IL not far from the spot where Sears had their 40-acre mill.

Here's an Elsmore that was built in Cairo, IL not far from the spot where Sears had their 40-acre lumber mill. This Elsmore, built at 1501 Commerce Avenue, was torn down pre-2001. I visited Cairo then and went looking for this house, but 1501 Commerce was an empty lot at that point. How many Sears Homes in Cairo have been razed? It's a vexing question.

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Another vintage Elsmore.

Another vintage Elsmore. This one was in Glenshaw, PA (1919 catalog).

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This is one of my favorite Elsmores. Its in Park Ridge, Illiois. Picture perfect in every way. Photo is copyright 2010, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

This is one of my favorite Elsmores. It's in Park Ridge, Illinois. Picture perfect in every way. Photo is copyright 2010, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Visit Dale’s website by clicking here.

And the crème de la crème

And the crème de la crème. Cindy Catazaro found this house in Oakwood Ohio and it has been lovingly and faithfully restored. The house has obviously had some "renovations," but they've been done in a thoughtful, sensitive manner. I'm so impressed to know that there are people in the world who love their Sears House *this* much! Photo is copyright 2012, Cindy Catazaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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An mini-Elsmore? It might be a trick of the eye, but it appears this Elsmore in Walnutport, PA is a little narrower than the catalog version.

An skinny mini-Elsmore? It might be a trick of the eye, but it appears this Elsmore in Walnutport, PA is a little narrower than the catalog version. The window arrangement is also a little different. I'd love to know the history behind this house. Photo is copyright 2012 Angela Laury and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Elsmore, as it appeared in the later 1910s and 20s was actually a remodel of this

The Elsmore, as it appeared in the later 1910s and 20s was actually a remodel of Modern Home #126, which was first offered in the 1908 (first) Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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If you compare the two floorplans, youll see how similar they really are.

If you compare the two floorplans, you'll see how similar they are. This is the floorplan for the Sears Modern Home #126 (1908). Notice the size of the rooms and placement of windows.

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Floor

And here's the floorplan for the Elsmore (1916). The chamfered corners are gone and the front porch is different, but the rest of the house is the same, down to window placement and room size. The front porch roof on Modern Home #126 (with cantilevers) *always* sagged due to its fantastic weight. Not a good design. The changes to the Elsmore porch fixed that problem.

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Thanks to Cindy Catazaro and Dale Wolicki for providing such beautiful photos!

To read more about the Elsmore, click here.

To visit Dale’s website, click here.

Did you enjoy this blog? Please take a moment and leave a nice comment below. I’m living on nothing but love.

:)

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The Elsmore: Refinement and Comfort

May 3rd, 2012 Sears Homes 6 comments

If you only learn to identify five Sears Homes, one of them should be the Elsmore. It was a perennial favorite amongst kit home buyers, and for good reason. It was offered in two floor plans and both had several nice features, including spacious rooms, a living room fireplace, a kitchen that overlooked the back yard, and a super-sized front porch. It was attractive house with a smart floor plan.

In 1919, the 1,100-square-foot home sold for a mere $1,528 - a solid value. There was a little bit of extra room in the attic too, if someone was willing to do some work to transform the second story into living space. In some cases, people added dormers to the massive hipped roof to add a window or two.

The 1919 catalog page (shown below) promised “Refinement and Comfort Here.” The Sears catalog was famous for its puffery, but in this case, the promises made about the Elsmore were probably pretty accurate.

Want to read more about the history of the Elsmore? Click here

To order a copy of Rose’s newest book, click here.

Elsmore, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

Elsmore, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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The 1924 catalog testimonial

This testimonial - written by Mr. DeHaven of Glenshaw, PA appeared in the 1924 catalog. It would be fun to find this house today.

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Elsmore in Cairo (now gone) 1921

This Elsmore was built at 1501 Commercial Avenue in in Cairo, Illinois. As of 2002, there was nothing but a vacant lot at that site. Mr. Fitzjearls house is long gone. Sears had a 40-acre mill in Cairo and there are many Sears Homes throughout Cairo, but not a single Elsmore.

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1921 houses

Mr. Fitzjearl built an Elsmore at 1501 Commercial Avenue.

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Sears Elsmore in Bedford, VA

Sears Elsmore in Bedford, VA (near Roanoke).

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Sears Elsmore as een in 1916

In the 1916 catalog, the Elsmore sold for a mere $937.

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Park Ridge, Il Dale

Dale Wolicki found this Elsmore in Park Ridge, Illinois. This house gets my vote for the most perfect Elsmore in America. Original windows, doors, siding and railings. Just amazing. Photo is courtesy of Dale Patrick Wolicki and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of the most perfect Elsmores in the world is in Elgin, IL.

The second most perfect Elsmore in the world is in Elgin, IL. Notice the original railing!

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Elsmore in Benld

This Elsmore has had a lot of "remodeling" but it still retains some original Elsmore features, such as the lone sash in the front porch attic. It's located in Benld, IL.

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Clifton Forge

This Elsmore is in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

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Sears Elsmore suffolk

This Elsmore is in downtown Suffolk.

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Mounds, Illinois is very close to Cairo, which was home to a massive 40-acre Sears Mill in the 1920s and 30s. Not surprisingly, there are many Sears Homes throughout this area.

Mounds, Illinois is very close to Cairo, which was home to a massive 40-acre Sears Mill in the 1920s and 30s. Not surprisingly, there are many Sears Homes throughout this area.

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Theres an abundance of Sears Homes in Takoma Park (DC area) too.

There's an abundance of Sears Homes in Takoma Park (DC area) too. Someone added a couple double-hung windows to the porch attic and turned it into living space.

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Colonail Heiths

This Elsmore is somewhere in Virginia. Wow. Just wow. And not a good wow.

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floor plan

These Elsmore was offered in this lone floor plan until the early 1920s when a second floor plan was offered.

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The Elsmore came in two floor plans

The second floor plan had the same footprint, but the interior was very different, and it had a pair of windows in the dining room. If you scroll back up and look at these houses, you'll see most of them are "Floor plan #13192."*

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beauty 1919

The Elsmore as it appeared in 1921.

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Photo from Dale

Side by side comparison of the Elsmore in the catalog (left) and real life (right).

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Wardway Homes, click here.

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“The Sears Home We Picked Out” (By Joseph Origer)

May 2nd, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

The Sears Home we picked out - the Hammond - had a kitchen that was 8 x 10 feet so I asked the salesman (at the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center in Chicago) if we could make the kitchen bigger. He suggested that we make the back of the house two feet wider, so the kitchen, dining room and a back bedroom would all be two feet wider.

This of course changed all the precut lumber and the original plans. They had to make a new set of blueprints and specially cut all the material.

My dad, who had accompanied us to Chicago, asked the salesman how much these changes would cost. We all held our breath while the salesman did the figuring and it seemed like it took him forever. Finally, he told us that the extra square footage would cost an additional $67. We went with the extra two feet.

Reminiscence of Joseph Origer (builder/owner of “The Hammond”).

In 2002, after the publication of my first book, I had the good fortune to talk with many people who’d built their own Sears kit home. One of my favorites was the story of Joseph Origer, who’d built a Sears Hammond on the family farm in 1940.

Joseph Origer was born in 1914 in a Sears Home, on a farm near North Judson, Indiana. His father had built the two-story kit house (Modern Home #101) a year earlier, in 1913. Twenty-six years later,  in the summer of 1940, Joseph and his new wife traveled to a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center in nearby Chicago to pick out another Sears kit home to build on the same farm.

The young couple chose The Hammond -  a 1000-square foot, five-room Honor-Bilt bungalow with casement windows. On July 4th, 1940, two weeks after placing the order, their home arrived in one boxcar at the train depot. Joseph Origer shared some precious memories and wonderful details about the building of these two Sears homes.

My dad built a Sears kit silo in 1911 and he was so impressed with the quality of the lumber (all cypress) that he decided to buy and build Sears Modern Home #101.


Our farm adjoined the old Pennsylvania Railroad. Dad was working in the field when he saw a train pass by with building materials piled high on open flat cars and thought, ‘I bet that’s my house!’ Dad went into the barn and hitched up the horses and went down to the depot to pick up his house. The story is that while Dad was at the depot unloading the building materials, the depot agent looked at the indoor plumbing fixtures and asked, ‘What are those things?’


I remember my father telling me the kit home was all number one lumber and material. All the building materials cost $879 and the total expense, including all carpenter labor, was less than $1500.I still have the itemized list of materials for that house!


When I decided to marry and stay on the farm, my parents suggested we go to Chicago and pick out another Sears home. Dad said, “you know the material will be good.”


It was 1940 when we bought the house. I think that was the last year they sold these homes. I had a 1939 Modern Homes catalog, so I sent for a 1940 catalog and found there had been a slight price increase. This was the time when Hitler was invading Poland and prices had gone up a little. I was excited about getting a house, but a friend of mine said, “Joe, you should wait a couple years until prices come down.” I’m glad I didn’t wait. It would have been a long wait.


We went to Chicago to look at Sears’ housing displays and get a little more definite information. The Sales Center had samples of inside doors and millwork that we could look at. They had different samples of the inside fixtures and millwork.


The home we picked out - the Hammond - had a kitchen that was 8 x 10 feet so I asked the salesman (at the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center in Chicago) if we could make the kitchen bigger. He suggested that we make the back of the house two feet wider, so the kitchen, dining room and a back bedroom would all be two feet wider.


This of course changed all the precut lumber and the original plans. They had to make a new set of blueprints and specially cut all the material. My dad asked how much these changes would cost. We all held our breath while the salesman did the figuring and it seemed like it took him forever. Finally, he told us that the extra square footage would cost an additional $67. We went with the extra two feet.


The salesman said if we had it all sent in one shipment, it’d be cheaper then having it sent in several shipments, which was another option. The second option was for people who didn’t have a place to store all the building materials. We went with one shipment to save a little money.


The house arrived about two weeks after we ordered it. The station agent called and said we had a carload of building material. We hauled it home on a truck and that took quite a few trips. Fortunately, we only had to travel 2 ½ miles. It all fit in one boxcar, but it was pretty tightly packed.


The plaster (for the walls) and cement (for the foundation) was included in the price that we paid. Sears placed the orders for those materials with a local lumber yard. I remember someone from the yard called me and asked, “when do you want your plaster and cement delivered?” I hadn’t been aware that Sears did it that way.


We built The Hammond  400 feet away from Modern Home #101. We hired a retired carpenter that lived in town to help us build it. He charged us 50 cents an hour. He said the material was excellent quality and that you could pick up any 2 x 4 and use it as a straight edge.


The house arrived on July 4th and we were living in it by winter. When the house was completed, the total cost of my house, including everything -  bathroom fixtures, plumbing, wiring, paint and varnish - was about $2,700. These 60-plus years The Hammond has been a wonderful house. I am glad I built it. This house has been well maintained inside and out, and it is still just as good as new.

Joseph Origer was born in 1914 in the Sears Modern Home #101. When I spoke with Mr. Origer in 2003, the original house was in very poor condition, due to its having been rental property for a very short period of time.

Joseph Origer was born in 1914 in the Sears Modern Home #101. When I spoke with Mr. Origer in 2003, the original house was in very poor condition, due to its having been rental property for a very short period of time. I'd love to know if this house is still standing.

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The Sears Hammond, as shown in the 1940 catalog.

The Sears Hammond, as shown in the 1940 catalog. The 1940 was the last catalog that was issued by the Sears Modern Homes department. It was a reprint of the 1939 catalog, and the entire Sears Modern Homes department was permanently shut down in 1940.

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The Hammond, as seen in the 1938 catalog.

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A Hammond in Sterling, Illinois. Unfortunately, I dont have a picture of Mr. Origers Hammond. In my many travels, Ive only seen this one Hammond.

And it's all brick! This Sears Hammond is in Sterling, Illinois (northern Illinois). Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of Mr. Origer's Hammond in Indiana. In my many travels, I've only seen this one Hammond. A very distinctive feature of the Sears Hammond is the flared flooples on both sides of the front gable.

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Flared

It was Dale Wolicki who first taught me about Flared Flooples, and he pointed out that even more rare than "Flared Flooples" are the Flying French Flared Flooples. I'm still waiting for Dale to send me a picture of a house that's sporting the Flying French Flared Flooples. The red arrows above highlight this distinctive feature on the Sears Hammond.

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To learn more about Dale Wolicki, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about the Sears Homes of Illinois, lookie here.

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The Niota: 1200 Square Feet For $942

April 12th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

Not a bad deal to buy 1,200 square feet of kit house for less than $1,000, even in 1916!

The Sears Niota - despite its being a good value and a cute house - was not a popular model for Sears.  And yet, according to a small promotional ad that appeared in the 1916 catalog, the Niota had been built in Elmhurst, IN, Westerville, Ohio, Indianapolis, IN, Napleton, MN and Springfield, MO.

And in Wood River, Illinois, too.

The house was offered in StoneKote, which was Sears own stucco-type covering. As with most of the kit homes, buyers could opt for stucco, block, brick, stone or wood. Today, way too many of these homes are now covered with substitute sidings (such as aluminum or vinyl), which makes identification even more difficult.

To read more about the many Sears Homes in Wood River (and Amoco), click here.

Niota

One might hope that those columns are a unique feature to help in identifying the Sears Niota, and yet sometimes, they get removed (1916 catalog).

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Niota catalog 1916

The kitchen was so small you'd have to step out to the porch to change your mind. Lots of rooms on this first floor, and they're all pretty modest.

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niota fp

At least the bedrooms have closets. That's a plus.

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niota

Close-up of the Sears Niota.

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niota wood river

And here it is, in Wood River, Illinois. Notice that those unique columns have been chopped off at the roofline and also covered in that hideous house-hiding PVC material, known as "vinyl siding." The original columns - poking through the porch ceiling as they did - were probably prone to roof leaks and all manner of maintenance problems.

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Niota more

Niotas were built in several places in the Midwest. It'd be fun to see pictures of these Niotas.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about my Aunt Addie, click here.

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Harris Brothers, alias, The Chicago House-Wrecking Company

February 10th, 2011 Sears Homes 8 comments

Based in Chicago, Harris Brothers got their start tearing down things. In 1893, they started business as The Chicago House-Wrecking Company. According to Dr. Rebecca Hunter (fellow researcher and author), they became “Harris Brothers’ Homes” in 1913.

Of the six national companies, selling kit homes through mail-order catalogs, Harris Brothers was probably the least-well known.

Their catalogs are certainly quite interesting, with lots of vintage photos and loquacious copy.  Below are some images from the Harris Brothers’ catalogs, together with a living example of a Harris Brothers’ kit home, The La Grange.

Front

Thanks to Harris Brothers' "Wonderful Offer," this young couple can build their dream home economically, but judging by those blueprints, that's a pretty simple house. This logo appeared on the cover of the 1915 and 1917 Harris Brothers' catalogs.

Harris Brothers

Testimonial from the 1915 Harris Brothers' catalog. Mr. Dunn apparently didn't get the memo that their name was changed in 1913. Either that or, this was a really old letter.

Harris

If someone knew how to look, it'd be fun to find this house in Kansas. Mr Ketcham owned it in the 1910s. It's a real beauty, too. Classic prairie style.

harris

Did Mr. Elliot build two HB homes in a row?

La Grange from the 1917 Harris Brothers catalog

La Grange from the 1917 Harris Brothers catalog. Note the rounded porch on the home's left front (in floorplan).

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Floorplan, up close

Floorplan, up close. Note the rounded "Varanda" (sp). This is an unusual feature and is always the first thing that catches my eye on this model.

LaGrange - close up.

LaGrange - close up.

LaGrange in Ocean View section of Norfolk, VA

LaGrange in Ocean View section of Norfolk, VA. That rounded porch has been enclosed.

To learn how to identify kit homes, click here.

To learn more about Harris Brothers, click here.

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