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Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort of. (Part 5)

April 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last night, a friend called and asked about my recent travels. I told her I’d visited Danville, Lynchburg and Hopewell, Virginia.  .

She quickly replied, “Hopewell?! I thought you were banned from that city!”

She’s a funny girl, that one.

When I last visited Hopewell in 2003, many good things happened, and I was treated kindly and showered with Grade-A Southern Hospitality. The downside was, I discovered that most of the purported “Sears Homes” in their Crescent Hills neighborhood were not Sears Homes at all. There were some folks in Hopewell that were pretty unhappy about that.

It was eight years before I visited Hopewell again.

On this trip in March 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 purported Sears Homes. I say “purported” because these are clearly not Sears homes, and yet they’re still being promoted as such.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 101 Crescent Avenue is Sears Branford.

Okie doakie. Let’s look at the photos.

Sears Branford, as seen in the 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Branford, as seen in the 1939 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Branford

No, this is not a Sears Branford. The gabled entry is the first major clue. The Branford does not have a gabled entry. Secondly, as the city's brochure states, the "wing" on this yellow house was not original to the structure, but was added later. That's also a really important detail, because the defining features of the Sears Branford are the garage (to the left) and the KITCHEN to the right. Even if someone decided to forgo the garage, it's not likely they're going to take a pass on building the KITCHEN.

Floorplan

Close-up of the Branford's floorplan

Again, the Sears Branford as seen in the 1940 catalog.

Again, the Sears Branford as seen in the 1940 catalog. The casual observer may notice that this house LOOKS NOTHING LIKE the yellow Cape Cod above. The "wing" on the right juts forward. Not that it matters in comparing it to the pretty yellow house above, but that's an interesting architectural feature that makes identifying the Branford easier.

Okay, so what if you chopped off the two additions on the side?

Close-up of the Branford. Nope, still doesn't look like the house below!

Branford

Nice flag.

Sometimes, people are so eager to “see a Sears House” where there isn’t one that they make way, way too many allowances.

If you look at the house in Hopewell, it’s got a substantial gabled entry, and the fireplace is in the wrong place, and it doesn’t have the garage and it’s missing its kitchen (a pretty big deal) and this means the interior floorplan must be completely different (in the little yellow house above), and that is also a very big deal. The Branford was only offered in 1939 and 1940. That’s it.

According to the city tax records, the house above was built in 1941.

Considering all these important facts, I’d be willing to state - with confidence - that the little yellow house above is not a Sears Branford.

In the late 1930s, the Cape Cod was one of America’s favorite housing styles.  And the Sears Cape Cods are especially difficult to find, because these houses were offered in the 1930s Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and by the 1930s, sales of kit homes had plummeted. Sears sold about as many homes in 1929 (one year) as they sold from 1932-1940 (almost a full decade). The Great Depression really put a hurting on everything, including home sales.

But as to identifying Sears Homes,  once you start saying, “Well, maybe they added this to the house, and took this away, and added the light here, and put on a gabled porch, and moved the fireplace, and moved all the rooms around inside, and took the kitchen out…” well, you could call ANYTHING a kit home with all those changes!

Your subject house must be a GOOD match to the original catalog image.

So what does the Branford (Sears Home) have in common with the pretty Cape Cod on Crescent Avenue?

They both have a front door and some windows and a couple cute dormers.

That’s all folks.

To learn more about the Aladdin kit homes in Hopewell, click here.

To read part 6 (the next blog about Hopewell’s non-Sears Homes) click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort of. (Part 4)

April 2nd, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

As mentioned in Part 1, I recently visited Hopewell (Virginia) for the first time in several years.

In early 2003, I went to Hopewell to give a talk on Sears Homes. The talk went well and I sold a bunch of books and I had a wonderful time. Unfortunately, there was a downside to this otherwise delightful visit. Driving through the city, I discovered that most of their Crescent Hill “Sears Homes” being promoted in a local brochure were not Sears Homes.

Unfortunately, a handful of people did not agree with me, and Hopewell’s brochure - with its inaccurate information on their Sears Homes - was not to be changed.

It was very upsetting. Those who write about history have a solemn charge to make sure it is kept pure and honest. That’s something about which I feel passionate.

When I returned to Hopewell (March 18 2011), I was gratified to see that a few of the errors had been removed from the city’s well-promoted brochures, but many non-kit homes were still being wrongly identified as Sears Homes.  (Reader’s Note: This blog is Part 4 of a series.  Click on the links to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. To read about the collection of Aladdin kit homes in Hopewell, click here. Blogs with photos of Aladdin kit homes are labeled with Roman numerals.)

The beauty part of identifying Sears Homes is matching the houses to their original catalog image.

Below is one such example:

And the Sears Lynnhaven. There are two in Hopewells Crescent Hills.

The Sears Lynnhaven from the 1936 catalog.

Sears Lynnhaven #2

Sears Lynnhaven in Hopewell. Nice match!

Now that’s a nice match. The house in Hopewell looks just like the catalog image. That’s what makes this topic so fun and so intriguing and so delightful. And the cold hard fact is, if you can not match up a suspected kit home to an image in a vintage mail-order catalog, you got nothing.  The house must be a spot-on match (minus remodelings, substitute sidings, etc.).

And that’s my complaint with Hopewell’s purported “Sears Home” at 105 Prince George Avenue. The brochure offered at the Hopewell Visitor’s Center identifies this house as (and I’m quoting), “Original Sears model (remodeled).”

I kid you not.

That’s all the information offered on this house.

Speaking as someone who’s written several books on this topic, and as someone who’s traveled all over this country for the last 11 years, seeking and finding kit homes of every name and nature, I can say with authority, I have no idea what they’re talking about. Sears offered 370 designs of kit homes. Their very first catalog had 22 designs within its 44 pages, and not one of those designs was called, “Original Sears Model.”

There is no “original Sears model” (remodeled or not).

Further, I’m of the opinion that the house at 105 Prince George Avenue is not a Sears Home. And if it was a Sears Home, I’d show you a catalog image so you - the reader - could contrast and compare the two pictures.

But on this house - I got nothing. No idea. So here’s the house in Hopewell that the brochure identifies as, “Original Sears model (remodeled).”

Frustrating

That vinyl picket fence might be from Sears. Maybe that's what they're talking about.

To read more about identifying Sears Homes, click here.

To see Danville’s amazing collection of Sears Homes, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Kit Homes: And They’re Not in Crescent Hills (Part V)

March 30th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

As mentioned in prior posts, Hopewell, Virginia is the proud owner of eight bona fide Sears homes in the Crescent Hills area.  That’s well and good, but they also have entire neighborhoods of Aladdin kit homes in other parts of Hopewell.   It’s a puzzle why the city invests so much effort in promoting those eight houses, while forgetting about the dozens of Aladdin kit homes. Why, if I were a little Aladdin home in Hopewell, I’d feel sorely neglected!

Most likely, the majority of the Aladdin Kit Homes were ordered by Dupont in 1914, for their dynamite factory in Hopewell.  And there along the waterfront - on Ramsey Avenue - are the Aladdin Wenonah, an Aladdin Brighton, and an Aladdin Plaza.

The Plaza sits at the end of Ramsey, and I’d just love to know - do these homeowners know that they’re sitting in a piece of Americana, enjoying their restful slumbers in a historically significant kit home, that was shipped in from Bay City, Michigan via boxcar, with 12,000 pieces of house?  And what about the city itself? Are they aware of these precious architectural gems that sit within its borders, uncelebrated, unheralded and unprotected?

It’d be a dandy idea for the city - at the very least -  to put a placard in front of these homes, identifying them as Aladdin kit homes, or perhaps include them on their tourism brochures. Urbana, Virginia has ONE Sears House, and look what they’ve done!

A city full of architecturally significant homes is a terrible thing to waste.

Click on these links to read Part I, Part II, Part III or Part IV of “Hopewell’s Historic Homes.”

Aladdin Plaza as shown in 1919 Aladdin catalog

Aladdin Plaza as shown in 1919 Aladdin catalog

Aladdin Plaza in Hopewell, very near the waterfront

Aladdin Plaza in Hopewell, very near the waterfront

To read Part VI, click here.

Click on these links to read Part I, Part II, Part III or Part IV.

Click here to buy Rose’s book.

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