Posts Tagged ‘elmhurst’

The Hawthorne Effect

April 6th, 2017 Sears Homes 2 comments

It wasn’t terribly long ago that I noticed that the Avondale and the Hawthorne were the same house, with a lone difference: The attic/second floor on the Hawthorne was enlarged, to create livable space. From what I’ve seen out in the world, the Avondale was a very popular model for Sears, and the Hawthorne was quite rare.

Both the Avondale and the Hawthorne were elegant bungalows with a few extra features, such as stained glass options on the smaller windows near the fireplace, an inglenook in the living room, a large polygon bay at both the dining room and front bedroom and a spacious front porch.

And what is the Hawthorne Effect? It actually has nothing to do with Sears Homes. It’s a theory that subjects being observed will change their behavior when they know they’re being observed, thus skewing the effects of the research.

To learn more about the Avondale, click here.



The Sears Hawthorne, from the 1916 catalog.



Interior view of the Sears Avondale.


Hawthorne 2

Do those benches qualify as inglenooks? I would say - maybe - but writing these blogs is a lot of work and very time consuming and it's 6:23 am and I'm in no mood to go back and change a lot of text. Speaking of houses, check out that oak slat screen on the right side of this image. Now that's gorgeous.



Shot of the large bay window in the front bedroom, and my grandfather's dresser, flanked by two sconces. Also check out that sweet light fixture. That's a beauty.


Hawthorne in 1916

The Hawthorne, as seen in the 1916 catalog, together with a lady in pain (right side) wearing a corset that's obviously way, way too tight.



Rebecca Hunter found this Hawthorne in Piper City, north of Champaign, Illinois. Photo is copyright 2012 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reprinted without permission. Rebecca's website is


hawthorne in mattoon

This Hawthorne in Mattoon, Illinois was supersized. That height of that second floor was doubled to create much more space upstairs. In 2004, I toured the inside of this home and it's a real beauty.



Comparison of the floorplans of the Avondale (left) and the Hawthorne (right).



View of the 2nd floor on the Hawthorne.


ham radio

One of my favorite Avondales. It's in Litchfield, Illinois.



Rebecca found this modified Avondale in northern Illinois. An entire 2nd floor was added a few years ago. In 2010, Rebecca and I spent several days driving throughout the suburbs of Chicago, and she showed me the many fun kit homes that she'd discovered through her years of research. This was one of the most intriguing.


Visit Rebecca Hunter’s website here.

More on Avondales here.


The Sears Elmhurst, Part II

October 11th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Rachel Shoemaker was looking through a Sears Modern Homes catalog (1930) when she discovered a testimonial for a Sears Elmhurst built in Flushing, New York. She then did some extra digging and was able to glean the home’s current address.

In fact, Rachel wrote a blog on her wonderful discovery (click here to see it).

Now, we need someone near Flushing to snap a few photos of this grand and elegant home in Flushing. If you’re near the area, please leave a comment below and I’ll contact you toote suite!



Here's the testimonial that Rachel found in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Zvonecs loved their house

I have a feeling that the Zvanovec's are no longer extending an open invitation to visit their home. Nonetheless, it sounds like they really did love their home, and were very proud of it.


As Rachel points out in her blog, this must have been one of the first Elmhursts built, because it appeared in the 1929

Close-up of this beautiful Sears Elmhurst in Flushing, NY. Look at the beautiful stone work on the front porch.


And heres the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

And here's the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.


An Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter).

Here's an Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter). Notice this house has the decorative blocks under the faux half timbering on that front gable. These blocks are missing from the Elmhurst in St. Louis and Flushing, NY. This Elmhurst and the one in Flushing are both brick veneer, whereas the one in St. Louis is solid brick. As mentioned in the prior blog, solid brick is very unusual on a Sears kit home.


Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think its likely but Im not certain. This house is in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin.

Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think it's likely but I'm not certain. It's in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin. It's not a spot-on match but it's darn close! This is such an unusual house, I'd be inclined to say it probably is an Elmhurst. Probably. Notice, those decorative blocks are in place under the front gable.


The Elmhurst was featured in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread.

The Elmhurst was "featured" in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread, including this colorized image. Notice, the blocks are shown in the catalog image.


Are you near Flushing? Would you be willing to get some good, high-resolution photos for us?

If so, please leave a comment below!

To read more about the kit homes I found in Rocky Mount, click here.

To read  more about the Elmhurst, click here.

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Inside The Sears Elmhurst (St. Louis)

October 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 18 comments

Several weeks ago, a reader of this blog told me that he owned a Sears Elmhurst in St. Louis, and he was kind enough to send me a few photos. To my surprise and delight, he was right!  It really was an Elmhurst.

Last month, I visited the Elmhurst “in person” and my oh my, what a treat!

The home’s current owners have a deep abiding respect and appreciation for the unique origins of their historic home. In other words, they really love their old Sears House, and have been faithfully researching the history of this beautiful old house, and restoring it, inch by inch.

Thanks so much to the home’s owners who were gracious enough to let me take a tour of their home and share a few photos of its interior!

Elmhurst first appeared in the 1928

The Sears Elmhurst was a classic (and classy) Tudor Revival with a "half-timber effect" on the second story. Inside, it had three bedrooms and 1-1/2 baths. The house in St. Louis is in mostly original condition.


house floorplan

The living room and dining room were spacious. The kitchen and lavatory were not.


Cover of the 1932

The cover of the 1932 "Homes of Today" showed this fetching entryway, which is from the Elmhurst. It's kind of a "Twilight Zone" doorway, out of the hubbub of busy city living and into another dimension of peace and joy and "the satisfaction that comes from building your own home" (as Sears promised in their literature).


house 1930 catalog

In the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Elmhurst was given a two-page spread.


house 1930

Even in the simplified line drawings (from the 1930 catalog) the Elmhurst looks quite elegant.


house house house

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a perfect match to the catalog image. Just perfect.


house gerst

The St. Louis house is being faithfully restored by its current owners, and it's a real beauty.


Elmhurst compare

Close-up of that entryway shown on the front cover of the 1932 catalog.


Mike gerst elmhurst

And a fine side-by-side contrast of the St. Louis Elmhurst (left) and the entryway shown in the catalog.


house ricin

The 1932 "Homes of Today" Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the Elmhurst built in Ohio.


house stairs

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a good match to the black/white image above.


house house stairs

The "Elmhurst built in Ohio" is shown here on the right, and the Elmhurst in St. Louis in on the left. The details are perfect with two lone exceptions: The front door is hinged different in the St. Louis house, and that decorative "S" is missing from the base of the wrought-iron staircase railing (which looks like it'd be a knee-buster anyway). The flip-flops are missing from the Elmhurst in Ohio.


house la tosca

La Tosca door hardware was a very popular choice in Sears Homes.


house house la tosca

The LaTosca door hardware, as seen in the Elmhurst and as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.


phone niche

The moldings and trim in this Elmhurst are birch, according to the owner. Based on the research he's done, I'd say he's probably right. The owner is doing a remarkable job of restoring the inherent beauty of all the original wood trim throughout the house. The patina and beauty of the natural wood finish on this phone niche isn't accurately represented by this dark photo. While walking through the house, I couldn't help but to "reach out and touch" the beautiful wood trim. It really is that beautiful.


house house door

The 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the front door (interior). Note that the stylistic "S" is missing from the wrought-iron railing in this picture.


front door stuff

There was a wall that blocked my shooting the door and staircase from the same angle as shown above, but I got pretty close. This house was a one-hour trip from my brother's home in Elsah, IL (where I was staying), but once I saw the inside of this house, I was mighty glad I'd made the effort. In every way that an old house can be truly stunning, this house *was* stunning. It's a real gem in the heart of St. Louis.



Comparison showing the 1930 catalog image and the real live house in St. Louis.



From this view (near the landing), you get a better idea of the size of the hallway.


kitchen 1932

The kitchen of the Elmhurst (as shown in the 1932 catalog). This appears to be a photo, and the picture was taken by someone standing with their backside leaning hard against the right rear corner of the house, looking toward the door that opens into the dining room. Notice the La Tosca hardware on the door.


kitchen today

The Elmhurst's kitchen today, from that dining room door, looking toward the right rear corner. While I'm a big fan of all things old, even I'd agree that the kitchen needed a little bit of updating for the 21st Century.


Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath tile and other floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but it was too far gone.

Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath the floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but these floors were really intended to be used as a subfloor, not a primary floor.


house inside

The fireplace in the living room has the same square slate tiles as seen on the front porch.


house hallway upstairs

This over-sized landing window was another lovely feature of the Elmhurst. As seen from the outside, this is the tall dormer window just to the right of the front porch (as seen from the street).


window staircase

Downstairs looking up at the staircase window.


house elmhurst

A distinctive feature found in two-story Sears kit homes are these plinth blocks. These square blocks were used to help the novice homebuilder cope with complex joints. The landing of the Elmhurst had three of these plinth blocks on one landing. I do believe that that's the most plinth blocks I've ever seen in one kit house.


house plinth block

The plinth block at this juncture is actually two-steps tall.


business card

While doing some work on the home, the owner found this business card inside a wall. I've seen a lot of very cool ephemera in my fun career, but this is one of the best. There were only 40 Sears Modern Homes "Sales Centers" in the country and there was one in St. Louis. Folks could stroll into these storefronts and get a first-hand look at the quality of framing members, millwork, heating equipment and plumbing fixtures. Apparently Miss Manning visited the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center and had some discussion with Marcelle Elton about her new Elmhurst.


pipe tag pipe tag

The home's current owners found this tag attached to a cast-iron pipe inside the kitchen wall. It shows that the home's purchaser was a "Miss Margaret Manning" of Clayton, Missouri. For those interested in genealogy, I would LOVE to know where Miss Manning lived before she purchased the house in St. Louis and what she did for a living. Lastly, I'd also be interested in knowing how long she lived in this house.


house pipe tag pipe tag

Close-up of the tab shows a return address of 925 Homan Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois.


houe exterior house

From all angles, the Elmhurst is quite stunning.


On the inside, those dormers look like this.

On the inside, those dormers look like this.


house solid brick

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is an enigma for several reasons. One, this is not a frame house with brick veneer (like every other "brick" Sears kit house I've ever seen). This house is solid brick, and when the owner remodeled the kitchen, he said the exterior walls had furring strips (typical of a solid brick house). And the flashing and original gutters were copper. When built, the house had a tile roof. These are all significant upgrades and probably cost the home's first owner quite a bit extra.


gerst home

This photo was taken by the home's current owner. You can see a remnant of the tile roof on the ridge of the house. And if you look closely, you can see the copper flashing around the chimney.


Elmhurst in Chitown

There's another Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb that Rebecca Hunter found. This Elmhurst has concrete sills (as you'd expect to see on a kit house, because it's simpler than laying brick), but the house in St. Louis had *brick* sills.


house 1930

The Elmhurst was beautiful, but not very popular. It was offered from 1929 to 1932.


And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes catalog! Its an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York!

And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 "Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes" catalog! It's an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York! Who wants to get a photo of this house? :)


Thanks again to the home’s current owners for sharing their Elmhurst with me (and the readers of this blog!). It’s a real treasure.

To read more about Rachel’s discovery in New York, click here.

To join our group of Facebook (”Sears Homes”), click here.

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“I Was The Petted Daughter of a Rich Man…”

November 21st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

“Look at those prices!”

That’s probably the #1 comment I hear from people as they browse the pages of an old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Why were Sears kit homes priced so incredibly low?

Well, they weren’t really. Like everything else in history, the prices of early 20th Century housing have to be looked at in context.

One context to consider is taxation. In 1918, only the very wealthy paid federal income tax. In fact, only 5% of Americans paid any income tax at all. If your employer paid you $15 a week, you took home $15 a week.

The other issue is inflation. Pervasive, savings-eroding inflation has not always been a way of life in America.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first step that moved us off the gold standard. It was a desperate attempt to re-inflate the sagging dollar. In 1933, Roosevelt issued Executive Order #6102, requiring Americans to deliver their gold to the Federal Reserve.

At the time, law required that Federal Reserve notes (aka “dollars”) had to be backed by 40% gold reserves held in the vaults at the Federal Reserve. That was our first disconnect from a true gold standard. The second came in 1971 when President Nixon permanently disconnected us from the gold standard.

After that, the Federal Reserve was free to print as much money as they felt was needed. And it was (not coincidentally) in the 1970s when inflation hit double digits.

A stable (non-inflating) economy made it far easier for people to save up their dollars over a period of years and eventually purchase a home. (Inflation rewards those who borrow and penalizes those who save.) In the early 1900s, taking on debt of any kind was considered foolhardy, dangerous and even reckless.

There was no “rush to buy” because the price of housing (and the value of dollars) was fairly stable. Young couples took their time and often spent many, many years saving up to buy a home.

The third historical context that needs to be considered is simplicity. Take a look the Sears Kismet (shown below). This house has 520 square feet with two bedrooms that measure 8′ by 9′. I’m not sure, but I think a FEMA trailer is bigger than that.

The fourth issue is building codes (a subset of simplicity, really). It was estimated that a kit home cost 30-40% less than a comparable stick-built home. The average joe could order his dream home out of the Sears Roebuck catalog, and within 90 days, his 12,000-piece kit would be delivered to the train station. Many locales did require building permits, but it was nothing like the process is today.

The building permit was - above all - a way for the city/county to make sure that no opportunity for new taxes was overlooked.

Homeowners often installed their own plumbing, electrical, heating and mechanical systems.  And these systems were simple. Fuse boxes were 30-amp service, with one outlet in each room (if that!). Plumbing consisted of a sink in the kitchen and one bathroom. Maybe. Heating systems were often “pipleless” which was a nice way of saying it was a massive space heater in a center hallways.

Houses were much smaller and simpler, and building codes were quite lax.

Still want an $800 house?  :)

Dollar for dollar, the Katrina Cottages offered by Lowes were comparable. These were very basic, very small kit homes selling for $20,000 or so (depending on model). Interestingly, they’re no longer available.

The world has changed since Sears first offered these kit homes in 1908. Most folks today would not find The Kismet suitable. And how many people have the skills to build a 12,000-piece kit? And I don’t know of any city in America where you could build a small house without a whole lot of government intrusion and/or oversight.

But I digress.

The main point is, wages in the 1910s and 1920s were a fraction of today’s incomes. According to American Carpenter and Builder Magazine (December 1912), skilled carpenters in Chicago were earning 65 cents an hour and plumbers were making 75 cents an hour.

In the early days, Ladies’ Home Journal was a magazine devoted to helping women get into a home of their own. Each issue was filled with stories from people who had overcome financial adversities and bought or built their own house on tiny incomes.

Some stories had headings such as, “How a wife did it herself,” and “Bought her own home with nine children and $800 a year income.”  These stories paint a vivid word picture of how much toil and sacrifice pre-World War I families endured to have a home of their own.

The following story appeared in the October 1903 Ladies’ Home Journal and was the winning entry for the magazine’s series, “How some families have saved for their own homes.”

It’s a wonderful story that really demonstrates the sacrifice involved in purchasing a home at the turn of the last century. The wages mentioned in this piece lend some additional insight to the dollar values of the day, and help explain the low prices of homes offered in the Sears catalogs.

We planted a garden and my husband worked it himself. He [arose] every morning at about four and worked [in the garden] until time to go to the shop - about two hours.  We’d sell the vegetables at market, keeping only a minimum for ourselves.

We could not afford to buy a sewing machine, so I rented an old-fashioned hand machine at $3 a year and had to turn the wheel with one hand and guide the work with the other.  I would sew every night (taking in work for hire) never retiring earlier than one o’clock.  I got up at five every morning.

So much work came to me that [many] nights, I would sit up until daybreak, snatch an hour’s nap, then get up to cook breakfast  My husband would get up when I retired, work his garden, split the wood, build a fire in the kitchen stove, bring in enough water for the day (we had no well) and then set the coffee pot to boil. I did the washing and ironing and made my own soap.

Three years thus rolled away. My husband’s wages went up to $8 a week but we still practiced the most rigid economy and cut off some of our necessities. Our cow had a calf and when he was one year old, we killed him and sold the meat.

To clothe my little boy, I took my husband’s cast-off clothing, turned it wrong side out and cut out the best portions, making the boy’s clothes.

At the end of seven years, my husband’s wages had increased to $9 a week. After seven years of struggle and extreme economy, toil and labor, today finds us with a comfortable home, horses and cows.

As for myself, before my marriage I never knew the value of money as I was the petted daughter of a rich man.

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In the early 1900s, Ladies Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

In the early 1900s, Ladies' Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.


The magazines pages were filled with articles on how to buy a nice house.

The magazine's pages were filled with articles on how to build or buy a nice house.


In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages.

In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages. In 1920, these women (sorting incoming orders for Montgomery Ward) probably didn't make $1,000 a year. In 1920, the average teacher's salary was $920 a year.


Heating systems were very primitive compared to todays modern furnaces and boilers. The pipeless furnace was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

Heating systems were very primitive compared to today's modern furnaces and boilers. The "pipeless furnace" was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.


The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.



Pretty small house. Could you raise five kids in the house? Many folks did. There was the parent's bedroom and the kids' bedroom. If you were really fancy, you might get a three-bedroom house with a girls' bedroom and a boys' bedroom.


This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but its pretty small.

This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but it's pretty small. And it's had a substantial addition added onto the back of the house.


To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy your loved one the PERFECT Christmas gift, click 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.


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).


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.


niota fp

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



Close-up of the Sears Niota.


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.


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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The Ivanhoe, By Sears

February 17th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The Magnolia was Sears biggest and best (and most expensive) kit home, but the Ivanhoe was a close second. I’ve only seen a few of these in my travels, and one of them was in Lewisburg, WV and the other was in Elmhurst, Illinois. According to the testimonials found in the old Sears Modern Homes’ catalogs (and referenced in Rebecca Hunter’s book), there’s a Sears Ivanhoe in West Point, Virginia, but it faces the waterfront and is so far off the public road, I’ve not been able to get a photograph.

Below are the Ivanhoes in Lewiston, West Virginia and Elmhurst, Illinois.

First, the original catalog image.

Sears Ivanhoe from the 1919 Modern Homes catalog

Sears Ivanhoe from the 1920 Modern Homes catalog


Ivanhoe floorplan, second floor.


Ivanhoe floorplan, first floor.

Ivanhoe in Elmhurst, IL

Ivanhoe in Elmhurst, IL

Ivanhoe in Lewiston

Ivanhoe in Lewisburg, WV

If you know of the location of an Ivanhoe, please leave a comment below.

If you’ d like to read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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