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Posts Tagged ‘historic homes in Portsmouth’

HUD: Destroying History One House At a Time?

May 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 9 comments

If HUD gets its way, a beautiful, mostly original Sears Alhambra  in Portsmouth, Virginia will soon be remuddled into a homogenized plasticine mess.

The old Sears kit home is in a historic district of Portsmouth (Cradock), and - speaking as an architectural historian - I can say with some authority that this is a one-of-a-kind house.

What makes this house special?

It’s a Sears Alhambra (one of Sears finest homes), and it’s 85-years-old, and it’s still in mostly original condition.

Inside, it has an original porcelain bathtub, original light fixtures, unpainted oak trim (a $160 upgrade!), vintage plaster, and original wood windows (some casement; some double-hung).

Through the decades, these beautiful old houses often get remuddled into an almost unrecognizable form.

The Alhambra in Cradock was spared that fate because it was owned by one family for 75 of its 85 years.

And if those 85-year-old walls could talk, they’d tell quite a story.

In 1929, Swedish immigrant Gustav Emil Liljegren picked up a Sears Roebuck catalog and ordered his Sears kit house, an Alhambra.

Price: $2,898.

The 12,000-piece kit arrived within six weeks later in Portsmouth, Virginia and a few weeks later, Gustav’s new home was ready for occupancy.

For years, Gustav Emil Liljegren had toiled and sacrificed and saved so that he could provide a fine home for his family (a wife and four children).

In April 1929, Gustav was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his kit house from Sears.

He had saved enough money to pay cash for the house. His wife was pregnant. He had a good job at the Proctor and Gamble plant in Portsmouth (near the Norfolk Naval Shipyard).

Only five years earlier, Gustav had immigrated from Malmö, Sweden, working as a steward to pay for his passage. It was on the ship - bound for America - that he’d met William Proctor (of Proctor and Gamble fame) who was so impressed with this young Swede that he promised him a job at the Portsmouth plant.

Within a year, Gustav was able to send for his wife and four children. And in 1929, it all fell apart.

His wife’s pregnancy ended in miscarriage. She contracted blood poisoning and died three weeks later, leaving Gustav with four little children. And 12,000 pieces of house coming to Portsmouth.

A short time later, the market crashed and Gustav lost his life savings.

But Gustav pulled it together and pushed on. He picked up the pieces of his life and the 12,000 pieces of his house and slogged through the hard days. Gustav, after all, was a survivor.

In 1937, he married his second wife. In 1954, Gustav retired from Jif and moved to Florida, and sold the Alhambra to Ingvar (Gustav’s son) for $8,000. In 2004, due to declining health, Ingvar Liljengren, (born in 1923) had to sell the house.

A few years later, the house went into foreclosure and that’s when it became a HUD house (in 2014). A long-time Portsmouth resident had always admired the house and put in a bid to buy it. Her bid was accepted.

But that’s where it went off the rails.

After inspecting the house, HUD demanded that the following repairs be completed.

1)  All existing wooden windows were to be replaced with new windows.

2)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, all interior woodwork had to be painted (encapsulated). Yes, all that solid oak, varnished, stunningly beautiful woodwork must be painted.

3)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, the plaster walls had to be covered with sheetrock.

In other words, HUD wants the new buyer to destroy the home’s historic significance (prior to moving in).

I’ve never dealt with HUD but I suspect it’s a massive bureaucracy awash in red tape. I suspect that the local HUD representative doesn’t understand that this house is in a historic district within a very historic city (Portsmouth, Virgina).

I suspect he/she has never read the Secretary of Interior’s preservation briefs on the importance of saving a home’s original features.

I suspect he/she doesn’t understand what they’re asking of a woman who purchased an old house because she fell in love with its inherent unique historical characteristics and charms.

That’s what I suspect.

I hope this is just a massive misunderstanding.

Because if it’s not, our old houses are surely doomed.

If you’ve any ideas how to stop this, please leave a comment below.

Gustav and I thank you.

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The Alhambra was first offered in 1918.

The Sears Alhambra was first offered in 1919.

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In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.

In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.

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And it was a very beautiful home.

And it was a very beautiful home.

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Dining

The dining room featured a built-in buffet (shown above).

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But who doesnt love a sun porch!

But who doesn't love a sun porch - and with a chaise!

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One of Gustavs hobbys was wrought iron work, so he did a little embellishing of the homes exterior railings.

Gustav ordered the Alhambra in Spring 1929. Inside, the house retains many of its original features, such as an oversized porcelain tub, varnished oak trim, original light fixtures and more. This Sears House is now 85 years old, but is still a real jewel. However, if HUD has its way...

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One of the homes best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor.

One of the home's best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor. BTW, one of Gustav's hobbies was wrought iron work. He added the wrought iron railings when he built the house in 1929. In 2002, I was given a full tour of the home's interior, and I was blown away. It is a real beauty, and has been tenderly cared for through the many decades. It's truly a gem.

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It truly saddens me to think that HUD wont be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin.

It truly saddens me to think that HUD won't be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin. And yes, that's an Alhambra, all dressed up for the 21st Century.

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Please leave a comment below. I’m feeling mighty sad these days about the future of these old houses.

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Cooking - Off the Grid!

November 24th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

As has become our annual tradition, hubby cooked our 18-pound turkey on his Weber Charcoal Grill. It was one of the most delicious birds I’ve ever enjoyed. The best part was that it was cooked 100% “off the grid.”

The charcoal is a no-brainer. Lots of people know how to use charcoal to cook their meat.

But the secret of a well-cooked bird  is the rotisserie attachment which spins the meat at a slow speed. This year, the small but powerful rotisserie motor was powered  by our new “Solar System,” three 15-watt solar panels which we recently installed at The Ringer Ranch.

These three photovoltaic panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity, which is stored in a 12-volt deep-cycle marine battery. The inverter (shown below) converts the 12-volt system into 120 volts, suitable for household use.

To learn more about how we installed these solar panels, click here.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

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Look

Our three 15-watt solar panels are on top of the shed roof.

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The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed.

The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed. Notice the orange extension cord coming out of the inverter? That is powering the rotisserie.

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The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power.

The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power. And this was at 8:00 am.

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Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

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It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

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Want a “solar system” of your own? We did it for $351 (total cost). To buy your own, click here.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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To read about a very happy Thanksgiving in 1918, click here.

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It’s Official: I’m Now a Ham (Part V)

November 20th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

One of the most interesting features  of Ham Radio is that its operators are expected to have access to alternative energy sources during times of regional or national emergency.

After all, what good is it to have a Ham Radio if you can’t use it when the power goes out?

For as many years as I can remember, I have been utterly fascinated by alternative energy sources. Capturing a tiny drop of the sun’s massive nuclear-reactive power (386 billion billion megaWatts) is a  fascinating concept.

After several tours of Mike Neal’s very own “Radio Shack,” and after receiving several helpful tutorials on this topic from Mr. Neal (and lots of specific guidance), I was ready to take the plunge.

My “solar project” started in earnest about a month ago when Mike sent me an email to let me know that Harbor Freight was having a sale on solar panels. This was the very set that Mike had at his house and he said it was “a good solar set-up for the money.”

With a $30 coupon (gifted to me from a fellow Ham), I got the $229 solar panels for $159. (The original price for the panels was $229, with a sale price of $189. The $30 coupon got me to $159.)

Because I’m highly allergic to crowds and shopping areas and loud noises and small children and fluorescent lights, I paid the extra six bucks to have the unit shipped directly to my house. It was well worth it.

It took about 12 hours to install the whole rig, and my oh my, it was a fun project. And watching those photovoltaic cells turn the sunlight into electricity is every bit as fascinating as I’d thought it would be.

If I were queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d recommend that every homeowner in America have a set of these on their roof. It was a great learning experience. And I’ve shared all the nitty-gritty details below.

To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of this series.

House shed

The little shed in our back yard is now electrified, thanks to these three solar panels on the roof. Each panel produces 15 watts, for a total of 45 watts.

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solar thunder

I'm not sure why a corporation would adopt the name "THUNDERBOLT" for their solar products. Nonetheless, it's a sound value and seems to be a well-made product.

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Solar panels

The solar panels were set on a 2x4 which was fastened with screws into the roof and painted flat black. The PVC frame was secured to the 2x4 with 3/4" metal pipe clamps. This will enables us to change the angle of the panels (for winter and summer) without any major disassembling.

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house house house

This shot shows the panels and 2x4 more closely. In a mere 12 hours, the solar panels have already been assaulted by both birds (far left) and pine straw (bottom).

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Thinking about how to get the leads into the little shed took some thinking.

Figuring out how to get the leads into the little shed took some thinking. In the end, I decided to drill a hole (3/4") through the 2x4 (and the roofing sheathing below). I reasoned that it'd be easier to patch a clean hole through a piece of lumber rather than trying to patch a hole in an irregular surface (such as an old roofing shingle).

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solar

Using stretchy weatherproofing tape (which probably has a much better name), I bound those three wires (from the three solar panels) together and fed them through the hole into the shed's interior. I purposefully used a lot of tape so it would fill the 3/4" hole. For the tiny gaps that remained, I used a compound putty substance (again, don't know the name but it looks a lot like Silly Putty). Back in the day, a contractor friend told me it was called "Dum Dum" because you use it to patch a dumb mistake. However, I'd like to point out that it should be called "Smart Smart" in this particular application.

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Inside,

Inside, the wires drop down from above and into the controller (right side on the shelf above the battery). From there, the wires go into the 12-volt deep cycle Marine battery. Another set of wires carries the power from the battery back to the inverter (left side on the shelf). The inverter turns the 12-volt current into 120 volts (for household use).

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The

The controller that came with the solar panels is quite impressive. The digital display is large and easy to read, and reports on the battery power (12.4 volts shown here). For $159, it's a pretty fancy set-up and a darn good deal.

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Another nice bonus that came with this set are these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed.

Another nice bonus that came with this set are two of these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed. They plug into the front of the controller (as shown in the picture of the controller above).

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The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for  $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

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Part of the problem I encountered was that, despite my reading and studying, I didnt understand a whole lot about how these things work.

Part of the problem I encountered whilst doing this project was, despite my reading and studying, I didn't understand a whole lot about how all these things work together. I asked Mike Neal, "What's the difference between a 200-watt inverter and a 750-watt inverter?" Fact is, a 200-watt inverter was whole lot cheaper. Mike explained, "Think of the battery as a bucket full of water. You can draw that water out with a swizzle stick or a milk-shake straw. The 200-watt inverter is a swizzle stick. The 750-watt inverter is a milk-shake straw."

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The

The other helper in this project was my wonderful neighbor, Mike Mancini. I told him that I needed a deep-cycle marine battery and he got me a good deal on one at a local marine parts supply company. Plus, he gave me a ride out to the place and then hefted it out of his truck and out to my shed. This battery weighs about 50 pounds. I set it up on cinder blocks to make it easier to access, and I put the OSB down because I'd heard that batteries might discharge if placed directly atop masonry.

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Fie dollahs

You may notice the fine-looking wires shown in the picture above (of the battery). I bought these booster cables at General Dollar Store and paid $5 for the whole affair. I then cut the wires off from the clips and used them for the controller-to-battery run and the battery-to-inverter run. It's 10-gauge stranded copper wire.

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The

The last part of the project required anchoring the panels to the roof. In that the panels sit so high above the roof, they'll become a dandy sail in strong winds. Our solution was to tether the pvc frame to the opposite side of the shed. For the tether, I used 10-gauge stranded copper grounding wire. May seem like a waste, but I recently bought a spool of it to ground a couple antennas and masts and such. Seems I had about 400 feet left over from those other projects.

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Solar

Close-up of the tether on the PVC frame. It's not super taut, but it doesn't need to be. It's anchored into the steep side of the shed roof with an eye-bolt.

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Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such aas the many tall trees in our yard,

Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such as the big old tall trees in our yard. After the "Solar System" was all set up, we were both AMAZED and pleased to see that it started charging immediately. What was so amazing? It was a dark, cold, gloomy overcast day. I can hardly wait to see how it does with a little sunlight!

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Total cost of the entire project:

Solar Panels - $159 plus $6 shipping (and tax)

Interstate battery - $114

750-watt inverter - $39

Battery terminals - $8

Wiring - $5  (thanks Dollar General!)

Incidentals - about $20 (zip ties, pipe clamps, tape)

Total investment:  $351

Entertainment value: Endless!  :)

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To learn more about why Ham Radio is so relevant and important TODAY, click here.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

If you wish to contact Rosemary, please leave a comment below.

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Portsmouth, Virginia: My Home Town

July 11th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

My parents moved to Portsmouth in 1954, so that my father could start his new job at Skippy Peanut Butter. Their first home was on Gladstone Avenue in Park Manor. (Seems apropos, as one of my favorite Sears Homes is The Gladstone.)

In 1957, they moved to Waterview. Using my mother’s Veteran’s Benefits (she was in the WAVES), Mother and Father obtained a VA loan and purchased 515 Nansemond Street. They paid $17,500 for the house. In 1971, they paid off the mortgage.

In 1978, I moved out to marry Tom Thornton, and we bought a house in Portsmouth. My mother remained in the house until 1985, when she sold it for $65,000, and moved into a duplex on Orange Street (in Waterview).

From 1985-2006, I lived in St. Louis, and when I returned to Hampton Roads, I married a fellow who works for the city of Norfolk, but I’m still a Portsmouth girl - through and through.  :)

When Sears Homes became my life, I had a lot of fun finding these “hidden treasures” in Portsmouth. Scroll on down to see a few of the many pretties in P-town!

Heres a picture of the Fullers homestead in Waterview (on Nansemond Street). The photo was taken in 1957, shortly after our family purchased the house.

Here's a picture of our family homestead in Waterview (on Nansemond Street). The photo was taken in 1957, shortly after our family purchased the house. This is *not* a Sears Home, but it's the house where I was born and raised.

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Waterview is home to several kit homes, such as this Sears Kilborn

Waterview is home to several kit homes, such as this Sears Kilbourne (1928 catalog).

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And what a fine-looking Kilbourne it is! This house is in Waterview, about 1/2 mile from my family home at 515 Nansemond Street.

And what a fine-looking Kilbourne it is! This house is in Waterview, about 1/2 mile from my family home at 515 Nansemond Street.

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Even closer to my house in Waterview is this kit home, The Marlboro. This house is not a Sears House, but it was sold by another mail-order company known as Lewis Manufacturing. The Marlboro was their biggest model, and we have one on High Street in Waterview!

Even closer to my house in Waterview is this kit home, The Marlboro. This house is not a Sears House, but it was sold by another mail-order company known as Lewis Manufacturing. The Marlboro was their biggest model, and we have one on High Street in Waterview!

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This is an old picture (from about 2004). I was unable to get a more modern photo because of the beautiful landscaping that now surrounds the house. Yes, its definitely a Marlboro, and its the house where Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker lived in the 1960s when they worked at WYAH.

This is an old picture (from about 2004). I was unable to get a more modern photo because of the beautiful landscaping that now surrounds the house. Yes, it's definitely a Marlboro, and it's the house where Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker lived in the 1960s when they worked at WYAH.

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And another Waterview kit home - the Sears Lynnhaven (1938 catalog).

And another Waterview kit home - the Sears Lynnhaven (1938 catalog).

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There are TWO Lynnhavens on Grayson Street in Waterview, and both are in beautiful condition.

There are TWO Lynnhavens on Grayson Street in Waterview, and both are in beautiful condition. The other Lynnhaven is brick and pretty well covered by trees and bushes.

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Also in Waterview is one of my favorite pattern book houses in all the world. Pattern Book houses were a little different from kit homes. With a pattern book, youd select the house of your dreams and send in your money and youd receive the blueprints and a list of building materials needed to erect the house. You were on your own to buy the building materials. With kit homes, the whole kit and caboodle came right to your train station.

Also in Waterview is one of my favorite pattern book houses in all the world. "Pattern Book" houses were a little different from "kit homes." With a pattern book, you'd select the house of your dreams and send in your money and you'd receive the blueprints and a list of building materials needed to erect the house. You were on your own to buy the building materials. With kit homes, the whole kit and caboodle came right to your train station. This pattern book house is a beauty, and the extant home in Waterview is a perfect match.

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And its even painted the same colors!

And it's even painted the same colors! All the details are perfect!

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And just across the footbridge (on Riverside Drive), youll find this Sears Glenn Falls.

And just across the footbridge (on Riverside Drive), you'll find this Sears Glenn Falls.

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Ever since I was a little girl riding my bike around the neighborhood, I loved and admired this house. And now that Im all growed up, I realize its a Sears House!

Ever since I was a little girl riding my bike around the neighborhood, I loved and admired this house. And now that I'm all growed up, I realize it's a Sears House!

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Westhaven has several kit homes, too, such as this grand old Roberts (offered by Gordon Van Tine). Gordon Van Tine was also a large national company that - like Sears - sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog.

Westhaven has several kit homes, too, such as this grand old "Roberts" (offered by Gordon Van Tine). Gordon Van Tine was also a large national company that - like Sears - sold kit homes through a mail-order catalog.

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This Roberts is in beautiful shape, and sits on one of those quiet, tree-canopied roads that are so prevalent in P-town.

This "Roberts" is in beautiful shape, and sits on one of those quiet, tree-canopied roads that are so prevalent in P-town. Anyone know the owners? I'd love to see the interior.

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Another favorite in Westhaven is this Sears Westly.

Another favorite in Westhaven is this Sears Westly (shown here in the 1916 catalog).

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Close-up of the Westly.

Close-up of the Westly.

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Its an older photo (about 2003), but what a beautiful match! Notice that the house has a slate roof? Unusual, but not unheard of. Buckingham Slate weighs about 1,400 pounds per square (10 by 10 section), so the roof has to be built up to accomodate the weight.

It's an older photo (about 2003), but what a beautiful match! Notice that the house has a slate roof? Unusual, but not unheard of. Buckingham Slate weighs about 1,400 pounds per square (10' by 10' section), so the roof has to be built up to accomodate the weight.

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This Aladdin Lamberton is in Westhaven, not far from the Sears Westly (shown above). Aladdin was yet another mail-order company that sold entire kit homes through catalogs. Aladdin had a massive mill in Wilmington, NC which might explain why we have so many Aladdins here in Hampton Roads.

This Aladdin Lamberton is in Westhaven, not far from the Sears Westly (shown above). Aladdin was yet another mail-order company that sold entire kit homes through catalogs. Aladdin had a massive mill in Wilmington, NC which might explain why we have so many Aladdins here in Hampton Roads.

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The Aladdin Lamberton in Westhaven.

This is one of my favorite "finds," as it's such a beautiful match to the catalog picture above.

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Marsden

The Aladdin Marsden was one of Aladdin's most popular homes.

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Also in Westhaven, theres this Aladdin Marsden.

This Aladdin Marsden (in Westhaven) has had a lot of "improvements," but it's still easily identifiable as a Marsden.

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Marsden

Portsmouth has one of the prettiest Marsdens I've ever seen. This beauty is in Port Norfolk.

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The Aladdin Pomona was another very popular house. It was a classic bungalow with lots of attractive features. Personally, I love the diamond muntins.

The Aladdin Pomona was another very popular house. It was a classic bungalow with lots of attractive features. Personally, I love the diamond muntins.

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Located in Waterview, this Pomona has been remodeled, but its definitely a little Pomona hidden under all those extra square feet of living area.

Located in Waterview, this Pomona has been remodeled, but it's definitely a little Pomona hidden under all those extra square feet of living area.

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This Pomona is in Westhaven. Sadly, I didnt have my chain saw with me when I got these photos, so the landscaping is presenting a bit of an obstacle.

This Pomona is in Westhaven. Sadly, I didn't have my chain saw with me when I got these photos, so the landscaping is presenting a bit of an obstacle. Remember I mentioned Tom Thornton above? Tom's aunt and her husband (Betty Beal and her hubby Bobby) lived in this house for many years.

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And moving on down London Blvd, there are a few Sears Homes down in West Park View, too.

And moving on down London Blvd, there are a few Sears Homes down in West Park View, too.

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This Attleboro is in West Park View, and its a real find. In all my travels, Ive seen only a half-dozen Attleboros and to see that we have one in Portsmouth is pretty darn exciting!

This Attleboro is in West Park View, and it's a real find. In all my travels, I've seen only FOUR Attleboros and to see that we have one in Portsmouth is pretty darn exciting!

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Also in West Park View theres a Sears Elsmore.

Also in West Park View there's a Sears Elsmore.

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Sears Elsmore

This Elsmore is on Elm Street, which is pretty cool. There's another Elsmore on Turnpike Blvd, tucked away behind the trees.

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The Oak Park is a Dutch Colonial offered by Sears in the late 1920s and into the 30s.

The Oak Park is a Dutch Colonial offered by Sears in the late 1920s and into the 30s.

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And theres an Oak Park in West Park View.

And there's an Oak Park in West Park View.

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Just around the corner from the Oak Park is another unusual Sears Dutch Colonial, The Montrose.

Just around the corner from the Oak Park is another unusual Sears Dutch Colonial, The Montrose.

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And its a fine, fine house!

And it's a fine, fine house!

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And these folks

And these folks appreciate their beautiful Sears Montrose!

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At the other end of Elm Street, theres an Aladdin Shadowlawn.

At the other end of Elm Street, there's an Aladdin Shadowlawn.

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I wonder if these folks know what a treasure they have?

I wonder if these folks know what a treasure they have?

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Theres another Shadowlawn in Port Norfolk minus the porte cochere.

There's another Shadowlawn in Port Norfolk minus the porte cochere.

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In Prentiss Place, theres a Harris Brothers (yet another national kit home company).

In Prentiss Place, there's a Harris Brothers house (yet another national kit home company). There are six national kit home companies, and Portsmouth has houses from five of them. Pretty darn impressive for a "small" town. :)

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Unfortunately, I could only get a shot from the one side

Unfortunately, I could only get a shot from the one side, but it's a Harris Brother's Model #J-161. The other side has the polygon bay (as shown on the page above).

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Surprisingly, there are two Sears Alhambras in Portsmouth.

Surprisingly, there are two Sears Alhambras in Portsmouth.

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Alhambra

This Alhambra (looking fairly decent despite the replacement vinyl windows) is in the 1500-block of County Street, It's surrounded by a sea of empty lots, so one wonders, how many Sears Homes bit the dust when this area was "redeveloped"?

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Alhambra 2

In 2002, I gave a talk on Sears Homes in Port Norfolk. Five people showed up. Two of them were the married couple that owned this Alhambra in Craddock. They have me the full tour, and it's a dandy of a house - inside and out.

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And also in Craddock, theres a Sears Conway.

And also in Craddock, there's a Sears Uriel.

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Uriel

It's been through some tough times, but it's still identifiable as a Sears Uriel.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

To read about the Sears Homes in Norfolk, click here.

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The Plan Book Homes of Portsmouth, Virginia

July 13th, 2011 Sears Homes 6 comments

Tens of thousands of homeowners turned to Plan Books for their housing needs in the early 1900s. It was similar to buying a kit home, but with a few important differences. After browsing the pages of a plan book (filled with pretty pictures of pretty homes), you’d pick a house that fit your budget and your needs, and then send off a few dollars.

Within a few days or weeks, you’d receive a full set of blue prints, plus a list of the building materials you’d need to build your dream home.

In other words, you were buying blue prints and a building materials list, nothing more.

Plan book houses are so ubiquitous and the designs are so varied that a person could drive themselves nuts trying to find and identify all the plan book houses in their neighborhood. I’ve got one book of plans from the late 1920s, and it must have more than 500 house designs. And that was one company.

That being said, I did go through a “plan book phase” in my house hunting career, and here are a few of the houses I found in Portsmouth (and surrounding areas).

Nice little Tudor from the pages of a Homebuilders Planbook

Nice little Tudor from the pages of a popular early 1920s planbook.

Nice match in Portsmouth, Virginia on Rockbridge Road (Waterview section).

Nice match in Portsmouth, Virginia on Rockbridge Road (Waterview section).

Kind of a funky looking house.

Kind of a funky looking house with that arched porch roof.

Also on Rockbridge Road (Waterview), this house had some big dormers added.

Also on Rockbridge Road (Waterview), this house had some big dormers added.

Nice

This is one of my favorites. Nice design and good front porch (on the side).

Poor photo, but great house. I grew up next door to this house. My home was at 515 Nansemond Street, also in Waterview.

Poor photo, but great house. I grew up next door to this house. My home was at 515 Nansemond Street, also in Waterview.

Beautiful little Tudor Revival from the late 1920s

Beautiful little Tudor Revival from the late 1920s

This is my favorite match!  The house is a perfect match to the catalog image, and its even painted in the same colors! I sent these folks a color copy of this catalog page, but never heard back from them.

This is my favorite match! The house is a perfect match to the catalog image, and it's even painted in the same colors! I sent these folks a color copy of this catalog page, but never heard back from them. This house is on Riverside Drive (Waterview). Even the tiny little details are a spot-on match.

This was a duplex, and proved to be a popular design.

This was a four-unit apartment, and proved to be a popular design. I've seen three of these in my travels.

This one is in South Norfolk (near Portsmouth).

This one is in South Norfolk (near Portsmouth).

Thi

Pretty, pretty house.

house

The details around the front porch gable are a tiny bit different, but the rest of the house is a perfect match, down to the strap hinges on the front door. This house is in Park View (Portsmouth).

The Regent was also a popular plan book house.

The Regent was also a popular plan book house.

And this one is in the Colonial Place neighborhood in Norfolk!

And this one is in the Colonial Place neighborhood in Norfolk!

This last house is not in Portsmouth, but it is probably *THE* most popular plan book house Ive come across.

This last house is not in Portsmouth, but it is probably *THE* most popular plan book house I've come across.

I found two of these in Beckley, WV and Ive seen countless others all over the country.

I found two of these in Beckley, WV and I've seen countless others all over the country.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Jim and Tammy’s House - a Kit Home!

February 2nd, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Those familiar with WYAH-TV and Portsmouth, Virginia will remember that this was where Pat Robertson and CBN got their start. According to his autobiographical book, Shout it From The Housetops, the name for Robertson’s flagship station came from the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh. In 1960, when the station was first launched, this was a remarkable event. It was the first Christian television network, and it was located right here in Portsmouth, Virginia.

The station signed on the air October 1961, and in 1966, a young couple named Jim and Tammy Bakker started working for Robertson. Their show, “The Jim and Tammy Show” featured local kiddos in the studio audience. Growing up in Waterview, my best friend was Margee Anderson, and her mom would drive Margee and me down to the studio on Spratley Street and we’d take our place in the audience.  As a seven or eight year old child, I remember thinking that Jim and Tammy were good people. I’d like to believe that those cherished memories of childhood are right, and that the Bakkers merely lost their way in later years.

The Bakkers lived in Waterview, about three blocks from my own home. Sometime in the 1970s, they left Portsmouth and moved out of their Dutch Colonial home at the foot of the Churchland bridge.

In later years, I discovered that the Bakker’s home was actually a kit home, ordered from a mail-order catalog sometime in the early 1920s. The house was shipped by train - in about 12,000 pieces - and came with a 75-page instruction book that told the wanna-be homeowner how all those pieces went together. The house the Bakkers lived in was sold by Lewis Manufacturing of Bay City, Michigan. Their model was The Marlboro.

To learn more about kit homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

Lewis Marlboro

Lewis Marlboro

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Lewis Marlboro in Portsmouth, as it appeared in 2004. The front door was covered with plywood, due to some issue (which eludes my memory right now).

From the 1921 catalog

From the 1921 catalog

The house as it appears today

The house as it appears today

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

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