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Peace Pipes and Fourplexes: The Calumet

October 24th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

The Calumet is a rare Sears kit house that was offered for a brief time in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Sears did offer a few apartment buildings (yes, as kits), and the Calumet was one of them. My favorite feature of the Sears Calumet is the wall-bed, and the Calumet had two wall beds per unit.

The bed frame was included in the kit (but not the mattress).

It’s also interesting to note that the word Calumet comes from the Latin word calamellus, meaning “little reed.”  According to my online dictionary, a calumet is a “ceremonial smoking pipe, traditionally smoked to seal a covenant or treaty, or to offer prayers in a religious ceremony.”

Next time you’re watching TV with your friends and an Indian starts smoking a peace pipe, you can exclaim, “Why, he’s smoking a calumet!”

They’ll be so impressed with your esoteric knowledge!

Want to learn more about Murphy Beds (Wall Beds)? Click here!

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The Calumet, as seen in the 1918 catalog.

I just love the math: 20 rooms in 12! How do they do it? :)

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The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.

The Calumet, as seen on Wikipedia.

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Bs

The Calumets had four porches, each with their own coal bin, whichwas nothing more than a small bin. Not nearly as luxurious as it sounds. Plus, it has "handy closets." I wonder which model had the "unhandy closets"?

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That would have been a heck of a kit house!

That would have been a heck of a kit house!

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Bloomintong

Notice that the wall beds have their own windows - in a closet!

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bed

The Calumet - as seen in the 1918 catalog.

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The only Calumet Ive ever seen - and its in Bloomington, IL.

The only Calumet I've ever seen - and it's in Bloomington, IL. You can see those two "closet-bed windows" on the right side. Sadly, the second-story porches are long gone. That first step outside of those 2nd floor doors is a doozy!

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Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!

Do you think that the wallbed in the Calumet *ever* looked as good as it did in this accompanying image? I kinda doubt it!

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In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.

In another catalog promotion, Sears promises that folding up that wall bed is so easy even a child can do it.

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In the silent short film (1:00 a.m.), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed).

In the silent short film (title, "1:00 a.m."), Charlie Chaplin does battle with a recalcitrant wall bed (also known as a murphy bed). The full video (about 10 minutes) is at youtube. See link below.

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To see the Charlie Chaplin short, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.

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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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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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“This is a Most Attractive Little Home…”

November 18th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

Last month, I wrote about “The Experiment,” where Sears built two Sears Rodessas (small bungalows) side-by-side in Cairo, Illinois, to prove the superiority of the Ready-cut System. The two homes were built in the late 1910s, and now, almost 100 years later, those wonderful little houses are still standing.

Why did Sears choose the Rodessa for their experiment? I don’t know. It was a popular house for Sears, but it wasn’t that popular! If I were to venture a guess, I’d say it was in the Top 50 Most Popular Designs.

However, it was, as the Sears ad promised, “a most attractive little home.” It was cute, simple and practical, which probably made it easy to build in a hurry.

In my travels, I’ve come across several Rodessas. In fact, there’s one not far from me in Urbana, Virginia. You can read about that house by clicking here.

To read more about the Rodessa, scroll down!

pretty

Indeed, the Rodessa is a "pretty little home." And look at the price!!

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Little is right.

Look at those small bedrooms. In 2012, a room that measures 9-feet square is a walk-in closet!

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Busy kitchen

And what does that "B" stand for in the kitchen? BOILER!

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The boiler

The "boiler" (whose placement is indicated with the "B" in the floorplan) was a water heater with a water line that ran through the back of the cook stove. Pretty complicated affair.

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text

"This is a most attractive little home."

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In 1924,

In 1924, Mr. Kidwell built this Rodessa in Washington DC and sent this snapshot in to Sears and Roebuck. He was "fully satisfied" with his Ready-cut home.

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Happy 1926

In 1926, Sears put out a brochure that was titled, "Happy Homes." The Rodessa was featured within its pages. According to the accompanying text, it was built in Independence, MO.

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Happy

Not sure why Sears included a picture of corn with the testimonial.

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HeWood

It's endured some significant remodelings, but at least it's still standing. This transmogrified Rodessa is in Wood River, Illinois (just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, MO). That salt-treated porch railing just does not work on this old bungalow.

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House

This Rodessa may look a little blue, but it's actually a very happy house with lots of good self-esteem. It's in Northern Illinois. Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Heres the Rodessa in my home state (Virginia). Its located in a tiny fishing village known as Urbana.

Here's the Rodessa in my home state (Virginia). It's located in a tiny fishing village known as Urbana. The plaque over the door reads, "Sears Roebuck House, 1924." I was told that the folks in Urbana didn't realize that Sears had 369 other kit home designs. This is a fairly common misconception. This 88-year-old house is in beautiful condition.

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And here are the two Rodessas that were built side-by-side at the site of the old Sears Mill (in Cairo, IL).

And here are the two Rodessas that were built side-by-side at the site of the old Sears Mill (in Cairo, IL). They were built in the late 1910s as part of an experiment to prove that "The Ready-Cut Method" was far more efficient than traditional building practices of the time.

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Ready

The house that was built using traditional building practices took 583 hours and the poor saps aren't finished yet. The yard is still a mess with scraps of lumber scattered hither and yon. The workers have collapsed on the front porch in utter despair and humiliation.

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house

Ah, but the pre-cut Sears Kit Home is all buttoned up and beautiful! They even had time to finish up the landscaping! The kitchen windows are wide open. They had so much time to spare that they went inside and cooked dinner!

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By 1933, the Rodessa had undergone a radical transformation.

By 1933, the Rodessa had undergone a radical transformation. The clipped gables were gone, as were the dramatically oversized eaves. The unique shape of the front porch was replaced with a simpler gabled roof. In a word, its flair and panache had been replaced with pedestrian and dull.

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Learn more about the two Rodessas at the Sears Mill by clicking here.

How did Sears Homes become so popular so fast? Read about that here.

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? It’s just one click away!

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Coming Out Of The Closet: Murphy Beds

November 12th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

In the early years of the 20th Century, living a simple, modest, clutter-free life was an integral part of The Bungalow Craze.

Murphy Beds were an integral part of that “space-saving” mind-set. And they were very practical, too. After one’s morning prayers and ablutions, how often did one return to their sleeping quarters?

When the sun popped up in the morning, it was time to make the bed, fluff the pillows and tuck your bed back into the wall.

During tough economic times, there was an expectation that homeowners would take in needy family members. When times got really tough, homeowners took on borders, too.  (Bear in mind, this was before government became our All-in-all.)

The Murphy Bed made our little bungalows a little bit bigger, and a little more accommodating.

In the 1920s and 30s, the sale of Murphy Beds skyrocketed. In the 1950s and 60s, sales dropped, as Americans moved into bigger and bigger houses. In the 1990s and beyond, sales again are way up, due to a poor economy, high unemployment and rising housing costs.

Some of the early 20th Century kit homes offered by Sears and Aladdin featured Murphy Beds.

“The Cinderella” (so named because the house was so small it required less work), was a cute and cozy kit home offered by Sears in the early 1920s. This little bungalow made good use of its small spaces by incorporating a Murphy Bed. Take a look at the pictures below to see how they did things 100 years ago.

To learn more about built-ins in the 1920s kit home, click here.

To learn about breakfast nooks, click here.

Read about The Sorlien Ceiling Bed here!

If you enjoy the blog, please oh please, share the link on Facebook!  :)

The Cinderella (1921 Sears catalog) was so named because it was an efficient bungalow that saved the housewife

The Cinderella (1921 Sears catalog) was so named because it was an efficiently designed bungalow that saved the housewife much time and effort.

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Interior views of The Cinderella (1921).

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Houses

Less furniture to buy - less trouble and work. Good points, actually.

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houses

In the Cinderella, the beds were tucked into a closet during the day.

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housese

This is my favorite shot. This room was about five feet wide and ten feet deep, but it looks pretty darn spacious. And look at that sink at the end of the wall. Just a lone sink.

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house

The Cinderella assumed that both Living and Dining Rooms would be used as sleeping spaces.

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right order here

It's so easy, even a child can do it! Sort of.

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house

Floorplan shows how tiny that "bed space" really is. It was 10'11" long and - if the drawing is anything near scale, it appears about five feet wide. In modern times, the folks looking at this house probably thought, "How odd! A big walk-in closet next to the living room, and it even has a sink in the corner!"

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"Dressing room and bed space." Pretty tiny space!!!

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Calumet also

"Twenty rooms in 12." Eight of those 20 rooms were closets with a bed.

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four rooms

Here are two of those eight "bedrooms." At least they have a window.

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wall

Close-up on the Murphy Bed in the Calumet.

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Bloom

And here's a real, live Calumet in Bloomington, IL.

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Aladdin Sonoma (1919)

Like Sears, Aladdin (Bay City, MI) also sold kit homes through mail order. They had a line of wee tiny Aladdin homes known as "Aladdinettes." Here's a picture of the Sonoma (1919), one of their Aladdinnette houses.

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And

The Aladdinnette's "bed space" was really tiny. Only 6'9" by 5'. You have to step out of the room to change your mind!!

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best

Close-up of the Aladdinnette's "closet bed."

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And despite those Laurel and Hardy episodes...

Despite what you've seen on those Laurel and Hardy episodes...

To read the next awesome blog, click here.

Interested in other early 20th Century space savers? Click here.

Youtube demonstration of a real Murphy Bed (1916).

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WLS Radio and Sears Roebuck

October 21st, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

What is the connection between the famed Chicago radio station - WLS - and Sears Roebuck?

In 1924, WLS began life as a promotional tool for Sears. In fact, WLS stands for “World’s Largest Store.”

On April 9, 1924, Sears own radio station signed on with 500 watts, with offices on the 11th floor of the Sears 14-story “skyscraper” at Homan and Arthington Street in downtown Chicago.

In 1925, the front pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog promised that, “WLS was conceived in your interests, is operated in your behalf and is dedicated to your service.”

It was a short-lived experiment for Sears. Four years after its creation, WLS was sold to the Prairie Farmer Magazine. The studios were moved to the Prairie Farmer Building  (also in downtown Chicago).  In 1960, WLS was sold to the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

Click here to learn more about the history of WLS.

Hey, is that a Sears House? Click here to learn more about identifying kit homes.

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In 1925, Sears published its first employee newsletter, known simply as "WLS" (World's Largest Store). Inside the newsletter was a detailed account of The Kelly Family buying and building their own kit home.

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To read more about the Kelly’s kit home, click here.

To buy Rose’s newest book, click here.

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