Archive

Posts Tagged ‘jim walters homes’

The True Origins of the Sears Magnolia

February 10th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

The Sears Magnolia, offered from 1918-1922, seems to be a source of a much misinformation and confusion.

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to another purported “Magnolia” in Watseka, IL (719 South Fourth Street). And then a member in our “Sears Homes” Facebook group showcased a quote from author Daniel Reiff (Houses from Books) stating that even though the house in Watseka is not a Sears Magnolia, it may have been an inspiration for the Sears architects.

Built models might have also been an influence [for the Sears Magnolia]. Only one hundred miles from Chicago, in Watseka, IL is an impressive Colonial Revival built in 1903 with many features in common with the Magnolia (Houses from Books, p. 194).

I’d say there are a few other houses that have “many features in common with the Magnolia” - as in thousands.

The Magnolia would be best described as a Colonial Revival, which was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sears was not an innovator in anything, most of all, architectural design. They looked at what was popular and created their housing designs accordingly.

Judging from the photos in Houses from Books, much of Reiff’s research was centered in the Northeast, specifically the New York area. Mr. Reiff should have traveled down to the South, because we’re loaded with examples of what is commonly known as the Colonial Revival.

If I felt compelled to connect a specific house to the architect’s creation of the Sears Magnolia, I’d put my money on a 1910-built house in Blacksburg, SC (photos below).

The South Carolina “Magnolia” was built in 1910, and based on the home’s interior moldings, mantels, staircase and some other clues, I’d say that the 1910 build-date is pretty accurate. And although this is a wild guess, I suspect that it MAY BE a pattern book house.

This “SCFM” (”South Carolina Faux Maggy”) is four feet wider and four feet longer than the Sears Magnolia.

When Sears “borrowed” patterns from other sources, they’d change the dimensions a bit, and in the case of the SCFM, it was a bit too big for Sears purposes, so shrinking the footprint made sense.

One more interesting detail: The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets across the front of the Magnolia. The SCFM has eight brackets. The Magnolia’s dormer has four of these eave brackets. The SCFM has three. These are the kind of details that matter.

Mr. Reiff also identified a Sears Magnolia in Dunkirk, NY.


A second example of a brick Magnolia can be found in Dunkirk NY, Despite the lack of side wings because of the narrow lot, the similarities to the Sears model are still striking, but the house is much narrower than its model. In fact, although the 93 West Fourth Street is the same depth as the Magnolia (36′1 vs. 36), it is a full ten feet narrower (29.10 vs. 40.0)
.

All of which are deal killers. Dimensions matter - a lot. However, Mr. Reiff pulls it out of the fire at the end with this:

The plan of the Dunkirk house is considerably different. Instead of the formal central hallway with staircase and rooms on either side, here the plan is far more compact; One enters the living room which runs across the front of the house in the middle of its long side; the stairs are at one end…Here we almost certainly have an instance of a local builder who studied the illustration in the Sears catalog and created his own version of it, without ordering the plans or, in all likelihood, any of the materials from Sears (p. 196).


Besides, if you were going to name a house “The Magnolia,” would your inspiration come from the frozen North?

I think not.

Now, where is that 9th Magnolia?

To see pictures of all eight Sears Magnolias, click here.

To read more about the “fake” Magnolia in SC, click here.

*     *     *

If I was going to pick a house to have been a model for the Magnolia, Id pick this house in Blacksburg, SC!!

If I were going to pick a house to have been a "model" for the Magnolia, I'd pick this house in Blacksburg, South Carolina After all, this actually looks like a Magnolia!

*

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 and is shown here on the cover of the 1918 Modern Homes catalog. Some may describe it as a Colonial Revival, but really, it's a foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

*

!92

The Magnolia (1920 Modern Homes catalog).

*

This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a model for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to cut it down to size for a kit house catalog.

This house in Blacksburg, SC was built in 1910. You want to talk about a "model" for the Magnolia? This would be it. The house was wider and deeper than the Magnolia, but it would have been easy work to "cut it down to size" for inclusion in a kit house catalog. There are 15 small lites over the large windows on the first floor - just like the Magnolia. And, it's in South Carolina, just where you'd expect to find a "Magnolia"!

*

The other big difference are the columns.

The other big difference is the columns. The real Magnolia has hollow wooden columns (made of poplar). The house in Blacksburg had columns made of concrete. Try shipping *that* from Chicago!

*

The details around the eaves are also a little bit off.

The details around the eaves are also a little bit "off." The eave brackets on the SC house are more ornate (photo on right). The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets on the Sears Magnolia. The Blacksburg house has eight brackets. The Magnolia's dormer has four of these eave brackets. The Blacksburg house has three. These are the kind of details that really do matter. (The house on the left is a Magnolia in Nebraska which has since been torn down. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

But boy oh boy, its a close one!!

But boy oh boy, it's a close one!!

*

Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

Has those 15 lites over the window, too!

*

Even the interior floorplan was a good match!

However, the interior floorplan was not quite right, and that's a big deal, too.

*

Heres the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

Here's the real deal in Northern West Virginia.

*

And here are

In June 2012, I traveled to Anderson, SC and found these two Colonial Revivals within a block of each other. In the South, this house style is very popular and can be found in almost every old neighborhood. In fact, these houses might just be real Colonials (as opposed to a post-Civil war "Revival").

*

The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, its just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!!  (Not)

The Colonial Revival was a hugely popular housing style in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To learn more about this style, I heartily recommend this book. Why, it's just *FULL* of Sears Magnolias!!! (Not)

*

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy or Rose’s book, click here.

To read about the now-deceased Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

*     *     *

About That Sears House in Greeley, Colorado (Part II)

December 20th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about the Sears Avondale in Greeley, Colorado. When that blog was posted, I had nothing more than vintage photos of this house, built by Winfred H. Senier.

Thanks to Betsy Kellums of the Greeley Preservation Historic Office, I now have contemporary photos of Mr. Senier’s fine old Avondale (shown below).

Take a look at the original vintage photo below from the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. If you look closely, you’ll see Winfred’s wife (May) sitting on the front porch and old Winfred on the porch wall.

To read the prior blog, click here.

To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

Noothing like old photos

This photo first appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It's a great photo and you can see that - when built in 1910 or 1911, Mr. Senier's house had stained glass windows. This was an upgrade, and it's likely that the home's interior had some fancy upgrades as well.

*

obi

Sharon Dunn (reporter for the Greeley Tribune) forwarded me Winfred's obit, which showed that Mr. Senier raised Shire horses, Tamworth hogs, and Airedale and Shepherd dogs. Above is a photo of Winfred and May, and two of their dogs (about 1910 or 1911).

*

Is this a Shire horse?

Is this a Shire horse? Or is this just "Pumpkin" the friendly horse who helped build the house?

*

Now this is one thing I have never ever seen before. In 1919, Mr. Senier supplied a subsequent photo of the Greeley home, and it was published in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. You can see tha

Now this is one thing I have never ever seen before. Years after the house was built, Mr. Senier supplied a subsequent photo of the Greeley home (with mature landscaping), and it was published in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. You can see that the vegetation has grown up a bit! And there's Winfred and May on the front porch (still).

*

1910

The Sears Avondale was first offered in the 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog. When was Mr. Senier's house built? Well, most likely it was between 1909 - 1911. I'd love to know for sure.

*

Avondale was a heck of a house

The Avondale was one of Sears nicer homes. It was spacious and fancy. The house in Greeley is probably one of the first Avondales built in the country.

*

Floorplan

Look at the dimensions of the living and dining rooms. It was a very spacious house.

*

Showed up at the fair in 1911

In this colorized card, you can see the stained-glass windows on the house. There are four. Two flanking the fireplace and two on the home's front.

*

Interior

Another postcard shows the interior of the Sears Avondale.

*

Thanks to Betsy Kellam, we now have contemporary photos of Mr. Seniers Avondale.

Thanks to Betsy Kellums, we now have contemporary photos of Mr. Senier's Avondale. Still looks a little lonely out there in Greeley. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

Its still standing but needs a smidge of paint.

It's still standing but needs a smidge of paint. Given the fact that's it's 100 years old, it's in remarkably good condition. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

house

If you look at the roof lines and thee porch, you can see that the house is still square and straight and true. Mr. Senier and Sears did a fine job with this house. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

house

Mr. Senier died 67 years ago, but the house that he built for his family lives on. What a remarkable testimony to the quality of Sears kit homes. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

Sadly, those beautiful stained-glass windows are gone.

Sadly, those beautiful stained-glass windows are gone. (Photograph is copyright 2012 Betsy Kellums and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

Thanks to Sharon Dunn (Greeley Tribune) for sending me Mr. Senier’s obituary. If you have any interest in Colorado history, this obit is a fascinating read. Mr. Senier was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Senier, two original Greeley pioneers. Winifred Senier (the Avondale builder) had only one child (a daughter), but apparently his one daughter had eight children, all of whom lived in Greeley.

W. H. Senier Dies Thursday (December 4, 1945).


Winfred Howell Senier, who for 35 years operated a stock farm east of Greeley, died early Tuesday morning at the Weld County hospital after an illness of a year and a half. He had been a patient at the hospital only a few days.

He was 73 years old. Mr. Senier was a breeder of Shire horses, Tamworth hogs, and Airedale and Shepherd dogs. He was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. John Senier, Greeley pioneers, his mother being Eva Camp, daughter of a Union Colony member.

Mr. Senier was born in Covington, Ga., and came to Greeley with his parents when he was six years old.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs. May Porter Senier, and one son, Archie Camp Senier, eight grand-children and one great grandchild, Richard Glen Senier.

His grand-children are Pfc. Winfred E. Senier of Fort Lewis, Wash.; Pfc. Robert John Senier of Lamar; ARM 1/c Woodrow E. Senier of Bakersfield, Calif.; WT 1/c William A. Senior [sic] awaiting discharge from the army following overseas duty; Gloria May, June Alice, Buddy and Doral Senier, all of Greeley.

One sister, Mrs. Jeanette Noxon of Greeley, also survives.

*  *  *

Thanks to Mark Hardin and Rachel Shoemaker for their indefatiguable efforts in researching this house in Greeley, and thanks to Betsy Kellums for the wonderful photos!

*  *  *

To read more about the house in Greeley, click here.

*     *    *

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About That Sears House in Greeley, Colorado

December 7th, 2012 Sears Homes 7 comments

Updated! To see the newest blog with contemporary photos of this house, click here!!

More than a year ago, I posted a blog about a Sears Avondale/Hawthorne in Greeley, Colorado.

Since then, several folks have left comments, and thanks to their efforts, the house has been found.  :)

And that’s remarkable for two reasons.

One, Sears Homes aren’t that common in the “Far West” (as that area was known in the early 1900s), and two, Sears offered 370 models but the Avondale/Hawthorne was one of the fancier homes.

To read the original blog, click here.

Text continues below the pictures.

*

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for supplying this photo. It originally appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I erroneously identified a house in McHenry Illinois as the house in Greeley.

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for supplying this photo. It originally appeared in the 1912 Sears Modern Homes catalog. In an earlier blog, I erroneously identified the house in McHenry Illinois as the house in Greeley. This is the correct photo (as you can see in the caption). Best of all, it shows Mr. Senier's wife, horse and two dogs. Digging through old census records, Rachel also discovered that the husband's name is Winfred and the wife's name is May. Rachel was not able to discern the name of the horse and dogs. Let's call them "Teddy" and "Freddy" (dogs) and "Pumpkin" (horsie). Actually, I'm not sure if that's Winfred sitting on the rail. Whomever it is seems to be wearing a bowler hat.

*

Is the house in Greeley an Avondale or a Hawthorne? Rachel Shoemaker pointed out that its a Hawthorne, and she is right.

Mr. Senier and family built the Avondale in Greeley. Not a bad house for $2,176.

*

The Hawthorne, as seen in 1916.

The Hawthorne, as seen in 1916. This was very similar to the Avondale, but the Hawthorne had a second floor and the side walls were higher (creating more space upstairs).

*

The comments that followed the original blog have been hugely helpful, so I’m reprinting them here.

*

Rachel

Rachel is an indefatigable researcher.

*

more

And Rachel is right. I had the houses in Greeley, CO and Illinois mixed up.

*

more

And then the intrepid researchers found info on that Greeley House.

*

And then around the 5th, Mark (who also left a comment on December 5th) sent me this email:

I found a page that mentions the Senior name on a map from 1915. There is a plot of land on the map that is just outside of Greeley in the area around the Greeley / Weld county airport. I think the map calls it Camp Senier.

Maybe this is the area the house is in if it still exist. If it’s not there then maybe its somewhere between the camp and the rail line to the west.

Using Google Maps, Mark ultimately found Milford Howell Senier’s “Avondale” at about 120 East 4th Street Road in Greeley.

Thanks so much to Rachel and Mark for finding this old Avondale. What an impressive bunch of research!!!

Now I need some photos of this wonderful house in Greeley!  :)

If you’re in the area and can get a photo, please leave me a comment below!

*   *   *

How to Properly Identify a Sears Magnolia

November 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 2 comments

Nary a week passes that someone doesn’t send me a note, happily reporting that they’ve spotted a Sears Magnolia in their neighborhood.

And 99.99% of the time, they’re wrong.

Priced at about $6,000, the Sears Magnolia (sold from 1918-1922) was Sears biggest and fanciest kit home. And despite lots of searching, only seven Sears Magnolias have been found.

Like most of the 370 designs of houses offered by Sears, the Magnolia was purposefully patterned after a popular housing style: The Southern Colonial. Here in Hampton Roads, there’s a Southern Colonial Revival in many of our early 20th Century neighborhoods.

However, the Sears Magnolia - the real deal - has several distinctive features that distinguish from “look-alikes.”

The photos shown below give some visual clues on how to identify the Sears Magnolia (the real deal).

The Sears Magnolia was their biggest, fanciest and most expensive home. It was offered from 1918-1922. The picture here is from the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Magnolia was their biggest, fanciest and most expensive home. It was offered from 1918-1922. The picture here is from the 1921 catalog. If you look closely at the badge that shows the price, you'll see that the Magnolia was also known as #2089.

*

After World War One (The Great War),

After World War One (The Great War), lumber prices went sky high. Sears catalogs had about a six-week lead time (from creation to publishing). Due to the volatility of building material costs, Sears couldn't keep up on the price info. As an alternate, they just stuck price sheets into the pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalog. See the Magnolia above? This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the Spring 1921 Sears catalog.

*

The Magnolia had more than 2,900 square feet (as built). The first floor was pretty busy.

The Magnolia had more than 2,900 square feet (as built). The first floor was pretty busy.

*

Heres a close-up of the kitchen

Here's a close-up of the kitchen area and butler's pantry. Notice that there''s a downstairs "lavatory." Pretty upscale for 1921.

*

My favorite Magnolia. This one is in Benson, NC.

A picture-perfect Magnolia in Benson, NC.

*

And this one is in Canton, Ohio.

And this one is in Canton, Ohio.

*

The lumber in Sears Homes was numbered, as is shown in this graphic from the rear cover of the 1921 catalog.

The lumber in Sears Homes was numbered, as is shown in this graphic from the rear cover of the 1921 catalog. The mark is on one end of the lumber, and also on the face of it (typically about 6-8" from the end). "B" was for 2x4s, "C" was 2x6s, "D" was 2x8s.

*

Heres a real life example of the marks.

Here's a real life example of the mark on the lumber.

*

Mak

The Magnolia was also known as Modern Home #2089. If you look closely, you'll see the number 2089 scribbled on this 2x8. This is the basement of the Benson Magnolia. When the house was being prepared for shipment out of the mill in Cairo, Illinois, the model number was written on a few of the framing members. To the right is the name of the family that originally placed the order for this house.

*

The Magnolia was offered with both Corinthian (as shown here) and Ionic columns. I havent figured out if this was an option, or if it was dependent on what year the house was ordered.

The Magnolia was offered with both Corinthian (as shown here) and Ionic columns. I haven't figured out if this was an option, or if it was dependent on what year the house was ordered. In the Sears Magnolia, these columns are wooden and hollow. I've found that most "Southern Colonials" (with these two-story columns) have concrete columns. If you think you've found a Magnolia, go rap on the columns and if they're made of something more solid than wood, it is NOT a Magnolia.

*

The entry hall of a Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA.

The entry hall of a Sears Magnolia in Irwin, PA. The details matter. Notice over the door, there's an arched fan light. Many "look-alikes" have a square transom over the door. Learn how to pay attention to these many details.

*

Noticee these very disctinctive windows on the Magnolia. Does the house youre looking at have these very samee windows? If not, its probably not a Sears Magnolia.

Notice these very distinctive windows on the Magnolia. Does the house you're looking at have these very same windows? If not, it's probably not a Sears Magnolia.

*

If it dooesnt look like this, its not a Magnolia!  :0

If it doesn't look like this, it's not a Magnolia! :)

*

house

Here's another example of a Magnolia (located in West Virginia).

*

And another

And another beautiful Magnolia in Syracuase, NY. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

*

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another really awesome story on Sears Homes, click here.

My favorite blog (an interview with a man who built a Magnolia) is here.

*   *   *

A Little Bit of Hollywood in Owaneco (Illinois)

November 25th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

In February 2010, I traversed 2,500+ miles, driving throughout the Illinois hinterlands, seeking and finding Sears Homes.

I’m firmly convinced that we all entertain angels unawares (although sometimes, I suspect that it’s the angels that find me pretty entertaining). Before I start out on these jaunts, I always say a little prayer, asking for a bit of divine guidance.

Perhaps that’s how I came to land in Owaneco (a really tiny town). Turning onto the main drag (the only drag), I discovered this wonderful old Sears Hollywood. Yes, the house is a little tired but - the good news is - it’s in wonderfully original condition.

It’s been more than two years since I first posted these photos. Since then, the owners contacted me and said that they’re working hard to do a faithful restoration.

That’s always music to my ears!

*   *  *

It was a gloomy day when I photographed this Sears Hollywood in Owaneco, but this is still one of my favorite photos from that trip.

It was a gloomy day when I photographed this Sears Hollywood in Owaneco, but this is still one of my favorite photos from that trip. This house is still solid and square and true.

*

The original catalog image from 1919.

The original catalog image from 1919.

*

This was a very spacious house.

This was a very spacious house. The living room alone was 406 square feet of living area. The house itself was almost 1,400 square feet. And it even had a sleeping porch on the back!

*

The Hollywood was offered in two different styles.

The Hollywood was offered in two different styles. The house in Owaneco is the style shown in the lower right of the catalog page. I've reversed the image (as is shown directly underneath the home's actual photo). Sears plans could be "reversed" to take advantage of optimal lighting on the lot.

*

Hol

According to the catalog, there are also Hollywoods in these cities!

*

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read another fascinating blog, click here.

*   *   *

Looking For Info on Jim Walter’s Homes!

June 17th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

In 1978, soon after my first husband and I were first married, we sat down and looked through a Jim Walter Homes catalog. The idea of building a kit home was hugely appealing to us. In the end, we decided to buy an existing home, but throughout the years, the idea of building our own sacred space held a special appeal.

In 1999, I was asked to write an article about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, Illinois. As a freelance writer scrambling to make a living, I gladly obliged. Once I laid eyes on those 156 Sears Homes in a 12-block area, I was completely and hopelessly in love. The 1000-word article that should have taken a few hours took a few weeks. The editor asked for “a couple photos” and I submitted 96 photos. This was back in the days of film, and those 96 photos represented FOUR ROLLS of film!

When that first article appeared, I was suddenly “the expert” on kit homes. I didn’t know that much about kit homes, but I did have a passion for the topic. I went looking for a book on the topic and found very little. “Houses by Mail” (a field guide to Sears Homes) was a fascinating book, but had very little textual history. And that’s how I came to write “The Houses That Sears Built.”

Within 90 days, my book was featured in The New York Times and then I was asked to appear on PBS’ History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News and more. From there, it was off to the races.

And that’s the “back story” of how I came to be an expert on kit homes.

Now, I’m interested in learning more about Jim Walter Homes, based in Tampa, Florida. For the last six weeks, I’ve been tirelessly searching eBay for ephemera from this company but I’ve found nothing. If anyone has any ideas on how to get some info on Jim Walter Homes, please drop me a line! I’m also interested in finding pictures of existing Jim Walter Homes.

To contact me, please leave a comment below!

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Cover of the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Cover of the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

G

Pictured above is a Gordon Van Tine kit homes catalog from the late 30s/early 40s.

W

Wardway Homes catalog, about 1931.

Aladdin Homes, about 1916

Aladdin Homes, 1917. I'm not sure, but I think that's the genie going back into the bottle, after building a house for his master. Love the post-apocalyptic orange sky!

* * *

Sears Homes of Northern Illinois

January 12th, 2011 Sears Homes 4 comments

In early 2009, The History Press contacted me and asked me to write a book on the Sears Homes of Illinois. Interestingly enough, the title was to be The Sears Homes of Illinois.

In early February 2010, I left my home in Norfolk, Virginia and went to northern Illinois where I met up with Rebecca Hunter in Elgin.  For three whole days, kind and gracious Rebecca drove me throughout the northern Illinois suburbs, helping me photograph these amazing Sears Homes. Here are some of the houses from that trip (see pictures below).

To learn more about Rebecca, click here. Thanks to Dr. Rebecca Hunter, 213 Sears homes have been identified in Elgin. To learn more about the largest known collection of Sears homes in the country, visit the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, and check out The Elgin Illinois Sears House Research Project (by Rebecca Hunter). This book is also available for interlibrary loan within the state of Illinois. You can also visit Dr. Hunter’s website at www.kithouse.org.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read more about the Sears Homes in the Midwest, click here.


A bungalow from the Golden West the Osborn was another very popular house. This one is on a corner lot in Annapolis.

A "bungalow from the Golden West" the Osborn was another very popular house. This picture from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog also shows interior views of The Osborn.

Sears Osborn in St. Charles, Illinois

Sears Osborn in St. Charles, Illinois

The Sears Newcastle was a Colonial Revival and a popular design

The Sears Newcastle was a Colonial Revival and a popular design

Sears Newcastle in northern Illinois

Sears Newcastle in Geneva, Illinois

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka, another popular Sears Homes

Sears Matoka in St. Charles

Sears Matoka in St. Charles

Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Aurora, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Elgin, Illinois

Sears Fullerton in Elgin, Illinois

Sears Del Rey

Sears Del Rey

Sears Del Rey in Wheaton, Illinois

Sears Del Rey in Wheaton, Illinois

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina, Model #2024

Sears Marina (2024) in West Chicago

Sears Marina (2024) in Geneva, Illinois

The Sears Hamilton was a modest, but a big seller for Sears.

The Sears Hamilton was a modest, but a big seller for Sears.

Sears Hamilton in Elgin, IL

Sears Hamilton in Elgin, IL

Perhaps one of their top ten most popular designs, the Sears Crescent was offered in two floor plans, with an expandable attic option in both plans.

Perhaps one of their top ten most popular designs, the Sears Crescent was offered in two floor plans, with an expandable attic option in both plans.

Crescent in Elmhurst, IL

Significantly remodeled Crescent in Elmhurst, IL

The most notable feature on the Americus (shown here from the 1925 catalog) was the oversized front porch roof, unique front columns and the second floor front wall that juts out a little from the first.

The most notable feature on the Americus (shown here from the 1925 catalog) was the oversized front porch roof, unique front columns and the second floor front wall that juts out a little from the first.

Sears Americus in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Sears Americus in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

* * *

Sears and Wardway

January 12th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

What’s the difference between Sears kit homes and Montgomery Ward’s kit homes? Sometimes, not a lot.

Sears was in business from 1908-1940. Wardway started in 1909 and jumped ship in 1932. Sears sold about 75,000 homes, and Ward’s probably sold about 25,000 homes.

There were many Sears kit homes that looked a whole lot like Wardway homes. In fact, even the “experts” have a tough time telling these houses apart, without going inside and taking measurements, or looking for certain marks on the lumber. Sears and Wards did emulate one another’s architectural designs and to keep the little houses from being identical, they’d make minor alterations in the home’s exterior footprint.

A perfect example of this is the Sears Mitchell and the Wardway Newport. The Wardway version of this little Neo-Tudor was 26 x 40, and the Sears version was 26 x 41. That’s tough to assess from a windshield survey!

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Sears Mitchell from the 1936 catalog

Wardway Newport, from their 1931 catalog

Ready for the test? Which one is a Sears and which one is a Wardway?

Is it Sears or Wards?

Sears or Wardway? (Photograph by Dale Wolicki)

Gorgeous house, isn't it?

Ready for the answer?

The first extant photo is a Wardway Newport in Alton, Illinois. The second photo is also a Wardway in Barrington, Illinois. The third house is a Sears Mitchell in Elgin, Illinois. So the first two are Wardway and the third house is a Sears.

Hard to see that extra foot on the length of the house, isn’t it? :)

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

Jim Walter Homes - Where’d They Go?

October 24th, 2010 Sears Homes 6 comments

In 1978, soon after my first husband and I were first married, we sat down and looked through a Jim Walter Homes catalog. The idea of building a kit home was hugely appealing to us. In the end, we decided to buy an existing home, but throughout the years, the idea of building our own sacred space held a special appeal.

In 1999, I was asked to write an article about the Sears Homes in Carlinville, Illinois. As a freelance writer scrambling to make a living, I gladly obliged. Once I laid eyes on those 156 Sears Homes in a 12-block area, I was completely and hopelessly in love. The 1000-word article that should have taken a few hours took a few weeks. The editor asked for “a couple photos” and I submitted 96 photos. This was back in the days of film, and those 96 photos represented FOUR ROLLS of film!

When that first article appeared, I was suddenly “the expert” on kit homes. I didn’t know that much about kit homes, but I did have a passion for the topic. I went looking for a book on the topic and found very little. “Houses by Mail” (a field guide to Sears Homes) was a fascinating book, but had very little textual history. And that’s how I came to write “The Houses That Sears Built.”

Within 90 days, my book was featured in The New York Times and then I was asked to appear on PBS’ History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News and more. From there, it was off to the races.

And that’s the “back story” of how I came to be an expert on kit homes.

Now, I’m interested in learning more about Jim Walter Homes, based in Tampa, Florida. For the last six weeks, I’ve been tirelessly searching eBay for ephemera from this company but I’ve found nothing. If anyone has any ideas on how to get some info on Jim Walter Homes, please drop me a line! I’m also interested in finding pictures of existing Jim Walter Homes.

To contact me, please leave a comment below!

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Cover of the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Cover of the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

G

Pictured above is a Gordon Van Tine kit homes catalog from the late 30s/early 40s.

W

Wardway Homes catalog, about 1931.

Aladdin Homes, about 1916

Aladdin Homes, 1917. I'm not sure, but I think that's the genie going back into the bottle, after building a house for his master. Love the post-apocalyptic orange sky!

* * *

Paying Attention the Details: How to Identify Kit Homes

October 17th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

When comparing a vintage catalog image to that cute little Neo-Tudor in your neighborhood, it’s very important to pay attention to details. Dale and I have been staring at old houses for many decades now, and one common problem we’ve discovered is this: It’s easy to overlook the subtle features that differentiate one house from the other.

We’re both inundated with emails from folks who are sure that they have a kit home, but when we examine their photos, we find houses that are not even close to the kit homes they’re purported to be. The Wardway Parkside was a fine Tudor Revival with two front gables, but not every Tudor Revival with two front gables is going to be a Wardway Parkside.

This Wardway Parkside (in Jackson, Michigan) is a nice example because it’s such a spot-on match to the original catalog image and it’s not been remodeled. Note how all the details are right: The window arrangement, the small decorative bricked arch over the front door, the height and proportion of those two gables and the flared flooples on that front gable.

When comparing suspected kit homes with original catalog pictures, details matter!

To read more about Wardway Homes, click here.

To buy the new book on Wardway Homes, click here.

House house hosue

Parkside in Jackson, MI

Photo above is courtesy of Dale Patrick Wolicki.