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A Sad Story That Needs a Good Ending: Carlinville’s “Standard Addition”

September 26th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the early years of the 1900s,

About 1918, Standard Oil purchased 192 kit homes from Sears & Roebuck. Carlinville ended up with 156 of these homes (offered in eight models). The 12-block area where these homes were built (in an old wheat field) came to be known as Standard Addition. Sears proudly touted this sale to Standard Oil as "the largest order ever placed," and pictures of Carlinville appeared in the front pages of the Modern Homes catalog for many years. This letter (shown above) appeared on the back page of the catalog until 1929.

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House

Standard Addition's homes - some of which were not wholly finished - appeared in the 1919 and 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Of the 192 houses sold to Standard Oil, 156 ended up in Carlinville, 24 were sent to Wood River (where Standard Oil had a large refinery) and 12 ended up in Schoper, IL (site of a large coal mine). Pictured above is the Warrenton model (left) and the Whitehall (right).

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In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood first appeared in the Searsm Modern Homes catalog.

In 1921, images of the completed neighborhood appeared in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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house house house 1921

Close-up of the "birdseye view" from the 1921 catalog. From left to right is the Gladstone, Roseberry, Warrenton, and Whitehall. And look at that darling little building behind the Whitehall. Is it still there?

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House

These homes were occasionally featured in "The Stanolind Record," an employee newsletter put out by Standard Oil. This image appeared with the caption, "Carlinville is coming out of the mud," which simply meant that streets would soon be laid, replacing the muddy roads.

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All of which brings me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition is at great risk of being lost.

And all the photos above bring me to the point of this blog. Standard Addition - this unique, historic and one-of-a-kind community - is at great risk. This "Roseberry" on Johnson Street caught fire in early 2013 and has not been razed yet. Derelict houses (such as this) contribute heavily to blight, and once blight takes root in a neighborhood, reversal can take decades. At best, this house poses a threat to public health and safety. At worst, it's an anchor that's dragging this historic neighborhood further into the muck. Would you want to live next door to this? How many months before this house gets torn down?

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Last month

Last month, a suspected meth lab was discovered in the 1000-block of Johnson Street, in the heart of Standard Addition. Once a house is used for "cooking" meth, making it suitable again for habitation can be expensive.

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Full story here: http://www.sj-r.com/breaking/x1367241203/Two-suspected-meth-labs-found-in-Carlinville

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And theres also the problem on insensitive remodeling.

And there's also the problem of insensitive remodeling. And it is quite a problem.

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Another

As built, these homes were very small (less than 1,100 square feet) but there are ways to increase square footage without diminishing the historicity of these unique homes.

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In short, it’s time for the state legislature and/or city council to step in and figure out what legislation is needed to protect this one-of-a-kind historic collection of Sears Homes in Carlinville. I’ve remained “astonished* that there is no signage, no billboards, no announcements of any kind welcoming the flat-lander tourist to come visit “Standard Addition.”

At the very least, there should be billboards in St. Louis, Alton (by the casino), Edwardsville and other “hot spots” inviting people to come see this fun collection of kit homes. There should be a website, self-guided driving brochures, maps, etc, promoting the area.

But there is nothing,

In my 14 years of experience in this niche field of America’s architectural history, I’ve never come across another collection of Sears kit homes quite like Standard Addition.

One week ago today, I drove through Standard Addition, admiring the pretty houses and dismayed by the blighted ones, and I glimpsed, more now than ever, something must be done to preserve and protect this neighborhood.

Before it’s too late.

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To learn more about the eight models in Standard Addition, click here.

To learn more about the building of Standard Addition (and the female supervisor of the project), click here.

In 2003, CBS Sunday Morning News came to Standard Addition.

To read about Illinois’ own ghost town (Schoper, IL), click right here.

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The Sears Homes of St. Louis (Kirkwood)

January 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

When I first started this Sears House gig, I lived in Alton, IL (near St. Louis) and some of my first discoveries were in the St. Louis area. Below are the Sears Homes I’ve found in the Kirkwood area (part of St. Louis). If you enjoy the link, please share it with friends!

What is a Sears Home? These were true kits containing 12,000 pieces of house. Each kit came with a 75-page instruction book that told you how to put all those pieces and parts together. The houses were sold out of the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog, and the houses in St. Louis were shipped from Cairo, Illinois. Sears offered these houses from 1908-1940 and there were 370 different designs. Today, the only way to find these homes in literally one by one.

These photos were scanned from slides, taken in 2002 and 2003, so they’re a little faded.

Enjoy the photos! And if you want to learn how to identify kit homes, click here.

One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in St. Louis is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country, and these were only placed in areas where sales had been strong. And once a Modern Homes sales center opened, sales were even stronger!

One of the reasons there are so many kit homes in St. Louis is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country, and these were only placed in areas where sales had been strong. And once a Modern Homes sales center opened, sales were even stronger!

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In the late 20s, there was one at

In the late 20s, there was one at 8th and Olive Streets (from the 1928 catalog).

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And in the early 30s,

And in the early 30s,it had moved to the Wainright Building.

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A full listing of the Sears Modern Homes sales centers appeared on the back of the 1930 catalog.

A full listing of the Sears Modern Homes sales centers appeared on the back of the 1930 catalog.

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The Sears Lynnhaven, as seen in the 1938 catalog.

The Sears Lynnhaven, as seen in the 1938 catalog.

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This Lynnhaven has had a not-so-thoughtful addition, but theres no mistaking it as a Sears Lynnhaven.

This Lynnhaven has had a not-so-thoughtful addition, but there's no mistaking it as a Sears Lynnhaven.

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Another Sears Lynnhaven in Kirkwood. This photo was taken in 2003.

Another Sears Lynnhaven in Kirkwood. This photo was taken in 2003.

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The Cedars was a beautiful tudor-esque cottage (1928 catalog).

The Cedars was a beautiful tudor-esque cottage (1928 catalog).

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And heres a *perfect* Cedars! Fortunately (as of 2003), it still has its original siding - CEDAR shakes!

And here's a *perfect* Cedars! Fortunately (as of 2003), it still has its original siding - CEDAR shakes!

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The Chatham was a cute little Dutch Colonial.

The Chatham was a cute little Dutch Colonial.

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And here it is!

A comment below from Judith (shown below) points out that the shed dormer on this little Dutch Colonial extends out too far and it is probably not the Sears Chatham! I'd have to say - she's right, and I am WRONG! Oops!

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The Sears Mitchell was one of their most popular models!

The Sears Mitchell was one of their most popular models!

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And heres an unusually beautiful Mitchell in Kirkwood.

And here's an unusually beautiful Mitchell in brick and stucco.

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The Sears Berwyn was also a very popular house for Sears.

The Sears Berwyn was also a very popular house for Sears.

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Sears Berwyn in brick!

Sears Berwyn in brick! I'm not certain, but I think this house is actually in Richmond Heights. If you know its location, please leave a comment below!

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The Sears Montrose (from the 1928 catalog) was not a popular house!

The Sears Montrose (from the 1928 catalog) was not a popular house!

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A perfect Montrose!

A perfect Montrose tucked away in the pines!

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Sears Brookwood as seen in the 1933 catalog.

Sears Brookwood as seen in the 1933 catalog.

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A picture-perfect Sears Brookwood in Kirkwood!

A picture-perfect Sears Brookwood in Kirkwood!

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Barrington, from the 1928 catalog. The Barrington and the Brookwood look very similar. The Barrington is a little bit bigger than the Brookwood. For a time, I had trouble keeping these houses separate in my mind. And then I thought of this visual clue. The Barrington has three windows in the living room (on the first floor front). The Barrington is a three-syllable word. The Brookwood has two syllables and two windows! Voila!

Barrington, from the 1928 catalog. The Barrington and the Brookwood look very similar. The Barrington is a little bit bigger than the Brookwood. For a time, I had trouble keeping these houses separate in my mind. And then I thought of this visual clue. The Barrington has three windows in the living room (on the first floor front). The Barrington is a three-syllable word. The Brookwood has two syllables and two windows! Voila!

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The Sears Barrington, with its three windows!

The Sears Barrington, with its three windows!

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Someone told me this was a Sears kit house. My, but I stared at this house for hours and hours and I could not figure it out. Then finally, the owners invited me to come into their home and take a better look. Thats when I discovered - it WAS a Sears Home - slightly altered.

Someone told me this was a Sears kit house. My, but I stared at this house for hours and hours and I could not figure it out. Then finally, the owners invited me to come into their home and take a better look. That's when I discovered - it WAS a Sears Home - slightly altered.

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Its a Sears Wilmore, turned sideways on the lot!

The house in Kirkwood is a Sears Wilmore, turned sideways on the lot!

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Notice the bellcast (swoopie) roof on the end of the house? This house is turned sideways on the lot, with that bellcast (shown in the catalog picture above on the left) turned out to the street. In other words, the house in Kirkwood was placed on this lot at a 90-degree angle to the catalog image. The main gable (shown above with the two windows) has been extended out several feet to make a larger living room. The front door was easily moved into that front gable. Pretty interesting changes!

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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When CBS Sunday Morning News Came to Carlinville, Illinois

June 19th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

The Houses That Sears Built came out at just about the same time that my long-term marriage had a surprise ending. Doing a little back of the envelope ciphering, I figured I had enough money to last for about 60 days, and then I’d be flat busted broke. And I’d only make it to 60 days if I stopped buying groceries and lived very simply. If my book wasn’t supporting me by then, I’d have to do something I’d never done before: Get a real job.

The very idea scared me half out of my wits.

I did a lot of praying and a lot of scrambling. And I ate a lot of meals at friends’ houses.

Six weeks after the book hit the streets, I had a call from a reporter at the New York Times. They were doing a feature story on Sears Homes and they wanted to interview me. The story ran on the front page of the Real Estate section. Next came a phone call from a producer who was putting together a new history show for PBS. He’d seen the piece in the New York Times and wanted to know if I could appear on one of their first episodes.

The show, he told me, was tentatively titled, “History Detectives.”

Next I heard from CBS. They wanted to do a piece on the Sears Homes in Carlinville. We arranged a date and met at the town square. Russ Mitchell was the reporter, and he’d been raised in nearby St. Louis, so this was a great assignment for him.

We tooled around the town and I talked about the Sears Homes of Carlinville, explaining that this was not the largest collection of Sears Homes (Elgin has that honor), but it was the largest contiguous collection, with 152 Sears Homes in a 12-block area. As we drove along, I rattled off the names of the eight models of Sears Homes featured in Carlinville.

It was a wonderful day, and as a result of that show, I was then invited to appear on A&E’s Biography.

It was nine years ago (almost to the day), that we filmed that show for CBS Sunday Morning News. I went on to write five more books, and turns out, I made it past those first 60 days, with a little money left over!

Best of all, I never had to get a “real job.”

:)

Filming

CBS film crew starts shooting the Sears Homes from the top of their specially modified Chevy Suburban.

filming

Wish I could remember this fellow's name. He was incredibly polite and a whole lot of fun.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

They also shot footage in St. Louis (Kirkwood), where there are several Sears Homes.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

Producer and Russ review some details for the next shot.

To learn more about Sears Homes in Carlinville, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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