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Posts Tagged ‘mail order and sears’

Pretty, Pretty Preston!

December 28th, 2012 Sears Homes 11 comments

Houses By Mail” (published 1985) is a wonderful field guide for those seeking more information on the 370 models of Sears kit homes that were offered from 1908 - 1940. The book contains some factual errors, but it’s still one of my favorites and has a cherished spot in my library and in my heart.

The house featured on the cover of “Houses By Mail” is the Sears Preston. It’s a puzzle as to why the publisher selected this particular house, as it was a pretty rare model.

When Pete Sanders first discovered a Sears Preston in Berkley, Michigan, it was love at first sight.

“The character of the house was outstanding,” he said. “I loved it, and I left a note in the door, asking about buying it.”

Pete says he didn’t realize it was a Sears House until after he purchased it.

Pete told me, “Once I got inside the house, I was really in love. It had nine-foot ceilings, and the built-in bookcases had amazing detail.”

Pete has very good taste in houses!

The Preston was one of the top five fanciest (and most expensive) houses that Sears offered, right up there with the Magnolia and the Lexington.

Is there a Preston in your neighborhood? Send me a photo!

And thanks to Pete Sanders, Catarina Bannier and Judy Davids for supplying all these wonderful photos!

The Sears Preston was one of Sears biggest and fanciest homes. Its shown here in the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Preston was one of Sears biggest and fanciest homes. It's shown here in the 1921 catalog. Note the price. The Preston was second only to the Magnolia in terms of price and grandeur. The Sears Magnolia was the most expensive house that Sears offered.

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Close-up of the Prestons dining room.

Close-up of the Preston's dining room.

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Notice the detail on the living room fireplace. This is a classic design for a Sears fireplace.

Notice the detail on the living room fireplace. This is a classic design for a "Sears" fireplace.

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This was the only house Sears offered that showcased the optional wall safe.

This was the only house Sears offered with an optional wall safe. I see some Federal Reserve notes on the bottom, but what's in the top shelf?

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The Preston also had a built-in breakfast nook.

The Preston also had a built-in breakfast nook.

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The floorplan shows the massive rooms.

The floorplan shows the massive rooms. The living room was 27' long. That's a big room.

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Upstairs

Upstairs had four modest bedrooms and a sleeping porch.

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It really was (and is) a beautiful home.

It really was (and is) a beautiful home.

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And heres the house that Pete Sanders fell in love with in Berkley, Michigan.

And here's the house that Pete Sanders fell in love with in Berkley, Michigan. The dormers were removed and the front entry was remodeled sometime in the early 1930s. Photo is copyright 2012 Judy Davids and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Incredibly, Pete has some vintage photos of the house.

Incredibly, Pete has some vintage photos of the house. This photo shows the house with the original dormers and entry-way. Even the flower boxes are in place. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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bicycle

This shot shows a cute little kid on a big bike and also the home's original entryway. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And the homes rear.

And the home's rear. One of the unique features of the Preston was that it was one of only FIVE models that Sears offered with functional shutters. (In addition to The Preston, the other Sears Homes with real shutters were The Puritan, The Lexington, Martha Washington and The Verona.) The other Sears Homes had decorative shutters that were permanently affixed to the wall. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And a wonderful photo showing a picture-perfect picket fence.

And a wonderful photo showing a picture-perfect picket fence for a perfect and pretty Preston. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the house

Close-up of the house. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the house

Another view of the house, post-entry-way remodel. The dormers were removed when the entry-way was squared off. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the house, showcasing that incredible fence. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Baldwins owned the home in the 1930s.

The Baldwins owned the home in the 1930s. Judging from this photo, they didn't have the official Sears fireplace (shown above). You can see a piece of the original built-in bookcases behind Father's left shoulder. Ernest R. Baldwin (seated) was the mayor of Berkley from 1932 to 1944. Those were tough years to be a mayor of any town. Florence Church Baldwin is seated beside him. Also pictured are their two sons, Robert and James. Ernest R. Baldwin was a veteran from The Great War. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Pete really scored a bonanza with these photos of the homes interior.

Pete really scored a bonanza with these photos of the home's interior. This is the living room, adjoining the entry hall. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And check out the bedroom!

And check out the bedroom! What a perfect picture, encapsulating the furnishings and lifestyles of the early 1930s. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Preston is a very rare Sears kit home, but Catarina Bannier found one in the Washington DC area.

The Preston is a very rare Sears kit home, but Catarina Bannier found one in the Washington DC area. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And I found this one in Wyoming, Ohio in 2003.

And I found this one in Wyoming, Ohio in 2003.

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It is indeed a real beauty.

It is indeed a real beauty.

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

To join our group on Facebook, click here.

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The Willard: A Two-Story English Cottage

December 5th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Neo-Tudors (also called Tudor Revivals) have always had a special place in my heart. They’re cute, practical and distinctive.

The Sears Willard was one of their most popular designs, and because of its many distinctive features, it’s easy to spot.

Scroll on down to see several real-life examples of The Willard.

The Sears Willard was the house featured in a promotion showcasing affordable monthly payments.

The Sears Willard was the house featured in a promotion showcasing affordable monthly payments. It's a darling house, and the payments aren't too bad either.

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The Sears Willard, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

The Sears Willard, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Think you may have a Willard? Wont be hard to figure out if you can get inside! Look at the many unique features on this floorplan!

Think you may have a Willard? Won't be hard to figure out if you can get inside! Look at the many unique features on this floorplan!

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It is a darling house!

It is a darling house!

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In all my house-hunting career, Ive never photographed a Sears Willard from the right angle. Something in my muscle memory demands that I take the photo from THIS angle.

In all my house-hunting career, I've never photographed a Sears Willard from the right angle. Something in my muscle memory demands that I take the photo from THIS angle. Nonetheless, you can see a few of those distinctive features from this angle. Notice the three windows in a row on the right side, and the dainty cornice return. Also notice the nine lites (windows) in the front door. This brick Willard is in Colonial Heights, VA.

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This house is photographed from the correct angle, but its not my photo.

This house is photographed from the correct angle, but it's not my photo. This Willard is in Bowling Green, Ohio and the photo was taken by Dale Patrick Wolicki (copyright 2010, and can not be reprinted or used without written permission).

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And heres another Willard

This Willard was not photographed by me, but you can see that Rebecca Hunter (the photographer) has the same problem with muscle memory that I do. (Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and can not be reprinted or used without written permission). We just yearn to photograph this house from the three-window side.

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Galax, Virginia is a fun little town with lots of rolling hills which makes photography a bit challenging.

Galax, Virginia is a fun little town with lots of rolling hills which makes photography a bit challenging. Lots of utility wires in this photo, but it's definitely a Willard (with a modified dormer) in Galax. Unfortunately, as built, that dormer (with a flat roof in front of the dormer window) leaks like a sieve, so people often build out the dormer to enclose that flat spot.

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One fine little Willard in Peoria, Illinois.

One fine little Willard in Peoria, Illinois. Again, from the wrong angle.

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house

Here's the lone Willard photo I have taken from the correct angle. It's in Crystal Lake, IL.

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And another fine Willard in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

And another fine Willard in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Look at the angle. Sigh.

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To visit Dale’s website, click here.

To visit Rebecca’s website, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Interested in Wardway (Montgomery Ward) kit homes? Click here.

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The Sears 264P202! What a House!

December 1st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Before 1918, Sears Homes were given numbers, not names. From a marketing perspective, it was brilliant to assign names to these models. After all, would you rather tell Mum and Dad that you’re buying “Sears Modern Home #2089″ or that you’ve just purchased The Magnolia?

Pre-1916, some of these houses had very long model numbers, such as the house shown here. It was apparently a fairly popular house for Sears, as I’ve got four real-life examples below, and yet it was offered only for a few short years, appearing last in the 1916 catalog.

Does this look like a Sears House to you? Didnt look like one to me, either, but it is! Its the venerable 264P202, and judging by the photos below, its a design that you should memorize, because it was apparently fairly common!

Does this look like a Sears House to you? Didn't look like one to me at first, but it sure is! It's the venerable 264P202, and judging by the photos below, it's a design that you should memorize, because it was apparently fairly common! This one is in Benld, IL.

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An interesting aaside: Do you know how Benld got its name? A fellow named Ben L. Dorsey purchased the land foor its rich mineral rights (coal, really) and it was developed into a tiny town. The name “Dorsey” was already taken, so Ben L. Dorsey chose the name “Benld,” a combination of his first name and subsequent initals.

For the flatlander tourist, it might help you to know that it’s pronounced, “Benn-ELD.”

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The original catalog page (1916) shows that this house sold for

The original catalog page (1916) shows that this house sold for $1,165 and by 1917, it was gone. In 1918, Sears Homes were given names instead of numbers. The 264P202 never had a name, so we know it was gone by 1918.

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housse house

This wonderful example of a 264P202 is in Okawville, IL. Look at the detail on the columns! It's a real beauty in original condition, but...

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house house

A broader view shows that this old house has been converted into a Funeral Home, and that brick ranch globbed onto the side is actually a not-so-sensitive addition.

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house house

This 264P202 is in West Chicago. Of the four examples shown on this page, three of these homes have porte cocheres.

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house house hosue

Close-up of the original catalog image (1916).

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House in Arkansas

Here's one in Searcy, Arkansas that is being offered for sale at $128,000. In the listing, this house is described as "One of the last Sears Roebuck houses left in White County."

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To learn more about “one of the last Sears Roebuck houses in White County,” click here.

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The house in Searcy has a bathroom thats in beautifully original condition.

The house in Searcy has a bathroom that's in beautifully original condition. Left is the 1916 Modern Homes catalog. Right side is the house in Searcy.

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house text

Nice floor plan.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see an abundance of awesome photos of the house in Searcy, click here.

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The Flossmoor: Good Dental Advice or a Sears House?

November 29th, 2012 Sears Homes 5 comments

Or maybe both?

Yes, the Flossmoor was a Sears House that was offered for a short time in the late 1910s. By 1923, it was gone.

The massive cornice returns make it easy to identify. Another eye-catching feature is the clipped gable and the grouping of three windows on the front.

The 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog promised, “You will like this.” Apparently, that statement was more hopeful than realistic. In my travels, I’ve only see a couple of these unique houses. Is there one in your neighborhood? If so, stop what you’re doing, get a photo and send it to me.  :)

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Flossmoor 1920

Massive cornice returns, clipped gables and the three windows on the home's front make the Flossmoor an easy house to identify (1920).

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This Flossmoor was built in Evansville, Indiana and was featured in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog. Is it still standing?

This Flossmoor was built in Evansville, Indiana and was featured in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog. Is it still standing? Do the owners know what they have?

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Should

Mr. F. M. Hills of Evansville, Indiana shouldn't be too hard to find! :)

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According to the text in the 1920 catalog,

According to the text in the 1920 catalog, The Flossmoor was also built in these cities. Notice there's supposedly one in New York City!

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House

Look at the size of that reception hall! Also, note the "good morning" stairs.

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The floorplan was quite simple.

The floorplan was quite simple. A small hallway makes maximum use of the small footprint. Squeezing four small bedrooms out of this floorplan is pretty impressive.

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house

Nice house, isn't it? Another feature is that unusually small attic window.

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And heres the real life example in Batavia, Illinois.

And here's the real life example in Batavia, Illinois. Be still my heart.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more photos of the Sears Homes of Northern Illinois, click here.

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Buster Keaton and Sears Homes

April 29th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Did you know that Buster Keaton did a short film about building a pre-cut kit house?

First released in 1920, the 20-minute film shows happy newlyweds (Buster and Sybil) receiving the gift of a “ready-to-assemble” kit home. Driven by jealousy, an old beau surreptitiously changes the numbers on the pre-cut framing members, thus wreaking havoc on Buster’s ability to build his 12,000-piece kit home.

As the saying goes, “True comedy is timeless.”

This is not only true comedy, but an awesome look back at a time when people built these kit homes. And it’s also interesting to think that - in 1920 - kit homes were such a big part of the American scene that moviegoers were expected to understand about “marked lumber.”

That “joke” would likely be lost on contemporary movie audiences because so little is known about this piece of America’s architectural history.

I first discovered “One Week” in Spring 2004, when my dear daughter highlighted this piece in a senior project. I was honored and touched that my daughter was drawn to an old movie about pre-cut kit homes - because of her mother’s career! :)

Click here to see Buster Keaton’s “One Week” on Youtube.

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Buster Keatons pre-cut kit house had a few minor problems.

Buster Keaton's pre-cut kit house had a few minor problems.

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It should have looked a little more like this.

It should have looked a little more like this. (Sears Whitehall under construction in Carlinville, IL - about 1919.)

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Sears kit homes did come with instruction books (as shown above).

Sears kit homes did come with instruction books (as shown above).

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The houses were ordered out of catalogs, such as this (1921).

The houses were ordered out of catalogs, such as this (1921).

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Framing members were marked (as shown) to help facilitate construction.

Framing members were marked (as shown) to help facilitate construction.

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To learn more about Sears Kit Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s latest book, click here.

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An Honorable Mention of the Honor Bilt “Honor” (in Washington, DC)

March 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

Sears offered 370 designs of homes during their 32 years in the kit home business (1908 - 1940), and not surprisingly, some models were more popular than others. One of the more unusual models is the Sears “Honor.”

The only Honor I’ve ever seen was in Washington, DC and that was in 2003. I’ve not seen one since then. And it’s a distinctive house, so they’re easy to spot!

Here are a few photos of the Honor-Bilt “Honor” in DC. And thanks to Catarina Bannier, a Realtor for sending me these wonderful photos. (You can visit Catarina’s website here.)

To learn more about why they’re called “Honor-Bilt” click here.

The Honor, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Honor, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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Floor

Nice spacious floor plan and there's a half bath on the first floor!

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And theres a cubby in the kitchen for the refrigerator!

And there's a cubby in the kitchen (pantry) for the refrigerator!

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Close-up of the Sears Honor (1921).

Close-up of the Sears Honor (1921).

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And here it is, looking absolutely lovely!

And here it is, looking absolutely wonderful! One of the chimneys is missing, but that just means someone opted to not have the living room fireplace. I am puzzled as to why there's a plumbing vent over the dining room, though. Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And in the basement, Catarina found the model number written on the floor joists!

And in the basement, Catarina found the model number written on the floor joist! This is a very good way to authenticate a Sears Home. The model number was scribbled in blue grease pencil before it left the mill at Cairo, IL. The floor joists were among the first pieces of lumber that'd be placed as the home was built, so they were on top of the bundles that left the Sears mill. Here, you can see the model number "3071." Photo is copyright 2011 Catarina Bannier and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Model

In addition to names, Sears Homes were also given model numbers. The "Honor" was #3071.

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And the Honor still has its old ice box door on the back porch.

And the Honor still has its old "ice box" door on the back porch.

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To learn a lot more about ice box doors, click here.

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Back in the day, better-quality iceboxes had a little service door in the rear. It was called a Service Door. This enabled the the Ice Man to put a 10-pound block of ice into the ice box without traispsing through the house. Sawdust was used in the Ice House to insulate the blocks  of ice, and as the Ice Man walked up to the house, hed brush the sawdust off the ice as he walked. Invariably, some of that sawdust ended up in the kitchen.

Back in the day, better-quality iceboxes had a little service door in the rear. It was called a "Service Door." This enabled the the Ice Man to put a 10-pound block of ice into the ice box without traipsing through the house. Sawdust was used in the Ice House to insulate the blocks of ice, and as the Ice Man walked up to the house, he'd brush the sawdust off the ice as he walked. Invariably, some of that sawdust ended up in the kitchen.

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This

There was a corresponding door built into the house (shown above), that was a little bigger than the corresponding door on the ice box. This little door had another name: "The Jealous Husband's Door." Hauling those 25, 15 and 10 pound blocks of ice around all day really made a fellow fit and tan. I'm sure there were a few "Ice Men" that were real hotties! :)

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Inside the house, the old ice box is still in place!

Inside the house, the old ice box is still in place!

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about “The Jealous Husband’s Door,” click here.

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A Fascinating Little Tidbit about WLS and Sears

December 29th, 2011 Sears Homes 10 comments

“What does WLS stand for?” is a question I often ask lecture attendees.

After giving more than 200 lectures in 25 states, only two people have answered this question correctly.

I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with Sears and Roebuck.

Thanks to eBay, I’ve located and purchased all manner of Sears Modern Homes ephemera, and one of my treasures is this employee newsletter. In fact, it was the very first edition of the “WLS” employee newsletter! Published in early 1925, it featured an interesting story titled, “The House The Kelly’s Built,” which told the story of a next-door neighbor  (Mr. Kelly) who’d hired “Jerry” (a 12-year-old boy) to help him build his newly purchased Sears kit home, The Clyde.

Jerry’s father (Mr. Thomas) was incredulous when he heard about this. After all, housebuilding is a difficult trade, for seasoned and experienced craftsman. When Jerry tries to explain that it’s a Sears kit house, with a 75-page instruction book, and numbered framing members (for easy assembly), his father chastises him for his impunity and reminds him that he is not to interrupt his elders.

It has a happy ending, as Mr. Kelly (the new Sears Homeowner) explains to Mr. Thomas (Jerry’s dad), that it is a very easy house to build, and when completed, it’ll be a real dandy of a home.

There are three important take-away lessons from this story.

1)  Building a kit home (12,000 easy pieces) was considered to be a simple task by the people who lived in the early 20th Century.

2) It was acceptable (and even common practice) to hire 12-year-olds for hard work.

3) Mr. Thomas was a horse’s ass.

To read another fascinating story about a murder in Lake Mills, click here.

Here

This short story appeared in the first edition of an employee newsletter issued for employees of Sears Roebuck. The name of the newsletter was "WLS."

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Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Framing members were marked with a three-digit number and a letter (D is for 2x8s, C for 2x6s, B for 2x4s). This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, made assembly easy for even the novice homebuilder.

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The house that the Kellys are building (with young Jerrys help) is the Sears Clyde, a very modest and popular bungalow.

The house that the Kellys are building (with young Jerry's help) is the Sears Clyde, a very modest bungalow. Because it is such a modest house, it often gets severely remuddled through the passing decades. Identifying these simple houses is very difficult.

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Clyde

The Clyde, as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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At least 98.76% of the time, the bay window in a little bungalow such as this is used for the dining room. The Clyde is an odd exception. In this little house, that bay on the side is for a bedroom, and the bathroom is right behind it. This is a useful detail for identifying The Clyde, as you should expect to see a bathroom vent roof pipe behind the bay.

At least 98.76% of the time, the bay window in a little bungalow such as this is used for the dining room. The Clyde is an odd exception. In this little house, that bay on the side is for a bedroom, and the bathroom is right behind it. This is a useful detail for identifying The Clyde, as you should expect to see a bathroom vent roof pipe behind the bay.

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This little Clyde in Cairo, IL is not feeling very well, and yet - it is definitely a Sears Clyde. That lowered platform on the front porch is still in place, but obscured by this white sedan. The gable ornaments and porch details are gone, and someone thought itd be a swell idea to do a thatch effect roof (shudder), but its a Sears Clyde.

This little Clyde in Cairo, IL is not feeling very well, and yet - it is definitely a Sears Clyde. That lowered platform on the front porch is still in place, but obscured by this white sedan. The gable ornaments and porch details are gone, and someone thought it'd be a swell idea to do a "thatch effect roof" (shudder), but it's a Sears Clyde.

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WLS

WLS stood for "World's Largest Store." The famous Chicago radio station, WLS, actually began as a promotional tool for Sears. The station signed on in 1924 with farm reports and weather information. Sears sold the radio station in the fall of 1928. Back in the day, call signs had meanings. Here in Norfolk, we had WGH which stood for "World's Greatest Harbor."

To read Part II, click here.

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

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