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Why I Love Ferguson, Missouri

October 5th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

In Fall 2002, I was broke, depressed, lonely and very worried about the future. Months earlier, my beloved mother had died unexpectedly and my marriage of 24 years had ended in divorce.

Those were tough times.

I had one thing going for me: My newly published book, The Houses That Sears Built.

Working 100-hour weeks, I did nothing but promote that book and send out free copies to local media outlets. I slept and I worked. There wasn’t time or money for anything else.

If the book didn’t start selling fast, I’d have to do something I dreaded: Get a real job, and jobs in Alton, Illinois were tough to find.

Sometime in late 2002, I drove around Ferguson, Missouri and found a few Sears Homes. I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten how it unfolded from there, but I hooked up with a local architect and history lover named Alan. He put me in touch with a couple folks from the city of Ferguson. In time, I was hired to do a survey of the kit homes in the city of Ferguson.

Alan drove me around to the different neighborhoods and it was great fun. Most of what I knew about architecture came from reading books. Alan graciously answered my many simple questions about architecture. I will always remember his kindness and patience.

After I’d identified a few kit homes,  the city had a lovely ceremony, and each Sears Home owner was presented with a beautiful plaque. I was invited to be part of the presentation ceremony.

It was a lovely memory for so many different reasons.

First and foremost, the folks in Ferguson - homeowners, Alan the Architect, city officials and employees  - showed me so much kindness and respect.

Secondly, this was my rubicon.

My divorce had been heart-breaking, but this experience in Ferguson showed me that my work had value and my life had purpose, and that there were people in the world who shared my passion for these old houses.

Some time later, the kit homes in Ferguson were featured on “Show Me St. Louis” (a popular TV show),  and that also warmed the cockles of my heart, and gave me new hope that I could make a career out of this vocation.

In subsequent years, my book and I have been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, MSNBC, NPR, BBC Radio, and many more. I’ve traveled to 25 states doing surveys and giving talks.

But it all started with the grace and kindess of the many fine folks in Ferguson.

That’s why I love Ferguson so much.

BTW, if you know the addresses of these homes or even street names, please send me a note or leave a comment.  When I did this survey, I didn’t know much about the other kit home companies. I’d love to come back and do a more thorough survey.

Lastly, these images are from 12-year-old slides. The colors are off and the images are grainy.

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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 the St. Louis area is because there was a Sears Modern Homes sales center in St. Louis. There were only 40 of these in the country.

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And in the early 30s,

Sears only placed these "Sales Centers" in communities where sales were strong.

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Ferguson

Sears Walton as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Ferguson

I remember the homeowner here was just THRILLED to learn she had a Sears House!

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Leanon

The Lebanon was a popular house for Sears (1921 catalog).

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Lebanon

Lovely Lebanon in Ferguson. Notice the placement of the door next to the one window.

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Marina

Sears Marina (1916)

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Marina

A perfect Marina in Ferguson.

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Lex

The Sears Lexington was one of their biggest and most expensive homes.

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Lexington

Initially, I'd missed this stately Lexington hiding behind the hedge, but this IS a Lexington!

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compare

Nice comparison of the Lexington entryway. Although it's somewhat obscured, you can see the fan light in the 1928 image. The details on the porch are spot on!

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Ferguson

Sears Barrington (1928).

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Pattern book

Although I initially identified this as a Barrington, I'm starting to wonder if it is a pattern book house. These many years later, I do not remember if we went inside this house.

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Gordon Van Tine

In addition to Sears Homes, I also found a Gordon Van Tine home in Ferguson.

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GVT

Very distinctive house!

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Ferguson House

The porch has been enclosed, but this is a lovely GVT #605 in Ferguson.

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Spent years

I have spent many years trying to identify this house. I've yet to find it in any pattern books, kit house catalogs or magazines. But hey - it's only been 12 years. I'm still looking!

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To read about the kit homes I found in Kirkwood, click here.

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

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Another Mystery in Richmond!

March 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 16 comments

My blog on the Sears Houses in Richmond has gotten several hundred views in the last few days. I am tickled pink to see it, but I wish I knew what led folks to a 15-month old blog!

But in the meantime, I’ve made another *fascinating* discovery, which might lead me to a neighborhood of Sears Homes in Richmond!

Today, David Spriggs and I were doing research at the Norfolk Public Library, and I found this article (June 16, 1921) in the Richmond Times Dispatch. At first glance, it looks like another 1920s ad, but look closely.

Article

The "beautiful bungalow" shown in the advertisement is a Sears Elsmore.

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Check out the fine print.

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And you can buy “all the material necessary to build this charming bungalow” - from Sears!
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If you look closely at the house in the ad, youll see its a Sears Elsmore.

If you look closely at the house in the ad, you'll see it's a Sears "Elsmore." In fact, it's the picture right out of the Sears Modern Homes catalog!

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This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

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Heres an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these beautiful bungalows built in Richmond?

Here's an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these "beautiful bungalows" built in Richmond?

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Perhaps someone familiar with Richmond can help me find this neighborhood! Was the builder successful in pitching these Sears kit homes to the people who bought his lots?

This could be fun!!  Please leave a comment below if you know where this area is!

To learn more about the Sears Homes I found in Richmond, click here.

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Sears Homes in Richmond! What a Bonanza!

January 11th, 2013 Sears Homes 20 comments

UPDATE! Rose will be giving a talk in Richmond on September 25th at the Virginia Center of Architecture! Click here for more details!

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Last week, I traveled to Richmond on an errand for a friend. I had a little extra time on my hands so I decided to drive around in “just one” neighborhood and my oh my, I found several Sears Homes in just a few blocks!

I had only a good hour of search time, so hopefully I can return soon and do more looking.

However, Richmond, Virginia is a very large city and it’d be helpful to know where I might find the neighborhoods that were developed in the first years of the 20th Century.

And if you’re new to this site, you may be asking, what is a Sears kit home? These were 12,000-piece kits that you could order out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. Each “kit” came with a 75-page instruction book and detailed blueprints, specifically designed for the novice home-builder.

These were complete kits, and came with all the paint, wood putty, coat hooks, towel racks, lumber, roofing shingles, gutter hardware, and nails that you would need. Plumbing, heating and electrical systems were not included in the kit, but could be ordered separately.

During their 32 years in the kit house business (1908-1940), Sears sold 70,000 of these kits in all 48 states. Today, the only way to find them is literally one by one.

And if you’re a regular visitor to this site, you may be wondering, how did Richmond, Virginia end up with so many kit homes? That’s what I’d like to know!!  :)

And how many more are out there, just longing to be discovered!

There’s a new mystery in Richmond! (March 14, 2014)  Click here to learn more!

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And one final note, more than 90% of the folks living IN a Sears House didn’t know what they had until I knocked on their door and told them. So there in Richmond, lots of people are in for lots of pleasant surprises!!

Enjoy the photos below, and if you know of a Sears House in Richmond, send me a note!

Should I start with my favorite? Above is a picture of the Sears Sherburne, from the 1921 Building Materials catalog. It was a spacious, grand house and Ive not seen many of these.

Should I start with my favorite? Above is a picture of the Sears Sherburne, from the 1921 Building Materials catalog. It was a spacious, grand house and I've not seen many of these.

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And here it is, looking much like it did when built in the early 1920s.

And here it is, looking much like it did when built in the late 1910s or early 1920s. What a house! And it came from a kit!

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And despite this being a fairly rare model of Sears Kit House, I found a second one, within a few blocks of the first house! And its also a real beauty!

And despite this being a fairly rare model of Sears Kit House, I found a second one, within a few blocks of the first house! And it's also a real beauty! Notice the dramatic cornice returns extending well over the front porch area.

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The big surprise of this excursion was this house, the Sears Avalon.

The big surprise of this excursion was this house, the Sears Avalon. This was another unusually fine and somewhat hard-to-find kit house offered by Sears. Prior to Richmond, I'd only seen maybe five Avalons throughout the country. And yet, in Richmond, I found FIVE within one seven-block area. FIVE Avalons! What in the world??

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Heres another view of the Avalon from the 1921 catalog.

Here's another view of the Avalon from the 1921 catalog. Notice the three square vents on the gabled porch roof (far left) and the small indent in the chimney. Also notice the small attic window over the porch. See how the porch columns are mostly masonry with a little bit of wooden column? These are all distinctive features.

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And the floor plans could be reversed, to take advantage of better lighting on the site.

And the floor plans could be "reversed," to take advantage of better lighting on the site.

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Wow. Just wow. One of the most perfect Sears Avalons, right here in Richmond. Wow.

Wow. Just wow. One of the most perfect Sears Avalons, right here in Richmond. Wow.

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Wow, isn’t that exciting to see such a perfect match to an old Sears catalog page? And whomever owns this house, really loves it. Wow!  :)

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Avalon #1 was on Semmes Avenue, near 30th Street.

Avalon #2 was on Semmes Avenue, near 30th Street. This house also has those three vents on the gabled end of the porch. In that this house has stucco, the porch columns were a little different, but that's a minor alteration and not significant in identifying this as an Avalon.

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Avalon #3. Im very happy that Richmond has so many Avalons that theyre to be numbered for identification.

Avalon #3. I'm very happy that Richmond has so many Avalons that they're to be numbered for identification. This was also retains its original railings.

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How cool!

How cool! Pretty amazing, isn't it!

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Avalon #4

Avalon #4. Turns out, most of these Avalons face due West, so I was photographing right into the morning sun. Some of these pictures aren't the best, but one has to do what one has to do! This house was on Riverside Drive. That's my hand at the upper left, trying to behave like a sun shield.

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Avalon #5. Despite its modifications and alterations, Im fairly confident that this is a Sears Avalon.

Avalon #5. Despite its modifications and alterations, I'm fairly confident that this is a Sears Avalon. The roof has been raised, giving it a higher pitch, and creating a small indented space in front of that attic window, but if you look at the details, you can see this looks like a Sears Avalon. Unfortunately due to sidewalk construction, I was not able to get a better photo.

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So that’s FIVE Avalons in this one small section of Richmond. FIVE. Prior to this, I’d only seen five Avalons in all my travels. Now I’ve seen 10. :)

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But theres still more. This is a Sears Montrose as seen in the 1928 catalog.

But there's still more. This is a Sears Montrose as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Several unusual featurse around the front door give this house a distinctive appearance.

Several unusual features around the front door give this house its distinctive appearance.

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Is this a Sears Montrose on Roanoke Avenue?

Is this a Sears Montrose on Roanoke Avenue? It's pretty close. Look at the pent roof that continues around that sunporch. And look at the details around the front porch.

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The Sears Maywood was one of their finer homes.

The Sears Maywood was one of their finer homes.

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This appears to be a Sears Maywood, tucked away behind the trees.

This appears to be a Sears Maywood, tucked away behind the trees.

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The Sears Westly was a very popular house for Sears.

The Sears Westly was a very popular house for Sears.

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And youve got a lovely Westly in Richmond!

And you've got a lovely Westly in Richmond!

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This was an interesting find: An older Sears House (pre-1916).

This was an interesting find: An older Sears House (pre-1916). This was model #190.

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And such a nice example!

And such a nice example!

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The Sears Strathmore has always been one of my favorites!

The Sears Strathmore has always been one of my favorites!

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And heres another perfect example of it!

And here's another perfect example of it!

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In addition to Sears, there were six other companies selling kit homes on a national level. One of them was Harris Brothers. They were based in Chicago and a much smaller company than Sears, so imagine my surprise at finding a HB house in Richmond!

In addition to Sears, there were six other companies selling kit homes on a national level. One of them was Harris Brothers. They were based in Chicago and a much smaller company than Sears, so imagine my surprise at finding a HB house in Richmond! This is Harris Brothers Model J-161 (1920 catalog).

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Nice match, isnt it!

Nice match, isn't it!

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In addition to Harris Brothers, there was a company called Lewis Manufacturing.

One of the more popular houses offered by Harris Brothers was this house, Model N-1000.

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Is this

Is this the N-1000 (shown above)? It's certainly a possibility. Although not visible in this photo, this house has the rounded front porch, as seen on the floorplan in the catalog image above.

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Another national kit home company was Gordon Van Tine. They were probably almost as big as Sears.

Another national kit home company was Gordon Van Tine. They were probably almost as big as Sears. Here's a picture of the Gordon Van Tine Home #507.

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And heres a perfect representation of #507. Gosh, what a fine-looking house. Photo is copyright 2010, Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced.

And here's a perfect representation of #507. Gosh, what a fine-looking house. Photo is copyright 2010, Taber Andrew Bain and may not be used or reproduced.

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How many more kit homes are hiding in Richmond? Probably a bunch. These houses above represent a brief visit to Richmond.

I’d love to return to Richmond and do a more thorough job of finding these houses, but where to look?

To learn more about Rose, click here.

To contact Rose, leave a comment below.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Sears Marina: Just Add Water!

April 23rd, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

As a native of the Tidewater region (Southeastern Virginia), I’m not sure why Sears (based in the Midwest) decided to name one of their little kit homes “The Marina.”

“Marina” comes from the Latin word marinus, which means “of the sea.” It’s hard for me to get a sense of any nautical theme in this Sears house. The kit did not include a free wooden oar or a cute little life vest.

Ah well.

It’s still a darling little house.

Sears Marina, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

Sears Marina, as shown in the 1920 catalog.

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There was also a

There was also a "Marina" with a shed dormer (1919 catalog).

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It was a pretty small house.

Despite its being such a modest little house, it had a beamed ceiling in the dining room, and crown moldings in the spacious living room.

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Upstairs

That large dormer on the front housed the tiny bathroom. Also upstairs were two very "cozy" bedrooms. A narrow dormer on the back provided the headroom for the staircase.

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The photos shown here give a false impression of spaciousness.

The photos shown here give a false impression of spaciousness.

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I doubt that many Marina owners had a baby grand in the living room.

I doubt that many Marina owners had a baby grand in the living room.

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C

That chandelier is hanging a bit low! Looks more like a high-intensity heat lamp to keep the food warm. Notice the beamed ceiling. Also noticed the radiator in the background. Sears offered the Hercules Steam Heating Outfit as an extra for any kit home, but it was THE most expensive heating system available. Steam Heat is a very comfortable heat, but it's pricey to install (and today, it's pricey to maintain).

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Did the Marina really have subway-tiled wainscoting - as is shown here? I seriously doubt it. That was a feature typically found in upscale homes. Notice the wood floors, too. Most Sears Homes had tongue-and-groove maple floors in the kitchens. Aside from all that, this kitchen was a scant 9' by 11'. Pretty small.

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Marina

An old photo of a Sears Marina in an unnamed city (1923 catalog).

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My favorite Marina! This pink Marina is in Alton, Illinois.

My favorite Marina! This pink Marina is in Alton, Illinois. It still retains its original siding, which is remarkable. The porch on the rear has been enclosed.

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Four little Marinas in a row in Atlantic City, NJ.

Four little Marinas in a row in Atlantic City, NJ. Three have the gabled dormer and one has the shed dormer. I'd love to get a contemporary photo of these houses! Thanks to Mark Hardin for finding their specific address: Pennrose Avenue!

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This Marina

This Marina is a fine match to the original catalog image. It's in West Chicago.

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Two Marinas sitting side by side in Wardensville, WV.

Two Marinas sitting side by side in Wardensville, WV. Wardensville is a tiny town just outside of Moorefield, WV.

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Thanks to Donna Bakke for supplying me this photo of a Marina in Mt. Healthy, Ohio.

Thanks to Donna Bakke for supplying me this photo of a Marina in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Ive got family members living in Champaign/Urbana and Ive gone past this little Marina in Urbana too many times to count, and yet I always forget to snap a photo!

I've got family members living in Champaign/Urbana and I've gone past this little Marina in Urbana too many times to count, and yet I always forget to snap a photo! (Photo is copyright 2012 Rebecca Hunter and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

And by the way, did you know that Rebecca has a new book out? Read about it - here!

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Seems to be quite a few Marinas in West Virginia.

Although substantially remodeled (and added onto), there's no mistaking that this is a Sears Marina. This little house is in West Virginia (near Lewisburg).

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To learn more about the kit homes of West Virginia, click here.

To learn how to identity Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Wardway Homes, click here.

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