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Hopewell’s Historic Homes: And They’re Not in Crescent Hills! (Part III)

March 24th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Hopewell, Virginia has eight Sears homes in their Crescent Hills neighborhood, but they have dozens of Aladdin kit homes throughout the city. It’s a puzzle why so much focus is put on those eight Sears Homes, while the many Aladdin homes are ignored! If I were a little Aladdin Home in Hopewell, I might feel snubbed!

The cluster of Aladdin homes are definitely more modest than their fancy cousins in Crescent Hills, but these “workers’ cottages” also have an important story to tell. They tell about Dupont coming to Hopewell in the early 1900s and building a factory and creating jobs and investing in modest homes for their workers.

And it’s a part of Hopewell’s history that’s getting lost - quickly. Judging by the landscape in this neighborhood (where the Aladdin Homes are located), countless numbers of these modest homes have already been leveled. Perhaps as people become aware that this is a piece of Hopewell’s history, the rest of these houses might be spared.

Aladdin, like Sears, was a company that sold kit homes through their mail-order catalog. Kit homes sold by both Aladdin and Sears were made with top-quality lumber and builing materials. In fact, Aladdin offered their customers “$1.00 for every knot any customer can find…”

These were good houses, made with building materials the likes of we will never again see in this country.  At the very least, the lumber in these homes should be salvaged when the homes are leveled. At the very least.

Take a look at some of the Aladdin kit homes still standing in Hopewell (near the downtown area).

Aladdin Homes came with their famous Dollar a Knot guarantee.

Aladdin Homes came with their famous "Dollar a Knot" guarantee.

The Aladdin Florence, as seen in the 1919 catalog

The Aladdin Florence, as seen in the 1919 catalog

Close-up of the Florences floorplan

Close-up of the Florence's floorplan

Close-up of the house itself.

Close-up of the house itself and the happy people on the front porch.

Hopewell has many Aladdin Florences, in varying states of repair and remodeling.

Hopewell has many Aladdin Florences, in varying states of repair and remodeling.

Aladdin Florest

Aladdin Florence looking basically like it did when built in the 1910s.

Florence

This Florence is in mostly original condition! The attic windows are original, too. But hey, where are the happy people on the front porch?

Close-up of the attic windows.

Close-up of the attic windows.

Close-up of the house itself.

Another shot of the original catalog page.

Another one!

Another view of the Florence in Hopewell.

Empty

This spacious empty lot sits squarely in the middle of the neighborhood with all these Aladdin kit homes. It seems quite possible that many Aladdin kit homes have been razed.

I am qualified to have an opinion on this, and I’m of the opinion that these little houses are worthy of some sort of historical designation, even if it’s nothing more than a city-supplied placard for the front yard!  These photos that I’ve posted represent a mere smattering of the collection of Aladdin Homes near the downtown area. And as I mentioned in a prior post, they also tell a story about Hopewell’s history.

Want to read more about Hopewell?  Here’s Part I and Part II.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Warning: Incredibly Ugly Photos.

March 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

I’m an architectural historian. I research old houses and I write books and I galavant around the country telling people how to restore their old homes. When people are trying to locate hard-to-find supplies for their vintage homes, they contact me. This is what I do, and it’s been a fun career.

One day I dropped by my brother’s house to visit him. He said he had “a little problem” in the bathroom that he needed help with. His house was a gorgeous 1930s Dutch Colonial, well-maintained and well-loved, and the crowning jewel of the old house was the vintage bathroom, complete with subway tile, black and white tile floor, beautiful wainscoting, original fixtures, etc.

As he and I walked upstairs and he explained that he’d hired a plumber to put in a new manifold (tub and shower faucet assembly) and the plumber had charged him $500 to do this little “fix.”

I asked him where he found this “plumber” and he said, “Well, he’s not really a plumber actually; it’s just something he does on the side.”

No kidding.

I understand the guy threw in the duct tape for free.

Wow. Just wow.

Wow. Just wow.

To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Virgin Forests and First-Growth Lumber: A Thing of The Past

February 23rd, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Stumbling about with my flashlight in the dimly-lit basement of countless Sears Honor-Bilt homes throughout the country, I’m always dazzled by the quality of the floor joists and other framing members. Sears lumber was first growth lumber.  (”First growth lumber” is the name given to wood which grew slowly in natural forests. The slower wood grows, the denser the grain. The denser the grain, the stronger the wood. The stronger the wood, the more resistant it is to decay and rot and the longer it will endure.)

The yellow pine framing members that support these old Sears homes, now nearing the century mark, are harder and denser than most of today’s [so-called] hardwoods. Some of these houses have had only minimal maintenance, yet all these years later, they’re still as square and true and solid as the day they were built.

Sears earned a well-deserved reputation for providing the best quality lumber for both framing and millwork and they were proud of their reputation. In the 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this notice appeared under the heading, “Important.”

We do not handle hemlock, spruce or inferior types of lumber. The lumber we furnish is fine, dry yellow pine, the strongest lumber for framing. Cypress for outside finish, [cypress] the wood that lasts for centuries; oak, birch or yellow pine, as specified for interior finish.

Through the years, Sears offered exterior sidings in red cedar, redwood or cypress.  Most frequently, exterior sidings were cypress, and exterior trim pieces (corner boards, door and window trim, eaves, etc.) were also cypress.

Interior floors on average-priced Sears homes were typically oak on the first floor; maple in the kitchen and bath; yellow pine on the second floor. In less expensive homes, yellow pine was standard fare throughout the house for trim moldings, floors and doors. However, you could always upgrade to oak floors for another $148.

Today, it’s so interesting to contrast and compare modern lumber (think McMansion) with the solid old lumber found in America’s early 20th Century homes. Lumber from the old homes is so dense and hard, that many homeowners report they can not drive a spike into the floor joists without predrilling a hole, lest it bend the spike!

We will never see wood like this again in our country. The few “first-growth forests” that remain are protected sanctuaries (as they should be). Large suppliers of lumber boast that - thanks to genetic engineering - they can have a tree ready for harvest after a 25-year growth cycle. The problem is, when trees grow quickly, they’re not very dense.

Try this experiment at home. Try driving a nail through a piece of 2×8 from your local big-box hardware store. Then drive the nail through a floor joist in your house - if you can. Such a simple demonstration really will “hammer the point home” (so to speak).

At the very least, when an early 1900s home is torn down, the lumber should be salvaged, and not carted off to the landfill.

Now let’s go back to looking at pretty pictures of pretty Sears Homes. Enjoy the photos below.

Learn more about Sears Homes by click here.

Or buy Rose’s book by clicking here.

The Sears Ivanhoe was one of thir most magnificent homes.

The Sears Ivanhoe was one of their most magnificent homes.

And here it is, in Elmhurst, Illinois

And here it is, in Elmhurst, Illinois

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The Bandon was not a popular house for Sears.

The Bandon was not a popular house for Sears.

In all my travels, Ive only seen one Sears Bandon, and it was in Pulaski, Illinois - near the large Sears mill in Cairo, IL.

In all my travels, I've only seen one Sears Bandon, and it was in Pulaski, Illinois - near the large Sears mill in Cairo, IL.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Honor Bilt, Econo Built, Standard Built and Angry Moosies

January 15th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Sears offered three grades in all their lines: Good, better and best. In the 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the housing lines were known as Honor-Bilt, Econo Built (later known as “Standard Built) and Lighter Built.

Honor-Bilt homes (their best grade and most popular line) utilized traditional construction standards, such as double headers over the doors and windows, double floors (primary floors over subfloors), exterior sheathing under clapboard or cedar shingles and wall studs on 16-inch centers.

“Standard Built” houses had wall studs on 24-inch centers, single headers, no subfloor and no underlying exterior sheathing. They were pretty modest housing.

Lighter Built was what we’d (today) describe as a hunting shack, best suited for areas with warm weather, calm winds and serene wildlife. One angry moose could do a lot of damage to your  “Lighter Built” shack/house. In later years, Econo Built was renamed to “Standard Built.” The cheapest grade of Sears homes (known as “Lighter Built” in 1922) was eventually dropped.

There was also another line of houses known as Simplex Sectional Houses. See this link for more information on these tiny cottages.

The Hudson

The Hudson was a "Standard Built" house. The phrase - Standard Built - appears immediately underneath the home's name in this 1921 catalog.

Hudson in Alton

Live and in color, here's a Sears "Standard Built" Hudson in Alton. The porch has been enclosed in an effort to add a few square feet to this tiny structure. The bedrooms are only 9' by 9'. Today, we call that a small closet.

House

Also from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this shows some detail about the quality of construction to be found in a Standard Built Sears Home.

home is far superior. “]Honor

By contrast, the Honor Bilt [sic

House

Another contrast and comparison of Honor Bilt and Standard Built.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

Poor Little Westly in Northern Illinois

October 22nd, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

In 2003, my friend Rebecca Hunter drove me to an Midwestern suburb and showed me this Sears Westly (see pictures below). She made me close my eyes as we pulled up to the house. Sitting squarely in front of it, I exclaimed that it looked like a nice little Westly. Then she giggled and pulled forward, so I could see “The rest of the story.”

I gasped in horror. Incredibly, someone built a neighborhood behind this once-darling Sears Westly.  Sears Homes are a piece of America’s architectural history and should be cherished and appreciated and valued. They deserve better than this.

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

To buy Rose’s book (and get it inscribed!), click here.

Sears Westly from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Westly from the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Westly in Midwestern suburb

Westly in Midwestern suburb