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Posts Tagged ‘precut houses’

A *Beautifully* Original Magnolia in South Bend - For Sale!

June 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

For many years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to see a Magnolia in original condition.

Now, I know.

The Sears Magnolia in South Bend was recently listed for sale, and the Realtor kindly sent me a few pictures.

It can be described in one word:  STUNNING.

Or maybe two:  Original!

These photos give us a rare opportunity to step back in time almost 100 years, and see what the Sears Magnolia looked like when built.

If I was queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d insist that the potential buyers of this rare, historically significant home be required to do a proper, thoughtful and historically sensitive restoration (which is radically different from a remodeling). I’d demand that they find a way to preserve the home’s original features.

As my buddy Bill Inge says, “The first commandment of preservation is, ‘Thou shalt not destroy good old work.’”

The 3,895-square foot home is listed at $320,000. Situated on 1/3 of an acre, it has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-baths. The listing says it was built in 1927, but we know that that’s not right. The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

This house is a rare treasure. I hope its next owners “catch” the vision and see what a remarkable property it really is.

Ready to see some photos? You should get ready to be dazzled!

To buy this fine old house, click here.

To learn more about the history of the Sears Magnolia kit home, click here.

Interested in reading more about how these homes were built? Click here.

All photos are copyright Steve Matz, 2014.

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The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Mag

The Magnolia in South Bend is remarkable because it's in original condition.

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A view from the inside.

A view from the inside.

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This Magnolia still retains its original mouldings and trim but the inglenook and columns are not in place. It's possible that the house was built without these built-ins.

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I suspect that this is the fireplace in the den.

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The den (right rear) was very small (only 8'9" deep). It's unusual to see the den in its original shape and size. It's also unusual to see a house from this vintage with a half-bath on the first floor (next to the den).

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The Realtor had the good sense to photograph the staircase from the same angle as the original catalog image!

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hfhfhf

Nice match, isn't it? Check out the French doors at the rear - both upper and lower level.

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Nice, huh? :D

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The best

There's something about these old nooks that just makes my heart skip a beat.

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This is the very best picture of all. And perhaps the home's finest feature: A built-in nook, completely untouched by time, with the original tile floor, white hexagonal tiles with a blue flower center. This pattern is a classic feature found in early 20th Century Sears Homes. You can see the three original wooden windows behind the nook.

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Fun comparison, isn't it? It's so rare to see these nooks still in place.

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Another incredible feature is that

Not only does this house have its original Butler's Pantry, but it has the original sink, wooden surround and fixture. This house is such a rare find, and to think that it's a Sears Magnolia!

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And it just gets better. Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, the dressing room, is the original sink, light fixtures and oak cabinetry - unpainted!

Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, is a surprisingly large dressing room. The fact that even the dressing room is original is a real testament to the home's prior owners, who had the wisdom to follow the #1 rule: "Thou shalt not destroy good old work." And this cabinetry was incredibly good work. In the corner, is the Magnolia's original sink, light fixtures and medicine chest - unpainted! If you look closely, you'll see the original cabinet pulls.

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It's true that I am nutty as a fruitcake, but seeing this century-old Magnolia - wholly untouched by time - sends me. Original sink, original fixtures, original medicine chest, and an original light fixture (porcelain sconce). Just incredible. I'm a big fan of old plumbing but I've never seen a three-sided sink before.

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Close-up of the upstairs floorplan, showing that small sink in the dressing room.

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And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

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A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

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To buy this fine old house, click here.

Interested in learning more about the Sears Magnolia? Click here.

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Marguerite’s Beautiful and Beloved #124

February 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last year, Sears homeowner Marguerite Deppert saw my blogs (here and here) on Sears Modern Home #124 and sent me several wonderful photos of her own home, which she had recently purchased in Montvale, NJ.

It’s a real beauty and in gorgeous condition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Montvale has many Sears Homes, due in part to the fact that they’re less than 30 miles from Port Newark, where Sears had a large mill. (Sears had but two mills - one in Cairo, IL and one in Newark, NJ.)

Thanks so much to Marguerite Deppert for sharing these photos with me! I’ve been drooling over them all morning!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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Number 124 was gone by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. Its certainly distinctive!

Sears Modern Home #124 was gone from the catalogs by 1918 (when Sears Homes were given names), but it seemed to be a fairly popular house. It's certainly distinctive! (1916)

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Marguerites house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

Marguerite's house was even mentioned in the 1916 catalog!

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Spaciosu floor plan.

Some of the older homes have rather "odd" floorplans, but #124 was quite sensible.

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Years ago, Rebecca Hunter and I toured the inside of the #124 in Crystal Lake, IL and that little bathroom shown above was really tucked away under that sloping roof. Interesting, but almost claustrophobic.

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Nice house, and a darn good price!

Nice house, and a darn good price!

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Oh my, what a house!

Oh my, what a house! Even the detail around the chimneys is a match to the vintage image! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Wow.

The rock border on the driveway is a nice complement to the stone columns. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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phoo

A view from the side highlights that beautiful stone work on the chimney. The two chimneys are covered with stone to the roofline, and then above the roofline, they're brick. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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close up

Close up of those unique details on the front porch. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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What a fine-looking house. What a treasure for Montvale. And I suspect Marguerite is one of the happiest homeowners in America! (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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details

Look at those wee tiny second-floor windows tucked up under that porch roof. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

What a beautiful house!

What a beautiful house! Just stunning. (Photo is copyright 2013 Marguerite Deppert and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Thanks again to Marguerite for sharing these wonderful photos!

To see a wide variety of pictures of Sears Modern Home 124, click here.

Did you know there’s a #124 in Lincolnton, Georgia? Click here to see that.

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My Favorite Magnolia Story - As Told By A Builder Who Built A Maggy

February 3rd, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

This blog originally appeared at this site November 2011. That was more than two years ago, and I thought it’d be worthwhile to print this again.  Enjoy!

In September 2002, I flew to Akron, Ohio to work with a producer for a new show that was tentatively called, History Detectives. They were very excited about launching the new program with a story on Sears Homes. I would appear on the second episode, in a story centered around some purported Sears Homes in Firestone Park in Akron.

The filming started at a beautiful Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. What a thrill that was, to see my first Sears Magnolia up close and personal!

The filming took place in March and it was very cold in Ohio. Seemed like it was either snowing, getting ready to snow, or just finishing up with snow. I never saw a blue sky during my time in Ohio.

Despite the cold weather, it was a happy, happy event for me - all the way around. Throughout the eight days of filming, I was treated like a queen and I had my own “gaffer,” who fetched me donuts and hot cocoa and gloves and any little thing my heart desired. What fun!

Years after that big event, someone sent me an article about the building of that Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. It was written sometime in the early 1990s by a Canton history buff, T. E. Prather. The title was “Magnolia: Neo Classic Revival Revived!”

What’s remarkable about this article is that it quotes the 94-year-old builder who helped build the Magnolia in 1923. (Unfortunately, it was a short newspaper clipping, and there was no newspaper name attached! I’d love to know where this originally appeared.)

Clarence Swallow was the builder of nearly 300 homes in this area, and in 1923, he was a 27-year-old carpenter. He was hired by Canton Attorney Leroy Contie, Sr., to supervise the total construction of Contie’s Magnolia.

The catalog price of this pre-cut house was $5,140. With the price of the Ridgewood lot, plastering, electrical work, plumbing, plus other extras, te total cost of the home was approximately $18,000.

Swallow explains how the crates of numbered, top-quality, pre-cut lumber and supplies were brought to the building site by horse-drawn wagons. Swallow and his two-man crew sorted through the giant jig-saw puzzle of packages and began construction in the summer of 1923.

The framing went up on the pre-formed concrete foundation through the summer and autumn. By the first snowfall, the Magnolia was under roof. Then Ennon Plumbing, Eclipse Electric, and several plasterers worked through the winter as Swallow and crew completed the interior trim work.

The six fluted yellow poplar Corinthian porch columns were precisely set in place to support the two-story front portico. The side lights [flanking] the front entrance and an elliptical fanlight under a second floor balcony were the center focus of the main entry.

The original elegance of this early 1920s Magnolia has yielded a small bit to being unoccupied over the past couple years. Yet it has been featured in the Smithsonian (November 1985) and was the featured home of Ohio Historical Society’s publication , Timeline in early 1989.


To read my second favorite blog about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

And we found an eighth Magnolia in West Virginia! Read about that here!

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The Magnolia was the finest house that Sears offered (cover 1918).

The Magnolia was the finest house that Sears offered (cover 1918).

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Although I never did see one with a red roof.

Although I never did see one with a red roof.

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It was offered from 1918 - 1922, and sold for about $5,000 (depending on year). In 1920, the price hit $9,990 due to post-war hyperinflation of building materials.

It was offered from 1918 - 1922, and sold for about $5,000 (depending on year). In 1920, the price hit $9,990 due to post-war hyperinflation of building materials.

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One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

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Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

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The Magnolia in South Bend (which is currently for sale). Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

The Magnolia in South Bend (which is currently for sale). Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is looking a little rough, but its recently been sold and maybe itll get a new chance at life.

This Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is looking a little rough, but it's recently been sold and maybe it'll get a new chance at life. It does need some lovin'.

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A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

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And a STUNNING Magnolia in Syracuse, NY. Its also a real beauty.

And a STUNNING Magnolia in Syracuse, NY. It's also a real beauty. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Rest in peace, old Maggy. This was torn down in 1986. Sigh.

Rest in peace, old Maggy. This was torn down in 1986. Sigh. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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

To see the inside of a Magnolia, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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

Permanent Furniture II: Beautiful Staircases

December 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the early 1900s, we seemed to place more value on the idea that we should surround ourselves with beauty.

The staircases shown in the 1927 Builders’ Woodwork Catalog ranged from simple to fancy, and yet they’re all elegant and beautiful.

Too many modern staircases (post-1970) are not just utilitarian; they’re seriously ugly. Looking through several online listings of “new” houses for sale (under $500,000), I didn’t see any staircase pieces and parts that I haven’t seen for sale at Lowes. In other words, the focus of modern staircase building seems to be “fast, cheap and easy.”

What happened to the idea of making a beautiful entry?

As the 1920s text says below, “The staircase is the central feature of the hall or living room and must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling.”

Perhaps that explains why contemporary staircases are so blasé and unappealing.

The pedestrian staircases in modern homes are “in harmony” with their pedestrian surroundings.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing his historic architecture books with me!

Read about bookcase colonnades here!

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Staircase

Even the front page for this chapter is a thing of beauty!

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Stiarcase

"The designs...represent harmonious units." The text also adds, "The staircase...must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling." How many builders today stop and think about how much "harmony" is expressed by their creations? (In the text above, K.D. stands for "knocked down.")

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staircase 1

"For the modern American small home, this design is very pleasing and practical."

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staircase 2

Another very simple design, and yet it's quite attractive. This type of staircase is often found in mail-order kit homes, because it's both simple and easy to construct.

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staircase 8

According to the accompanying caption, those doors lead out to an "elevated sunporch." I don't recall ever seeing an elevated sunporch off a landing like this - in real life.

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staricase

Another simple staircase, but with a 90-degree twist.

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staircase 8

"The unusual panel effect is a distinctive feature of this staircase..."

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staircase 7

This staircase is categorized in the original literature as a "Colonial design."

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Another favorite staircase. Years ago, I looked at a house for sale in South Norfolk (Chesapeake, VA) on Park Avenue and it had this very same design, all with original varnish/shellac. I thought it was the prettiest bit of "permanent furniture" that I'd ever seen. I shudder to think what's become of that house and it's gorgeous interiors. Note the phone niche next to the bench.

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staircase

"This panel buttress staircase is suitable for English or modern American homes. The complete absence of balusters and handrail make it easy to keep clean." While I do love the rope, I'm sure modern codes would not allow it.

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staircase

"The charm of this Colonial stairway is the continuous handrail ending in the graceful turning of a volute." Please raise your hand if you knew that this "round thing" at the end of the banister was known as a "volute." :D

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staircase 38

"Very suitable for the modest home without a reception hall." If a mother could have favorites, this would be one of mine. So pretty and so elegant, and yet, "suitable for a modest home."

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"The attractive arches give it real character."

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Another beautiful staircase. The window mirrors the pattern on the built-in bookcase.

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staircase

"The large central hall is an attribute of the Colonial home, the main feature of which is the stairway." This is the same stairway we had in our 1925 Colonial Revival on Gosnold Avenue (Norfolk), even down to the tapered spindles and center post. Lone difference is, we had three spindles per tread, where this has two. Nary a soul entered that reception hall without making a nice comment about the beauty of that staircase.

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staircase

"This is one of the simpler lines, very economical in construction."

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staircase

Not my favorite, but it must be a design of enduring appeal, because I've seen it in many post-WW2 houses. Original caption says the "sturdy lines of English architecture are faithfully retained in this beautiful stairway."

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staircase 187

"The unusual feature is the handrail is mitered into the newel cap." Makes sliding down a bannister much easier (and less painful). Although it's a mighty short run.

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staircase 8883

"For real charm and beauty, a winding stairs can not be excelled."

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staircaseieie

"This Colonial stairway is very impressive." I agree. Check out the phone niche.

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In the 1920s, we seemed to have more of an understanding that it was important to surround yourself with beauty. Modern staircases are not just utilitarian; theyre ugly as sin.

The image on the left is from a $500,000 house currently for sale in Hampton Roads. The image on the right was a very simple design offered in the 1927 "Builders' Woodwork" catalog. In the 1920s, we seemed understand that low-priced and simple didn't have to equate with cheap and ugly.

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Stiars

To end on a happy note, I've always loved old houses, and that's due in large part to my mother, an artist, who always felt it was important to surround herself with beauty and light and color. She's shown here, sitting on the beautiful staircase of our Colonial Revival home in Waterview (Portsmouth, Virginia). It was about 1968, and she's holding "Bernard," a mutt she'd recently adopted from the local SPCA.

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To read Permanent Furniture, Part I, click here.

To read one of the most popular blogs at this site (featuring a beautiful staircase), click here.

Ready for a change of pace? Read about a really spooky basement here.

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Wood River, Illinois and “The Chilton”

September 24th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

For about a dozen years, I lived in Alton, Illinois. In fact, that’s where I researched and wrote The Houses That Sears Built.

Last week, I returned to Alton to visit family.

Of course, I couldn’t resist driving around my old stomping grounds a bit and looking at the old houses. I left the area in Spring 2006. Since then, I’ve acquired many “new” old catalogs and learned a great deal. While in the Riverbend area last week, I made many “fresh” discoveries.

One of the more interesting finds was this Sterling “Chilton” in nearby Wood River, Illinois

Sterling was based in Bay City, Michigan, and was one of six national companies that sold kit homes in the early 20th Century through mail-order catalogs.

They started out life as International Mill and Timber Company, and in 1915, they launched their own line of pre-cut kit homes, and re-named their company, “Sterling Homes.”

Sterling Homes offered construction services for developers and one of their largest clients turned out to be General Motors, which paid for 1,000 houses to be built in Flint Michigan (for GM workers). Their last catalog was printed in 1974. Total sales during their 59 years in business were about 45,000 homes. (Thanks to Dale Wolicki for the stats and facts on Sterling!)

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for providing me with the scanned images from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog!

Learn more about the history of Sterling Homes by clicking here.

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The Sterling Chilton, from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog.

The Sterling Chilton, from the 1917 Sterling Homes catalog.

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Sterling Homes was based in Bay City, Michigan, and while they were a national company, they were probably one of the smallest companies selling kit homes through mail order.

Sterling Homes was based in Bay City, Michigan. During their 59 years in business, they sold about 45,000 pre-cut kit homes. Shown here is the cover of the 1916 Sterling Homes catalog.

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I just love these graphics.

I just love these graphics. And notice the political commentary that was written in by some anonymous soul. Charles Evans Hughes ran against Woodrow Wilson in 1916. He put in a good showing and lost by a mere 594,000 votes. If Hughes had won California, we wouldn't have nearly so many high schools named after Woodrow Wilson.

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The Chiltons

The Chilton had an oversized living room and dining room, and two small bedrooms, one of which had a cedar closet. Notice the "Jack and Jill" bathroom.

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The base of the columns on that Chilton are what make it really stand out! There's been some debate in our Facebook group as to the purpose of those projections on those stuccoed columns. Rachel suggested it was to have a safe place for your beer while you were out mowing the yard. Sounds pretty smart to me.

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Close

While not a spot-on match to the catalog image, I am confident that this house in Wood River is a Sterling Chilton. The front door is easy enough to move, and this is a common alteration. Plus, the house has replacement windows, aluminum siding (ick) and aluminum trim (sigh), so it's possible that it's been subjected to many "improvements."

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View from the other side.

View from the other side. Three windows have been added to the front gable, but the rest of the details on the home's front are very good, including the five brackets and their placement, the broad piece of fascia across the front and the size and shape of the porch wall.

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While the house in Wood River has a few details that are a bit off, this column is a spot-on match, and it's such a unique architectural feature, that I'm willing to bet money that this is indeed the Sterling Chilton.

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The reason for my return to the St. Louis area: My daughter will soon be married to this fine gent. Theyre sitting in front of the gazebo where their wedding will take place.

The reason for my return to the St. Louis area: My daughter will soon be married to this fine gent. They're sitting in front of the gazebo, gazing at the very spot where their wedding will take place.

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As a final note, sometime in 1999 or 2000, my (then) husband and I went to an open house in Alton, IL where we saw this house for sale. Its an Aladdin Magnolia. I drove more than 80 miles, criss-crossing every street in Alton looking for this house but could not find it. If you know where this house is, please leave a comment below. Ill be returning to Alton later for my daughters wedding and would love to get a photo of this house.

As a final note, sometime in 1999, my (then) husband and I went to an open house in Upper Alton, IL (near Edwards Street) where we saw this house for sale. Last month, I was looking through the 1953 Aladdin catalog and re-discovered this house. It's an Aladdin Magnolia, and as soon as I saw the image, I remembered seeing this very same house in 1999. When I was in Alton last week, I drove more than 80 miles, criss-crossing every street in the city, looking for this house but could not find it. If you know where this house is, please leave a comment below. I'll be returning to Alton later for my daughter's wedding and would love to get a photo of this house. Thanks!!

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To join our “Sears Homes” group on Facebook, click here.

To read more about the Aladdin Magnolia, click here.

If you know where that Aladdin Magnolia is, please leave a comment below! And please share this link with your Riverbend Friends!

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Meet Me in Louisa! (September 15th at 2:00 pm)

September 8th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

This Sunday (September 15th), I’ll be in Louisa, Virginia (near Charlottesville) giving a talk on the kit homes in Louisa County.

In the last 12 years, I’ve given more than 250 lectures in 26 states, and the #1 comment I hear from attendees is, “This was such fun, and I learned so much!”

A few fun facts:

* Sears Kit Homes were not prefab homes, but were true kits. Each 12,000-piece kit came with a a 75-page instruction book and a promise that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days.

*  The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.”

* The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

* More than 3/4ths of the people living in these homes don’t realize that they’ve living in a historically significant home!

* And 80% of the people who think that they have a Sears Home are wrong!

* Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.


I hope you’ll be able to come out and join us on September 15th at 2:00 pm, at 214 Fredericksburg Avenue in Louisa.

The auditorium only holds 200 people, so get there early!

And if you know anyone who loves old houses, please invite them to join you!

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Woo-hoo!

Okay, actually this is a simple mailer that Aladdin sent out to their customers the late 1910s to let people know that their Aladdin catalog was on its way. It was so cute I decided I could use it here.

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Aladdin was actually a bigger company than Sears (in terms of mail-order kit home sales). Here in Southern Virginia, Ive found far more Aladdin Houses than Sears.

Aladdin was a bigger company than Sears (in terms of mail-order kit home sales). Here in Southern Virginia, I've found far more Aladdin Houses than Sears. While Aladdin was based in Bay City (Michigan), they had a very large mill in Wilmington, NC. The red dot shows where Louisa is located. Or that's what my husband claims. I have plenty of trouble with maps that have lots of detail. Maps like this leave me feeling like I need to lie down for a bit.

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One of my favorite finds in Louisa was this Aladdin Cape Cod (model name).

One of my favorite finds in Louisa was this Aladdin "Cape Cod" (model name).

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Ooh la la, what a pretty house!

Ooh la la, what a pretty house! And it's in Louisa!

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Also found an Aladdin Madison! (From the 1937 catalog)

Also found an Aladdin Madison! (From the 1937 catalog)

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Oh

The front entry has been squared up and enclosed, but other than that, it's a good match!

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My favorite find was the Aladdin Kentucky!

My favorite find was the Aladdin Kentucky! (From the 1915 catalog).

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This was a spacious and fine home.

This was a spacious and fine home.

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Now thats a gorgeous house!

Of all the houses I've found in my house-hunting career, this beauty is certainly one of my Top Ten Favorites. It looks much like it did when it first appeared in the 1912 Aladdin Homes catalog. Original windows, original cypress clapboards, original columns and porch. Good golly, what a house.

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Man oh man, what a match!

Man oh man, what a match!

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Ill also be talking about what I found in nearby communities, such as this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Orange!

I'll also be talking about what I found in nearby communities, such as this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Orange!

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Another

And what a fine-looking Shadowlawn it is.

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The Wexford, from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Wexford, from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Mineral is best known as the epicenter of the August 2011 earthquake. Its also the home to a perfect Sears Wexford.

Mineral is best known as the epicenter of the August 2011 earthquake. It's also the home to a perfect Sears Wexford. The house was "reversed" from the original image shown in the catalog, which was a common option.

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And look

And look what I found in Charlottesville!

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And look what I found in Charlottesville!

It's a picture-perfect Sears Rockford! Charlottesville has several kit homes that I discovered during a quickie drive-through. I'm sure there are many more just begging to be found.

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To get more information about the upcoming talk, please contact Elaine at info@louisacountyhistoricalsociety.org

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About Rose:

Rose Thornton has traveled throughout the country, seeking and finding Sears Homes. In that time, she’s written dozens of newspaper and magazine articles and several books.

Rose is the author of The Houses That Sears Built (2002,) Finding the Houses That Sears Built (2004) and she’s the co-author of California’s Kit Homes (2004) and Montgomery Wards Mail-Order Homes (2010). Rose’s newest book - The Sears Homes of Illinois - was published in 2011.

Rose has traveled to 26 states to give more than 200 lectures on Sears Homes, from Bungalow Heaven in Los Angeles to The Smithsonian in Washington, DC. She has addressed a wide variety of audiences from architectural preservationists in Boston, St. Louis and Chicago to kit home enthusiasts in small towns across America.

Rose has appeared on PBS (History Detectives), A&E (Biography), CBS (Sunday Morning News) and her book was featured in its own category on Jeopardy. She is considered the country’s #1 authority on kit homes. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street JournalNew York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, L. A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Old House Journal, American Bungalow, Blue Ridge Country and about 100 other publications. Twice in the last three years, the story of her unique career was picked up by the AP and in May 2009, she was interviewed on BBC Radio.

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The Trifecta from the 1933 Sears Modern Homes Catalog

July 25th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

Last week, fellow researcher Lara Solonicke posted a blog about a perfect trifecta of very rare Sears Homes from the very rare 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Even better, the triumvirate of Sears Homes is located in Oak Park, Illinois and surely anyone reading this blog will remember that Oak Park was the home of Richard Warren Sears for much of his adult life!

How fitting that Lara has discovered these homes in Richard Sears’ old stomping grounds!

The three houses she found in Oak Park were the Schuyler, the Bristol, and the Webster, which were offered only in the 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Lara told me that it was an advertisement in an old newspaper that led her to this wonderful discovery.

Many thanks to Lara for sharing this information and the wonderful photos! To read her blog, click here.

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It’s likely that these three Sears Homes (the Schuyler, Bristol, and Webster) were the only examples of these three models ever built. Not surprisingly, 1932 was a bad year for the Modern Homes Department, but  1933 was even worse. In 1932, sales of Sears homes suffered due to the Great Depression, and net sales were down 47% from the prior year (1931).

In 1933, sales dropped 50% (as compared to 1932).

In an attempt to boost sales, Sears executives decided to conduct an experiment, and build these three homes prior to sale. They felt if customers could walk through model homes and see the Sears quality firsthand, they would be more inclined to purchase.

Construction on the houses started in summer of 1932 and the first completed model opened in October of that year. The Schuyler was priced at $14,900; the Bristol was priced at $15,100, and the Webster was priced at $15,300. These were not cheap houses. Originally Sears hoped to sell these houses for $10,000 each, but the cost to construct went well beyond initial estimates.

Interestingly, only one house currently has a built-in garage. All three originally had cedar shingles, although they are covered in aluminum today. The shingles and the brick were painted white on all three houses. The shutters were black, and the roofs were variegated black and red.

The Bristol and the Schuyler share the same stone exterior on the first floor, while the Webster has a brick first-floor exterior. Two of the houses featured finished recreation rooms in the basement, which was uncommon in houses of the early 1930s.

Sears managed to sell the three houses, but felt that profit margin was too low to continue constructing homes before sale.

“We do not propose any further experimentation along this line pending the sale of the Oak Park Houses and the development of better sales conditions,” wrote General W.H. Rose, the General Supervisor of the Modern Homes Department.

Sears built the Webster, the Bristol and the Schuyler side by side on Linden Avenue in Oak Park, IL. These three rare styles were only offered for sale in the 1933 catalog.

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Thanks so much to Lara for sharing this information. You can visit her website by clicking here.

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The 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog was a tiny little thing, about the size of a small index card.

The 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog was a tiny little thing, about the size of a small index card. Thanks to the hole on the cover, you can see the copyright date (bottom of photo). The 1932 and 1934 catalogs were full size catalogs (approximately 8-1/2" by 11"). The 1933 was the only "small" catalog.

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The catalog

Thanks to tiny print, the copy writers managed to squeeze a lot of info onto the page. In fact, the major difference between the diminutive 1933 catalog and the full-size catalogs was text. Sears copy writers were far less loquacious in 1933. Shown above is The Schuyler with its "Historic Colonial Charm."

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Nice house with a nice floorplan.

The house has a dining room and a diner (which probably had space for a breakfast nook). My only question is, who drives a car shaped like a shuffleboard? Or was a dedicated "shuffleboard room" a suggested use for this space? As a garage, it was ideal for a Mazda Miata or Toyota Yaris. An absolute minimum today for a one-car garage would be 12-feet by 20-feet, and even that size means to have to eject your passengers before rolling into the garage.

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2nd floor

The Schuyler had many very progressive concepts for an early 1930s "kit" home. The master bedroom had a private bath, and two spacious closets. Even the study has a spacious walk-in closet. The house had 2-1/2 bathrooms which was quite unusual for 1933.

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Sears

The Sears Schuyler, as seen in the 1933 catalog.

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The Sears Schuyler

The Sears Schuyler with its attached garage. Would you ever have guessed this is a Sears kit house? And do the owners know that their house was sold by Sears Roebuck? Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Sears Bristol

The Sears Bristol, offered only in 1933. Love the inset dormers! However, this is a not-so-great design because these type of dormers ALWAYS leak.

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Sears Bristol

You may notice that there's a lot of flashing around those inset dormers on this "Bristol." And while this model does not have the garage now, it looks like there was a garage door in that space when the house was originally built. See the strips of aluminum siding tucked under the garage-width picture window? Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house

Close-up on the Bristol's former garage door. It's likely that, when first built, the Bristol had a garage. Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The third

The third house in our trifecta is the Sears Webster (1933).

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house

This Sears Webster is distinctive, with the unusual window arrangement and the jettied second story. Was this the only Sears Webster built? It's certainly quite possible! Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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garage

And if you zoom in on this large bay window, you'll see that this house also started life with an attached garage, and today, there's a a grade-level room in its place. The house is brick (painted), but under the bay window, it's either wood or aluminum siding. It'd be interesting to see if there's a curb cut on the street for a driveway (in front of this window). If not, it's possible that this "modification" was done when the house was built. Still, in that these were models for Sears & Roebuck, it seems likely the homes would have built "according to plan." Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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A price sheet from the 1933 catalog shows that these models were their finest and most expensive.

A price sheet from the 1933 catalog shows that the Webster and Schuyler were among their finest and most expensive. The prices shown above (Schuyler - $2,458 and Webster - $2,658) were for the plans and materials. The price that Lara quoted (The Schuyler for $14,900 and Webster for $15,300) included the lot and all construction costs. In the 1919 catalog, Sears stated that a completed kit home would cost about 2-1/2 to 3 times the cost of the kit. In other words, a $2,000 kit house would cost you about $6,000 when all was said and done. By 1933, the factor had jumped to about six times the cost of the kit. ($2,458 x 6.0618 = $14899.)

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Lara Solonickne is an architecture enthusiast and blogger. She is the founder of Sears-homes.com, which spotlights catalog homes in the Chicago area. Lara worked as a communications consultant and technical writer in a former life. She currently lives in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Drop her a line at lara@sears-homes.com.

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To visit Lara’s blog, click here.

Wanted: More Better Pictures of the Lincoln Magnolia!

July 6th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

Updated! I got my “more better pictures”!  Click here to learn more!

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Thanks to Rebecca Hunter, I now have a picture (albeit a little faded) of the Sears Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska. Unfortunately, the house burned in 1985 or 1986, and shortly afterwards, it was razed.

The Magnolia in Lincoln was one of eight known Magnolias in the country, and (as far as we know), the only one that has been demolished.  (An eighth Magnolia in West Virginia was recently discovered.)

Last night as I was thinking about this old house in Nebraska, I realized that someone somewhere is bound to have a better photo of the Magnolia, and perhaps a photo of the house in its prime. This house was in the state’s capitol (Lincoln), and it must have been fairly well known in the community, and hopefully, well photographed!

The house was owned by a family named “Benza,” and it was probably built between 1918 and 1922. It was located at 5901 NW 20th Street in Lincoln.

If you have any information on this house, or any photos, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about the Magnolia, click here.

To read about the building of a Magnolia, click here.

To visit Rebecca’s website, click here.

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Sears Magnolia Lincoln

This is the only known photo of the Sears Magnolia in Lincoln. The house was torn down in 1985 or 1986, and in this photo, the house appears to be in very rough shape. I have no idea what year this photo was taken. There's a car in front of the house, but I can't see much of it. Somewhere, there's a better photo of this house. I'd love to see it.

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Sears Magnolai

The Sears Magnolia in Alabama (Piedmont) is also in need of a little love.

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Magnolia 1918

The Magnolia was first offered in the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

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Magnolia 1918

In 1918, it was offered for $4485, and if you wanted to just buy the plans, those were a scant $10.

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Magnolia 1920

Due to post-war hyperinflation, the price of the Magnolia hit $7,998 in 1920.

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Magnolia 1921

By 1921, the price had dropped to about $6,500.

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prices

After World War One, the cost of building materials and lumber went sky high. Sears catalogs had 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 alternative, they just stuck price sheets into the pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalog. See the highlighted entry above? This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the Spring 1921 Sears catalog. In fact, the catalog page (shown above) has a price of $6,488 but this insert shows the price as $10 cheaper.

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Magnolia 1922 (last year)

The Magnolia made its final appearance in the 1922 catalog. The price was now $5,849, or about $1,000 more than when first offered in 1918. Did anyone buy their Magnolia when it cost $10,000?

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Magnolia in South Bend

One of the eight known Magnolias is in South Bend, IN. (Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Magnolia in Canton, OH

The Magnolia in Canton, OH was almost lost (roof had collapsed into the 2nd floor), but it was painstakingly restored to its original splendor. Photo is copyright 2012 Janet Hess LaMonica and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

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Do you know the location of another Magnolia?  Please leave a comment below!

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Be Still My Heart: The Eighth Magnolia?

June 29th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

Updated!! See detailed photos here!!

A few moments ago, my sleepy husband stuck his head into the room and said, “It’s 3:11  in the morning. Why are you still up?”

“Well, I think we’ve found our eighth Magnolia,” I replied.

“Oh,” he said quietly, as he toddled back to the bedroom.

No additional information was needed.

Every month, I get a handful of emails from people who are 100% certain that they’ve found the crème de la crème of all kit homes: The Sears Magnolia.

And 98% of the time, they’re wrong.

Sears sold kit homes from 1908-1940, and in that 32-year span, they offered 370 designs. Of those 370 designs, the Magnolia was the fairest of them all (and the biggest and the most expensive).

In 1918 (the year the Magnolia first appeared), 90 designs were offered, and only 13 of those homes cost more than $2,000. Not counting the Magnolia, the most expensive house in that catalog was the Preston, at $2,812.

The other 76 models offered in 1918 were under $2,000, and the overwhelming majority of those were less than $1,200.

The price tag for the Magnolia was $4,485.

Most of the Sears Homes in that 1918 catalog had less than 1,000 square feet, and the Magnolia had almost 3,000 square feet.

For years and years, it was widely believed that only six Magnolias had been built in the country, and yet their locations were not known. In time, those six Magnolias were discovered in Benson, North Carolina, South Bend, Indiana, Irwin, Pennsylvania, Canton, Ohio and a fifth in Piedmont, Alabama. A sixth had been destroyed by fire in Nebraska. (Of those six Magnolias, the house in Benson was the “newest” discovery, found in March 2010.)

And that was that.

Six Magnolias. All accounted for.

Five alive.

One dead (and cremated).

And then in May 2011 (thanks to this blog), someone  contacted me and said that there was a Sears Magnolia in Syracuse, NY.

I didn’t pay too much attention, because frankly, I’d heard it before, but fortunately, a friend and faithful reader (Heather Lukaszewski) did pay attention and she did a little research. She wrote me a nice note and said, “I think this may be the real deal.”

And that’s how we found the 7th Magnolia. The discovery made the local papers, and it was all pretty exciting. Click here to read the article from May 2011.

All of which brings me to this newest discovery of an 8th Magnolia!

Friday evening, someone contacted me and said that he lived in a house that was across the street from a Sears Magnolia. We exchanged several emails and I started to get pretty interested in this story. It had a lot more background and depth than the typical “There’s a Magnolia just down the street” stories.

Thanks to a lot of help from Rachel Shoemaker and Mark Hardin, we were able to see the house via Bing Maps, and I have to say, I think we’ve got a winner.

In fact, I’d be willing to say that I’m 90% certain that we’ve found our 8th Magnolia.

And the best part of all?

It’s in West Virginia.

I love West Virgina and I’m headed to Elkins in six weeks (with the aforementioned hubby) to visit family.

I’d sure love to stop by this sweet old kit house and check it out in person. Boy oh boy, would I love to see this fine house in the flesh.

Wow.

Just wow.

To read more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

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Magnolia 1918

The Magnolia was featured on the cover of the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and yet, those leaves in the border are not Magnolia leaves. What a fraud!

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1918  1918

Close-up of the Magnolia (1918)

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house house

The Magnolia was first offered in the 1918 Modern Homes catalog (shown above). In 1919, the Magnolia hit its highest price: $10,000, more than double its price in 1918.

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1921

In 1921, the price of the Sears Magnolia dropped to $6,489 and one year later, it would drop to $5,849. Following WW1, prices of building materials fluctated dramatically.

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Magnolia Benson

In March 2011, a reader told me that there was a Sears Magnolia in Benson, NC.

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Janets house

The Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio was almost lost due to neglect but was lovingly restored in the 1990s. Photo is copyright 2012 Janet's Hess LaMonica and may not be reproduced without written permission.

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Syracue

Our 7th Magnolia, in Syracuse! And what a fine-looking kit house it is! (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Magnolia columns

Close-up of the columns on the Sears Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama.

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To learn more about the Sears Magnolias among us, click here.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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The Chesterfield Home: Of English Ancestry

February 4th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

“The Chesterfield home has an English ancestry which has stood the test of public favor for many centuries…”

The Sears Chesterfield was indeed a nobby tudoresque design, but apparently it didn’t catch on. And it was offered only in the 1926 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I’ve never seen one “in the flesh.”

However, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Andrew Mutch, Wendy Mutch and Melodie Nichols, we now have pictures of a beautiful Chesterfield in Clawson, Michigan.

For those visiting this page for the first time, you might be wondering, what is a Sears Home? These were 12,000-piece kits that were ordered right out of the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog.  The homes were offered from 1908 - 1940, and during their 32-years in the kit home business, 370 models were offered.

Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house built and ready for occupancy in 90 days. That could have been a little ambitious. Typically, it took novice homebuilders six months or more to finish these homes.

To learn more about this fascinating topic, click here.

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Text from the catalog page (1925)

In a pinch, you could offer this page to someone as an eye test, and see if they notice that the font gets smaller and smaller near the bottom. On a side note, I have no idea what an "informal massing of the walls" means (near the center of the text). Then again, I have never seen a "formal massing" of walls. Is it like an informal gathering? Are the walls just hanging out together, having one big quiet party? If you were a quiet wall and you didn't participate in these informal gatherings, would you be a wall flower? Or would you just be a wall wall? One has to wonder. (From 1926 catalog.)

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Pricey little dog, given the fact that this was 1926.

Pricey little dog, given the fact that this was 1926.

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I dont see any informal massing here.

I don't see any informal massing of the walls here. However, I bet that breakfast room was a chilly place on a balmy Michigan winter morning.

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Where are the informal masses?

I wonder if the "informal masses" are hiding in the spacious closets?

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Chesterfield, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

Chesterfield, as seen in the 1926 catalog.

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What a beauty!

What a beauty! It's been altered a bit but the original lines are still there. And the third floor of this house must be quite spacious. This house is in Clawson, Michigan which (thanks to Andrew, Wendy and Melodie) has been found to be a real hotbed of kit homes! Photo is copyright 2012 Melodie Nichols and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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From the side

A side view of the Chesterfield. Look at that enormous chimney. Photo is copyright 2012 Melodie Nichols and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Oh my stars, now we KNOW its a Sears Home! It has an S on the chimney!!

Oh my stars, now we KNOW it's a Sears Home! It has an "S" on the chimney!! Ah, not really. This is one CRAZY myth that is still bouncing around on the internet. That "S" on the chimney is a stylistic feature that has nothing to do with whether or not it's a Sears House. In this case, that "S" is part of the brace that helps keep that oversized chimney stable. Photo is copyright 2012 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house

Nice shooting, Melodie! She did a perfect job of photographing the house from the same angle as the original catalog picture.

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To read the next blog (also about kit homes in Michigan), click here.

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