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Posts Tagged ‘precut vs. prefab’

Why I Love Ferguson, Missouri

October 5th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 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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The Sunlight in Springfield!

January 31st, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

In today’s real estate market, a house with a mere 768 square foot would be considered pretty small, but in the 1920s, it proved to be a very popular size.  The Sears Sunlight had two diminutive bedrooms (12-feet by 10-feet) and a bathroom that was a mere 6-feet square.

An “expandable attic” was its saving grace.  There was a little bit of room on the second floor to add an extra bedroom or two (for short people).

The Sunlight is a hard house to identify because it’s small and - frankly - it looks like every other tiny bungalow that was built in the early 1900s.

I’ve never identified one on my own, but Cindy Catanzara and Rebecca Hunter seem to be old pros at finding these little houses!

One distinctive feature is the small clipped gable on the front and rear, and the hipped roof on the front porch, which juts out a bit beyond than the primary exterior walls. Another visual clue is the small enclosed space on the rear, but that often disappears after some remodeling.

Many thanks to Cindy Catanzaro for supplying so many wonderful photos of Sunlights in Springfield, Ohio!

1928 House house

The Sunlight, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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house hoouse house

Look at the size of those bedrooms!

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house hoouse house

The Sunlight (1928).

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house house

When I was in Elgin, Illinois in February 2010, Rebecca Hunter drove me out to this house and said, "Are you ready to see the most perfect Sunlight in the world?" It is in pristine condition and has been painstakingly restored. The homeowners have the original blueprints.

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house house house

Another view of the perfect Sunlight in Elgin, IL.

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Crystal Lake

Rebecca then drove me out to this Sunlight in Crystal Lake, Illinois. It's also in very good condition.

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Springfield Cindy

Cindy Catanzaro found this Sunlight in Springfield, Ohio. It's had some alterations, but is still identifiable as a Sunlight. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Springfield Cindy

Another view of the Sunlight in Springfield. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house springfield

This is an older picture showing a pretty little Sunlight that was feeling forlorn and forgotten. I'm happy to report that this home is now in the hands of a happy family who truly values the home's unique, historical origins. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house sprinngfield

Same house as shown above, this Sunlight is already starting to feel loved and cared for, thanks to its new owners! Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house

And you might notice that this Sunlight has had an addition put on the back. As originally built, it had a mere 768 square feet. Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Why did the bungalow become so popular so fast? Click here to read a fascinating bit of history.

To see more pictures of Sears Homes in Ohio, click here.

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South Carolina, Churlish Chiggers, and Fake Maggies

July 25th, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Last month, I spent several days traveling in South Carolina. I visited many cities in the northern part of South Carolina but found very few Sears Homes. The highlight of the trip was Anderson, where I found several kit homes from Sterling Homes (a competitor to Sears).

Click here to see photos of those houses.

I did, however, find more than 20 chiggers. Or should I say, they found me. I was in Pumpkintown, SC merrily traipsing through a happy, happy meadow when I picked up Satan’s microscopic hitchhikers.

Suffice it to say, my sufferings in the next few days rivaled that of Job, who used pottery shards to relieve the itch of his sores. (Having endured this misery, I’m now convinced that old Job hisself got into a mess of chiggers.)

But I digress…

During an earlier trip to Blacksburg, South Carolina (February 2011), I’d visited the twin of the Sears Magnolia.

The house in Blacksburg turned out to be a fake Sears Magnolia. And yet, it was so close to the real thing. After spending three days at this fine house, I decided it could not be a Magnolia.

In retrospect, I believe it may have been an early pattern book house, and that the fine folks at Sears discovered this pattern book design and incorporated it into their “Book of Modern Homes,” calling it, The Magnolia.

The house in Blacksburg was built about 1910 (according to tax records), which also fits with my pattern book theory.

This “SCFM” (”South Carolina Faux Maggy”) is four feet wider and four feet longer than the Sears Magnolia, which is interesting (and also fits with the above theory). When Sears “borrowed” patters from other sources, they’d change the dimensions a bit, and in the case of the SCFM, it was a tiny bit too big for Sears purposes, so shrinking the footprint made a lot of sense.

One more interesting detail: The underside of the front porch (eaves) shows that there are ten brackets on the Sears Magnolia. The SCFM has eight brackets. The Magnolia’s dormer has four of these eave brackets. The SCFM has three. These are the kind of details that matter.

I seriously doubt the SCFM is the only one of its kind. Does your town have a fake Magnolia?

To read my favorite blog on the Sears Magnolia, click here. It’s an old carpenter telling about HOW he built a Magnolia in the 1920s.

To read about the sweet ride that carried me to old South Carolina, click here.

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The Sears Magnolia, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Magnolia, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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And heres the SCFM in Blacksburg. Its NOT a Sears House, but it sure is close.

And here's the SCFM in Blacksburg. It's NOT a Sears House, but it sure is close.

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Really, really close.

Really, really close.

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I mean, cmon. You cant get much closer than this. And yet, this is not a Sears Magnolia. Sadly.

I mean, c'mon. You can't get much closer than this. And yet, this is not a Sears Magnolia. Sadly. All the details are just so darn close...

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Even has those distinctive marginal lites.

Even has those distinctive marginal lites.

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And the porch is a good match, too.

And the porch is a good match, too.

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One of the first thigns that caught my eye were these columns. Theyre concrete. The Sears Magnolia had hollow wooden columns (poplar). No kit house is going to come with concrete two-story Corinthian columns. The weight would be enormous. When I saw these columns I knew - this was not a kit home from Sears.

One of the first details that caught my eye were these columns. They're concrete. The Sears Magnolia had hollow wooden columns (poplar). No kit house is going to come with concrete two-story Corinthian columns. The weight would be enormous. When I saw these columns I knew - this was not a kit home from Sears.

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And its a beauty, too.

Minus the concrete columns, it's still such a good match.

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Inside the house, it has a Magnolia room!

Inside the house, it has a "Magnolia Room"! How apropos!

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The citys records show that this house was built in 1910, and those city records are not always right, but in this case, I suspect theyre close. The SCFM had a fireplace in every room and they were coal-burning fireplaces, which was typical for homes built in the first years of the 1900s.

The city's records show that this house was built in 1910, and oftimes, those city records are not always right, but in this case, I suspect they're close. The SCFM had a fireplace in every room and they were coal-burning fireplaces, which was typical for homes built in the first years of the 1900s. The Magnolia had two fireplaces, both wood-burning.

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This beautifully decorated house has a massive entry hall...

This beautifully decorated house has a massive entry hall, but that's one of the problems. The floorplan for this SCFM is NOT a good match to the Magnolia's floorplan. Plus, the Sears Magnolia had nine-foot ceilings. The ceilings in this house were 10' or more.

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The staircase in the real Magnolia is in a different spot.

The staircase in the real Magnolia is in a different spot. It's much closer to the front of the house, whereas the SCFM's staircase is much further back, and its hallway goes straight back to a rear entry door (unlike the floorplan above).

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In the end, I had to boldly declare that this was NOT a Sears Magnolia which made me very sad. However, it did tell me that this was probably a planbook house at some point. Now we just need to figure out WHICH plan book!

In the end, I had to boldly declare that this was NOT a Sears Magnolia which made me very sad. However, it did tell me that this was probably a planbook house at some point. Now we just need to figure out WHICH plan book!

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Also in Blacksburg, SC I found my favorite Alhambra of all time. Its LAVENDAR!

Also in Blacksburg, SC I found my favorite Alhambra of all time. It's LAVENDER!

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If you see this house, send me an email!

Such a beauty - but it's not from Sears.

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This is the real deal in Canton, Ohio.

This is the real deal in Canton, Ohio. Photo is copyright 2012 Janet Hess LaMonica and can not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

To contact Rose, leave a comment below.

To read more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

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