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Posts Tagged ‘prefabs’

The Berwyn: Monotony Relieved!

July 2nd, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

The Sears Berwyn (named for a city in Northern Illinois) was one of their most popular houses, and it’s a cutie-pie of a house, too!

The double-arched front porch makes it easy to identify.

The Berwyn as seen in the 1929 catalog.

The Berwyn as seen in the 1929 catalog.

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The text in the 1929 ad promises that monotony is relieved.

The text in the 1929 catalog promises that monotony is relieved in the Berwyn.

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Small house, but thoughtful floor plan.

Small house, but thoughtful floor plan.

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By 1938, the Berwyn hadnt changed much.

By 1938, the Berwyn hadn't changed much, but it had a new name.

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This Berwyn

This long thin vent on the front gable is a distinctive feature on the Berwyn. The cement-based siding was probably added in the 1950s. This snowy house is in Elgin, IL.

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This Berwyne is in Kirkwood, MO and some not-so-thoughtful vinyl siding installing wreaked havoc with that double-arched opening.

This Berwyne is in Kirkwood, MO and some not-so-thoughtful vinyl siding installing wreaked havoc with that double-arched opening.

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Another Berwyn with the cement-based siding (White Sulphur Springs, VA).

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This house in Rock Falls, Missouri is also

This house in Rock Falls, Missouri is clad in aluminum siding.

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And this Berwyn is in my neck of the woods, Hampton, Virginia.

And this Berwyn is in my neck of the woods, Hampton, Virginia. The wrought-iron post is not a good idea.

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The Berwyn was one of a handful of houses that made it into the very last Sears Modern Homes catalog (1940).

The Berwyn was one of a handful of houses that made it into the very last Sears Modern Homes catalog (1940). In this catalog, it was renamed the Mayfield.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about Teddy the Wonder Dog, click here.

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Albert Brown’s Awesome Old House in Mechanicsburg, Ohio

June 26th, 2012 Sears Homes 6 comments

In 1912, Albert Brown of Mechanicsburg, Ohio sent a lovely letter to Gordon Van Tine (a kit home company), praising House #126, which he’d recently purchased of them.  Albert was so enamored of the house that (he said in  his letter), it was his intention (in 1912) to buy and build two more houses and one barn from Gordon Van Tine (based in Davenport, Iowa).

In fact, Albert asked Gordon Van Tine for a placard for his house, identifying it as one of their own homes.

Gordon Van Tine published Albert’s letter in their 1913 mail-order catalog (and Albert’s letter is shown below).

We don’t know if Albert ever purchased or built those other two houses, or if Gordon Van Tine ever provided him with a placard for his house, but we do know that Albert bought his barn, and built it at the back of the lot, adjacent to House #126.

It’s pretty darn fun to rediscover this lost piece of history and “connect all the dots,” based just on a name and a short testimony found in a 1913 mail order catalog.

So, are there two more Gordon Van Tine houses there in Mechanicsburg, thanks to Albert? I’d love to know!

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for digging into this story and finding this amazing house (and getting an address!), and thanks to Cindy Goebel Catanzaro for taking so many wonderful photos!

To learn more about Gordon Van Tine kit homes, click here.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.

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House #126 as it appeared in the 1913 Gordon Van Tine catalog.

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house 2

Close-up of the house that Albert selected (1913).

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testimony

Albert Brown's testimony appeared under #126 in the 1913 catalog.

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house 3

And here is Albert's house as it appears today. It's a real beauty, and a lovely match to the 1913 catalog image. If you look at the lower right of this photo, you can see the barn that Albert purchased in later years. (Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Goebel Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Notice the oval window in the front gable, and the small vestibule.

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This house in Mechanicsburg is in wonderfully original condition. I wonder if the current owners know about Albert, and his story? I wonder if they realize that they have a kit home? (Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Goebel Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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hosue detail

Close-up of that ornamental window. (Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Goebel Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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house six

And a view from the side of the house. (Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Goebel Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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And my favorite photo of all!  Cindy managed to get inside this house and found a vintage photo hanging on the wall. Is this Albert and friends? Oh, how Id love to know!!

And my favorite photo of all! Cindy managed to get inside this house and found a vintage photo of #126 hanging on the wall. Is this Albert and friends? Oh, how I'd love to know!!

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Close up of the folks. Who are these people?

Close up of the folks. Who are these people? They obviously love their dogs!

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barn too

Albert was so dazzled by the House #126 that he purchased this barn in later years.

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Nice barn!

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house hosue barn

And here is Albert's GVT barn, sitting on the back edge of the lot. (Photo is copyright 2012 Cindy Goebel Catanzaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Again, many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for finding this house in Mechanicsburg (with a little help from Ancestry.com) and thanks to Cindy Goebel Catanzara for running out to Mechanicsburg to get these wonderful photos!

Want to learn more about Gordon Van Tine? Click here.

Read more about these amazing kit homes by clicking here.

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The Sears Maywood: Bespeaks Simplicity and Worth

May 29th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

It must have been hard to write magniloquent, enchanting copy to accompany (and pitch) each of the 370 models that Sears offered in their Modern Homes catalog. And yet, some of these descriptions are pretty darn good - such as this one.

The Maywood two-story home bespeaks simplicity and worth. Designed after the finest in modern architecture, it makes an ideal home. Viewed from any angle its lovely proportion and balance is outstanding. Every line is expressive of quality, durability and good taste.

Now that’s good writing!

The Maywood was first offered in the late 1920s, and was a popular house for Sears. It had a good floorplan, and (unlike most Sears Homes) the rooms were all fairly spacious (by 1920s standards).

The Maywood was patterned after a popular housing style, so not every house that looks like a Maywood is a Maywood. Take a look at the pictures below to learn how to differentiate the real deal from the look-alikes.

The Maywood, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

The Maywood, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Unlike many Sears Homes, the Maywood had a good floor plan with spacious rooms.

Unlike many Sears Homes, the Maywood had a good floor plan with spacious rooms.

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Upstairs, it had three fairly spacious bedrooms.

Upstairs, it had three good-size bedrooms.

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Maywood in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania. Photo is copyright 2012 Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Maywood in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania. Photo is copyright 2012 Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Maywood in Dayton, Ohio.

Maywood in Dayton, Ohio. Porch on left has been enclosed.

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Not surprisingly, Decatur, IL has several Sears Homes, including this Maywood.

Not surprisingly, Decatur, IL has several Sears Homes, including this Maywood.

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Ohio seems to be the mecca for Sears Homes. This one is in Dayton.

Ohio seems to be the mecca for Sears Homes. This one is in Dayton.

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This house is in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. At first glance, I thought it was the Mawywood, and now I dont think so. The Maywood is 32 wide. This house might be a little bigger than that. And yet, Im still not 100% sure if this is a Maywood or not.

This house is in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. At first glance, I thought it was the Maywood, and now I don't think so. The Maywood is 32' wide. This house might be a little bigger than that. Plus, this house has more space around the second-floor windows. It just looks like a BIGGER house that our Sears Maywood.

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The Maywood

A very nice match!

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To learn about Indiana’s $1 million Sears House, click here!

To learn more about Goodwall Sheet Plaster and its fireproof qualities, click here.

To make Rose’s day complete, leave a comment below!  :)

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Rebecca’s Got a Brand New Book!

April 3rd, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

In 2001, I drove out to Columbia, Illinois to attend a talk on Sears Homes, given by Dr. Rebecca L. Hunter. I’d never met this woman, but I’d heard a lot about her from several different people.

I was already pretty intimidated by Dr. Hunter and I hadn’t even met her! She was well respected, a solid researcher, a scholar and obviously very well educated.

When we were first introduced in 2001, I was nervous as a cat, but Dr. Hunter - in addition to being hyper-intelligent - was also incredibly humble and unassuming and gracious.

We sat together at a luncheon after the talk and became fast friends. She invited me to visit her in Elgin (a Chicago suburb), and promised to show me all the architectural treasures she’d found in Northern Illinois, and to teach me all that she’d learned about Sears Homes.

The timing of our meeting was divinely inspired. I was in the middle of a divorce and truly terrified of what the future might hold for me. After 24 years of marriage, my husband had wanted out. I was an emotional mess, and I forewarned Rebecca. She was unimpressed. I also told her that I’d been married since I was 18, and that I’d never driven any substantial distance alone, and couldn’t imagine that I could make the six-hour drive from Alton (my home) to Elgin, Illinois.

Rebecca looked at me and said, “I’ll help you. I’ll give you precise directions and if you get lost, just call me. If you get really lost or feel overwhelmed, pull over and I’ll drive out and meet you, and you can just follow me into Elgin.”

It was an incredibly generous offer, and it was also a golden (and safe) opportunity for me to overcome my fear of traveling alone.

In February 2002, I made the trip from Alton to Elgin. Thanks to her incredibly detailed directions, I arrived at her front door in Elgin without a hitch. I knocked on her door and saw Rebecca’s beaming countenance. She was smiling from ear to ear.

She threw her arms around me and said, “I knew you could do it. I knew it.”

That moment is one of my favorite memories of my time on this earth.

Sears Houses were the bond that brought us together, but the real blessing of these kit homes have been the relationships they’ve forged. Even though we now live 1,200 miles apart, I consider Rebecca Hunter to be one of my dearest friends.

And I’m so happy to see that Dr. Hunter has just come out with a new book, and it’s a fine book, too! I thought I knew a lot about Sears Homes, but I’m delighted to report that I’ve learned many new things from reading “Mail Order Homes.”

Scroll down to take a sneak peek, and then dash over to Amazon.com and buy a copy. It makes a perfect gift, and don’t forget, Mother’s Day is on the horizon!!

Rebe

Rebecca's newest book is titled, "Mail Order Homes."

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Lots of beautiful color photos. Good graphics, and theyre crisp and clean.

Lots of beautiful color photos. Good graphics, and they're crisp and clean.

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Vintage photos, too.

The book has many vintage photos.

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Rebecca has photos of rare Sears Homes, too.

Rebecca has photos of rare Sears Homes, too.

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Her book covers much more than Sears Homes. Also has info on the other mail-order companies.

Her book covers much more than pre-cut Sears Homes. Also has info on "Homart Homes" and the other mail-order companies.

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Check out the table of contents!

Check out the table of contents!

To learn more about Rebecca’s book, click here.

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A Kenmore House - by Montgomery Ward!

October 5th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Sears started selling kit homes in 1908. Montgomery Ward followed suit in 1909.

Sears started offering financing (mortgages) on their kit homes in 1917. Montgomery Ward reluctantly began offering mortgages in 1925.

In 1931, Montgomery Ward saw the writing on the wall and got out of the kit home business. Sears followed suit in 1934 (but re-entered the game in 1935, and closed down the kit home business once and for all in 1940).

Sears and Wards had a lot in common.

One night, I was going through the pages of my 1927 Wardway Homes catalog and found that one of Montgomery Ward’s modest little houses was named, “The Kenmore.”

Interesting name for a Montgomery Ward product!

Was the #2 mail-order giant poking a stick in the eye of the #1 mail-order giant?

What I do know is, Sears first used the brand name “Kenmore” in 1913 for one of their better-quality, portable sewing machines. It sold for $6.75 (including cabinet-grade wooden cover).

Six years later, the Kenmore name disappeared from the Sears catalogs and didn’t reappear until 1934.

Who knows why Ward’s chose the name Kenmore for one of their most-modest kit homes. However, it’s now an interesting little footnote in the history of American merchandising history and kit homes.

To learn more about Wardway Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

The Montgomery Ward Kenmore (1927)

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1910s Wardway catalog. Note the "possible changes" offered.

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Above is the floor plan for the Wards "Kenmore." Pretty modest little house. That rear bedroom is a mere seven feet wide. Today, we'd call that a walk-in closet.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Customized Kit Homes: A Puzzle!

March 29th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

About 30% of kit homes were customized when built. That’s almost one out of three, and that’s one of the things that makes identification of these homes so difficult. And that doesn’t count modifications and remodeling!  Today, some of these kit homes - first built in the early years of the 20th Century - are almost 100 years old. Lots of things can change in 100 years, especially when it comes to old houses.

Below is a picture of a house in Dublin, Virginia (Pulaski County) taken by Mike and Bev Pinkerman. As a kindness to me, he went through town snapping photos of several old bungalows, and this is one of the photos that he took. And Bev has been faithfully sending the photos to me via email!

At first glance, I thought, “Well, it kinda looks like an Aladdin Detroit.”

Like Sears, Aladdin was another kit home company that sold entire kit homes from their mail-order catalog. The 12,000-piece kits were then shipped by boxcar. The homes came with a 75-page instruction book, detailed blueprints and a promise that a “man of average abilities” could have the house ready for the wife and kids in 90 days.

Looking at the Pinkerman’s photo, I started thinking, “This is a Detroit, but one that’s been modified.”

If you look at the catalog image, you’ll see a small shed dormer. If you look at the Dublin house, you’ll see it has an enlarged shed dormer, but what’s really interesting is that those unusually shaped windows - in the center - are a spot-on match to the Detroit’s dormer windows. And while the center window is a perfect match, the extra windows (on either side) are more traditional double-hung windows!

An interesting find, to say the least! And yes, I think it is an Aladdin Detroit, with extra space on the second floor!

Click here to learn more about identifying kit homes!

Click here to buy Rose’s book!

Aladdin Detroit from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Detroit from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Detroit in Dublin

Aladdin Detroit in Dublin, Virginia. Photo is courtesy of Mike and Bev Pinkerman.

Floorplan

Adding width to that shed dormer on the second floor would have the effect of giving more square footage to the second floor bedrooms and also adding one window to each of those bedrooms.

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Close-up on the windows

Close-up on the windows shows that it is the same casement windows as used in the Aladdin Detroit.

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Close-up

Close-up of the catalog image of the Aladdin Detroit.

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Comparison the two houses

Comparison of the two houses

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House

The Aladdin Detroit

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A perfect Aladdin Detroit in Chesapeake

A perfect Aladdin Detroit in Chesapeake, Virginia. This one has an addition on the rear of the house. Notice how the foundation changes at the same point where the roofline changes.

To read the next article, click here:

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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The Bungalow Craze and The Germ Theory

February 22nd, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

Did you know that, Dr. Joseph Lister - a 19th Century British physician - is largely responsible for the bungalow craze? The fact is, Joseph Lister and his germ theory dramatically changed the way Americans thought about their homes.

For so many years, mothers could only watch in helpless horror as their young children died from any one of a myriad of “common” diseases. And then in the late 1800s, Dr. Joseph Lister discovered that germs were culprit. Mothers and fathers, weary of burying their infants, had a new arch enemy: household dirt. As is explained in the 1908 book, Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book:

Not many years ago disease was most often deemed the act of Providence as a chastening or visitation for moral evil. Many diseases are now known to be merely human ignorance and uncleanliness. The sins for which humanity suffers are violations of the laws of sanitation and hygiene, or simply the one great law of absolute sanitary cleanliness… Every symptom of preventable disease and communicable disease…should suggest the question: “Is the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Now that the enemy had been identified, modern women attacked it with every tool in their arsenal. Keeping a house clean was far more than a matter of mere pride: The well-being, nay, the very life of one’s child might depend upon a home’s cleanliness. What mother wanted to sit at the bedside of their sick child, tenderly wiping his fevered brow and pondering the awful question: “Was the cause of this illness an unsanitary condition within my control?”

Because of Dr. Lister and his germ theory, the ostentatious, dust-bunny-collecting Queen Anne, with its ornate woodwork, fretwork and gingerbread fell from favor with a resounding thud.

Simplicity, harmony and durability are the keynotes of the modern tendency. The general intention seems to be to avoid everything that is superfluous; everything that has a tendency to catch and hold dust or dirt. Wooden bedsteads are being replaced by iron or brass; stuffed and upholstered furniture by articles of plain wood and leather. Bric-a-brac, flounces, valances and all other superfluous articles are much less fashionable (from Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’ Cook-Book).

Remember the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”? There’s a 1920s scene where George Baily and his girlfriend pause in front of the massive Second Empire house. It sits abandoned and empty, deteriorating day by day. This was not an uncommon fate for Victorian manses in post-germ theory America. Who knew what germs lay in wait within its hard-to-clean walls?

The February 1911 Ladies’ Home Journal was devoted to the new housing style: Bungalows. One headline said, “The Bungalow, because of its easy housekeeping possibilities is becoming more popular every year.”

And all because of Dr. Lister.

(By the way, Dr. Lister did not invent the popular mouthwash but it was named after him and his discoveries.)

To learn more about the bungalows sold by Sears, click here.

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Snow White Kitchen

The Snow White "Sanitary" Kitchen. This picture is from the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Germ Theory

The Clorox man's claim to fame was superior germ-killing abilities. Note the adoring women praising him. Sadly, they're all wearing aprons. Well, maybe it's not so much sad as SCARY!

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George and Mary ("It's a Wonderful Life") got into this Second Empire Victorian *cheap* because it was riddled with germs and so hard to keep clean! After the discovery of the germ theory, we abandoned Victorian homes - with all their fretwork and frippery - in quite a hurry. Prior to the discovery of the germ theory, about 20% of children didn't make it to their 18th birthday. Once we figured out that it was these tiny microbes that was killing off our children, cleanliness became the order of the day.

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To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read more about George and Mary, click here.

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Is That a Sears Magnolia? Probably Not.

October 16th, 2010 Sears Homes No comments

My email inbox is always full of inquiries from folks who think they’ve found a Sears Magnolia right in their neighborhood. Unfortunately 99.9% of the time, they’re wrong.

The Sears Magnolia was purposefully patterned after a popular housing style, The Southern Colonial. Here in Hampton Roads, there’s a Southern Colonial Revival in many of our turn-of-the-century neighborhoods. However, the Sears Magnolia - the real deal - has some unique features that’ll help differentiate from other homes of that period.

Below are some images from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog, showing details around the roof and front porch. Take a moment and really study these images and you’ll see some of the unique architectural features. And if you want to see a real Sears Magnolia, click here and here and here.

Sears Magnolia from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Magnolia

Sears Magnolia - first story floor plan.

Details on Sears Magnolias front porch

Details on Sears Magnolia's front porch. Notice the distinctive roof lines and unique details around the front porch. At its core, the Sears Magnolia is a classic foursquare with delusions of grandeur.

Maggy in Benson, NC

Maggy in Benson, NC.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Poor Little Aladdin Shadowlawn

August 17th, 2010 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the 1980s, I rode by this house (see pics below) and saw that it had been lifted from its foundation, and according to the placard in the window, was headed to a new site, about 2 miles west on Portsmouth Blvd (Route 337).  A new foundation was prepared at the new site - just down the road - and then one day the house was moved.

Now, in 2010, the house is again standing in harm’s way. Across the street from this spacious two-story bungalow is a sprawling, growing, mega-monster shopping mall and complex, with the requisite Applebys, Olive Garden, Lowes, Home Depot, BJs, Walmart, 16-screen movie house, Michaels, Target, Dillards and about 250 more homogenized American stores.

I’d be surprised if this house is not already zoned commercial, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the house is purchased and demolished by some over-zealous developer. Pity, too. The house pictured here is a classic Aladdin Shadowlawn, one of Aladdin’s fancier kit homes.

Aladdin was based in Bay City, Michigan and started selling kit homes in 1906. They remained in business until 1981, selling about 75,000 kit homes. (Thanks to Dale Wolicki for the stats on Aladdin!) The Hampton Roads area has dozens of Aladdin kit homes, probably because of the Aladdin mill in nearby Greensboro, North Carolina.

However, we may soon have one less.

To read more about the kit homes in Hampton Roads, click here.

Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, VA

Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, VA

Aladdin Shadowlawn from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Shadowlawn from the 1919 catalog

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

August 14th, 2010 Sears Homes 2 comments

A few weeks after The Houses That Sears Built was published, the New York Times decided to do a feature story on Sears Homes and contacted me for an interview. Soon after that, a New York production company rang. They were putting together a brand new show for PBS and they wanted one of the first episodes to feature Sears Homes and would I be willing to appear? The show, they told me, would be called, History Detectives.

The show was filmed in Akron, Ohio and we drove to Canton, Ohio to visit the Sears Magnolia there. The filming went on for six days (for a 15-minute segment) during which time I commuted - by tiny airplane - back and forth to Alton, Illinois. Being part of that production was a fun, life-changing experience. The day we drove up to the Sears Magnolia in Canton was one of the happiest days of my life. What fun that was to see this magnificient house - in the flesh - after dreaming about it for so long. And it was just as wonderful as I’d dreamed.

Some days, I stood around and watched and there wasn’t much for me to do. During one such moment, I took a nap in the parlor of the Sears Magnolia. I remember waking up, looking around and wondering if I had died and gone to heaven.

In 2006, I moved back “home” to Norfolk and in Spring 2010, a woman friend wrote and said that she’d found the 5th known Magnolia in the country. Having heard this five times a week for the last seven years, I was highly doubtful.

Nonetheless, when I opened the link she’d sent, I saw a Sears Magnolia smiling back at me! A real Magnolia - the Creme de la creme of Sears Homes!

As soon as possible, I drove down to Benson, North Carolina to see this sweet thing.

The happy owners of the Magnolia allowed me to tour the inside of the house, where I found proof that it was indeed a Sears Magnolia (as if there were any doubt). Click on this link to read more about that.

There are also Sears Magnolias in Indiana (South Bend), Pennsylvania and South Carolina. There was one in Nebraska that burned down many years ago. That’s five Magnolias. There’s still one missing! Write me if you know where it is.

Read more about the Maggy in Benson here.

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio

Pictured below is the Sears Magnolia in Benson, North Carolina, with corresponding catalog image (from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog). This Magnolia is currently in use as a family-owned Funeral Home.

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Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog