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Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business,” I tell folks at my lectures, “but judging from my emails, you’d think that number was 70 million kit homes.”

Some people really, really, really want their house to be a kit house, but not every 1920s house is a kit house.

And if I were queen of the world (a title I aspire to), I’d make that Hopewell’s town motto.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003, I caused a stir when I proclaimed that 36 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills weren’t really Sears Homes. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well.

And the fact is, I might have made a mistake.

Rachel Shoemaker and I have reviewed some of the photos, and we now believe that 38 of the town’s 44 Sears Homes may not be Sears Homes.

Still, that leaves six Sears Homes in Crescent Hills (Hopewell).

After the “stir” in 2003, I didn’t hear back from Hopewell. But then, several years ago, I offered to help Hopewell do a proper survey of their kit homes - for FREE!

The town never responded to my emails or letters.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011 (wearing a wig and a fake nose), I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only a few Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing a few of the fake Sears Homes.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Let’s make this simple.

It’s not.

It has a gambrel roof and a chimney and some windows, but that’s about it.

The photos below make that pretty clear.

Learn about the Aladdin homes in Hopewell here.

Read my favorite blog on Hopewell here.

Hopewell, if you’re listening, you can contact me by leaving a comment below!

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The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Van Jean, as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Note

Notice the double windows centered on the 2nd floor, and the double windows on the first floor. Notice also the placement of the home's chimneys. These things do matter.

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Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

Details matter. The Sears Van Jean has large cornice returns.

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This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but its not a Van Jean.

This Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a fine house but it's not a Van Jean. The 2nd floor windows are wrong, and the front porch is also not a match - for many reasons. The Van Jean has those oversized cornice returns. This house has none. I'd expect that the footprint for this house is also wrong. In short, it's *not* a Sears kit house.

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Close-up, comparing the porch.

The edges of Van Jean's porch roof are aligned with the primary roof. The Hopewell porch roof extends well beyond the roofline. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell porch roof terminates at the cross member.

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Hopewells brochure explains the differences (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean.

Hopewell's brochure explains the "differences" (ahem) between the Van Jean in Hopewell and the Sears Van Jean. Oopsie. They neglected a few details. And a few facts. And one big reality: This ain't no Van Jean.

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Will there ever be a day when someone in Hopewell exclaims, “Enough of this! Let’s call that gal in Norfolk and get this right - once and for all!!”?

I wonder.

In the meantime, Hopewell certainly does offer a lovely opportunity of how not to promote historic architecture.

To learn more about the real kit homes in Hopewell (and they’re not from Sears), click here.

To read about Sandston, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort. (Part 6)

April 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

When I last visited Hopewell in 2003, many good things happened, and I was treated kindly.  Sadly, I discovered that many of Hopewell’s “Sears Homes” were not really Sears Homes at all. There were some folks in Hopewell that were pretty unhappy about that.

Eight years later, when I returned to Hopewell in Spring 2011, I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only EIGHT Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here, here, and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing these almost-kinda-but-not-really Sears Homes. For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 201 Prince George Avenue is the Sears Van Jean.

Hmmm.  Let’s compare the house on Prince George with a catalog picture of the Sears Van Jean.

The alleged Van Jean in Hopewell

The alleged Van Jean in Hopewell, Virginia

The Sears Van Jean

The Sears Van Jean

It’s true that these are both Dutch Colonial homes, but that’s not enough. Sears patterned their houses after the popular housing styles of the day.  In fact, Sears offered several Dutch Colonial kit homes. So you can not say: “I see a Dutch Colonial. Sears offered a Dutch Colonial; ergo this Dutch Colonial must have come from Sears.”

And that’s apparently what’s happened with this pretty Dutch Colonial in Hopewell. Someone made a boo boo.

When you look a little closer at the details between these two homes, you see several differences in these two details. And it’s the details that make or break comparisons such as this.

First, look at the front porches.

Porch

Hopewell house.

porch also

The Van Jean

comparison

This detail may seem insignificant, but in fact, it's the very kind of detail that is so very important. The peak of the porch roof on the Van Jean goes up to the top of that first-floor roofline. The Hopewell house does not. Accordingly, the bottom of the porch roofline on the Van Jean is aligned with the bottom of the first-floor roofline, where the Hopewell house drops down several inches *below* that roofline. Also, the gabled porch on the Hopewell house is configured differently from the Sears House. The Sears House porch has a closed triangle, with a cross member at the bottom and then a fascia board below that. The Hopewell house terminates at the cross member. That detail carries around the side.

Another important detail are the cornice returns. Again - in my book (and I’ve written lots of ‘em), cornice returns are very important details that can not be overlooked or discounted, because details are the very thing that’ll distinguish a Sears Van Jean from your average (but lovely) Dutch Colonial.

Cornice

Notice the serious cornice returns on this Van Jean. They're an important detail!

Cornice

Strike TWO! The Hopewell house has no cornice returns!

The third big hard strike against this being a Sears Van Jean is the placement of the furnace chimney. Houses may undergo significant remodeling, but chimneys don’t get moved around! The only exception might be a missing chimney. Today, modern, high-efficiency boilers and furnaces use pvc “snorkels” for exhausting combustion gases, and that paves the way to discard and remove old crumbling chimneys. But a chimney in the wrong place - well that in and of itself can be a deal killer.  (The Van Jean shows the furnace chimney on the end of the house. The Hopewell house has its furnace chimney more toward the center.)

The fourth and final strike for the Hopeful Hopewell House is the fenestration. Gosh I love that word. Unless the Hopeful Hopewell House underwent some transmogrification (I love that word too), the fenestration (window arrangement) is wrong.

windows

The front door has no sidelights. And judging by the width of the porch roof, it never did have sidelights. That's not good! On the second floor, we have two windows (bedroom), one window (bath) and two windows (bedroom).

housie

On the Van Jean we have sidelights, and a porch that spans the width of the door plus sidelights. Plus, we have one bedroom window, paired bathroom windows and another single window. ****BUZZ***** Doesn't match the house above!

In conclusion, the Dutch Colonial in Hopewell is a real beauty, and fine-looking home but it is not the Sears Van Jean.

To read more about Hopewell’s Aladdin homes, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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Hopewell’s Historic Sears Homes! Well, sort of. (Part 5)

April 9th, 2011 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last night, a friend called and asked about my recent travels. I told her I’d visited Danville, Lynchburg and Hopewell, Virginia.  .

She quickly replied, “Hopewell?! I thought you were banned from that city!”

She’s a funny girl, that one.

When I last visited Hopewell in 2003, many good things happened, and I was treated kindly and showered with Grade-A Southern Hospitality. The downside was, I discovered that most of the purported “Sears Homes” in their Crescent Hills neighborhood were not Sears Homes at all. There were some folks in Hopewell that were pretty unhappy about that.

It was eight years before I visited Hopewell again.

On this trip in March 2011, I focused on the amazing collection of Aladdin kit homes in that city. While Hopewell has only EIGHT Sears Homes in Crescent Hills, they have dozens and dozens of Aladdin kit homes near the downtown area. More on that here, here, and here.

However, I couldn’t resist driving through Crescent Hills and photographing these purported Sears Homes. I say “purported” because these are clearly not Sears homes, and yet they’re still being promoted as such.

For instance, the city’s brochure states that the house at 101 Crescent Avenue is Sears Branford.

Okie doakie. Let’s look at the photos.

Sears Branford, as seen in the 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Branford, as seen in the 1939 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Branford

No, this is not a Sears Branford. The gabled entry is the first major clue. The Branford does not have a gabled entry. Secondly, as the city's brochure states, the "wing" on this yellow house was not original to the structure, but was added later. That's also a really important detail, because the defining features of the Sears Branford are the garage (to the left) and the KITCHEN to the right. Even if someone decided to forgo the garage, it's not likely they're going to take a pass on building the KITCHEN.

Floorplan

Close-up of the Branford's floorplan

Again, the Sears Branford as seen in the 1940 catalog.

Again, the Sears Branford as seen in the 1940 catalog. The casual observer may notice that this house LOOKS NOTHING LIKE the yellow Cape Cod above. The "wing" on the right juts forward. Not that it matters in comparing it to the pretty yellow house above, but that's an interesting architectural feature that makes identifying the Branford easier.

Okay, so what if you chopped off the two additions on the side?

Close-up of the Branford. Nope, still doesn't look like the house below!

Branford

Nice flag.

Sometimes, people are so eager to “see a Sears House” where there isn’t one that they make way, way too many allowances.

If you look at the house in Hopewell, it’s got a substantial gabled entry, and the fireplace is in the wrong place, and it doesn’t have the garage and it’s missing its kitchen (a pretty big deal) and this means the interior floorplan must be completely different (in the little yellow house above), and that is also a very big deal. The Branford was only offered in 1939 and 1940. That’s it.

According to the city tax records, the house above was built in 1941.

Considering all these important facts, I’d be willing to state - with confidence - that the little yellow house above is not a Sears Branford.

In the late 1930s, the Cape Cod was one of America’s favorite housing styles.  And the Sears Cape Cods are especially difficult to find, because these houses were offered in the 1930s Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and by the 1930s, sales of kit homes had plummeted. Sears sold about as many homes in 1929 (one year) as they sold from 1932-1940 (almost a full decade). The Great Depression really put a hurting on everything, including home sales.

But as to identifying Sears Homes,  once you start saying, “Well, maybe they added this to the house, and took this away, and added the light here, and put on a gabled porch, and moved the fireplace, and moved all the rooms around inside, and took the kitchen out…” well, you could call ANYTHING a kit home with all those changes!

Your subject house must be a GOOD match to the original catalog image.

So what does the Branford (Sears Home) have in common with the pretty Cape Cod on Crescent Avenue?

They both have a front door and some windows and a couple cute dormers.

That’s all folks.

To learn more about the Aladdin kit homes in Hopewell, click here.

To read part 6 (the next blog about Hopewell’s non-Sears Homes) click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

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