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Posts Tagged ‘Rosemary Thornton’

Lynchburg, Virginia: A Colossal Caboodle of Kit Homes

July 29th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

UPDATED at 3:45 pm!  New photos added below!

Lynchburg is one of the prettiest cities in the prettiest state in the Union, and best of all, it’s blessed with an abundance of kit homes.

In 2004, 2008, and 2011, I spent several hours driving around Lynchburg seeking and finding its kit homes. (In 2008, I was with Dale Wolicki, who identified many Aladdin houses that I might otherwise have missed!)

For years, I’ve tried to stir up interest in these kit homes in Lynchburg but without success. And yet, this really is a lost piece of Lynchburg’s history! Based on my research, more than 90% of the people living in these homes didn’t realize what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

How many of these home’s owners (in Lynchburg) know about their home’s unique historical significance?

I love Lynchburg and I’d love to have an opportunity to give a lecture on this abundance of early 20th Century kit homes in this fine city.

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what IS a Sears kit home?

In the early 1900s, you could buy an entire house out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. These were not prefab houses, but real “kits” (with about 12,000 pieces of building materials!).

The lumber came pre-cut and numbered to help facilitate construction. Those numbers, together with a 75-page instruction book, and blueprints designed for a novice, enabled a “man of average abilities” to build their own home.

Sears promised that you could have a house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days!

When Sears closed their “Modern Homes” department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed, so the only way to find these homes in one by one.

In the early 1900s, there were six national companies selling these mail-order kit homes. Aladdin was one of those six companies, and it was in business longer than Sears (and sold more houses), but is not as well known. And yet, Lynchburg has more Aladdin Homes than Sears Homes!

Finding these kit homes is just like discovering hidden treasure, and it’s time to spread the happy news of these discoveries!

Please share this link on Facebook and spread the story of kit homes in Lynchburg!

To read about the Sears Homes in Vinton, Virginia, click here.

Interested in seeing the kit homes of Bedford? Click here.

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One of my favorite finds in Lynchburg is the Sears Alhambra.

One of my favorite finds in Lynchburg is the Sears Alhambra (1921 catalog).

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And technically, it wasnt even MY find! My buddy Bill Inge discovered this Alhambra many years ago, and shared the address with me. Oh boy, what a house!

And technically, it wasn't even MY find! My buddy Bill Inge discovered this Alhambra many years ago, and shared the address with me. Bill tells me that this Sears House has undergone some significant remodeling since this photo was snapped in 2008. Pity too, because it had its original windows in 2008, even though the parapet and dormer were MIA.

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The Sears Westly was a popular house for Sears, too.

The Sears Westly was a popular house for Sears, too (1916 catalog).

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A splendiferous example of a Westly in Lynchburg!

A splendiferous example of a Westly in Lynchburg!

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The Berwyn was offered in the late 1920s and into the 1930s (1929 catalog).

The Berwyn was offered in the late 1920s and into the 1930s (1929 catalog).

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Its a super-sized Berwyn! About 30% of Sears Homes were customized and the #1 customization was enlarging the house a wee bit.

It's a super-sized Berwyn! About 30% of Sears Homes were customized and the #1 customization was enlarging the house a wee bit.

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The Kilborn was a fine-looking craftsman bungalow, and was a big seller for Sears (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

The Kilborn was a fine-looking craftsman bungalow, and was a big seller for Sears (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog). The "five or eight rooms" depended on whether or not the 2nd floor was "expanded."

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It was the photographer and not the house thats a little tilted here.

It was the photographer and not the house that's a little tilted here. That purple foundation is interesting. BTW, this was a "windshield survey" and before these homes can be declared "Sears Homes," an interior inspection would be needed.

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The Sears Sunbeam was probably one of their top-ten most popular models. The open porch on the 2nd floor (known as a sleeping porch) often gets closed in.

The Sears "Sunbeam" was probably one of their top-ten most popular models. The open porch on the 2nd floor (known as a "sleeping porch") often gets closed in.

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Pretty

And what a fine-looking Sunbeam it is. I think. As mentioned, this is a windshield survey, and while I'm 90% certain this is a Sears Sunbeam, I'd really need to know the home's exterior footprint to affirm. Note that the sleeping porch has been enclosed. It's rare to see an Sunbeam with the open porch.

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Aladdin had a mill in Wilmington, NC so not surprisingly, I often find more Aladdin kit homes in Virginia than Sears kit homes. Shown above is the Aladdin Pasadena from the 1919 catalog.

Aladdin had a mill in Wilmington, NC so not surprisingly, I often find more Aladdin kit homes in Virginia than Sears kit homes. Shown above is the Aladdin "Pasadena" from the 1919 catalog.

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This is one of my favorite houses in Lynchburg. Its a *perfect* Pasadena.

This is one of my favorite houses in Lynchburg. It's a *perfect* Pasadena.

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Even has the original lattice work on the side porch.

Even has the original lattice work on the side porch.

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The Pasadena at a later date (about 2011).

The Pasadena at a later date (about 2011).

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Another Lynchburg Pasadena, just down the road.

Another Lynchburg Pasadena, just down the road.

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One of Aladdins best selling models was the Marsden (1916 catalog).

One of Aladdin's best selling models was the Marsden (1916 catalog).

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Oh yeah baby. There it is. Be still my heart.

Oh yeah baby. There it is. Be still my heart.

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The Pomona was a classic Arts & Crafts bungalow and also hugely popular.

The Pomona was a classic Arts & Crafts bungalow and also hugely popular.

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Flared columns and all, heres my sweet thing.

Flared columns and all, here's my sweet thing. Do they know they have a kit home? PRobably not.

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And I saved the best for last! The Aladdin Georgia, from the 1919 catalog.

And I saved the best for last! The Aladdin Georgia, from the 1919 catalog.

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Pretty house, isnt it?

Pretty house, isn't it?

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Twinkies! In Lynchburg! Two Georgias, side by side.

Twinkies! In Lynchburg! Two Georgias, side by side.

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And a third Georgia in another part of town.

And a third Georgia in another part of town.

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The Aladdin Edison was a very modest, simple house.

The Aladdin Edison was a very modest, simple house.

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Lyunch

And this one has a pretty stone wall in front.

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The Aladdin Avalon was a classic Dutch Colonial (1931 catalog).

The Aladdin Avalon was a classic Dutch Colonial (1931 catalog).

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The Assessors photo is a dandy, and it captures the Aladdin Avalon from the same angle as the old catalog image! Good job, Mr. Assessor!

The Assessor's photo is a dandy, and it captures the Aladdin Avalon from the same angle as the old catalog image! Good job, Mr. Assessor! And it's a fine exampe of the Avalon!

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And what would a city be without a kit house from Wards?

And what would a city be without a kit house from Montgomery Wards?

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Hopefully, the foundation is good and strong so it wont tip over. This is a Montgomery Ward Carlisle with a pretty big dormer added on!

Hopefully, the foundation is good and strong so the house won't tip over to the left. This is a Montgomery Ward "Carlyle" with a pretty big dormer added on! It needs a little love, but it has original siding and original windows!

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Did you enjoy the pictures? If so, please share the link with friends!

And leave a comment for Rose! I’m living on love here!  :D

To read about the Sears Homes in Vinton, Virginia, click here.

Interested in seeing the kit homes of Bedford? Click here.

There’s a missing kit home in Lynchburg. Read about it here.

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Still reading? :D On a personal note, I’ve been trying to move to the Lynchburg/Bedford area since 1994, but life had other plans. I do hope I get there - one day. It’s my favorite part of the country - and I have seen a LOT of the country!

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Where Is This Little House?

July 28th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

Come August 2014, this website will celebrate its fourth birthday, and one of my very first posts at this site was about this little mystery house in Ohio (shown below).

Unfortunately, I never did find this house, or learn anything about the couple in the photo.

I suspect the house is somewhere in Ohio (which is where this post card was sent from) and I’m sure the couple (and their child) have gone on to heaven. The house in this photo was last offered in the mid-1910s Sears catalogs.

The diminutive foursquare is Sears Modern Home #106, and I purchased the post card from eBay in 2002. It cost $3, and I suspect that there weren’t a lot of folks who recognized this little house as Sears House.

If you know where this house is, or if you know the people pictured herein, please drop me a line?

To read more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

And if you live in Ohio, please post this link on your Facebook page!  Maybe we can find this house!

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House

In 2003, I purchased this post card from eBay. I'd love to know where this house is. I suspect it's somewhere in Ohio, because this postcard was originally found in Ohio.

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house house house

Close-up of the little fam in front of the little house. Check out the detail on the porch railing.

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Close up

Extreme close-up of the fam. Dad doesn't look well.

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Number

You can see a house number hiding behind that column.

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house house

Modern Home 106, as seen in the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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house house house

Oh dear - where's the potty?

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house house house

The house in the photo has an extra dormer on the side, which probably made this small attic room more livable. At least, a *little* more livable!

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Close up

Who are they?

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Have you seen this house? If so, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about the big and fancy Sears models, click here!

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EPA: Erogo Pecunia Administratio

July 28th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

It’s been four years since EPA RRP became law, and yet based on my own admittedly unscientific survey, looks like it’s being largely ignored.

And in my opinion, that’s a good thing.

EPA RRP is an over-reaching, draconian government regulation with severe and long-reaching “unintended consequences,” such as decimating the value of old houses, and making the already onerous burden of old-house ownership ever more severe. If the lawmakers are truly concerned about the health of children (which is the claim), there are 1001 better (and more efficient) ways to invest and utilize taxpayer money.

Driving along in Norfolk neighborhoods, I often see work being performed on “old” houses (pre-1978), such as paint jobs, new window installation or other repairs that disturb “more than six square feet” of the home’s exterior.

According to EPA RRP, if more than six feet of a pre-1978’s home is disturbed, you must engage in all sorts of abatement procedures, including (but not limited to), tyvek suits, respirators, crime-scene tape, yellow warning signs posted at the corners of the property, and great quantities of six-mil plastic spread throughout the yard. (As this author writes, “The EPA just declared war on contractors, remodelers and homeowners…”)

In the last four years, I’ve probably seen three dozen job sites where “more than six square feet” is being disturbed, and yet how many times have I see compliance with the EPA RRP laws?

None.

Four years after this law was passed, many contractors have still not heard of EPA RRP. And those that are aware of it realize that the odds of getting caught are small.

While EPA estimated that RRP would add “about $35 per job” to the cost of repairs, real-world experience is showing that it adds three to five times that amount. Most homeowners already shop contractors by price.

One unintended consequence of this burdensome regulation is that it’s creating a bigger market for “fly-by-night” unlicensed contractors and their ilk.

Last but not least, EPA RRP also adds obscene amounts of six-mil plastic to America’s overburdened landfills.

For exterior work, contractors are required to put six-mil plastic out 10 feet from the work site (for the first floor), plus four feet for every additional story. This means that the guy painting your house will set up his 24′ ladder atop six-mil plastic, which is a violation of OSHA laws, but hey, OSHA’s fines are smaller than EPA’s, so you should probably break OSHA laws (given the choice).

Recently, I got a sneak peak of the 2015 revisions to the EPA Lead Law. Everyone should be aware of this new legislation. It’s quoted below.

Effective July 1, 2012, EPA’s new “Biome Protection Act” adds an additional layer of protection to delicate ecosystems in our communities, including any and all surrounding wildlife potentially impacted by the adverse health effects of lead paint.

Any and all “at-risk” wildlife at the work site (including but not limited to insects that fly, crawl, creep and wiggle), must be humanely captured (in EPA approved containment vessels), tagged, and be outfitted with size-appropriate half-mask respirators with a HEPA filter, TYVEK suits and steel-toed shoes and then released.

Upon completion of construction project[s], impacted wildlife must be recaptured and all articles of protective gear removed. To insure the safety of said animals, blood samples must be obtained and then submitted to the EPA for review.

If elevated lead levels are found in surrounding wildlife, contractors will be held liable, and subject to fines not to exceed $12 billion.

Lowes

EPA: Erogo Pecunia Administratio

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Contractor whos just learned of EPA laws.

Contractor who's just learned of EPA laws.

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To read about happier topics, click here.

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Sears Catalog House, or Something Like it (Part II)

July 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

In my most recent blog, I talked about the fact that Hopewell’s “Collection of Sears Homes” (and I use that term loosely) was in the local news again.

At the end of that blog, I offered to help Hopewell sort through their historical chaff and find the wheat.

The fact is, at this point I’d be willing to donate my services (gratis), to help this small town (just outside of Richmond) get their Sears-home story straight. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this enticing offer may not be accepted.

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of letters and emails (yes, both) to some folks in Hopewell, making this same offer. I never heard a peep. Not a “Thanks, but no,” not a “we’re not interested,” or even a “Go to hell, Rosemary Thornton.”

Honestly, I would have preferred to hear something, rather than nothing.

In case anyone from Hopewell is reading this, I can tell you, I know a little something about Sears Homes. Here’s a short bio I use with the media:

Rose is the author of several books on early 20th Century kit homes. Rose and her work have been featured on PBS History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, CBS Sunday Morning News, MSNBC, NPR’s All Things Considered and BBC Radio. In print media, her story has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, L. A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Christian Science Monitor and more.

Sounds darn good, doesn’t it?

So what can I do to help Hopewell correct their boo-boos?

I don’t know.

In the meantime, below is the “re-do” of a blog that was a personal favorite of mine. The idea was the brainstorm of Rachel Shoemaker, who loves both music and kit homes, and found a delightful way to blend the two topics.

You can read Rachel’s wonderful blog here.

Here’s the ditty that will  help you learn more about correctly identifying houses.

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Ses

Here's a screen-shot of the Sesame Street ditty that tell us, "One of these things is not like the other." Its intent is to teach youngsters how to spot differences in similar items. Learning how to distinguish subtle differences in physical objects can be tough. Ever more so if you live in the small towns around Richmond (apparently).

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houses

Let's try it with houses now.

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One of the houses above is different from the others.

If you guessed the brick house with the metal casement windows, you’re right!

For some time, Hopewell was promoting a brochure (showcasing a driving tour of alleged kit homes in Crescent Hills neighborhood) that identified this brick house as a Sears Dover.

But oh noes!! That’s not a Sears Dover!

The other three houses (the three that look just alike) are the Sears Dover.

More recently, Hopewell has modified this statement and now claims that this brick house is a Sears Maplewood.

Let’s see how that works.

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Blue

Oh noes - AGAIN! One of these homes just doesn't belong! Which one is it? If you guessed the brick house, you're right! The other three homes are the Sears Maplewood.

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houses

There's also the fact that the Sears Maplewood and Dover were never ever offered with metal casement windows. There's also the fact that this house was probably built after WW2. But hey, why let something like "historical fact" get in the way of a good story!

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maple

Here's a Sears Maplewood (1930 catalog).

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house

If you really think that the brick house above looks like a Sears Dover, I highly recommend the Sesame Street "Not like the other" series. It's helped many a lost soul find their way through the thickets of misidentified kit homes.

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house

Meanwhile, in Hopewell, they have a cache of rare and unusual Aladdin Homes (like the one above) and what is being done to promote those houses? Nothing. Unbelievable.

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To learn more about how to distinguish differences in certain objects, click here.

Thanks to Rebecca Hunter for the use of her photograph above (the blue Maplewood). You can visit Rebecca’s website here.

Visit Rachel’s website here.

Read about the bonanza of kit homes we found in Richmond!

If you’re from Hopewell, and you’d like to take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

If you’re not from Hopewell and you THINK they should take up Rose on her offer, please leave a comment below.

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Sears Catalog House or Something Like It (Hopewell, VA)

July 25th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

Last week, Hopewell was in the local news again, touting their Sears Homes. I’m not going to post a link to the article that appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch, because it was rife with errors.

I’m somewhat incredulous that a paper as prestigious as the Richmond Times Dispatch didn’t do some fact-checking before publishing this story.

The recording and publishing of history is such a sacred trust, and writers have a solemn charge to get the facts right, before sending this information into perpetuity.

And there’s this: I’ve been sought out and interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, BBC Radio, All Things Considered (PBS)  and more. I’ve been featured on PBS History Detectives, CBS Sunday Morning News, A&E’s Biography, and MSNBC.

It’s disheartening to know that a newspaper so close to home ran this article without seeking me out for a quote, or even asking me to help with the fact checking (which I would have gladly done).

Hopewell and I have a history.

When I visited Hopewell in 2003 (to give a talk), I was shown a small brochure touting 44 Sears Homes in Crescent Hills.

As mentioned in several other blogs (click here), Hopewell is mighty mixed up about what is, and what is not a kit house.

Of those 44 purported “Sears Homes” in Crescent Hills, only eight are the real deal, and frankly, it may not be eight. Some of those eight could well be plan book homes.

On that “list of 44,” this house (see below) was featured.

To read more about Hopewell, click here.

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker who successfully identified this house!

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Nice House

The brochure promoting the Hopewell Sears Homes stated that this was a Sears "Newbury." Ooh, nice try and thanks for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.

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Ruh

The Hopewell brochure states that it looks JUST LIKE a Newbury, except for the "sloping roof, full width dormer, extra windows and round columns." Good grief, if that's our criteria I could say that my dog Teddy looks like just like a Sears Magnolia.

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House

Except for the absence of a hip roof, full width windows, round columns and cypress wood, these two dwelling places are stunningly similar. You'll note that the subject on the right also does not have ears or fur, but both of these items could have easily been removed during an earlier remodeling.

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Newbury

Sears Newbury, from the 1936 catalog.

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compare

Wow, look at this! The house on the left is in Illinois and it actually LOOKS like a Newbury!

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compare

Ruh Roh. These don't look anything alike!

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Monticello

Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker, we now know that this house in Hopewell came from "Standard Homes Plans" (1923, 1928 and 1929). You may notice that THIS looks a lot like the house in Hopewell!

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Montie

In fact, "The Monticello" is on the cover of the catalog! What a beauty!

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Wow

And lookie here. It is a very fine match!

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Big and fancy

Did anyone from Hopewell ever go into this house and compare the interior layout? If so, I hope the homeowner gave their seeing-eye dog a tasty biscuit. The floor plan for the Monticello is radically different from the Sears Newbury (shown directly below). And the Monticello is 50% bigger. These details matter.

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What

The Newbury is a modest, simple house (1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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If you dont love this house, theres something wrong with you!

According to the text in the ad, if you don't love the Monticello, there's something seriously wrong with you!

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It’d really be swell if Hopewell would invite me back to do a thorough and proper survey. I would be more than happy to get the facts right and help them create a new brochure.

In fact, I really wish they’d give it a go. It’s time to make this right.

To learn more about Hopewell, click here.

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

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Jupiter Two and The Twins: Together Again

June 19th, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

Last week, I wrote a blog about The World’s Most Beautiful Light Fixture, purchased from a quaint little antique store in Pheobus (Hampton).

When I purchased that chandelier, I noticed that the store also had two matching sconces. They were just stunning, and a perfect complement to the chandelier, and yet there was one major impediment: I didn’t currently have any sconces in my dining room.

As I held the World’s Most Beautiful Wall Sconces in my quivering hands, I thought about this hard truth:  If I purchased these two beauties, I’d have to hire an electrician to install wiring for sconces.

More money. More hassle. More aggravation. More work.

Drat.

I put the sconces down and walked away.

I didn’t get very far.

I returned to the sconces and stroked their cool, coppertone-colored cones. I sighed softly as I pondered their magnificent beauty, once installed and fully illuminated. I closed my eyes and pictured them sharing their light and warmth with the world.

I couldn’t stand it. Plus, I couldn’t bear the thought of separating them from The Mother Ship.

I asked the shop dealer if he’d be willing to make me a deal if I purchased all three items (chandelier plus two sconces). There was some haggling and we settled on a price - $230 for the lot of it.

Yesterday, the electrician came and the sconces were restored to life and light.

Beautiful doesn’t begin to describe it!

:)

To read more about The World’s Most Beautiful Light Fixture, click here.

To read a blog about 1950s kitchens, click here.

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Lovingly nicknamed, Jupiter Two this is the chandelier I purchased last week when Cynthia and I visited a little shop in Pheobus.

Lovingly nicknamed, "Jupiter Two" this is the chandelier I purchased last week when Cynthia and I visited a little shop in Pheobus.

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It was Milton who observed that it looked a bit like Jupiter Two (the spaceship the Robinsons flew in Lost In Space.

It was Milton who observed that the new light fixture looked a bit like Jupiter Two (the spaceship the Robinsons flew in "Lost In Space").

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Voila!

Jupiter Two and the Twins! Together again, and connected with LOVE (and 120 volts)!

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They look right at home, dont they?

They look right at home, don't they?

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I learned

I learned that these are called "Bow Tie Sconces."

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And I love the fact that they cast light in two directions. Very practical.

And I love the fact that they cast light in two directions. Very practical.

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They even look good when theyre sleeping!

They even look good when they're sleeping!

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The electrician had a young helper named Tommy. When Tommy first saw the sconces, he said, Wow, theyre like antiques! And I said, Well, not really. Theyre from the late 1950s, and he said, Wow, they really are antiques!  I took umbrage at that. I almost found myself saying, Young man, that means that *I* am an antique!!

The electrician had a young helper named "Tommy." When Tommy first saw the sconces, he said, "Whoa, they're like antiques!" And in a flawed attempt to point out that they were not *that* old, I said, "Well, they're from the late 1950s," and he said, "Wow, they really *are* antiques!" I almost found myself saying, "Young man, that means that *I* am an antique!!"

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I also had this light fixture installed on the other wall (in the hallway) to light up this notoriously dark space.

I also had this wall sconce installed on the other side of the dining room wall (in the hallway) to light up this notoriously dark space. This $10 Lowes fixture is just saving a space for the other bowtie sconce - that I hope to find SOON!

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So pretty!!

So pretty!! Now, to find some 1950s wallpaper! :)

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To read more about The World’s Most Beautiful Light Fixture, click here.

To read another blog about 1950s and kitchens, click here.

Did You Remember To Put The Bed Back In The Ceiling This Morning?

June 18th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Whilst researching Beaver Board Walls in the 1917 Sweets Architectural Catalog, I came across something I’d never seen before: An invisible ceiling bed.

At first blush, one might think this is an ideal solution for house guests that you wish were invisible, but in fact, it’s a close-cousin of the Murphy Wall Bed.

Instead of the bed “hiding” in a closet or wall, the Sorlien Ceiling Bed stows in the ceiling when not in use.

I’m sorry to say, I’ve never seen one in real life, but I bet that there are a few old house owners mystified by a massive hidden panel in the ceiling of their early 20th Century bungalow.

It’s quite a concept, and it’d be fun to know how popular these “ceiling beds” really were!

Thanks to Bill Inge for loaning me this awesome old catalog!

To read all about the Murphy Bed, click here.

To see a youtube video of a Murphy Bed in action, click here.

Click here to read about a 1950s invention!
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Beds from ceilings

"Beds from ceilings" (as seen in the 1917 Sweets catalog).

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Sorlien Ceiling Bed

An iron bed with a sagless spring! But the best part: "It may remain in ceiling witout collecting dust." Really? Does it collect rats? Nutria? Roof rats? There's lots of cool stuff like that in *my* attic!

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Sorlien Ceiling Bed

Kind of an interesting concept. I doubt anyone would be willing to try this today. Imagine the lawsuit potential!

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Sorlien Bed two

I'm not sure how this "false ceiling panel" closes automatically.

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text

Yes, you read that right: 790 pounds (first paragraph). And it's also interesting that this thing only works for houses with an "attic above." Can you imagine cranking this thing down and finding a rat sitting on your bed? Blech.

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Bed

And you can use it with a double bed!

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Sorlien Ceiling Bed View

Looks like a lot of work to me.

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Ceiling

Now that's a serious pulley.

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Sorlien Ceiling

Close-up on the prior image.

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Ceiling

The text above says that the "bed is raised or lowered with a removable crank." Wonder if that's a subtle reference to his visiting mother-in-law?

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To read all about the Murphy Bed, click here.

To see a youtube video of a Murphy Bed in action, click here.

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Modern Home #158: Did Anyone Love You Enough to Build You?

June 16th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

There are many models of Sears Homes that I have never seen “in the flesh,” and Sears Modern Home #158 is one of them. It was offered only a short time (about 1910 to 1913), and yet, it was an attractive home with a good floor plan.

I hadn’t though much about this particular model until recently, when Sarah in our “Sears House” Facebook group mentioned that she’d found a reference to #158 in a contemporary book.

“Flesh and Bone” (a novel, written by Jefferson Bass and published in 2007), has several lines on our beloved Sears Modern Home #158.

The excerpt reads,

You know one of my favorite things about this house? Guess who created it.”

“Let’s see,” I said. “Surely I can dredge up the name from my encyclopedic knowledge of Chattanooga architects of the early 1900s…”

“Wasn’t a Chattanooga architect,” she grinned.

“Sears.”

“Sears? Who Sears? From where - New York?”

“Not ‘Who Sears’: ‘Sears Who.’ Sears Roebuck, the department store,” she said, pointing to a wall.

There, she’d hung a framed page from the century-old Sears catalog, showing an ad for the house I was standing in. It bore the catchy name “Modern Home #158,” and a price tag of $1,548.

“Houses by mail order,” said Jess. “The house came into town on a freight car, in pieces. Probably four grand, all told, for the kit plus the caboodle.”

“I’m guessing it appreciated some since then.”

“Well, I appreciate it some,” she said.

I’d love to know why author Jefferson Bass picked #158. Does he know of one somewhere? Or did he pick it out of a book at random?

Is there a #158 in Chattanooga, TN (as is described in the story)?

I’d love to know!

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158 1910

In the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog (shown here), Model #158 was priced at $1,533. In Mr. Bass' novel "Flesh and Bone," it's given a price of $1,548.

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He got the rice right.

In "Houses by Mail" (a 1985 field guide to Sears Homes - published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation), Sears Modern Home #158 is listed with a low price of $1,548. Seems likely that *this* was the source of Mr. Bass' info. The "four grand" is given as a total price, which is pretty close, and reflects the info shown here.

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Beautiful house, too

Modern Home #158 was a classic foursquare with some a sprinkling of Prairie-style thrown in.

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With servants quarters

Yes, a kit house with servant's quarters.

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FP1

This 2,200-square foot house was unusually spacious for a kit house. And check out the first-floor powder room! Another unusual feature for this era.

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FP2

Two sets of staircases, and lots of space on the second floor.

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And

Modern Home #158 was also shown on the cover of the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog (far right).

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Beaverboard: Long Tough Fibers of White Spruce

June 13th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

The houses that DuPont built for their munitions workers at Penniman, Virginia featured “Beaverboard” interiors. Sounds pretty fancy, but in fact, it was an economical alternative to real plaster walls.

Bill Inge lent me his “Sweet’s Architectural Catalog” (1917) which had a two-page spread on Beaverboard. It answered all my questions (and then some).

Apparently, this wallboard product was quite the rage in the first years of the 20th Century, and was hugely popular in low-cost industrial housing.

In 1981, our family moved into a house built in 1949, and it had Beaverboard on the walls of its small attic room (complete with 2-inch strips at the seams). When we tore it out, it created a massive mess.

Apparently, Beaverboard wallboard was a product that endured for many years.

According to Wikipedia, it can also be used as an artist’s canvas. Grant Wood’s famous painting of the morose farming couple - American Gothic - was painted on a piece of Beaverboard.

What made plaster so expensive? Click here.

To learn more about industrial housing at DuPont’s villages, click here.

Interested in Virginia’s own Ghost City? Click here.

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Beaver Board

I wanted to title this blog, "Beaverboard: Who Gives a Dam?" but I couldn't bring myself to do it. ;)

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The houses that DuPont built at their munitions plants had beaverboard walls.

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Beaverboard

Despite the glowing reports in the Beaverboard literature, this was still an "economical" alternative to plaster.

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The header says, "Foreign Branches." Quite an outfit!

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"Long tough fibers of white spruce...compressed and built up into...panels..."

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house beaverboard

Is the homeowner weilding a walking stick at the old worker?

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Now that the worker has started putting up Beaverboard, the walking stick has been removed from sight.

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Why bother to put six big beautiful windows in a house and then cover them up? Why not just put Beaverboard right over the windows? If I were queen of the world, I'd make it illegal to have a sunporch shrouded in heavy drapes.

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beaverboard

"It permits of mural decorations in theaters..." I have my doubts about this.

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Under "Club" it reads, "The club's activities never will be hindered by repairs..." Wow.

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Denver

Here's a Penniman house that was moved from the munitions factory to Capitol Landing Road (Williamsburg). Was it built with interior walls of Beaverboard? Probably so.

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Was that house at Penniman beaverboard

How I'd love to see the inside of this Penniman/DuPont house when built in 1918.

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To learn more about industrial housing at DuPont’s villages, click here.

Interested in Virginia’s own Ghost City? Click here.

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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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