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Posts Tagged ‘sears catalogs’

Hospitality Seats

November 30th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

The Dutch Colonial has always been a favorite of mine. I’m not sure I can easily define why I love this house, but one of the reasons is the little extras - cut-out shutters, gambrel roof, plenty of windows, and best of all, those cute little benches by the front door.

And until last week, I didn’t realize those cute little bench have a name.

My buddy Bill Inge loaned me “Builders’ Woodwork” (1927, Smith & Wyman) and it was within its pages that I found the “Hospitality Seats.”

Enjoy the many photos below!

To read about breakfast nooks (first cousin to the Hospitality Seats), click here.

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

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It was inside

It was within the pages of this 1927 book that I found "Hospitality Seats."

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And how

On page 311 of "Builders' Woodwork," there were two versions of the "Hospitality Seats" offered! The good news is, they will "harmonize with almost any type of architecture." They were offered with many different cut-outs, too.

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house house house house

Close-up of the hospitality benches with a tree cut-out on its base.

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house house to

These are nice too, but does that "S" mean it's a Sears House? (Just kidding.)

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Sears House house

The Sears Puritan came with two "Hospitality Seats" on the front porch (1928 catalog).

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They are pretty darn cute!

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more more more

Apparently, the Glen Falls (Sears Home) offers 50% less hospitality than the Puritan. The one bench looks a little lonely out there (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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Martha 1921

Apparently, there's even less hospitality with the Sears "Martha Washington." You wouldn't even make it to the front porch if you were visiting folks in this house (1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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bench

At least it's under a tree.

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house house Carstine

The Homebuilders' catalog features many houses with Hospitality Seats. Shown here is "The Carstine" (1927 Homebuilders' Catalog).

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callao house

The "Callao" (1927 Homebuilders) has a pergola *and* two benches!

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Colinton

Apparently if you have a non-traditional Dutch Colonial you get only one bench (The Colinton, 1927).

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FUnky Cleo

But if your Dutch Colonial is really ugly, you get the ugly benches to match (The Cleo).

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house house

This was the lone non-Dutch Colonial house I found with hospitality seats. These front porch benches do seem to be the province of the Dutch Colonial! (1927 Homebuilders' Catalog.)

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To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes, click here.

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“I Was The Petted Daughter of a Rich Man…”

November 21st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

“Look at those prices!”

That’s probably the #1 comment I hear from people as they browse the pages of an old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Why were Sears kit homes priced so incredibly low?

Well, they weren’t really. Like everything else in history, the prices of early 20th Century housing have to be looked at in context.

One context to consider is taxation. In 1918, only the very wealthy paid federal income tax. In fact, only 5% of Americans paid any income tax at all. If your employer paid you $15 a week, you took home $15 a week.

The other issue is inflation. Pervasive, savings-eroding inflation has not always been a way of life in America.

In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first step that moved us off the gold standard. It was a desperate attempt to re-inflate the sagging dollar. In 1933, Roosevelt issued Executive Order #6102, requiring Americans to deliver their gold to the Federal Reserve.

At the time, law required that Federal Reserve notes (aka “dollars”) had to be backed by 40% gold reserves held in the vaults at the Federal Reserve. That was our first disconnect from a true gold standard. The second came in 1971 when President Nixon permanently disconnected us from the gold standard.

After that, the Federal Reserve was free to print as much money as they felt was needed. And it was (not coincidentally) in the 1970s when inflation hit double digits.

A stable (non-inflating) economy made it far easier for people to save up their dollars over a period of years and eventually purchase a home. (Inflation rewards those who borrow and penalizes those who save.) In the early 1900s, taking on debt of any kind was considered foolhardy, dangerous and even reckless.

There was no “rush to buy” because the price of housing (and the value of dollars) was fairly stable. Young couples took their time and often spent many, many years saving up to buy a home.

The third historical context that needs to be considered is simplicity. Take a look the Sears Kismet (shown below). This house has 520 square feet with two bedrooms that measure 8′ by 9′. I’m not sure, but I think a FEMA trailer is bigger than that.

The fourth issue is building codes (a subset of simplicity, really). It was estimated that a kit home cost 30-40% less than a comparable stick-built home. The average joe could order his dream home out of the Sears Roebuck catalog, and within 90 days, his 12,000-piece kit would be delivered to the train station. Many locales did require building permits, but it was nothing like the process is today.

The building permit was - above all - a way for the city/county to make sure that no opportunity for new taxes was overlooked.

Homeowners often installed their own plumbing, electrical, heating and mechanical systems.  And these systems were simple. Fuse boxes were 30-amp service, with one outlet in each room (if that!). Plumbing consisted of a sink in the kitchen and one bathroom. Maybe. Heating systems were often “pipleless” which was a nice way of saying it was a massive space heater in a center hallways.

Houses were much smaller and simpler, and building codes were quite lax.

Still want an $800 house?  :)

Dollar for dollar, the Katrina Cottages offered by Lowes were comparable. These were very basic, very small kit homes selling for $20,000 or so (depending on model). Interestingly, they’re no longer available.

The world has changed since Sears first offered these kit homes in 1908. Most folks today would not find The Kismet suitable. And how many people have the skills to build a 12,000-piece kit? And I don’t know of any city in America where you could build a small house without a whole lot of government intrusion and/or oversight.

But I digress.

The main point is, wages in the 1910s and 1920s were a fraction of today’s incomes. According to American Carpenter and Builder Magazine (December 1912), skilled carpenters in Chicago were earning 65 cents an hour and plumbers were making 75 cents an hour.

In the early days, Ladies’ Home Journal was a magazine devoted to helping women get into a home of their own. Each issue was filled with stories from people who had overcome financial adversities and bought or built their own house on tiny incomes.

Some stories had headings such as, “How a wife did it herself,” and “Bought her own home with nine children and $800 a year income.”  These stories paint a vivid word picture of how much toil and sacrifice pre-World War I families endured to have a home of their own.

The following story appeared in the October 1903 Ladies’ Home Journal and was the winning entry for the magazine’s series, “How some families have saved for their own homes.”

It’s a wonderful story that really demonstrates the sacrifice involved in purchasing a home at the turn of the last century. The wages mentioned in this piece lend some additional insight to the dollar values of the day, and help explain the low prices of homes offered in the Sears catalogs.

We planted a garden and my husband worked it himself. He [arose] every morning at about four and worked [in the garden] until time to go to the shop - about two hours.  We’d sell the vegetables at market, keeping only a minimum for ourselves.

We could not afford to buy a sewing machine, so I rented an old-fashioned hand machine at $3 a year and had to turn the wheel with one hand and guide the work with the other.  I would sew every night (taking in work for hire) never retiring earlier than one o’clock.  I got up at five every morning.

So much work came to me that [many] nights, I would sit up until daybreak, snatch an hour’s nap, then get up to cook breakfast  My husband would get up when I retired, work his garden, split the wood, build a fire in the kitchen stove, bring in enough water for the day (we had no well) and then set the coffee pot to boil. I did the washing and ironing and made my own soap.

Three years thus rolled away. My husband’s wages went up to $8 a week but we still practiced the most rigid economy and cut off some of our necessities. Our cow had a calf and when he was one year old, we killed him and sold the meat.

To clothe my little boy, I took my husband’s cast-off clothing, turned it wrong side out and cut out the best portions, making the boy’s clothes.

At the end of seven years, my husband’s wages had increased to $9 a week. After seven years of struggle and extreme economy, toil and labor, today finds us with a comfortable home, horses and cows.

As for myself, before my marriage I never knew the value of money as I was the petted daughter of a rich man.

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In the early 1900s, Ladies Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

In the early 1900s, Ladies' Home Journal was a housing magazine for women.

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The magazines pages were filled with articles on how to buy a nice house.

The magazine's pages were filled with articles on how to build or buy a nice house.

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In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages.

In the early 1900s, houses were cheap, but so were wages. In 1920, these women (sorting incoming orders for Montgomery Ward) probably didn't make $1,000 a year. In 1920, the average teacher's salary was $920 a year.

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Heating systems were very primitive compared to todays modern furnaces and boilers. The pipeless furnace was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

Heating systems were very primitive compared to today's modern furnaces and boilers. The "pipeless furnace" was hugely popular. It would be set in the crawlspace or basement near the center point of the house. The living room would be tropical, while the folks upstairs could see their breath.

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The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

The Kismet, as shown in the 1919 catalog.

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Could

Pretty small house. Could you raise five kids in the house? Many folks did. There was the parent's bedroom and the kids' bedroom. If you were really fancy, you might get a three-bedroom house with a girls' bedroom and a boys' bedroom.

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This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but its pretty small.

This Kismet in Elmhurst, Illinois is a cutie, but it's pretty small. And it's had a substantial addition added onto the back of the house.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy your loved one the PERFECT Christmas gift, click here!

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Sears Home in Terrell, Texas? A Mystery! UPDATED!!

May 21st, 2012 Sears Homes 15 comments

UPDATED!!  A kind soul in Terrell has supplied photos of the Autrey’s home!  Scroll on down to see the house that Josephus built!

Judging by my email, there aren’t a lot of Sears Homes in Texas.  And yet, while reading the old testimonials in the 1916 Modern Homes catalog, I discovered that Josephus Autrey built a really big Sears House in Terrell, Texas (just outside of Dallas).

Josephus: What a great name! And I love the photo of his newly-built home that Josephus sent in to Sears. It’s the only photo that I have ever seen where the happy homeowner lined the whole family up in front of the house! Very endearing!

In late 1910 or early 1911, Josephus built his Sears Modern Home #118. According to the testimonials, it had some alterations. For one, it appears to have a bigger footprint and two dormers were added to the attic (on the side of the house). The porte cochere was added, and the porch was enlarged.

“Don” (see comments below) did some research and found that poor Josephus died in 1914, leaving behind a wife and five children, who apparently moved out of the house soon thereafter. Poor Josephus never really got to enjoy his beautiful Sears House.

Readers have told me that this is now known as The Felder Home. That seems rather curious, as Josephus must have toiled for many months to build this house from a kit. It must have taken many months to assemble a house of this size and complexity.

I’d love to learn more about this house and Josephus.

Josephus probably ordered his kit home out of this catalog.

Josephus probably ordered his kit home out of this catalog (1910-1911).

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The Sears Modern Home #118.

The Sears Modern Home #118.

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Josephus own words.

Josephus' own words.

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Number 118 was also built in these cities.

Number 118 was also built in these cities.

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Located in Alton, Illinois, this #118 is in decent shape.

Located in Alton, Illinois, this #118 is in decent shape.

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This #118 is in Westfield, Illinois (near Mattoon).

This #118 is in Westfield, Illinois (near Mattoon).

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And heres the house that Josephus built.

And here's the house that Josephus built.

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Close-up of the Autrey fam.

Close-up of the Autrey fam.

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UPDATED! Thanks to Jim Klenke, we now have a contemporary photo of the Autrey’s Sears House.

The House That Josephus Built - sometime in the early 1910s!

The House That Josephus Built - sometime in the early 1910s! Many thanks to Jim Klenke who provided the above photo! It's so fun to see the house in real life! (Photo is copyright 2012 Jim Klenke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission. )

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The roofline has changed a bit (perhaps a roof or attic fire?), but theres no doubt that this is the house that Josephus built in the early 1910s. Poor Josephus died in 1914, so he did not have many years in this house.

The roofline has changed a bit (perhaps a roof or attic fire?), but there's no doubt that this is the house that Josephus built in the early 1910s. Poor Josephus died in 1914, so he did not have many years in this house. BTW, look closely and you'll see a fireplace mantel on the front porch. I don't think that's original to the house. (Photo is copyright 2012 Jim Klenke and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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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

The Sears Homes of Hampton Roads (Virginia)

August 2nd, 2010 Sears Homes 10 comments

For years and years, I lived in the St. Louis area and that’s where I wrote my books on Sears Homes (and where I did all the research). In 2006, I moved back “home” to Hampton Roads (where I was born and raised), and it was pure fun to spend my spare time hunting for Sears Homes.

Here are a few of the houses that I found. BTW, if you find this interesting, please spread the word about this impressive collection in Hampton Roads and email this link.

And if you think you know the location of a Sears Home, please send me a note at thorntonrose@hotmail.com.

These are just a few of the kit homes I’ve found in the area. Heretofore, I’ve found 52 in Portsmouth, 75 in Norfolk and about 15 in Chesapeake.

To read another article about Sears Homes, click here.

To buy Rose’s book (and get it inscribed!), click here.

Sears Westly

Sears Westly

Sears Westly in Portsmouth on King Street. Photo was taken in 2004.

Sears Westly in Portsmouth on King Street. Photo was taken in 2004.

Sears Westly in Suffolk, Virginia

Sears Westly in downtown Suffolk

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Sears Crescent

Sears Crescent

Sears Crescent in Larchmont section of Norfolk

Sears Crescent in Larchmont section of Norfolk

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Aladdin is very popular in Hampton Roads, probably because they had a massive mill in Greensboro, NC and shipping charges would have been affordable.

Aladdin Kit Homes (a competitor of Sears) was very popular in Hampton Roads, probably because they had a massive mill in Greensboro, NC and shipping charges would have been affordable. Sears sold about 70,000 homes during their 32 years in the kit home business (1908-1940). However, Aladdin started in 1906 and went to 1981, selling about 75,000 houses.

This Aladdin Colonial is in Suffolk. For years and years, people believed it was a Sears kit home. This is not uncommon. It *is* a kit home, but it came from Aladdin, not Sears.

This Aladdin Colonial pictured below is in Suffolk. For years and years, people believed the house pictured below was a "Sears kit home." This is not uncommon. This house (below) *is* a kit home, but it came from Aladdin, not Sears.

Aladdin - another kit home company - offered the Aladdin Colonial.

Aladdin - another kit home company - offered the Aladdin Colonial. This one is in Suffolk.

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This is a kit home from Gordon Van Tine, a competitor of Sears in the kit home business.

This is a kit home from Gordon Van Tine, a competitor of Sears in the kit home business.

Heres a Gordon Van Tine in the Ocean View area of Norfolk - and in perfect condition!

Here's a Gordon Van Tine in the Ocean View area of Norfolk - and in perfect condition!

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Aladdin was very popular in the Hampton Roads area. Heres an Aladdin Venus. Note the casement windows.

Aladdin was very popular in the Hampton Roads area. Here's an Aladdin Venus. Note the casement windows.

This Aladdin Venus still has its original casement windows. Its in Colonial Place (Norfolk).

This Aladdin Venus still has its original casement windows. It's in Colonial Place (Norfolk).

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Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, VA

A darling Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, VA, just across from Lowes Hardware Store on Portsmouth Blvd West. This house was moved from another location, about a mile due east on Portsmouth Blvd and it appears to be in harm's way yet again - with all the retails shops that have sprouted up around it.

Another Shadowlawn peeks from the pine trees on this quiet street in Suffolk.

Another Shadowlawn peeks from the pine trees on this quiet street in Suffolk.

Aladdin Shadowlawn from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Shadowlawn from the 1919 catalog. Note, this Shadowlawn has a porte cochere.

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The Beckley (from Sears)

The Beckley (from Sears)

This is The Beckley, which is in use as the Sextants Office at a large cemetery in Newport News.

This is The Beckley, which is in use as the Sexton's Office at a large cemetery in Newport News.

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Ive also found several homes from Gordon Van Tine in Hampton Roads.

I've also found several homes from Gordon Van Tine in Hampton Roads.

This pretty little #594 sits on a large parcel of land in Chesapeakes Deep Creek area.

This pretty little #594 sits on a large parcel of land in Chesapeake's Deep Creek area.

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And this is a Sears Americus, which was a very popular house for Sears.

And this is a Sears Americus, which was a very popular house for Sears.

This Sears Americus is in Park Place on 27th Street (Norfolk). Sadly, its been turned into a duplex.

This Sears Americus is in Park Place on 27th Street (Norfolk). Sadly, it's been turned into a duplex.

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Sears Whitehall from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Whitehall from the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Whitehall just off Colley Avenue and 28th Street in Norfolk

Sears Whitehall just off Colley Avenue and 28th Street in Norfolk

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Aladdin kit home: The Virginia

Aladdin kit home: The Virginia

Aladdin Kit Home - The Virginia - in Norfolks Colonial Place

Aladdin Kit Home - The Virginia - in Norfolk's Colonial Place

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Aladdin Kit Home: The Pasadena

Aladdin Kit Home: The Pasadena

Here it is, right in Norfolks Lafayette/Winona neighborhood

Here it is, right in Norfolk's Lafayette/Winona neighborhood

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As mentioned, Norfolk is full of Aladdins and heres the Aladdin Edison

As mentioned, Norfolk is full of Aladdins and here's the Aladdin Edison

An Aladdin Edison in Norfolk, within a few yards of the ODU campus.

An Aladdin Edison in Norfolk, within a few yards of the ODU campus.

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Aladdin Detroit

Aladdin Detroit

A perfect Aladdin Detroit in Chesapeake

A perfect Aladdin Detroit in Chesapeake

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