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Posts Tagged ‘sears craftsman houses’

Bob Beckel’s Christmas Crescent

December 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Friday night, Milton and I turned on the television and saw “The Five” (talk show on Fox News, with five commentators, including Bob Beckel).  Within 30 seconds, the program showed a picture of Bob Beckel’s house, and I exclaimed to Milton, “Oh my goodness. It’s a Sears Crescent!”

Sure enough, after I got a close look, I saw it was a Christmas Crescent.

What is a Sears house? Sears homes were 12,000-piece kit houses, and each kit came with a a 75-page instruction book. Sears promised that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days. The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.” The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.

Or one television show at a time.  :)

At some point, the classic Crescent windows in Mr. Beckel’s house were discarded and replaced (and that’s a real pity) but the house does have its original cypress clapboards. The small shed dormer was probably added later, but it *might* have been original to the house. There was some usable space on the 2nd floor, and dormers are a frequent addition to the Sears Crescent.

Mr. Beckel, did you know you have a Sears house? If you’re like 90% of Americans, you did NOT know - until now!

To read more about the Sears Crescent, click here.

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Bob Beckels house, all decked out for the holidays.

Bob Beckel's house, all decked out for the holidays. Although it's barely visible in this photo, at the top of the porch's arch, you can see a faint triangle there. This is one of the classic signs of a Sears Crescent.

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Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Crescent from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Judging by the placement of the fireplace, Mr. Beckels house is a

This photo shows that triangle on the porch's peak more clearly. And notice the three large columns on the corners of the porch. All classic Crescent features. And it has its original siding!

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Flippped

The Crescent was offered from 1918-1928. Image above is from the 1928 catalog. Note the unusual windows, the triangle in the porch's peak, and the three columns. That massive porch is its most distinctive feature.

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RaleighThe dormers were original to this Crescent in Raleigh, NC.

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A darling

A darling little Crescent in Wheeling, WV, sitting like a jewel atop the hill.

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One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL.

One of my favorite Crescents in Bloomington, IL. It still has the original lattice work, as shown in the catalog images. And like Mr. Beckel's house, it has the optional fireplace.

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In 1928

In 1928, the "super-sized Crescent" (as Mr. Beckel has) was a mere $2,195. The larger floorplan is shown in the upper right. The 2nd floor layout is on the lower right.

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This testimonial

Jerome Kelly from an unnamed city really loves his little Crescent.

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To learn more about the Sears Crescent (with interior views), click here.

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

Are there more kit homes in Beckel’s neighborhood of Brookmont? Without a doubt. There was a Sears Modern Homes Sales Center nearby, and these were only placed in communities where sales were already strong. Plus, sales went way up after one of these retail stores was opened in the area.

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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Pretty, Pretty Preston!

December 28th, 2012 Sears Homes 11 comments

Houses By Mail” (published 1985) is a wonderful field guide for those seeking more information on the 370 models of Sears kit homes that were offered from 1908 - 1940. The book contains some factual errors, but it’s still one of my favorites and has a cherished spot in my library and in my heart.

The house featured on the cover of “Houses By Mail” is the Sears Preston. It’s a puzzle as to why the publisher selected this particular house, as it was a pretty rare model.

When Pete Sanders first discovered a Sears Preston in Berkley, Michigan, it was love at first sight.

“The character of the house was outstanding,” he said. “I loved it, and I left a note in the door, asking about buying it.”

Pete says he didn’t realize it was a Sears House until after he purchased it.

Pete told me, “Once I got inside the house, I was really in love. It had nine-foot ceilings, and the built-in bookcases had amazing detail.”

Pete has very good taste in houses!

The Preston was one of the top five fanciest (and most expensive) houses that Sears offered, right up there with the Magnolia and the Lexington.

Is there a Preston in your neighborhood? Send me a photo!

And thanks to Pete Sanders, Catarina Bannier and Judy Davids for supplying all these wonderful photos!

The Sears Preston was one of Sears biggest and fanciest homes. Its shown here in the 1921 catalog.

The Sears Preston was one of Sears biggest and fanciest homes. It's shown here in the 1921 catalog. Note the price. The Preston was second only to the Magnolia in terms of price and grandeur. The Sears Magnolia was the most expensive house that Sears offered.

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Close-up of the Prestons dining room.

Close-up of the Preston's dining room.

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Notice the detail on the living room fireplace. This is a classic design for a Sears fireplace.

Notice the detail on the living room fireplace. This is a classic design for a "Sears" fireplace.

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This was the only house Sears offered that showcased the optional wall safe.

This was the only house Sears offered with an optional wall safe. I see some Federal Reserve notes on the bottom, but what's in the top shelf?

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The Preston also had a built-in breakfast nook.

The Preston also had a built-in breakfast nook.

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The floorplan shows the massive rooms.

The floorplan shows the massive rooms. The living room was 27' long. That's a big room.

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Upstairs

Upstairs had four modest bedrooms and a sleeping porch.

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It really was (and is) a beautiful home.

It really was (and is) a beautiful home.

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And heres the house that Pete Sanders fell in love with in Berkley, Michigan.

And here's the house that Pete Sanders fell in love with in Berkley, Michigan. The dormers were removed and the front entry was remodeled sometime in the early 1930s. Photo is copyright 2012 Judy Davids and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Incredibly, Pete has some vintage photos of the house.

Incredibly, Pete has some vintage photos of the house. This photo shows the house with the original dormers and entry-way. Even the flower boxes are in place. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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bicycle

This shot shows a cute little kid on a big bike and also the home's original entryway. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And the homes rear.

And the home's rear. One of the unique features of the Preston was that it was one of only FIVE models that Sears offered with functional shutters. (In addition to The Preston, the other Sears Homes with real shutters were The Puritan, The Lexington, Martha Washington and The Verona.) The other Sears Homes had decorative shutters that were permanently affixed to the wall. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And a wonderful photo showing a picture-perfect picket fence.

And a wonderful photo showing a picture-perfect picket fence for a perfect and pretty Preston. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the house

Close-up of the house. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Another view of the house

Another view of the house, post-entry-way remodel. The dormers were removed when the entry-way was squared off. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house

Another view of the house, showcasing that incredible fence. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Baldwins owned the home in the 1930s.

The Baldwins owned the home in the 1930s. Judging from this photo, they didn't have the official Sears fireplace (shown above). You can see a piece of the original built-in bookcases behind Father's left shoulder. Ernest R. Baldwin (seated) was the mayor of Berkley from 1932 to 1944. Those were tough years to be a mayor of any town. Florence Church Baldwin is seated beside him. Also pictured are their two sons, Robert and James. Ernest R. Baldwin was a veteran from The Great War. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Pete really scored a bonanza with these photos of the homes interior.

Pete really scored a bonanza with these photos of the home's interior. This is the living room, adjoining the entry hall. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And check out the bedroom!

And check out the bedroom! What a perfect picture, encapsulating the furnishings and lifestyles of the early 1930s. Photo is courtesy of Pete Sanders and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Preston is a very rare Sears kit home, but Catarina Bannier found one in the Washington DC area.

The Preston is a very rare Sears kit home, but Catarina Bannier found one in the Washington DC area. Photo is copyright 2012 Catarina Bannier and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And I found this one in Wyoming, Ohio in 2003.

And I found this one in Wyoming, Ohio in 2003.

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It is indeed a real beauty.

It is indeed a real beauty.

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

To join our group on Facebook, click here.

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The Willard: A Two-Story English Cottage

December 5th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Neo-Tudors (also called Tudor Revivals) have always had a special place in my heart. They’re cute, practical and distinctive.

The Sears Willard was one of their most popular designs, and because of its many distinctive features, it’s easy to spot.

Scroll on down to see several real-life examples of The Willard.

The Sears Willard was the house featured in a promotion showcasing affordable monthly payments.

The Sears Willard was the house featured in a promotion showcasing affordable monthly payments. It's a darling house, and the payments aren't too bad either.

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The Sears Willard, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

The Sears Willard, as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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Think you may have a Willard? Wont be hard to figure out if you can get inside! Look at the many unique features on this floorplan!

Think you may have a Willard? Won't be hard to figure out if you can get inside! Look at the many unique features on this floorplan!

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It is a darling house!

It is a darling house!

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In all my house-hunting career, Ive never photographed a Sears Willard from the right angle. Something in my muscle memory demands that I take the photo from THIS angle.

In all my house-hunting career, I've never photographed a Sears Willard from the right angle. Something in my muscle memory demands that I take the photo from THIS angle. Nonetheless, you can see a few of those distinctive features from this angle. Notice the three windows in a row on the right side, and the dainty cornice return. Also notice the nine lites (windows) in the front door. This brick Willard is in Colonial Heights, VA.

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This house is photographed from the correct angle, but its not my photo.

This house is photographed from the correct angle, but it's not my photo. This Willard is in Bowling Green, Ohio and the photo was taken by Dale Patrick Wolicki (copyright 2010, and can not be reprinted or used without written permission).

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And heres another Willard

This Willard was not photographed by me, but you can see that Rebecca Hunter (the photographer) has the same problem with muscle memory that I do. (Photo is copyright 2010 Rebecca Hunter and can not be reprinted or used without written permission). We just yearn to photograph this house from the three-window side.

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Galax, Virginia is a fun little town with lots of rolling hills which makes photography a bit challenging.

Galax, Virginia is a fun little town with lots of rolling hills which makes photography a bit challenging. Lots of utility wires in this photo, but it's definitely a Willard (with a modified dormer) in Galax. Unfortunately, as built, that dormer (with a flat roof in front of the dormer window) leaks like a sieve, so people often build out the dormer to enclose that flat spot.

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One fine little Willard in Peoria, Illinois.

One fine little Willard in Peoria, Illinois. Again, from the wrong angle.

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house

Here's the lone Willard photo I have taken from the correct angle. It's in Crystal Lake, IL.

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And another fine Willard in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

And another fine Willard in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Look at the angle. Sigh.

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To visit Dale’s website, click here.

To visit Rebecca’s website, click here.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Interested in Wardway (Montgomery Ward) kit homes? Click here.

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The Sears 264P202! What a House!

December 1st, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

Before 1918, Sears Homes were given numbers, not names. From a marketing perspective, it was brilliant to assign names to these models. After all, would you rather tell Mum and Dad that you’re buying “Sears Modern Home #2089″ or that you’ve just purchased The Magnolia?

Pre-1916, some of these houses had very long model numbers, such as the house shown here. It was apparently a fairly popular house for Sears, as I’ve got four real-life examples below, and yet it was offered only for a few short years, appearing last in the 1916 catalog.

Does this look like a Sears House to you? Didnt look like one to me, either, but it is! Its the venerable 264P202, and judging by the photos below, its a design that you should memorize, because it was apparently fairly common!

Does this look like a Sears House to you? Didn't look like one to me at first, but it sure is! It's the venerable 264P202, and judging by the photos below, it's a design that you should memorize, because it was apparently fairly common! This one is in Benld, IL.

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An interesting aaside: Do you know how Benld got its name? A fellow named Ben L. Dorsey purchased the land foor its rich mineral rights (coal, really) and it was developed into a tiny town. The name “Dorsey” was already taken, so Ben L. Dorsey chose the name “Benld,” a combination of his first name and subsequent initals.

For the flatlander tourist, it might help you to know that it’s pronounced, “Benn-ELD.”

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The original catalog page (1916) shows that this house sold for

The original catalog page (1916) shows that this house sold for $1,165 and by 1917, it was gone. In 1918, Sears Homes were given names instead of numbers. The 264P202 never had a name, so we know it was gone by 1918.

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housse house

This wonderful example of a 264P202 is in Okawville, IL. Look at the detail on the columns! It's a real beauty in original condition, but...

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house house

A broader view shows that this old house has been converted into a Funeral Home, and that brick ranch globbed onto the side is actually a not-so-sensitive addition.

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house house

This 264P202 is in West Chicago. Of the four examples shown on this page, three of these homes have porte cocheres.

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house house hosue

Close-up of the original catalog image (1916).

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House in Arkansas

Here's one in Searcy, Arkansas that is being offered for sale at $128,000. In the listing, this house is described as "One of the last Sears Roebuck houses left in White County."

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To learn more about “one of the last Sears Roebuck houses in White County,” click here.

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The house in Searcy has a bathroom thats in beautifully original condition.

The house in Searcy has a bathroom that's in beautifully original condition. Left is the 1916 Modern Homes catalog. Right side is the house in Searcy.

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house text

Nice floor plan.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see an abundance of awesome photos of the house in Searcy, click here.

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The Flossmoor: Good Dental Advice or a Sears House?

November 29th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

Or maybe both?

Yes, the Flossmoor was a Sears House that was offered for a short time in the late 1910s. By 1923, it was gone.

The massive cornice returns make it easy to identify. Another eye-catching feature is the clipped gable and the grouping of three windows on the front.

The 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog promised, “You will like this.” Apparently, that statement was more hopeful than realistic. In my travels, I’ve only see a couple of these unique houses. Is there one in your neighborhood? If so, stop what you’re doing, get a photo and send it to me.  :)

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Flossmoor 1920

Massive cornice returns, clipped gables and the three windows on the home's front make the Flossmoor an easy house to identify (1920).

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This Flossmoor was built in Evansville, Indiana and was featured in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog. Is it still standing?

This Flossmoor was built in Evansville, Indiana and was featured in the 1919 Modern Homes catalog. Is it still standing? Do the owners know what they have?

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Should

Mr. F. M. Hills of Evansville, Indiana shouldn't be too hard to find! :)

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According to the text in the 1920 catalog,

According to the text in the 1920 catalog, The Flossmoor was also built in these cities. Notice there's supposedly one in New York City!

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House

Look at the size of that reception hall! Also, note the "good morning" stairs.

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The floorplan was quite simple.

The floorplan was quite simple. A small hallway makes maximum use of the small footprint. Squeezing four small bedrooms out of this floorplan is pretty impressive.

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house

Nice house, isn't it? Another feature is that unusually small attic window.

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And heres the real life example in Batavia, Illinois.

And here's the real life example in Batavia, Illinois. Be still my heart.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To see more photos of the Sears Homes of Northern Illinois, click here.

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The Halfway House, by Sears & Roebuck

April 22nd, 2012 Sears Homes No comments

In 2002, someone called to tell me that they had a Sears House.  (This was way back in the day when my business cards included my personal phone number.)

The caller said, “I live in Washington, DC and I own a Sears Home.”

I asked if she knew which model it was.

She replied, “I sure do. It’s the Halfway House.”

“The Halfway House?” I asked, hoping I’d merely misunderstood.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said.

I asked if she could spell that for me, and she did. I had heard her correctly the first time.

I knew that Sears sold “The Morphine Cure,” in the early days (a patent remedy for breaking a morphine addiction),  and I knew that Sears offered “The Heidelberg Electric Belt” (guaranteed to restore men’s “vitality”).

But I was not aware that Sears had offered any 12,000-piece reformatory kit houses.

I asked the caller to send me a photo. A few days later, a picture arrived in the mail. It was a picture of the Sears Hathaway.

Sears Hathaway (1921 catalog).

Sears Hathaway, first offered with two bedrooms. (1921 catalog).

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It was also offered in a three-bedroom model (1928).

In later years, they offered in a three-bedroom model (1928).

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Floorplan

The third bedroom was created by adding that little bump to the right rear.

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Sears Hathaway in Elmhusrt Illinois

Sears Hathaway in Elmhurst Illinois - in brick!

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Perfect little Hathaway in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Perfect little Hathaway in Cincinnati, Ohio. I'm guessing the address is 1627 but I suppose it could also be 1267 (or 2716 in some Mideastern countries). (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Another Cincinnati Hathaway, courtesy of Donna Bakke.

Another Cincinnati Hathaway, courtesy of Donna Bakke. Not sure why it has two doors. Surely this tiny house has not been turned into two apartments! (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Sears Hathaway in Wyoming, Ohio.

Sears Hathaway in Wyoming, Ohio. (Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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And heres a Halfway House in Hampton!

And here's a Halfway House in Hampton, Virginia!

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My favorite Hathaway is this one in Newport News, Virginia.

My favorite Hathaway is this one in Newport News, Virginia. It still has its original lattice work on the porch! Every detail is perfect.

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Comparison of the two images.

Comparison of the two images.

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Look at the details on the porch!

Look at the details on the porch!

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And compare it to the original catalog picture!

And compare it to the original catalog picture!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Addie Hoyt, click here.

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A Fascinating Little Tidbit about WLS and Sears

December 29th, 2011 Sears Homes 10 comments

“What does WLS stand for?” is a question I often ask lecture attendees.

After giving more than 200 lectures in 25 states, only two people have answered this question correctly.

I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with Sears and Roebuck.

Thanks to eBay, I’ve located and purchased all manner of Sears Modern Homes ephemera, and one of my treasures is this employee newsletter. In fact, it was the very first edition of the “WLS” employee newsletter! Published in early 1925, it featured an interesting story titled, “The House The Kelly’s Built,” which told the story of a next-door neighbor  (Mr. Kelly) who’d hired “Jerry” (a 12-year-old boy) to help him build his newly purchased Sears kit home, The Clyde.

Jerry’s father (Mr. Thomas) was incredulous when he heard about this. After all, housebuilding is a difficult trade, for seasoned and experienced craftsman. When Jerry tries to explain that it’s a Sears kit house, with a 75-page instruction book, and numbered framing members (for easy assembly), his father chastises him for his impunity and reminds him that he is not to interrupt his elders.

It has a happy ending, as Mr. Kelly (the new Sears Homeowner) explains to Mr. Thomas (Jerry’s dad), that it is a very easy house to build, and when completed, it’ll be a real dandy of a home.

There are three important take-away lessons from this story.

1)  Building a kit home (12,000 easy pieces) was considered to be a simple task by the people who lived in the early 20th Century.

2) It was acceptable (and even common practice) to hire 12-year-olds for hard work.

3) Mr. Thomas was a horse’s ass.

To read another fascinating story about a murder in Lake Mills, click here.

Here

This short story appeared in the first edition of an employee newsletter issued for employees of Sears Roebuck. The name of the newsletter was "WLS."

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Lumber was numbered to facilitate construction

Framing members were marked with a three-digit number and a letter (D is for 2x8s, C for 2x6s, B for 2x4s). This mark, together with a 75-page instruction book, made assembly easy for even the novice homebuilder.

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The house that the Kellys are building (with young Jerrys help) is the Sears Clyde, a very modest and popular bungalow.

The house that the Kellys are building (with young Jerry's help) is the Sears Clyde, a very modest bungalow. Because it is such a modest house, it often gets severely remuddled through the passing decades. Identifying these simple houses is very difficult.

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Clyde

The Clyde, as seen in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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At least 98.76% of the time, the bay window in a little bungalow such as this is used for the dining room. The Clyde is an odd exception. In this little house, that bay on the side is for a bedroom, and the bathroom is right behind it. This is a useful detail for identifying The Clyde, as you should expect to see a bathroom vent roof pipe behind the bay.

At least 98.76% of the time, the bay window in a little bungalow such as this is used for the dining room. The Clyde is an odd exception. In this little house, that bay on the side is for a bedroom, and the bathroom is right behind it. This is a useful detail for identifying The Clyde, as you should expect to see a bathroom vent roof pipe behind the bay.

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This little Clyde in Cairo, IL is not feeling very well, and yet - it is definitely a Sears Clyde. That lowered platform on the front porch is still in place, but obscured by this white sedan. The gable ornaments and porch details are gone, and someone thought itd be a swell idea to do a thatch effect roof (shudder), but its a Sears Clyde.

This little Clyde in Cairo, IL is not feeling very well, and yet - it is definitely a Sears Clyde. That lowered platform on the front porch is still in place, but obscured by this white sedan. The gable ornaments and porch details are gone, and someone thought it'd be a swell idea to do a "thatch effect roof" (shudder), but it's a Sears Clyde.

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WLS

WLS stood for "World's Largest Store." The famous Chicago radio station, WLS, actually began as a promotional tool for Sears. The station signed on in 1924 with farm reports and weather information. Sears sold the radio station in the fall of 1928. Back in the day, call signs had meanings. Here in Norfolk, we had WGH which stood for "World's Greatest Harbor."

To read Part II, click here.

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

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The Humble Waltons Among Us (Sears Waltons, That Is)

November 19th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

The Sears Walton was probably one of Sears top-10 best selling models.

It was also one of Sears’ most practical houses, with 1200 square feet, a spacious front porch, compact kitchen, and less than 40 square feet wasted on the one small hallway.

One of the defining characteristics of the Sears Walton is that small box window on the front bedroom, the oversized front porch (which extends beyond the main wall of the house), and the contrasting rooflines on the porch and main house. Plus, the dining room has a gabled bay with three windows.

In short, it’s an easy house to spot, due to its many interesting architectural elements.

The Sears Walton was also a popular house, but John Boy never slept here.

The Sears Walton was also a popular house, but John Boy never slept here.

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And it even has the little box window on the front of the house!

The floor plan for the Sears Walton shows the spacious living room and dining room, and wee tiny bedrooms! (10 x 9, 10 x 10, and 10 x 11).

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Sears Walton in the Craddock section of Portsmouth, VA

Sears Walton in the Craddock section of Portsmouth, VA

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Sears Walton in Muncie

This is my favorite Sears Walton. No kidding. Talk about "original condition"! This thing is a beauty! This photo was snapped in early 2004, and I'd bet money that this sad little house (in a commercial district) is probably long gone. This house is also a testimony to the quality of building materials used in Sears Homes. This house hasn't seen a coat of paint in 40 years (or more), and every smidge of paint is long gone from its cypress exterior, and yet - it still stands. Try neglecting a modern McMansion for 40 years and see what you have left! This house is (was) in Muncie, Indiana.

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Sears Walton in West Lafayette, Indiana

Sears Walton in West Lafayette, Indiana. Notice the oversized front porch.

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And a beautiful Walton in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

And a beautiful Walton in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

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The Sears Walton

The Sears Walton in Champaign has had some changes (vinyl siding, replacement windows and a closed-in porch), but it's still a Walton.

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Most of the Sears Waltons Ive seen are yellow! Just like this one in Danville.

On this Walton in Danville, Virginia, someone extended that dining room bay and turned it into a porte cochere! Despite the landscaping, you can see a piece of that box windows on the left front.

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Sears Walton, but if only I knew where! Its somewhere near downtown Raleigh.

Sears Walton in downtown Raleigh.

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Walton in Paducah, Kentucky.

I suspect this is also a Sears Walton, but has been dramatically altered. The small gable over the box window could easily have been added when all this plastic and vinyl was being installed. This Walton is in Paducah, KY.

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Is this a Sears Walton? Id say it probably is, even though its missing the little box window on the front. Thatd be an easy change for a carpenter to make on the site.

Is this a Sears Walton? I'd say it probably is, even though it's missing the little box window on the front. That'd be an easy change for a carpenter to make on the site.

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Sears Walton at 102 Oakwood Avenue

Sears Walton in a small town just outside of Richmond, Virginia.

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This Walton is one of two, side by side, in Cape Charles, Virginia

This "Walton" is one of two, side by side, in Cape Charles, Virginia

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Sears Walton

Sears Walton as seen in the 1921 Modern Homes catalog.

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Story of a Life, and a Sears Home

May 19th, 2011 Sears Homes 1 comment

Some stories are so compelling and inspiring that they stay with you for a lifetime.

The story of Henry and Ethel Mohr is one such story.

In 1928, 12-year-old Muriel Mohr returned home from school to find the charred remnants of the Mohr family homestead. It must have been devastating. However, I suspect that Muriel - like most young people - was watching her parents to see how they responded to such an unthinkable tragedy. And I suspect that Henry and Ethel Mohr knew that this experience was a teachable moment. They were teaching their young daughter - by their own example - how to keep going forward when life deals you an unfair blow.

Despite the fact that they lost their house and most of its furnishings, Henry and Ethel did not throw in the towel and give up on their piece of the American dream. These second-generation Americans were not about to walk away from the plot of ground they’d spent years nurturing and cultivating and farming. They weren’t about to give up on the 160-acre Illinois homestead that Henry’s parents - Frederick and Wilhelmina Mohr - had homesteaded when they immigrated from Germany. By 1928, Henry and Ethel and Frederick and Wilhelmina had 74 years invested in this patch of fertile Midwestern farmland.

In 1928, the Henry Mohrs turned to Sears Roebuck to transform their burden into a blessing, and that blessing took the shape of a beautiful little red and white bungalow that’d endure for generations to come.

Building that house for his family, I’m confident that Henry and his brother-in-law Frank paid close attention to each and every detail in that 75-page instruction book, and the accompanying blueprints. I’d bet money that when the Mohrs built their Sears Obsorn, they knew it’d be a house that’d outlive them, and their children.

When Muriel Mohr married Dean Riggs in 1939, they took their vows in the Osborn’s living room. After the war, Muriel and Dean moved into a little house on the edge of the Mohr’s farmstead. Muriel and Dean’s two children (Dennis and Linda) grew up in that little house. Dennis and Linda had only to scurry through a grove of fruit trees to visit Grandma and Grandpa’s house. In 1975, Ethel passed on and exactly two months later, Henry followed her. Muriel inherited The Osborn, and in 1978, she and her husband moved into the house her father built.

The architectural historian in me thinks back to 1928, where I can imagine Muriel’s father putting the finishing touches on their fine, new modern home. I can picture Henry Mohr pausing from his work to explain the import of this house to his little girl. Maybe he took her 12-year-old hands in his wizened, calloused hands, looked into her eyes and said, “I built this house for you, and for your children, and for their children. Always remember, if you could see a father’s love, it’d look like just this house: Strong, true and enduring.”

Since 2002, I’ve been interviewed hundreds of times by hundreds of reporters in too many cities to count. After the story appears in print or on television, reporters consistently tell me that their piece on Sears homes generated more viewer/reader response than any story they’ve ever done. There’s a reason for that, and the Riggs’ story helped me better understand the reason.

There’s so much more to this story than kit homes sold out of a mail-order catalog. Each and every home is a piece of the tapestry that is the fabric of America and her people and her success. Homesteaders and city dwellers alike worked and struggled and strived to improve their lot in life and to create a better life for themselves and their children and their children’s children. They were willing to give up a year’s wages to secure a piece of land, and they were willing to place an order for 12,000 pieces of building material from a large mail-order company in Chicago, Illinois, and then - working nights and weekends - assemble those pieces into something that resembled a house.

The Riggs’ family story, multiplied thousands of times, gives a thumbnail sketch of the story of Illinois and the story of our country. In the first years of the 20th Century, magazines and newspapers of the day consistently promoted this message: It’s your patriotic duty to become a homeowner. The early Sears Modern Homes catalogues stated this basic philosophy in different ways, but there was an elementary core truth therein: Homeowners have a vested interest in their community and communities with a large percentage of homeowners will enjoy a greater proportion of  prosperity, stability and peace.

In one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey gets to see what his town, Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born.  Without George’s positive influence and his struggling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and countless citizens would never have had the opportunity to become homeowners.

Without the Bailey Building and Loan, George finds that Bedford Falls is full of substandard rental properties. And because there are so many rental properties, there is less stability in the family structure and in a broader context, there is less stability in the whole community.  In this alternate sans-George world, Ernie the cab driver does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, his home is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is partly to blame for the fact that Ernie’s wife “ran off three years ago and took the kid.”

The streets of this alternate-Bedford Falls (now named Pottersville) are lined with liquor stores, night clubs, pawnbrokers, striptease shows and pool halls. Gaudy neon signs flash “girls, girls, girls” and illumine the night-time corridors of Main Street. Citizens are neither calm nor law-abiding and brusque policemen struggle to keep peace and order.

George’s revelation that he really had a “wonderful life” stemmed in part from the realization that his meager efforts to give people the chance to become homeowners gave them a feeling of accomplishment, prosperity, security and pride. By extension, the whole community benefited in important, significant and enduring ways.

Perhaps Sears was to Illinois what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls. Sears empowered and enabled tens of thousands of working-class and immigrant families to build their own home. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?  How many towns in the Midwest were spared the fate of becoming a Pottersville? Probably many.

Sears Modern Homes made a significant difference in many communities throughout Illinois and the Midwest. I’m sure of that.  (The story above and photos are an excerpt from The Sears Homes of Illinois The History Press, 2010), and may not be reprinted or reproduced without written permission. To buy a copy of that book, click here.

And did you know that the best (and most wholesome) ice cream in America is located within minutes of this Osborn? Learn more about the Dairy Barn in Sidney, IL by clicking here. It really is the World’s Best Ice cream!

Catalog page

In 2002, Muriel Mohr Riggs (the 12-year-old girl mentioned above) came to a lecture I gave in Champaign, IL, and she brought this catalog with her. This was *THE* catalog from which her parents ordered their Osborn. She explained that "Mama tore out the price on this page" because she didn't want anyone knowing what they'd paid for their Osborn.

house page

You'll notice it was first smudged with dark ink, and THEN torn out!

The Osborn

The Osborn from the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

And the creme de la creme, my #1 favorite, is this Sears Osborn in Sidney, Illinois. This house sits on a Centennial Farm (100 years in the same family), and was built in 1926 by Harry Mohr and his wife, Ethel. Its one of the finest Sears Homes Ive ever had the pleasure to see.

This Sears Osborn - built by the Mohrs in 1928 - sits on a Centennial Farm (100 years in the same family). It's one of the finest Sears Homes I've ever had the pleasure to see. It's just a beauty in every way. The Osborn was built to replace an old family home that burned down.

farm

Something even more rare than a perfect Sears Osborn is a Centennial, family-owned farm.

Close-up

Close-up of the Illinois Centennial Farm sign.

A beautiful home in an equally beautiful setting

A beautiful home in an equally beautiful setting

More beauty

The side yard of the Mohr's Osborn.

Front yard views

Front yard views

photo from the family album

Muriel Mohr (Riggs) with her father, the home's original owner and builder. (Photo is courtesy of the Riggs' family and may not be reproduced without permission.)

family photo

A page from the family photo album, showing Muriel Mohr Riggs and her husband, seated outside their Sears Osborn. (Photo is courtesy of the Riggs' family and may not be reproduced without permission.)

family photo

Black and white photo of the Sears Osborn. (Photo is courtesy of the Riggs' family and may not be reproduced without permission.)

These houses were shipped in wooden crates, marked with the owners name and destination (train station). The shipping crates were often salvaged and the wood was reused to build coal bins or basement shelving. Heres one such remnant found in the basement of the Osborn.

These houses were shipped in wooden crates, marked with the owner's name and destination (train station). The shipping crates were often salvaged and the wood was reused to build coal bins or basement shelving. Here's one such remnant found in the basement of the Osborn.

guarantee

This certificate of deposit provided an promise that if the quality of the building materials was in any way inferior, the buyer would receive a full refund of his money, plus 6% annual interest. Pretty good deal.

close up

Close up of the dollar amount remitted for the Sears Osborn.

Close-up of the unique columns on the Mohrs Osborn.

Close-up of the unique columns on the Mohr's Osborn.

To learn more about the Sears Homes of Illinois, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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A Nice Bunch of Houses in Lafayette/Winona (Norfolk, VA)

February 21st, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

When I first started playing with kit houses  in 1999, Sears Homes were my specialty. It had taken me  several months to memorize all those 370 designs that Sears offered during their 32 years in the kit house business (from 1908-1940). Before long I realized I had to start learning the designs offered by other companies, too. Working with friends Dale and Rebecca, we made countless copies of our dusty old kit home catalogs and organized those thousands of pages into a comprehensive field guide to kit homes sold by Aladdin (Bay City, MI), Lewis Manufacturing (also Bay City), Sterling Homes (Bay City, too), Harris Brothers (Chicago), Gordon Van Tine (Davenport, Iowa), and Montgomery Ward (Chicago).

And when I moved to Norfolk in 2006, I was surprised to find a prevalence of Aladdin kit homes in the area. Aladdin, I later learned, had a mill in Wilmington, NC (a lot closer to Hampton Roads than Chicago and Bay City!).

Below are some of the kit homes I’ve found in the Lafayette/Winona section of Norfolk. The most remarkable find was the Montgomery Ward Model #101. Unfortunately, the subject house in the Lafayette area has endured a great deal of insensitive remodeling which has altered its appearance.

First, my favorite: The Aladdin Plaza on Lafayette Blvd. The catalog image (from a 1919 catalog) is shown first:

Aladdin Plaza as shown in 1919 Aladdin catalog

Aladdin Plaza as shown in 1919 Aladdin catalog

One of my all-time favorite Aladdin Plazas is in Norfolk, Virginia, about three miles from my home in Colonial Place.

One of my all-time favorite Aladdin Plazas is on Lafayette Blvd in Norfolk. It's in wonderful condition and looks much like the line drawing.

The Pomona (named after the city in California) was a classic Arts & Crafts bungalow.

The Pomona (named after the city in California) was a classic Arts & Crafts bungalow.

Aladdin Pomona

Aladdin Pomona, complete with white picket fence! Unfortunately, the windows have been replaced, but it does have its original siding.

Aladdin Pomona

Trees, cars, boats, and miscellaneous little people prevented a better photo, but this is a nice little Aladdin Pomona, and it still has the original diamond-muntin window in the living room.

Aladdin Pasadena from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Pasadena from the 1919 catalog

Little old cottage from Pasadena...

Little old cottage from Pasadena...

If you look close, youll see what the original porch looked like on this house.

If you look close, you'll see what the original porch looked like on this house.

And you can see the remnant of the beams on this house in Lafayette.

And you can see the remnant of the beams on this house in Lafayette.

The Aladdin Sheffield was a popular house. I know of three in Norfolk.

The Aladdin Sheffield was a popular house. I know of three in Norfolk.

This Aladdin Sheffield is a real treasure, and even has the bumped out vestible as shown in the original catalog drawing.

This Aladdin Sheffield is a real treasure, and even has the "bumped out" vestibule as shown in the original catalog drawing.

Aladdin Shadowlawn from the 1919 catalog

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

And its porte cochere is still in use!

And its porte cochere is still in use!

The Aladdin Winthrop

The Aladdin Winthrop. Awnings not included.

The distinguishing feature of this Aladdin Winthrop are those windows in side fo the bay and the four windows across the front. Also note how the frotn porch spans the full width of the house.

The distinguishing feature of this Aladdin Winthrop are the windows in side of the bay and the four windows across the front. Also note how the front porch spans the full width of the house. This was a special delight because I'd missed this one on prior trips through the 'hood and just found it this week!

And onto Sears!  This is the Sears Elsmore - a hugely popular house for Sears

And onto Sears! This is the Sears Elsmore - a hugely popular house for Sears

My favorite feature of this house is that its painted the same colors as the catalog picture!! Notice, it has the recessed entry way.

My favorite feature of this house is that it's painted the same colors as the catalog picture!! Notice, it has the recessed entry way.

Sears Alhambra from the 1919 catalog

Sears Alhambra from the 1919 catalog

If anyone knows the owners of this house, Id love to find out if its a Sears Alhambra. It might be, but I wouldnt bet money on it. An interior inspection would reveal if this is indeed a true Sears Alhambra.

Sears Alhambra? Eh, maybe. Maybe NOT. If anyone knows the owners of this house, I'd love to get inside and find out if it's a Sears Alhambra. It might be, but I wouldn't bet money on it. An interior inspection would reveal if this is indeed a true Sears Alhambra.

Sears Alhambra in Portsmouth, Virginia (my home town)

**THIS** is what an Alhambra should look like! This house is in the 1500-block of County Street in downtown Portsmouth.

Sears Argyle from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

Sears Argyle from the Sears Modern Homes catalog

This Argyle has some wear and tear on it, but you can still see a sweet little Argyle hiding in there. This is just outside the border of the Lafayette Winona area.

This Argyle has some wear and tear on it, but you can still see a sweet little Argyle hiding in there. This is just outside the border of the Lafayette Winona area.

Original image from an early 1910s Montgomery Ward catalog. This is Wardway Model #101.

Wardway #101

Wardway #101. My favorite find of the day. This house has been severely aluminized and the original windows are nothing but a memory, but this house has several very unique characteristics that make me think it's probably the Wardway #101. Two of those unique features are bay windows on the front and side. The porch has been extended around to the side (fairly recently, judging by the joinery) and the substitute siding has really distorted the home's original appearance.

To see more pictures of the kit homes in Hampton Roads, click here.

To buy a copy of Rose’s book, click here.

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