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Another Mystery in Richmond!

March 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 16 comments

My blog on the Sears Houses in Richmond has gotten several hundred views in the last few days. I am tickled pink to see it, but I wish I knew what led folks to a 15-month old blog!

But in the meantime, I’ve made another *fascinating* discovery, which might lead me to a neighborhood of Sears Homes in Richmond!

Today, David Spriggs and I were doing research at the Norfolk Public Library, and I found this article (June 16, 1921) in the Richmond Times Dispatch. At first glance, it looks like another 1920s ad, but look closely.

Article

The "beautiful bungalow" shown in the advertisement is a Sears Elsmore.

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Check out the fine print.

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And you can buy “all the material necessary to build this charming bungalow” - from Sears!
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If you look closely at the house in the ad, youll see its a Sears Elsmore.

If you look closely at the house in the ad, you'll see it's a Sears "Elsmore." In fact, it's the picture right out of the Sears Modern Homes catalog!

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This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

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Heres an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these beautiful bungalows built in Richmond?

Here's an Elsmore in Elgin, Illinois. Were any of these "beautiful bungalows" built in Richmond?

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Perhaps someone familiar with Richmond can help me find this neighborhood! Was the builder successful in pitching these Sears kit homes to the people who bought his lots?

This could be fun!!  Please leave a comment below if you know where this area is!

To learn more about the Sears Homes I found in Richmond, click here.

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It’s a Mystery

February 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Take a guess what this item is (shown below).

Plaster

Looks kind of hairy and gross, doesn't it?

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Does this help?

I'll give you a hint. It was found inside a 1920s home.

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This should help you figure it out.

This should help you figure it out.

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This pretty well gives it away.

This pretty well gives it away.

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In fact, its a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall.

In fact, it's a chunk of plaster that was cut out of a wall to add a new outlet.

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Up until sheetrock became widely accepted, a home’s interior walls were finished with plaster. Today, the word “plaster” is used loosely to describe any gypsum-based wall covering, but in fact, plaster is fairly unusual in post-WW2 homes and quite rare in post-1980s homes.

If you look at an old Sears catalog, you’ll find that while kit houses did not include plaster (due to shipping weight), your 12,000-piece kit house did come with good quality lath. In fact, the “Chelsea” (a 2,000-square-foot foursquare) came with 840 square yards of wooden lath. Sears estimated that a plasterer would charge you $200, which included nailing up all those thin strips of lath and applying three coats of plaster (1916).

Often, people talk about “old-fashioned horse-hair plaster,” but the binding agent in old plaster walls was more commonly cattle hair.

Plastering is fast becoming a lost art, and things have changed a bit in the last many decades. Today, a wire mesh is used in place of wooden lath. And I’m not sure what the contemporary binding agent is, but I seriously doubt it involves shaving dead cattle. However, you can still find good recipes online for making historically appropriate plaster to restore or repair the walls in your old house.

Old plaster walls ahve three coats: The scratch coat, the brown coat and the finish coat.

The scratch coat gets its name from the fact that it is scored so that the surface has a rough texture. This rough texture gives the brown coat (which contains a lot of sand) something to grip.

It’s the sand in the brown coat that helps the finish coat (which is about 1/8″) bond tightly to the walls.

According to the smart people, the scratch coat and brown coat are about 3/8″ thick, but the image shown above (from the 1920s house) tells a slightly different story. Making and applying plaster was a little bit like baking a cake: A lot depended on the cook, and his preferences and practices.

Plus, sometimes the “cook” was sober as a judge and sometimes the “cook” was so plastered (perhaps the source of the term?) that he couldn’t walk a straight line. Weather, humidity and quality of ingredients were other variables that affected the final product as well.

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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Back

This promotion, which appeared in a 1916 Sears Building Materials catalog, gives a pretty good explanation of how plaster was applied. I can't imagine how long it took to nail up all those lath boards (which were typically 1-inch wide). And the smudge pots were used to keep the temperature and humidity at a certain level while the plaster dried. Making and applying plaster was a slow, arduous process with many variables (1916 Sears Building Materials).

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By 1916,

By 1916, "Sheet Plaster" had already gained a toe-hold in the market, but it wasn't until after WW2 that it really became popular. And yet even in modern custom-built homes, plaster walls are considered an upgrade (and they're mighty expensive, too). My 1962-built ranch has sheetrock walls and plaster ceilings, which seems an odd combination (photo is from 1916 Sears Building Materials).

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Sheet

As shown in this 1916 Building Materials catalog, "Sheet Plaster" was much easier to install.

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To read a *fascinating* article about the benefits of old plaster walls (and how it was made), click here.

Bob Vila drives me to hard liquor, but his writers did put together a nice piece on plaster. You can read it here.

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The Laurel: A Degree of Character and Distinction

February 11th, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Laurel is a model of Sears House that I have never seen in person, so it was pretty exciting to meet Valerie, who found our Facebook Group (“Sears Homes”) and immediately shared photos of her own Laurel.

I asked Valerie to send me a little background on how she came to fall in love with “Laurel,” and her email was so enchanting, I’m publishing it here!

She wrote,

I wanted to buy a home in Phoenixville, PA since it is an up-and-coming town and full of creative stores and music. It’s also the town where the movie house featured in the movie “The Blob” was filmed.

We have an annual Blob Fest where people re-enact the original event once a year, and run screaming out of the theater.

Our town is full of history. I also wanted to live near the Schuylkill Canal Lock 60.  The Schuylkill Canal Association has painstakingly restored 2.5 miles of the canal. Originally constructed in 1827, it was part of a historic 108-mile waterway linking Philadelphia to Port Carbon. It was built to serve the anthracite coal fields or the Coal Region of Pottsville.

That historic waterway is about 75 feet in front of my “Laurel.”

When the “Laurel” came on the market, the real estate listing said it was an “authentic Sears home,” but I didn’t know what that meant, and honestly, it didn’t really affect my decision to  buy the house.

I fell in love with this home the moment I walked inside, even with its less-than-attractive kitchen, painted florescent yellow and bright blue. Throughout the house, someone had painted the woodwork “Colonial Blue” and yellow.

The bathroom was also pretty beat-up looking.

The gorgeous archways in the living room, the many windows, the solid floors and charming character made me feel at home. I knew most of the things I didn’t like were just cosmetic, and the house was yelling for TLC.

I bought Lora (the pet name I gave the house) in Sept. 2008.

All my doors retain their original varnish (never painted) and have their original Sears hardware.

I think the exterior front lamps are original, and the hand rail on my steps is original. Of the 19 windows, seven of them are original to the house.  The floors were covered with purgo (why I’ll never know). From what I’ve seen, the original floors underneath were in fine condition. I had the floors done two years and they came out BEAUTIFUL!!

The day after I moved in, an old man in a small pickup truck caught my attention and yelled, “”You the new owner?”

I said, “Yes, as of yesterday!”

He told me that his dad had built this house and that it came in boxes off the train. (There’s still have a single train track in my back yard but there hasn’t been a train on that line in many years.)

Of course I invited him in. I could sense his mind was working at the memories of this house.

He told me that they enclosed the porch for his grandmother to live in who was very sick and his parents took care of her. He told me the back room (mudroom) was added for the ice deliveries. He said if they needed ice, they’d flip an ice sign (which was left hanging in a side window), and then the ice truck would know to stop and deliver ice!

Down in the basement, he showed me where the coal chute was. and s He shared the back bedroom with his brother, and his parents were in the front room. He talked about sliding downstairs in his pajamas, and listening to him talk, you could tell that the house brought back a lot of great memories!

I will never forget that visit. I regret not getting his contact info but he said he had some pictures of the house and promised to bring them by if he could find them. I have not heard from him since.

Soon after I moved in to Lora, my very kind neighbors told me I live in a Sears home! They said that two owners ago, an owner had the home’s original instruction manual (for building the house from a kit), but took it with him.

My neighbor Jim, who also lives in a kit home, told me he found a receipt for his house in the ceiling of his kitchen.

After these conversations I did some homework about Sears homes.

I discovered that my Laurel was built about 1932 (although the year is conflicting on county book it says 1932 but on my mortgage and other docs its 1933). The staircase landings have the square blocks (known as plinth blocks), and I found a shipping label while redoing my bathroom.

My bathtub has an “R” in the lower right corner. (Imagine how excited I was when I found that one!! It’s the only original plumbing fixture.)

I did not find any stamping on the framing members but I understand they always didn’t do that. Now I have the Sear’s kit home bug. I am searching for original documents and anything Sear’s home related.

I’m sorry this is so long I can go on and on. Ask anyone that knows me once they get me started on my house they can’t get away.

To learn more about how to identify Sears Homes (and those plinth blocks mentioned above), click here.

Want to join our “Sears Homes” group at Facebook? Click here.

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The Laurel is one of those models Ive never seen before.

The Laurel was a darling house and a good price, too (1928 catalog).

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house 1928

It was also a narrow house, and could fit on a 25-foot lot. Plus, the front porch will be appreciated by all members of the household, so there's that.

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house house

The house was a mere 19' wide, which made it ideal for small lots.

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house house house

Unlike so many kit homes of this time, the Laurel had two spacious bedrooms.

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It really is a darling house, and I love the cut-out shutters.

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house house house

And here's Valerie's real-life Laurel in Phoenixville. What a gem! And it's in brick! Photo is copyright 2014 Valerie Chochla and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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compare

Pictured side-by-side, you can see what a good match it is!

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house house house

"Lora" looks very happy, doesn't it? And it warms the cockles of my heart to know that someone will love and appreciate this fine old house. Photo is copyright 2014 Valerie Chochla and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To learn more about why these old houses are so valuable (and irreplaceable), click here.

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My Favorite Magnolia Story - As Told By A Builder Who Built A Maggy

February 3rd, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

This blog originally appeared at this site November 2011. That was more than two years ago, and I thought it’d be worthwhile to print this again.  Enjoy!

In September 2002, I flew to Akron, Ohio to work with a producer for a new show that was tentatively called, History Detectives. They were very excited about launching the new program with a story on Sears Homes. I would appear on the second episode, in a story centered around some purported Sears Homes in Firestone Park in Akron.

The filming started at a beautiful Sears Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. What a thrill that was, to see my first Sears Magnolia up close and personal!

The filming took place in March and it was very cold in Ohio. Seemed like it was either snowing, getting ready to snow, or just finishing up with snow. I never saw a blue sky during my time in Ohio.

Despite the cold weather, it was a happy, happy event for me - all the way around. Throughout the eight days of filming, I was treated like a queen and I had my own “gaffer,” who fetched me donuts and hot cocoa and gloves and any little thing my heart desired. What fun!

Years after that big event, someone sent me an article about the building of that Magnolia in Canton, Ohio. It was written sometime in the early 1990s by a Canton history buff, T. E. Prather. The title was “Magnolia: Neo Classic Revival Revived!”

What’s remarkable about this article is that it quotes the 94-year-old builder who helped build the Magnolia in 1923. (Unfortunately, it was a short newspaper clipping, and there was no newspaper name attached! I’d love to know where this originally appeared.)

Clarence Swallow was the builder of nearly 300 homes in this area, and in 1923, he was a 27-year-old carpenter. He was hired by Canton Attorney Leroy Contie, Sr., to supervise the total construction of Contie’s Magnolia.

The catalog price of this pre-cut house was $5,140. With the price of the Ridgewood lot, plastering, electrical work, plumbing, plus other extras, te total cost of the home was approximately $18,000.

Swallow explains how the crates of numbered, top-quality, pre-cut lumber and supplies were brought to the building site by horse-drawn wagons. Swallow and his two-man crew sorted through the giant jig-saw puzzle of packages and began construction in the summer of 1923.

The framing went up on the pre-formed concrete foundation through the summer and autumn. By the first snowfall, the Magnolia was under roof. Then Ennon Plumbing, Eclipse Electric, and several plasterers worked through the winter as Swallow and crew completed the interior trim work.

The six fluted yellow poplar Corinthian porch columns were precisely set in place to support the two-story front portico. The side lights [flanking] the front entrance and an elliptical fanlight under a second floor balcony were the center focus of the main entry.

The original elegance of this early 1920s Magnolia has yielded a small bit to being unoccupied over the past couple years. Yet it has been featured in the Smithsonian (November 1985) and was the featured home of Ohio Historical Society’s publication , Timeline in early 1989.


To read my second favorite blog about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

And we found an eighth Magnolia in West Virginia! Read about that here!

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The Magnolia was the finest house that Sears offered (cover 1918).

The Magnolia was the finest house that Sears offered (cover 1918).

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Although I never did see one with a red roof.

Although I never did see one with a red roof.

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It was offered from 1918 - 1922, and sold for about $5,000 (depending on year). In 1920, the price hit $9,990 due to post-war hyperinflation of building materials.

It was offered from 1918 - 1922, and sold for about $5,000 (depending on year). In 1920, the price hit $9,990 due to post-war hyperinflation of building materials.

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One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

One of my favorite Magnolias in Benson, SC.

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Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

Another gorgeous Magnolia in West Virginia.

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The Magnolia in South Bend (which is currently for sale). Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

The Magnolia in South Bend (which is currently for sale). Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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This Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is looking a little rough, but its recently been sold and maybe itll get a new chance at life.

This Magnolia in Piedmont, Alabama is looking a little rough, but it's recently been sold and maybe it'll get a new chance at life. It does need some lovin'.

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A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

A brick Sears Magnolia in Pennsylvania.

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And a STUNNING Magnolia in Syracuse, NY. Its also a real beauty.

And a STUNNING Magnolia in Syracuse, NY. It's also a real beauty. (Photo is courtesy of Mariel Proulx and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Rest in peace, old Maggy. This was torn down in 1986. Sigh.

Rest in peace, old Maggy. This was torn down in 1986. Sigh. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To read about the Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

To see the inside of a Magnolia, click here.

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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There Are Some Things Better Than Sears Homes…

December 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

This Christmas, my newlywed daughter came to Virginia for a visit, and as a lovely bonus, she brought along her new husband (Levi) and her four-year-old stepson, “Ollie.”

Ollie is a darling little boy and while they were here, our house saw more activity and busy-ness than I think it’s ever seen before.

And I loved every minute of it.

When they pulled into our driveway at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, Levi opened the back door of the Family Truxter and there was little Ollie, sitting patiently in his car seat. He caught a glimpse of me standing in the driveway and in the sweetest little voice, he exclaimed, “There’s Gwandma Wose!”

It brought tears to my eyes.

Cleaning up the house today has been tough, and I’ve felt myself tear up a few times. Under the couch, I found a handful of sea shells that we gathered during our walk by the seashore, and on a desk in the living room, I found the little stuffed dog that Auntie Crystal gave him. I put away the books “Pop” read to him and I discovered a toy left behind in the bathtub.

I can’t face the spare bedroom yet, where I tucked him into bed Monday night and read him several books.

There in the semi-dark room, between stories, he reached out and held my hand and said, “I love you, Grandma Rose.” I told him, “I love you more,” and he replied, “I love you more, too.”

I was falling asleep by the fifth book when he said (in a very serious voice), “I think you should go get into your own bed.”

The little family packed up their little car and returned to St. Louis Thursday and the house is so quiet that it is unnerving.

As my wise friend Janet LaMonica told me last month when my daughter got married, “Rosemary, years ago I learned, there is no such thing as ’step-grandchildren.”

Janet was right.

It may take a few days before I’m ready to write about old houses again. Somehow, they just don’t seem as important right now.

And now it’s time to check out those airfares to St. Louis…

:)

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Christmas this year was an extra-important time, b

Christmas this year was extra special, because it was to be Ollie's first Christmas with us.

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And Ollie loved his little car!

And Ollie loved his little electric car!

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Ollie

The little car has a little horn which works well in these situations. Father is trying to protect Pop's big truck from an accident caused by a little driver. BTW, those little headlights light up.

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none

Corey and Auntie Crystal watch from a safe distance. The family Truxter sits in the driveway. When Ollie rode past us, we all paid special attention to our toes! That little car is heavy!

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There were also dogs involved. Ollie loves dogs even more than he loves cars! He ran up on the front porch trying to catch Roxey (our neighbors labradoodle). Roxey saw him coming and made a run for it.

There were also dogs involved. Ollie loves dogs even more than he loves cars! He ran up on the front porch trying to catch "Roxey" (our neighbor's labradoodle). Roxey saw him coming and made a run for it.

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The Family Truxter all packed up and headed back to the Alton area.

The Family Truxter all packed up and headed back to the Alton area.

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To read one of my favorite blogs, click here.

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Permanent Furniture IV: Window Seats

December 9th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

This is my fourth series on “Permanent Furniture,” a term I’d not heard until Bill Inge lent me his 1927 “Builders’ Woodwork” catalog.

And what a wonderful term it is. It defines the “built-ins” that make early 20th Century American architecture so enchanting and beautiful and practical.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images below appeared in the 1927 Builders’ Woodwork catalog.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing these fun old architecture books!!

To read Part I, click here.

Click here to read Part II and Part III.

As always, please leave a comment below!

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perm

"Window seats and bookcases are very often used in combination, adding comfort to convenience."

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window

"These niches are not intended to supplant bookcases..." In other words, we know that you're going to have a *lot* more books than this, because you're a typical intelligent American with an innate desire to learn and grow. Wow. If only they could have known that TV would soon arrive on the scene and turn us into a nation of marginally literate, non-reading, believe-anything-you-see-on-the-tv saps. (But I digress...)

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window seat

Check out the fountain in the backyard. Now *that's* a view! I also love the little writing desk.

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seat

See the item in front of the pen with a rounded bottom? Now, I'm sure most of my highly intelligent, history loving readers already know this, but it was a blotter, and on its underside, it had a piece of absorbent paper or cloth. After signing your documents with a quill pen, the blotter was used to soak up excess ink.

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perman

Since they don't have a fountain in the backyard, they put up some draperies. But they do have a fine-looking Dutch Colonial out back. This is my favorite nook. Can you imagine curling up on this soft cushion, literally surrounded by all your favorite books? That lamp is in the wrong place, though.

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window

Rather plain, but still a quaint idea.

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wsingod

If I still had a house with radiators, I'd install this design in a second. It's a radiator cover, plus window seat, plus book storage, plus drawer space. And it's not recessed (as many are).

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seats

Another pretty one, but still pretty. And good storage underneath that bench seat.

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seats seats

The simplest of designs, and yet there's a lot of storage space in those seats.

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sears

This "permanent furniture" window seat and bookcase appeared in the 1927 Homebuilders' Catalog.

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1571 HB 1923

This, unlike the above, is an actual photo which appeared in the 1923 Harris Brothers (kit homes) catalog. The house shown is Harris Brothers' Modern Home #1571. In addition to the window seat, it has the bookcase colonnades, built-in buffet and gorgeous beamed ceiling.

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house house house

This was the only real-life example of a window seat I could find, and it's a poor example because it's really an "Inglenook" more than a window seat. And yet, it's still mighty pretty. The house shown is a Sears Magnolia, in northern West Virginia.

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To read more about the Sears Magnolia in West Virginia, click here.

Read all about phone niches by clicking here.

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Permanent Furniture III: Bookcase Colonnades

December 4th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

In the early 1980s, my husband and I looked at an Aladdin Shadowlawn for sale in Chesapeake, Virginia. We both fell head-over-heels in love with the solid-oak bookcase colonnades between the living room and dining room.

It was just last week that I learned that, in the early 1900s, these enchanting built-ins were known as “Permanent Furniture.”

“Permanent furniture” (built-in cabinetry) was a brilliant concept. The more “permanent furniture” present in a house, the less “temporary furniture” the new homeowners would need to purchase. And all these built-ins really did make best-possible use of small spaces.

To read more about permanent furniture, click here or here.

As always, thanks to Norfolk historian and librarian Bill Inge for sharing his wonderful old architecture books with moi!

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House

More than 30 years ago, we looked in the windows of this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Chesapeake, Virginia (near Chesapeake Square Mall) and caught a glimpse of the solid oak built-in bookcase colonnades and fell hopelessly in love. There's something about "permanent furniture" in old houses that still makes me swoon.

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The Aladdin Shadowlawn had beautiful built-in bookcase colonnades.

The Aladdin Shadowlawn came with beautiful built-in bookcase colonnades (1919 catalog).

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These colonnades appeared in the Sears Roebuck Building Materials catalog (1921).

These colonnades appeared in the Sears Roebuck "Building Materials" catalog (1921). Pretty basic and very plain and no shelving or bookcases. And who's Carlton? My guess is that he's someone that wasn't well liked at Sears. Maybe it started out as a practical joke. "Let's name those really boring colonnades after that boring guy, Carlton who never does anything but stand around and look goofy," and before they knew it, the $34 colonnades were listed in the Sears catalog as "Carlton Colonnades."

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1921

For $82.50, you could buy a colonnade that actually had a practical purpose (unlike Carlton).

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The

The Sears Osborn featured these bookcase colonnades with either wooden muntins or leaded glass doors (1919).

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No sooner had I returned Bill Inges 1927 Builders Woodworking catalog than he loaned me this little treasure. It was full of - colonnades!

No sooner had I returned Bill Inge's 1927 Builders' Woodworking catalog than he loaned me this little treasure, "Building With Assurance; Morgan Millwork." It was full of - colonnades! It was published in 1923.

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And the first page of the Colonnade Chapter offered some interesting insights as to why we love colonnades.

And the first page of the Colonnade Chapter offered some interesting insights as to why we love colonnades: "It's an imitation of nature itself." BTW, check out the lovebird logo.

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Nice

Nice way to dress up a doorway!

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house

These colonnades are simple, but quite attractive. That rug looks like a trip hazard, though. The dining room furniture looks like it came out of a dollhouse. The proportions are skewed.

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Aon d

Apparently Morgan had their own line of Carlton Colonnades.

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test

Much more ornate, and bigger bookcases, too. The original caption reads, "This Morgan standardized design offers a fine opportunity for tasty decoration with jardinieres, statuary, bric-a-brac, etc." I had to look up "jardinieres," because I've read a lot of books in my life but I have never seen that word. Turns out, "jardinieres" is a female gardener, allegedly. I'm not sure that even the most progressive 1920s housewife would be too keen on the idea of using built-in bookcases to store female gardeners.

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This one's my favorite: Rugged, sturdy, spacious and a built-in desk, too.

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That desk is pretty cool, even if he does have a lot of bills hidden inside of it.

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Another beautiful colonnade, but in use as a china hutch!

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A real-life bookcase colonnade in a Sears Hazelton in Oklahoma. Photo is copyright 2010 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

A real-life bookcase colonnade in a Sears Hazelton in Oklahoma. (Photo is copyright 2010 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. No foolin'.)

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To read about the Sears Magnolia we found in West Virginia, click here.

To read more about built-ins, click here.

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Wanted: More Better Pictures of the Lincoln Magnolia!

July 6th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

Updated! I got my “more better pictures”!  Click here to learn more!

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Thanks to Rebecca Hunter, I now have a picture (albeit a little faded) of the Sears Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska. Unfortunately, the house burned in 1985 or 1986, and shortly afterwards, it was razed.

The Magnolia in Lincoln was one of eight known Magnolias in the country, and (as far as we know), the only one that has been demolished.  (An eighth Magnolia in West Virginia was recently discovered.)

Last night as I was thinking about this old house in Nebraska, I realized that someone somewhere is bound to have a better photo of the Magnolia, and perhaps a photo of the house in its prime. This house was in the state’s capitol (Lincoln), and it must have been fairly well known in the community, and hopefully, well photographed!

The house was owned by a family named “Benza,” and it was probably built between 1918 and 1922. It was located at 5901 NW 20th Street in Lincoln.

If you have any information on this house, or any photos, please leave a comment below!

To learn more about the Magnolia, click here.

To read about the building of a Magnolia, click here.

To visit Rebecca’s website, click here.

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Sears Magnolia Lincoln

This is the only known photo of the Sears Magnolia in Lincoln. The house was torn down in 1985 or 1986, and in this photo, the house appears to be in very rough shape. I have no idea what year this photo was taken. There's a car in front of the house, but I can't see much of it. Somewhere, there's a better photo of this house. I'd love to see it.

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Sears Magnolai

The Sears Magnolia in Alabama (Piedmont) is also in need of a little love.

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Magnolia 1918

The Magnolia was first offered in the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.

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Magnolia 1918

In 1918, it was offered for $4485, and if you wanted to just buy the plans, those were a scant $10.

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Magnolia 1920

Due to post-war hyperinflation, the price of the Magnolia hit $7,998 in 1920.

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Magnolia 1921

By 1921, the price had dropped to about $6,500.

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prices

After World War One, the cost of building materials and lumber went sky high. Sears catalogs had a six-week lead time (from creation to publishing). Due to the volatility of building material costs, Sears couldn't keep up on the price info. As an alternative, they just stuck price sheets into the pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalog. See the highlighted entry above? This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the Spring 1921 Sears catalog. In fact, the catalog page (shown above) has a price of $6,488 but this insert shows the price as $10 cheaper.

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Magnolia 1922 (last year)

The Magnolia made its final appearance in the 1922 catalog. The price was now $5,849, or about $1,000 more than when first offered in 1918. Did anyone buy their Magnolia when it cost $10,000?

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Magnolia in South Bend

One of the eight known Magnolias is in South Bend, IN. (Photo is copyright 2012 James Layne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Magnolia in Canton, OH

The Magnolia in Canton, OH was almost lost (roof had collapsed into the 2nd floor), but it was painstakingly restored to its original splendor. Photo is copyright 2012 Janet Hess LaMonica and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

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Do you know the location of another Magnolia?  Please leave a comment below!

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The Ferndale: A Charming English Bungalow

April 21st, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

There are many ways to find a Sears House, but Andrew and Wendy Mutch found a very rare Sears House in Ann Arbor using a technique I had never thought about before: Reading the obituaries.

They discovered an obituary for an elderly woman that mentioned the building of a Sears House.  Seems that Helen Bethke and her husband Emil Bethke had built a kit home in 1931, and after enjoying 64 years of wedding bliss, Emil passed on (in 1995).

Andrew and Wendy were able to figure out Mrs. Bethke’s address, but couldn’t readily identify the model. In fact, when I first saw their photos, it took me a few minutes to figure it out.

And that’s because, it’s a model I’ve never seen before.

Now that’s a thrill!  :)

And frankly, the only reason I was able to identify this darling little house was because it was in mostly original condition. Had this beauty been slathered in vinyl siding and aluminum trim, I’d still be scratching my head and wondering.

Fortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Bethke did a fine, fine job keeping their Sears Fernwood in first-class shape. Let’s hope the home’s next owners follow their worthy example.

Mrs. Bethke’s obit:  On Aug. 31, 1930, Helen married Emil Carl Bethke, and after 64 years of marriage, he preceded her in death in June of 1995. They built their Sears kit home in 1931, and raised their children in that old West Side home on Koch Street.

To learn more about the kit homes in Ann Arbor, click here.

On May 2nd, come to Rose’s lecture in Staunton, Virginia!

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Charming

The Ferndale was only offered for two years, 1929 and 1933. It's shown here in the 1929 catalog.

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house house hosue

Those dark shutters are not only pleasing, but functional!

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Ferndale

It tickles me that the tub on the Ferndale juts out in this floorplan.

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house house

It is indeed a "charming" little house.

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house house

And thanks to Mrs. Bethke, it's still in mostly original condition, looking much like it did when built in 1931. Will the new owners take good care of it, and preserve the original windows, siding and shutters? We can only hope. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Check out the detail around the front porch (1929 catalog).

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Picture perfect! Looks just like the catalog. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house

Now it's for sale, but 80 years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Bethke bought it as a 12,000-piece kit from Sears and Reobuck, and then built their own home. Very impressive. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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side

A view of our darling Fernwood from the other side. If you look at the floorplan above, you'll see it's a perfect match. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To learn more about the kit homes in Ann Arbor, click here.

On May 2nd, come to Rose’s lecture in Staunton, Virginia!

Want to learn a lot about Sears Homes in a hurry? Join us on Facebook!

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Sometimes, They’re Hiding Right By Your Biscuits…

April 5th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Having lived in Norfolk for seven years now, I have scoured every street in this city, searching for mail-order kit homes. I’ve ridden around with several friends, studied maps, queried long-time residents and harangued my husband and I was quite certain that I’d seen every early 20th Century neighborhood that Norfolk had to offer.

Wednesday night, my buddy Milton and I were on our way to CERT class, and we swung by Church’s Fried Chicken to buy some of their world-famous honey biscuits. For reasons I can’t explain, an integral part of the CERT class is a pot-luck supper. (We’re  expected to bring a piquant and palatable platter of something wonderful to these weekly classes.)

As we pulled out onto Virginia Beach Blvd, I noticed a lovely Dutch Colonial staring back at me.

“Huh,” I thought to myself. “That Dutchie has an interior chimney,  just like the Martha Washington (Sears Home). Isn’t that something?”

And then I noticed that it had the curved porch roof, just like the Martha Washington.

And then I looked again and thought, “And it’s got those short windows centered on the second floor, just like the Martha Washington.”

Next, I looked at the small attic window and thought, “And it’s got that half-round window in the attic, just like the Martha Washington.”

As Milton drove down the road, I twisted my head around and saw that the Dutchie had the two distinctive bay windows on the side, just like the Martha Washington. Those two windows are an unusual architecture feature, and that was the clincher.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I told Milton. “I think that’s a Sears House.”

Now anyone who’s hung around me for more than 73 minutes knows that I’m a pretty big fan of Sears Homes, and my friends understand that a significant risk of riding around with Rose is that there will be many detours when we pass by early 20th Century neighborhoods.

Milton gladly obliged and gave me an opportunity to take a long, lingering look at this Dapper Dutchie.

That night at the CERT meeting, I kept thinking about the fact that one of the most spacious and fanciest Sears Homes ever offered was sitting right here in Norfolk, and after seven years of living in this city, I just now found it.

The next day, Milton picked me up around 11:00 am and we returned to the Sears Martha Washington so that I could take a multitude of photos. Sadly, as we drove through the adjoining neighborhoods, we saw that the nearby college (Norfolk State) had apparently swallowed up great gobs of surrounding bungalows.

Between that and some very aggressive redevelopment, it appears that hundreds of early 20th Century homes are now just a dusty memory at the local landfill.

Do the owners of this Martha Washington know what they have? Based on my research, more than 90% of the people living in these historically significant homes didn’t know what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

What a find! What a treasure! And it’s right here in Norfolk!

So is there a Magnolia hiding somewhere nearby?  :)

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

To learn how to identify marked lumber, click here.

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The Martha Washington was a grand and glorious house.

The Martha Washington was a grand and glorious house. According to this page from the 1921 catalog, it had seven modern rooms. I wonder how many "old-fashioned" rooms it had?

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According to this

Here's a Martha Washington that was featured in the back pages of the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. This house was built in Washington, DC, and shows the house shortly after it was finished.

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This line drawning from the 1921 catalog shows the

This line drawing from the 1921 catalog shows those two bay windows on the side.

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This was described as a snowy white kitchen de Lux.

This was described as a "snowy white kitchen de Lux." For its time, this really was a very modern kitchen. Notice the "good morning stairs" too the right, and the handy little stool under the sink. According to a 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the "average woman spends 3/4ths of her day in the kitchen." So maybe that's why she got a hard metal stool to sit on at the sink?

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Oh may

"Judge for yourself how attractive, bright and sanitary we have made this home for the housewife." And a "swinging seat"! I guess that's a desperate attempt to make kitchen work seem more recreational, and less like drudge work.

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CheckAn “exploded view” shows the home’s interior. That baby-grand piano looks mighty small!

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Second

Check out that bathtub on the rear of the house. And that's a sleeping porch in the upper right. Again, that furniture looks mighty small.

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As you can see from the picture (1921), this was a fine home!

As you can see from the picture (1921), this was a fine home!

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Be still my quiveringg heart!

Be still my quivering heart! And it's right on Virginia Beach Boulevard!

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A view from the side.

A view from the side, showing off those bay windows.

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The PVC fish scales over the porch are a pity (and do a fine job of hiding the beautiful fan light),

The PVC fish scales over the porch are a pity (and do a fine job of hiding the beautiful fan light), and the badly crimped aluminum trim on that porch roof doesn't look too good, and the wrought-iron is a disappointment, but (and this is a big but), at least it's still standing.

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Before

The porch, in its pre-aluminum siding salesmen and pre-wrought-iron and pre-PVC state.

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compare

A comparison of the Martha Washington in DC with the house in Norfolk!

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And heres a Martha Washington in Cincinnatti, Ohio.

And here's a Martha Washington in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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To learn more about the Martha Washington, click here.

To learn more about biscuits, click here.

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