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Posts Tagged ‘Sears kit Homes’

Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The town never responded to my emails or letters.

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

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

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

Let’s make this simple.

It’s not.

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

The photos below make that pretty clear.

Learn about the Aladdin homes in Hopewell here.

Read my favorite blog on Hopewell here.

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

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

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

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Note

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

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

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

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

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

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Close-up, comparing the porch.

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

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

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

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

I wonder.

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

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

To read about Sandston, click here.

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CQ, CQ, CQ…Hopewell?

August 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Tonight, for the first time in months, I got on the ham radio, calling CQ on the 40-meter band.

My second contact was “Bob.”

In a flash, my buddy Milton (sitting with me) looked up Bob’s call sign on his computer, and started laughing hysterically.

“You’re not going to believe this,” he said. “This guy’s in Hopewell!”

My oh my.

How is it that I can transmit a 100-watt signal through a magnificent antenna strung up high in the trees; a signal with the capacity to bounce off the ionosphere and travel all the way around the world, and I end up to talking to Hopewell?

Fortunately, Bob from Hopewell was a very pleasant fellow and we had a lovely chat.

He asked me if I was familiar with the many older homes in Hopewell. I told him that I was! And I suggested he check out my website.

Oh MY!

To read my other blogs on Ham Radio, click here and here.

To visit the website for the Norfolk Ham Club, click here.

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Henry

One of my very favorite movies is "Testament," which tells the story of a small town outside San Francisco, after San Francisco takes a direct hit from a nuclear bomb. In "Testament," Henry Abhart is the hero, because he's able to talk with the outside world when all other lines of communication have been lost. I highly recommend this movie. It's a tribute to the fact that, Ham Radio will always be reliable when other communications systems have failed.

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best

The best of both worlds: A fine-looking antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Illinois.

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W

Sears Avondale as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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To read my other blogs on Ham Radio, click here and here.

To read about Hopewell, click here.

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Where Is This Little House?

July 28th, 2014 Sears Homes 7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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House

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

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house house house

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

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Close up

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

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Number

You can see a house number hiding behind that column.

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house house

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

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house house house

Oh dear - where's the potty?

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house house house

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

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Close up

Who are they?

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

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

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

July 27th, 2014 Sears Homes 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds darn good, doesn’t it?

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

I don’t know.

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

You can read Rachel’s wonderful blog here.

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

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Ses

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

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houses

Let's try it with houses now.

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One of the houses above is different from the others.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see how that works.

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Blue

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

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houses

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

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maple

Here's a Sears Maplewood (1930 catalog).

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house

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

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house

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

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

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

Visit Rachel’s website here.

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

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

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

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

July 25th, 2014 Sears Homes 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

Hopewell and I have a history.

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

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

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

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

To read more about Hopewell, click here.

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker who successfully identified this house!

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Nice House

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

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Ruh

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

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House

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

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Newbury

Sears Newbury, from the 1936 catalog.

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compare

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

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compare

Ruh Roh. These don't look anything alike!

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Monticello

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

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Montie

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

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Wow

And lookie here. It is a very fine match!

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Big and fancy

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

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What

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about Hopewell, click here.

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

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Dogs and Cats - Living Together in West Virginia

June 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 3 comments

Last year, I visited the Eighth Magnolia in northern West Virginia. The owners were kind enough to give me a full tour, from the basement to attic. What a happy day that was, to see that old house, faithfully restored to its former splendor!

My hubby and I spent two hours at the house, photographing it from every possible angle, and soaking in the happy ambiance of a gorgeous Sears Magnolia in beautiful condition. This 90-year-old Sears kit house sits majestically on several acres in the bucolic hinterlands of West Virginia.

I was floating on air when we drove away from The Beautiful Magnolia. When I came to the first intersection, I saw a very interesting house on the corner and snapped my head around to get a better view.

“Oh my gosh,” I said slowly, but happily.

“What is it?” my husband asked, hoping that it was not another kit house. It was already an hour past his lunch time and he was not happy about that.

“It’s another kit house,” I said absent-mindedly, as I stopped the car hastily and retrieved my digital camera.

You could hear a soft little “plop” as his heart sank in his chest.

“Oh,” he said apprehensively.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m just getting a few pictures.”

Famous last words.

Fortunately, I was able to get several good shots in a hurry (I was hungry too), and we were back on our way in less than five minutes.

So what kind of house is living next door to The Beautiful Magnolia?

It is a *perfect* example of a Gordon Van Tine #612, a classic bungalow, and one of their finer houses. Gordon Van Tine, based in Davenport Iowa, was a significant kit home company and probably sold more than 50,000 kit homes. They were also the company that supplied kit homes for Montgomery Ward.

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

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

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Gordon Van Tine

The Gordon Van Tine #612 as it appeared in the 1924 catalog.

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Spacious too

Look at the size of that living room! The dining room is also quite large.

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house 1924

It really is a beauty.

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Be still my heart

Be still my heart. Wow, wow, WOW! What a fine-looking home!

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And its on a pretty lot

And it sits on a beautiful lot in West Virginia. Notice the short window in the dining room? It's likely that they had a built-in buffet in that bay window, necessitating the smaller window.

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house on lot

A better view of the house from the side.

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See that detail on brick

See that detail on chimney?

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nice match isnt it

Nice match, isn't it?

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Beautiful house in Vinton, VA

And here's a beautiful brick #612 that Dale found when we were in Vinton, VA (near Roanoke).

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Heres a not-so-beautiful GVT 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA

Here's a not-so-beautiful GVT # 612 on Pocohontas Street in Hampton, VA. It's just outside of the Old Wythe section of Hampton, which has many kit homes. Heaven only knows why that extra roof piece was added between the two gables. My oh my.

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Yeah, it really is one.

Due to the many trees on the side, I could not get a good picture down the right side, but a visual inspection satisfied me that this really is a Gordon Van Tine #612 (or its Montgomery Ward counterpart). If you look down this side (shown above) and compare it with the floorplan, you'll see it's the real deal.

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And its all just around the corner from our Maggie!

And that Gordon Van Tine is just around the corner from our Maggie!

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

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

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

June 16th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

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

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

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

The excerpt reads,

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

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

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

“Sears.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d love to know!

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158 1910

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

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He got the rice right.

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

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Beautiful house, too

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

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With servants quarters

Yes, a kit house with servant's quarters.

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FP1

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

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FP2

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

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And

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

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To join our Facebook group, click here.

A *Beautifully* Original Magnolia in South Bend - For Sale!

June 12th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

For many years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to see a Magnolia in original condition.

Now, I know.

The Sears Magnolia in South Bend was recently listed for sale, and the Realtor kindly sent me a few pictures.

It can be described in one word:  STUNNING.

Or maybe two:  Original!

These photos give us a rare opportunity to step back in time almost 100 years, and see what the Sears Magnolia looked like when built.

If I was queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d insist that the potential buyers of this rare, historically significant home be required to do a proper, thoughtful and historically sensitive restoration (which is radically different from a remodeling). I’d demand that they find a way to preserve the home’s original features.

As my buddy Bill Inge says, “The first commandment of preservation is, ‘Thou shalt not destroy good old work.’”

The 3,895-square foot home is listed at $320,000. Situated on 1/3 of an acre, it has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-baths. The listing says it was built in 1927, but we know that that’s not right. The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922.

This house is a rare treasure. I hope its next owners “catch” the vision and see what a remarkable property it really is.

Ready to see some photos? You should get ready to be dazzled!

To buy this fine old house, click here.

To learn more about the history of the Sears Magnolia kit home, click here.

Interested in reading more about how these homes were built? Click here.

All photos are copyright Steve Matz, 2014.

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The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

The Sears Magnolia is now for sale in South Bend, IN.

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The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Magnolia was offered from 1918-1922 in the Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Mag

The Magnolia in South Bend is remarkable because it's in original condition.

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A view from the inside.

A view from the inside.

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house

This Magnolia still retains its original mouldings and trim but the inglenook and columns are not in place. It's possible that the house was built without these built-ins.

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house

I suspect that this is the fireplace in the den.

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house house

The den (right rear) was very small (only 8'9" deep). It's unusual to see the den in its original shape and size. It's also unusual to see a house from this vintage with a half-bath on the first floor (next to the den).

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house

The Realtor had the good sense to photograph the staircase from the same angle as the original catalog image!

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hfhfhf

Nice match, isn't it? Check out the French doors at the rear - both upper and lower level.

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house

Nice, huh? :D

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The best

There's something about these old nooks that just makes my heart skip a beat.

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house house house

This is the very best picture of all. And perhaps the home's finest feature: A built-in nook, completely untouched by time, with the original tile floor, white hexagonal tiles with a blue flower center. This pattern is a classic feature found in early 20th Century Sears Homes. You can see the three original wooden windows behind the nook.

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house

Fun comparison, isn't it? It's so rare to see these nooks still in place.

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Another incredible feature is that

Not only does this house have its original Butler's Pantry, but it has the original sink, wooden surround and fixture. This house is such a rare find, and to think that it's a Sears Magnolia!

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And it just gets better. Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, the dressing room, is the original sink, light fixtures and oak cabinetry - unpainted!

Upstairs, just off the Master Bedroom, is a surprisingly large dressing room. The fact that even the dressing room is original is a real testament to the home's prior owners, who had the wisdom to follow the #1 rule: "Thou shalt not destroy good old work." And this cabinetry was incredibly good work. In the corner, is the Magnolia's original sink, light fixtures and medicine chest - unpainted! If you look closely, you'll see the original cabinet pulls.

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house

It's true that I am nutty as a fruitcake, but seeing this century-old Magnolia - wholly untouched by time - sends me. Original sink, original fixtures, original medicine chest, and an original light fixture (porcelain sconce). Just incredible. I'm a big fan of old plumbing but I've never seen a three-sided sink before.

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house house

Close-up of the upstairs floorplan, showing that small sink in the dressing room.

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And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

And the sunporch has its original wooden casement windows.

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A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

A view from the upstairs 2nd floor balcony.

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To buy this fine old house, click here.

Interested in learning more about the Sears Magnolia? Click here.

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The Sears “Groot-Mokum” in Scranton

May 16th, 2014 Sears Homes No comments

How fitting that Sears would name one of their finest Dutch Colonials “The Amsterdam.”

After all, Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands!

In Dutch, the word Amsterdam translates into “Groot-Mokum” - hence, the title of this blog.

I did a blog on The Dandy Amsterdam more than two years ago, but since then, I’ve come across another Amsterdam in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I’m guessing that - due to cost and size - the Groot-Mokum was a pretty rare model for Sears. I’ve only seen one “in the flesh” and that was the model in Scranton. For reasons I’ve long since forgotten, I did not photograph the house in Scranton when I was there about 10 years ago, and just recently re-discovered these photos, sent by a Sears House Aficionado.

Unfortunately, the SHA did not include their name on the photos, so I don’t know who found this Amsterdam and/or who shot the photos. If it was you, please leave a comment below!  :D

BTW, if you have an Amsterdam in your neighborhood, take a photo and send it to me!

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At

At $3,578, the Groot-Mokum was a pricey affair (1928).

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Lots of room

The Groot Modum was a spacious house. Even had a Music Room!

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Four spacious bedroms

Love the four bedrooms, but not sure about the bathroom on the home's front.

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Beautiful house

The Amsterdam (1928)

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Whomever took this photo did a perfect job of getting it from the same angle as the catalog page.

Whomever took this photo did a stellar job of replicating the angle in the catalog page.

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The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting!

The inscription on the back of the card is also very interesting! But who wrote it?

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Ooh

Side-by-side they're a nice match (minus the gabled porch add on).

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This Groot-Mokum is in

This Groot-Mokum is also in Pennsylvania, specifically Pittsburgh. (Photo is copyright 2011 Melody Snyder and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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

If you know who photographed the Scranton house, please leave a comment below!

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HUD: Destroying History One House At a Time?

May 7th, 2014 Sears Homes 9 comments

If HUD gets its way, a beautiful, mostly original Sears Alhambra  in Portsmouth, Virginia will soon be remuddled into a homogenized plasticine mess.

The old Sears kit home is in a historic district of Portsmouth (Cradock), and - speaking as an architectural historian - I can say with some authority that this is a one-of-a-kind house.

What makes this house special?

It’s a Sears Alhambra (one of Sears finest homes), and it’s 85-years-old, and it’s still in mostly original condition.

Inside, it has an original porcelain bathtub, original light fixtures, unpainted oak trim (a $160 upgrade!), vintage plaster, and original wood windows (some casement; some double-hung).

Through the decades, these beautiful old houses often get remuddled into an almost unrecognizable form.

The Alhambra in Cradock was spared that fate because it was owned by one family for 75 of its 85 years.

And if those 85-year-old walls could talk, they’d tell quite a story.

In 1929, Swedish immigrant Gustav Emil Liljegren picked up a Sears Roebuck catalog and ordered his Sears kit house, an Alhambra.

Price: $2,898.

The 12,000-piece kit arrived within six weeks later in Portsmouth, Virginia and a few weeks later, Gustav’s new home was ready for occupancy.

For years, Gustav Emil Liljegren had toiled and sacrificed and saved so that he could provide a fine home for his family (a wife and four children).

In April 1929, Gustav was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his kit house from Sears.

He had saved enough money to pay cash for the house. His wife was pregnant. He had a good job at the Proctor and Gamble plant in Portsmouth (near the Norfolk Naval Shipyard).

Only five years earlier, Gustav had immigrated from Malmö, Sweden, working as a steward to pay for his passage. It was on the ship - bound for America - that he’d met William Proctor (of Proctor and Gamble fame) who was so impressed with this young Swede that he promised him a job at the Portsmouth plant.

Within a year, Gustav was able to send for his wife and four children. And in 1929, it all fell apart.

His wife’s pregnancy ended in miscarriage. She contracted blood poisoning and died three weeks later, leaving Gustav with four little children. And 12,000 pieces of house coming to Portsmouth.

A short time later, the market crashed and Gustav lost his life savings.

But Gustav pulled it together and pushed on. He picked up the pieces of his life and the 12,000 pieces of his house and slogged through the hard days. Gustav, after all, was a survivor.

In 1937, he married his second wife. In 1954, Gustav retired from Jif and moved to Florida, and sold the Alhambra to Ingvar (Gustav’s son) for $8,000. In 2004, due to declining health, Ingvar Liljengren, (born in 1923) had to sell the house.

A few years later, the house went into foreclosure and that’s when it became a HUD house (in 2014). A long-time Portsmouth resident had always admired the house and put in a bid to buy it. Her bid was accepted.

But that’s where it went off the rails.

After inspecting the house, HUD demanded that the following repairs be completed.

1)  All existing wooden windows were to be replaced with new windows.

2)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, all interior woodwork had to be painted (encapsulated). Yes, all that solid oak, varnished, stunningly beautiful woodwork must be painted.

3)  Due to the suspected presence of lead, the plaster walls had to be covered with sheetrock.

In other words, HUD wants the new buyer to destroy the home’s historic significance (prior to moving in).

I’ve never dealt with HUD but I suspect it’s a massive bureaucracy awash in red tape. I suspect that the local HUD representative doesn’t understand that this house is in a historic district within a very historic city (Portsmouth, Virgina).

I suspect he/she has never read the Secretary of Interior’s preservation briefs on the importance of saving a home’s original features.

I suspect he/she doesn’t understand what they’re asking of a woman who purchased an old house because she fell in love with its inherent unique historical characteristics and charms.

That’s what I suspect.

I hope this is just a massive misunderstanding.

Because if it’s not, our old houses are surely doomed.

If you’ve any ideas how to stop this, please leave a comment below.

Gustav and I thank you.

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The Alhambra was first offered in 1918.

The Sears Alhambra was first offered in 1919.

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In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.

In the 1919 catalog, it was featured in a two-page spread.

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And it was a very beautiful home.

And it was a very beautiful home.

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Dining

The dining room featured a built-in buffet (shown above).

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But who doesnt love a sun porch!

But who doesn't love a sun porch - and with a chaise!

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One of Gustavs hobbys was wrought iron work, so he did a little embellishing of the homes exterior railings.

Gustav ordered the Alhambra in Spring 1929. Inside, the house retains many of its original features, such as an oversized porcelain tub, varnished oak trim, original light fixtures and more. This Sears House is now 85 years old, but is still a real jewel. However, if HUD has its way...

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One of the homes best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor.

One of the home's best features is its original windows, such as this small casement window on the second floor. BTW, one of Gustav's hobbies was wrought iron work. He added the wrought iron railings when he built the house in 1929. In 2002, I was given a full tour of the home's interior, and I was blown away. It is a real beauty, and has been tenderly cared for through the many decades. It's truly a gem.

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It truly saddens me to think that HUD wont be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin.

It truly saddens me to think that HUD won't be happy until our Alhambra in Portsmouth looks like this lost soul in Wisconsin. And yes, that's an Alhambra, all dressed up for the 21st Century.

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Please leave a comment below. I’m feeling mighty sad these days about the future of these old houses.

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