Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Sears Modern Homes’

Hopeless in Hopewell (Part 72)

September 24th, 2014 Sears Homes 2 comments

“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!

*       *       *

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

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

*

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.

*

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

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

*

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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

The Aladdin Cumberland: 100 Years Old

August 23rd, 2014 Sears Homes 5 comments

In May 2014, we traveled to Wilmington, DE and Philadelphia, PA to do research at the Hagley Museum (Wilmington) and at the National Archives and Records Administration (Philadelphia).

Along the way, we stopped at Carney’s Point, New Jersey to check out some of the Aladdin kit homes.

There in Carney’s Point, we found an abundance of DuPont Houses (probably DuPont designs, but built with ready-cut materials ordered from Aladdin) and also Aladdin Kit Homes (Aladdin designs and Aladdin materials).

One of the models I saw in Carney’s Point that I had never seen before was the Aladdin “Cumberland.” This is such a pedestrian  foursquare that I’m now wondering how many of these I’ve overlooked in other places. There’s not a lot to distinguish this house from the tens of thousands of foursquares that cover America.

The house was offered in the 1914 and 1916 catalog. It’s likely that these houses in Carney’s Point were built in 1916, but they’re very close to the 100-year mark!

Hopefully, now that I’ve seen one live and in person, I shan’t miss another one!

Read about some of the other houses I’ve found in Carney’s Point here, and here.

*

1914

The Cumberland, as seen in the 1914 catalog.

*

1914

View from the staircase side. BTW, the house was built about six minutes ago, and that lattice work uner the porch deck already looks pretty crummy.

*

1914

View from another side (1914 catalog). Lattice work looks worse on this side.

*

1916

The Cumberland's living room (1916 catalog). Love the couch!

*

1914

Traditional floorplan for a foursquare (1914).

*

1916

"Sensible" equals uh, well, "pedestrian" (from the 1916 catalog).

*

uddated

An undated view of Carney's Point. That's a Cumberland on the far right (foreground).

*

1914

Staircase side (1914)

*

Milto

This photo shows why it's so difficult to identify these houses a few decades later! Look at all the changes this house has endured through the years. Three fine windows - gone. At least that crummy lattice work has been repaired.

*

milton

Another Cumberland on Shell Road in Carney's Point. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.

*

other side 1914

View from the other side (1914).

*

other ilton

At least this side is a better match to the original catalog image. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

*

House house

That dormer is unfortunate. Who thought *that* was a good idea? :( Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

*

BGunches

Long view of the many Aladdin kit homes on Shell Road in Carney's Point. In the foreground is an Aladdin Cumberland, followed by an Aladdin Georgia, Aladdin Amherst, Aladdin Gerogia and another Cumberland. Photo is copyright 2014 Milton H. Crum and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

*

To read more about DuPont and why they were in Carney’s Point, click here.

To read about Penniman, Virginia’s Own Ghost City, click here.

*     *     *

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Warning: Not For the Faint of Heart!

August 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 9 comments

Dale and Rebecca found Sears Modern Home #174 while out tooling around in Iowa City a few weeks ago.

I have nothing more to add.

I’ll let the pictures tell the sad story.

But I warn you - do NOT scroll down unless you have a strong stomach! Graphic images to follow!

*

Modern Home #124 looks a lot bigger than it is.

Modern Home #174 was a rare house. I've never seen one in real life.

*

In fact, its a mere 18 feet wide.

Not very big, either. In fact, it's a mere 18 feet wide.

*

Upstairs, you can see what a small house this is.

Upstairs, you can see what a small house this is.

*

Looks promising, doesnt it?

Looks promising, doesn't it?

*

Yeah.

Oh my. Oh me, oh my. If I knew how to embed music, I'd have the music from the shower scene in "Psycho" inserted here. This house has suffered a gruesome, wretched demise, far worse than any horror flick. Photo is copyright 2014 Dale Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

*

At least when Buster Keaton did something similiar to a kit house, it was funny.

At least when Buster Keaton did something similiar to a kit house, it was funny.

*

To learn more about Buster Keaton’s short “One Week,” click here.

To see a blog on America’s 14 Ugliest Houses (which features a Sears Kit home originally featured on my site), click here.

*     *      *

Where Are You, My Little Springfield Pretty?

August 13th, 2014 Sears Homes 7 comments

Springfield Missouri is home to Sears Modern Home #177, which is very exciting to me, because this is a model that has never been seen “in the flesh,” by me, Rachel, Rebecca or Dale.

And it’s quite an unusual house, so it should be easy to spot.

Later this year, I’ll be traveling through central Missouri, and I’m going to make a special stop in Springfield, Missouri.

Just to see this house.

But before embarking on this wild house chase, I’ve been perusing* google maps, striving to find at least a NEIGHBORHOOD where this house might sit. Heretofore, I’ve been largely unsuccessful. So if you live in or near Springfield and have any idea where I might find this house, please give me a hint?

Thanks!

Hopefully, a few weeks from now, I’ll be able to post a picture of Sears Modern Home #177!

To read about the cool houses I recently found in Jacksonville, IL, click here.


What do those marks on the lumber of a kit house really mean?

*Perusing is one of the MOST misused words in the English language. It means “to study intensely.”

*

Sears Modern Home 177, as seen in the 1916 catalog.

Sears Modern Home 177, as seen in the 1916 catalog.

*

Quite a house, and its one Ive never seen.

Quite a house, and it's one I've never seen.

*

And theres one in Springfield, Missouri, but WHERE?

And there's one in Springfield, Missouri, but WHERE?

*

Nice floorplan, too!

Nice floorplan, too!

*

this

There's a Niota, too but it's not nearly as exciting as the #177!

*

And thanks to Rachels ability to sniff out a Sears House from 200 miles away, weve already located the Niota!

And thanks to Rachel's ability to sniff out a Sears House from 200 miles away, we've already located the Niota! She found this on Webster Avenue, but no sign of Modern Home #177!

*

So where is Sears Modern Home #177?

I’d love to know!

Contact Rose by leaving a commment below!

*

What do those marks on the lumber of a kit house really mean?

*

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!

*

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.

*

house house house

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

*

Close up

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

*

Number

You can see a house number hiding behind that column.

*

house house

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

*

house house house

Oh dear - where's the potty?

*

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!

*

Close up

Who are they?

*

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

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

*      *      *

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.

*       *       *

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).

*

houses

Let's try it with houses now.

*

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.

*

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.

*

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!

*

maple

Here's a Sears Maplewood (1930 catalog).

*

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.

*

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.

*

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.

*       *       *

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!

*

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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

Newbury

Sears Newbury, from the 1936 catalog.

*

compare

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

*

compare

Ruh Roh. These don't look anything alike!

*

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!

*

Montie

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

*

Wow

And lookie here. It is a very fine match!

*

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.

**

What

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

*

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!

*

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.

*     *     *

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!

*

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.

*

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.

*

Beautiful house, too

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

*

With servants quarters

Yes, a kit house with servant's quarters.

*

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.

*

FP2

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

*

And

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

*

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To join our Facebook group, click here.

1959 Was a Very Good Year - For Kitchens!

May 9th, 2014 Sears Homes 14 comments

My friend Bill Inge knows that I am trying to finish a book on Penniman, Virginia and yet today, he threw a real monkey wrench into the works. He lent me a 54-year-old book titled, “Better Homes and Gardens; Kitchen Ideas.”

Turquoise refrigerators, canary yellow cabinets, stainless steel countertops, pink built-in ranges - who could possibly gaze upon these gorgeous mid-century miracles and then look away!

Not I!

So this afternoon, instead of reading dusty old newspaper articles or scholarly tomes on WW1 munitions plants, I sat down and read this 1959 publication cover to cover.

And my oh my, these were gorgeous kitchens.

Take a look for yourself!

And many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing this treasure with me (I think)!  :D

To read about my very own “Atomic Kitchen” click here!

*

The publication Mr. Inge brought over is titled - innocuously enough - Kitchens

The publication Mr. Inge shared is titled - innocuously enough - "Kitchen Ideas." It should be titled, "How to spend 4.5 hours grinning from ear to ear whilst looking at pretty, pretty pictures of old kitchens."

*

Wow

This is artwork in architecture. I have one word: Wow

*

Wow

Dad eats potato chips while the children play with arsenic-laden Lincoln Logs on an asbestos floor. Their next stop was to go sample some of the lead paint on the home's exterior. And the coup de grace would be drinking water right out of the garden hose. The best part is, little Jimmy there probably washed his hands less than once a month, and played with sticks and dirt most of the time. And he'll probably live to be 117.

*

WYlloe

In the 1950s, we gave ourselves permission to enjoy bold colors. I love the yellow and red. And notice the wallpaper - it's gold and black. Just stunning. I'm not sure what that appliance next to the sink is, but I really want one.

*

Se

Yes, the original caption says all this magic was created with spray paint.

*

Www

Check out the lighting over Betty Crocker's head. And again - look at these colors. Pink and deep green.

*

Wow

Yellow and Robin's Egg Blue with pink accents (see the phone and curtains). So pretty. When did we decide that it was a good idea to have "industrial-looking kitchens" in our home? This kitchen exudes warmth, beauty and comfort.

*

E

I'm not even a fan of green, but this kitchen is stunning. Stainless steel counters, and yet it has a copper pendant light fixture. And the wicker furniture is a nice touch too.

*

Wow

A pink kitchen. And with red accents. Visual poetry. If I were a gazillionaire, I'd throw money at some smart contractor and have this kitchen re-created in my own home. And it has a built-in dishwasher, too.

*

My favorite:

My #1 favorite: A purple kitchen. Words fail me.

*

To read about my own “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

To learn more about the book that I should be writing, click here.

*       *       *

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.

*      *      *

The Alhambra was first offered in 1918.

The Sears Alhambra was first offered in 1919.

*

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

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

*

And it was a very beautiful home.

And it was a very beautiful home.

*

Dining

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

*

But who doesnt love a sun porch!

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

*

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...

*

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.

*

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.

*

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

*     *     *