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“All My Friends Who Have Seen This House Are In Love With It” (Part II)

March 14th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

Several days ago, I wrote a blog about an old Gordon Van Tine “Roberts” somewhere in Wheeling, West Virginia. The house was built in the 1920s by a fellow named Otto Friebertshauser. I found out about this house when I obtained a copy of Gordon Van Tine’s promotional booklet, “The Proof of the Pudding” (1927), a collection of testimonials from happy homeowners.

It was a beautiful house and a well-written testimonial but no mention of where in Wheeling this house was built! Almost 90 years had passed since Otto turned that 12,000-piece kit into a spacious home. Had the house been torn down? Was it still alive? And if it was still alive, was it still well?

Too many times to count, I’ve written and published such blogs, only to find that the subject house had subsequently been destroyed and/or was in pitiable shape and/or had been cut up into several apartments.

After the blog was finished, I sent a link to Jeremy Morris, Executive Director of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation. In less than a day, Jeremy wrote back, saying that he’d found the house. And not only had Jeremy found the house, but he’d talked with the owners and he got me a photo of the house!

The owners and I were soon in contact, and I’m delighted to report that they love this house just as much as Otto Friebertshauser did. In fact, they’ve done an exemplary job of restoring it to its former grandeur. And they did not realize it was a kit house (as is the case about 90% of the time).

Thanks so much to the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation and to Jeremy Morris (Executive Director) for going out and searching for this house, and thanks to the home’s current owners for doing such a first-class job of preserving this fine old house.

As mentioned in the previous blog, Wheeling is apparently awash in kit homes, and I’ve already spotted a PERFECT Sears Crescent on National Street, almost across the road from the Dairy Queen. I’d be ever so grateful if some good soul could snap a photo of that house for me!

Click here to see the other kit homes I saw in Wheeling, WV.

To learn more about Gordon Van Tine, visit my buddy Dale’s website, devoted to Gordon Van Tine homes.

I’d love to come out to Wheeling soon and do a proper survey and give a talk. Please leave a comment below to contact Rose and let’s figure out how to make it so!

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In the 1927 promotional brochure, Otto

In the 1927 promotional brochure, Otto Friebertshauser wrote, "All of my friends who have seen this house are in love with it." Otto even included a snapshot of his home.

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Close-up of the text that appeared in the 1927 brochure.

Close-up of the text that appeared in the 1927 brochure.

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Ottos home as seen in the 1920s.

Otto's home as seen in the 1920s.

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In 1916, the Roberts (Ottos house) appeared on the cover.

In 1916, the "Roberts" (Otto's house) appeared on the cover.

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Close-up of that pretty, pretty house.

Close-up of that pretty, pretty house.

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The original catalog page showing The Roberts (1924).

The original catalog page showing "The Roberts" (1924).

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According to this text, theres a Roberts in every state in the US.

According to this text, there's a Roberts in every state in the US.

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The floorplan shows how spacious

As kit homes go, this one was unusually spacious.

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A small room upstairs was devoted to space for the live-in maid! And that dressing room doesn't make much sense, as it was accessible only through the main hallway.

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Ah, but heres the most interesting photo of all. This is the Roberts in Wheeling, then and now. Photo is

Ah, but here's the most interesting photo of all. This is the Roberts in Wheeling, then and now. Photo (on left) is copyright 2013 Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. Photo on right was taken by Otto Freibertshauser, and it's also a dandy photo.

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Otto would be so pleased to see his house today!

Otto would be so pleased to see his house today! What a breath-taking beauty and it's been lovingly and thoughtfully maintained. And perhaps best of all, the original windows are still in place. Photo is copyright 2013 Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Ottos house dressed up for Christmas! Now this belongs on the cover of a Christmas card! So very pretty!

Otto's house dressed up for Christmas! Now this belongs on the cover of a Christmas card! Photo is copyright 2012 Frank Harrar and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To learn more about the kit homes I’ve found in Wheeling, click here.

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

Can you snap a photo of that Crescent and send it to me? Please leave a comment below and I’ll contact  you.

Heres

Here's a photo of the Sears Crescent (1928). The one in Wheeling is way up on a hill, across the street from the Dairy Queen. I found it while "driving" via Google Maps.

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“All My Friends Who Have Seen This House Are in Love With It.”

March 8th, 2013 Sears Homes 7 comments

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Updated with NEW photos! See below!!

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OOOH, I now have contemporary photos of Otto’s house! To read Part II of this blog (and see new photos), click here.

Thanks to indefatigable researcher Rachel Shoemaker, I now have a digital copy of the 1931 brochure, “The Proof of the Pudding,” published by Gordon Van Tine. It’s a collection of happy testimonials from happy homeowners who purchased kit homes from Gordon Van Tine.

This little brochure is a real treasure.

Like Sears, Gordon Van Tine sold kit homes through mail order, and according to co-author Dale Wolicki, they sold about 50,000 kit homes (which is most impressive). Sears, by contrast, sold about 70,000 kit homes.

While reading “The Proof  of The Pudding,” one house in particular caught my eye.

“All of my friends who have seen this house,” wrote homeowner Otto Friebertshauser of Wheeling WV, “are in love with it.”

I’ve been through several cities in West Virginia and some of them have an abundance of kit homes (like Beckley and Lewisburg) and some have a handful (like Elkins) and some have very few kit homes (like Buckhannon).

However, I’ve never been to Wheeling, West Virginia.

But I suspect that there are quite a few kit homes there.

By the late 1920s, Sears had opened about 40 “Sears Modern Homes Sales Offices” throughout the country (39 of them were east of the Mississippi River). Sears didn’t open a sales center unless sales in that area were strong, and once a sales office was open, sales typically increased quite a bit.

Sometime around 1929, Sears opened a Sears Modern Homes Sales Office in Wheeling, WV at 41 Sixteenth Street. That tells me that there were enough sales in Wheeling to justify opening up this sales office (which is impressive in it own right, as this was the only sales office in West Virginia). And if the office in Wheeling was like the offices in other cities, sales of Sears Homes increased after this office opened. That tells me I should find quite a few post-1929 Sears kit homes.

And that is all good news!

My husband is from Elkins and we visit there often, and I love West Virginia. It’s mighty cold in the winter, but it must be one of the prettiest states in this country.

Do you know where this house is in Wheeling?  If so, please leave a comment below.

And do you know of other kit homes in Wheeling? Please let me know!

Many thanks to Rachel for sharing her brochure, “Proof in the Pudding.”  To read Rachel’s blog, click here.

OOOH, I now have contemporary photos of Otto’s house! To read Part II of this blog (and see new photos), click here.

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Otto must have really

Mr. Friebertshauser wrote passionately about his new home there in Wheeling!

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A picture of Mr.

A picture of Mr. Friebertshauser's home in Wheeling.

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Catalog page showing Ottos home: The Roberts

Catalog page showing Otto's home: The Roberts

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A Roberts in Front Royal, Virginia

A "Roberts" in Front Royal, Virginia

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Sears had only 40 Sears Modern Homes Sales Centers in the country and there was one in Wheeling, WV. This tells me that there are probably *many* Sears Homes in Wheeling.

Sears had only 40 "Sears Modern Homes Sales Centers" in the country and there was one in Wheeling, WV. This tells me that there are probably *many* Sears Homes in Wheeling.

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Sears only placed these Sales Centers in cities or regions where sales were very strong.

Sears only placed these "Sales Centers" in cities or regions where sales were very strong.

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Heres the actual photo of Ottos home in Wheeling. His description of the house gives a few clues. In 1927, it was a quarter mile from any other house.

Here's the actual photo of Otto's home in Wheeling. His description of the house gives a few clues. In the 1931 brochure, it was described as a "quarter mile from any other house."

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UPDATED!!  Wheeling must have an abundance of kit homes. Look what we found in about 30 minutes of looking!!

Heres a fine-looking house on Kruger Street (for sale) and its actually an Aladdin Shadowlawn. Aladdin was another large kit home company that sold homes through their mail-order catalog.

Here's a fine-looking house on Kruger Street (for sale) and it's actually an Aladdin Shadowlawn. Aladdin was another large kit home company that sold homes through their mail-order catalog. (Photo is from a real estate site and hopefully the new-found recognition that this house is a kit home will help sell the property and the unknown photographer won't be upset with us for borrowing this photo. Despite some searching, I couldn't find a photo credit.) Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for finding this house!

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Oh my stars, its a perfect match to the Shadowlawn as shown in the 1919 catalog! Now thats a nice match!!!

Oh my stars, it's a perfect match to the Shadowlawn as shown in the 1919 catalog!

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Heres another house for sale in Wheeling. Its a Sears Fullerton.

Here's another house for sale in Wheeling. It's a Sears Fullerton.

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Another real fine match!

Another real fine match!

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I saved the best for last. This is an Aladdin Standard, also currently for sale and listed at a real estate site. Now that the owners know its a kit home, will they sell it more quickly? We can hope!

This is an Aladdin Standard, also currently for sale and listed at a real estate site. Now that folks know it's a kit home, will they sell it more quickly? We can hope!

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Be still my quivering heart, what a nice match to the photo above! The image is from the 1914 Aladdin catalog.

Be still my quivering heart, what a nice match to the photo above! (1914 Aladdin catalog).

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Another house for sale in Wheeling (and since Google Maps doesnt provide street views in Wheeling, this is all we got). This is not a kit home but its a plan book house. Plan books were a little different than kit homes. When you purchased a design from a planbook, youd receive blueprints and a list of building materials needed to complete the house. These Plan Books were very popular in the 1920s.

Another house for sale in Wheeling (and since Google Maps doesn't provide street views in Wheeling, this is all we got). This is not a "kit home" but it's a "plan book" house. Plan books were a little different than kit homes. When you purchased a design from a planbook, you'd receive blueprints and a list of building materials needed to complete the house. These Plan Books were very popular in the 1920s.

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Heres the house as seen in the 1929 Home Builders catalog.

Here's the house as seen in the 1929 "Home Builders" catalog.

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Theres also

There's a Sears Crescent high on a hill in Wheeling. It's across the street from the Dairy Queen and I found it while "driving" via Google Maps. It sure would be nice to have a photo! If you're able to take a photo for me, please leave a comment below.

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So Wheeling has kit homes from Sears, Aladdin and Gordon Van Tine. How many kit homes does Wheeling have?

I don’t know, but I do know that I’d love to visit Wheeling and find out!

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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

To visit Rachel’s blog, click here.

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Quite Possibly, The Most Beautiful Elsmore in the World

December 10th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

The Elsmore was a hugely popular house for Sears, and it was probably one of their top five best selling models.

Since all sales records were destroyed during a post-WW2 corporate housecleaning at Sears, it’s hard to know for sure, but I do know that I’ve seen a whole lot of Elsmores in my travels.

Earlier this year, I posted another blog on the Elsmore (click here to see that), but I was inspired to post a second blog, due to this home’s incredible popularity and also because Cindy Catanzaro found and photographed one of the prettiest (and most well-cared-for) Elsmores that I’ve ever seen.

To read more on the Elsmore, click here.

Refinement and Comfort here.  How elegant sounding!

"Refinement and Comfort here." Sounds lovely!!

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Heres an Elsmore that was built in Cairo, IL not far from the spot where Sears had their 40-acre mill.

Here's an Elsmore that was built in Cairo, IL not far from the spot where Sears had their 40-acre lumber mill. This Elsmore, built at 1501 Commerce Avenue, was torn down pre-2001. I visited Cairo then and went looking for this house, but 1501 Commerce was an empty lot at that point. How many Sears Homes in Cairo have been razed? It's a vexing question.

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Another vintage Elsmore.

Another vintage Elsmore. This one was in Glenshaw, PA (1919 catalog).

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This is one of my favorite Elsmores. Its in Park Ridge, Illiois. Picture perfect in every way. Photo is copyright 2010, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

This is one of my favorite Elsmores. It's in Park Ridge, Illinois. Picture perfect in every way. Photo is copyright 2010, Dale Patrick Wolicki and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

Visit Dale’s website by clicking here.

And the crème de la crème

And the crème de la crème. Cindy Catazaro found this house in Oakwood Ohio and it has been lovingly and faithfully restored. The house has obviously had some "renovations," but they've been done in a thoughtful, sensitive manner. I'm so impressed to know that there are people in the world who love their Sears House *this* much! Photo is copyright 2012, Cindy Catazaro and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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An mini-Elsmore? It might be a trick of the eye, but it appears this Elsmore in Walnutport, PA is a little narrower than the catalog version.

An skinny mini-Elsmore? It might be a trick of the eye, but it appears this Elsmore in Walnutport, PA is a little narrower than the catalog version. The window arrangement is also a little different. I'd love to know the history behind this house. Photo is copyright 2012 Angela Laury and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Elsmore, as it appeared in the later 1910s and 20s was actually a remodel of this

The Elsmore, as it appeared in the later 1910s and 20s was actually a remodel of Modern Home #126, which was first offered in the 1908 (first) Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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If you compare the two floorplans, youll see how similar they really are.

If you compare the two floorplans, you'll see how similar they are. This is the floorplan for the Sears Modern Home #126 (1908). Notice the size of the rooms and placement of windows.

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Floor

And here's the floorplan for the Elsmore (1916). The chamfered corners are gone and the front porch is different, but the rest of the house is the same, down to window placement and room size. The front porch roof on Modern Home #126 (with cantilevers) *always* sagged due to its fantastic weight. Not a good design. The changes to the Elsmore porch fixed that problem.

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Thanks to Cindy Catazaro and Dale Wolicki for providing such beautiful photos!

To read more about the Elsmore, click here.

To visit Dale’s website, click here.

Did you enjoy this blog? Please take a moment and leave a nice comment below. I’m living on nothing but love.

:)

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The Elsmore: Refinement and Comfort

May 3rd, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

If you only learn to identify five Sears Homes, one of them should be the Elsmore. It was a perennial favorite amongst kit home buyers, and for good reason. It was offered in two floor plans and both had several nice features, including spacious rooms, a living room fireplace, a kitchen that overlooked the back yard, and a super-sized front porch. It was attractive house with a smart floor plan.

In 1919, the 1,100-square-foot home sold for a mere $1,528 - a solid value. There was a little bit of extra room in the attic too, if someone was willing to do some work to transform the second story into living space. In some cases, people added dormers to the massive hipped roof to add a window or two.

The 1919 catalog page (shown below) promised “Refinement and Comfort Here.” The Sears catalog was famous for its puffery, but in this case, the promises made about the Elsmore were probably pretty accurate.

Want to read more about the history of the Elsmore? Click here

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

Elsmore, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

Elsmore, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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The 1924 catalog testimonial

This testimonial - written by Mr. DeHaven of Glenshaw, PA appeared in the 1924 catalog. It would be fun to find this house today.

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Elsmore in Cairo (now gone) 1921

This Elsmore was built at 1501 Commercial Avenue in in Cairo, Illinois. As of 2002, there was nothing but a vacant lot at that site. Mr. Fitzjearls house is long gone. Sears had a 40-acre mill in Cairo and there are many Sears Homes throughout Cairo, but not a single Elsmore.

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1921 houses

Mr. Fitzjearl built an Elsmore at 1501 Commercial Avenue.

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Sears Elsmore in Bedford, VA

Sears Elsmore in Bedford, VA (near Roanoke).

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Sears Elsmore as een in 1916

In the 1916 catalog, the Elsmore sold for a mere $937.

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Park Ridge, Il Dale

Dale Wolicki found this Elsmore in Park Ridge, Illinois. This house gets my vote for the most perfect Elsmore in America. Original windows, doors, siding and railings. Just amazing. Photo is courtesy of Dale Patrick Wolicki and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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One of the most perfect Elsmores in the world is in Elgin, IL.

The second most perfect Elsmore in the world is in Elgin, IL. Notice the original railing!

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Elsmore in Benld

This Elsmore has had a lot of "remodeling" but it still retains some original Elsmore features, such as the lone sash in the front porch attic. It's located in Benld, IL.

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Clifton Forge

This Elsmore is in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

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Sears Elsmore suffolk

This Elsmore is in downtown Suffolk.

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Mounds, Illinois is very close to Cairo, which was home to a massive 40-acre Sears Mill in the 1920s and 30s. Not surprisingly, there are many Sears Homes throughout this area.

Mounds, Illinois is very close to Cairo, which was home to a massive 40-acre Sears Mill in the 1920s and 30s. Not surprisingly, there are many Sears Homes throughout this area.

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Theres an abundance of Sears Homes in Takoma Park (DC area) too.

There's an abundance of Sears Homes in Takoma Park (DC area) too. Someone added a couple double-hung windows to the porch attic and turned it into living space.

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Colonail Heiths

This Elsmore is somewhere in Virginia. Wow. Just wow. And not a good wow.

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floor plan

These Elsmore was offered in this lone floor plan until the early 1920s when a second floor plan was offered.

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The Elsmore came in two floor plans

The second floor plan had the same footprint, but the interior was very different, and it had a pair of windows in the dining room. If you scroll back up and look at these houses, you'll see most of them are "Floor plan #13192."*

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beauty 1919

The Elsmore as it appeared in 1921.

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Photo from Dale

Side by side comparison of the Elsmore in the catalog (left) and real life (right).

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn about Wardway Homes, click here.

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Customized Kit Homes: A Puzzle!

March 29th, 2011 Sears Homes No comments

About 30% of kit homes were customized when built. That’s almost one out of three, and that’s one of the things that makes identification of these homes so difficult. And that doesn’t count modifications and remodeling!  Today, some of these kit homes - first built in the early years of the 20th Century - are almost 100 years old. Lots of things can change in 100 years, especially when it comes to old houses.

Below is a picture of a house in Dublin, Virginia (Pulaski County) taken by Mike and Bev Pinkerman. As a kindness to me, he went through town snapping photos of several old bungalows, and this is one of the photos that he took. And Bev has been faithfully sending the photos to me via email!

At first glance, I thought, “Well, it kinda looks like an Aladdin Detroit.”

Like Sears, Aladdin was another kit home company that sold entire kit homes from their mail-order catalog. The 12,000-piece kits were then shipped by boxcar. The homes came with a 75-page instruction book, detailed blueprints and a promise that a “man of average abilities” could have the house ready for the wife and kids in 90 days.

Looking at the Pinkerman’s photo, I started thinking, “This is a Detroit, but one that’s been modified.”

If you look at the catalog image, you’ll see a small shed dormer. If you look at the Dublin house, you’ll see it has an enlarged shed dormer, but what’s really interesting is that those unusually shaped windows - in the center - are a spot-on match to the Detroit’s dormer windows. And while the center window is a perfect match, the extra windows (on either side) are more traditional double-hung windows!

An interesting find, to say the least! And yes, I think it is an Aladdin Detroit, with extra space on the second floor!

Click here to learn more about identifying kit homes!

Click here to buy Rose’s book!

Aladdin Detroit from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Detroit from the 1919 catalog

Aladdin Detroit in Dublin

Aladdin Detroit in Dublin, Virginia. Photo is courtesy of Mike and Bev Pinkerman.

Floorplan

Adding width to that shed dormer on the second floor would have the effect of giving more square footage to the second floor bedrooms and also adding one window to each of those bedrooms.

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Close-up on the windows

Close-up on the windows shows that it is the same casement windows as used in the Aladdin Detroit.

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Close-up

Close-up of the catalog image of the Aladdin Detroit.

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Comparison the two houses

Comparison of the two houses

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House

The Aladdin Detroit

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A perfect Aladdin Detroit in Chesapeake

A perfect Aladdin Detroit in Chesapeake, Virginia. This one has an addition on the rear of the house. Notice how the foundation changes at the same point where the roofline changes.

To read the next article, click here:

To buy Rose’s book, click here.

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North Carolina’s Prettiest House: The Sears Magnolia

January 18th, 2011 Sears Homes 2 comments

Thanks to a FOSH (Friend of Sears Homes), I found the 5th known Sears Magnolia in the country. In March 2010, “Joy” sent me a link last week to a news story on a Sears Home in Benson, NC (just outside of Raleigh).  When I clicked on the link, I had no idea the show would be featuring a Sears Magnolia - the Creme de la creme of Sears Homes!

As soon as possible, I left my house in Norfolk, Virginia to make the drive to Benson. Soon, I was parked in front of the Sears Magnolia, staring at her with majestic glee.

The happy owners of the Magnolia allowed me to tour the inside of the house, where I found proof that it was indeed a Sears Magnolia (as if there were any doubt). Click on this link to read more about that.

This was the second Magnolia that I’ve been inside. The first was in Canton, Ohio. In 2002, PBS’s History Detectives did a segment on Sears Homes, and invited me to be part of the program.  After hours of filming, I took a nap inside the house, and that was one of the happiest naps of my life!

There are also Sears Magnolias in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Alabama.

Below is the Sears Magnolia in North Carolina.

To read more about the Sears Homes in Raleigh, click here.

maggy_benson_nc

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Original catalog image from 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog

Right after WW1 (The Great War) ended, prices went sky high. Sears couldnt keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the late 1920s.

Right after WW1 ended, (also known as "The Great War"), prices went sky high. Sears couldn't keep up with the volatility in the cost of building materials, so they started inserting price sheets into their catalog. This shows the profound reduction in cost, in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Post-war hyperinflation is not uncommon.