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Another Mystery in Richmond!

March 14th, 2014 Sears Homes 16 comments

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

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

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

Article

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

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Check out the fine print.

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

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

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This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

This is the picture used in the advertisement shown above.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Trifecta from the 1933 Sears Modern Homes Catalog

July 25th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

Last week, fellow researcher Lara Solonicke posted a blog about a perfect trifecta of very rare Sears Homes from the very rare 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog. Even better, the triumvirate of Sears Homes is located in Oak Park, Illinois and surely anyone reading this blog will remember that Oak Park was the home of Richard Warren Sears for much of his adult life!

How fitting that Lara has discovered these homes in Richard Sears’ old stomping grounds!

The three houses she found in Oak Park were the Schuyler, the Bristol, and the Webster, which were offered only in the 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Lara told me that it was an advertisement in an old newspaper that led her to this wonderful discovery.

Many thanks to Lara for sharing this information and the wonderful photos! To read her blog, click here.

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It’s likely that these three Sears Homes (the Schuyler, Bristol, and Webster) were the only examples of these three models ever built. Not surprisingly, 1932 was a bad year for the Modern Homes Department, but  1933 was even worse. In 1932, sales of Sears homes suffered due to the Great Depression, and net sales were down 47% from the prior year (1931).

In 1933, sales dropped 50% (as compared to 1932).

In an attempt to boost sales, Sears executives decided to conduct an experiment, and build these three homes prior to sale. They felt if customers could walk through model homes and see the Sears quality firsthand, they would be more inclined to purchase.

Construction on the houses started in summer of 1932 and the first completed model opened in October of that year. The Schuyler was priced at $14,900; the Bristol was priced at $15,100, and the Webster was priced at $15,300. These were not cheap houses. Originally Sears hoped to sell these houses for $10,000 each, but the cost to construct went well beyond initial estimates.

Interestingly, only one house currently has a built-in garage. All three originally had cedar shingles, although they are covered in aluminum today. The shingles and the brick were painted white on all three houses. The shutters were black, and the roofs were variegated black and red.

The Bristol and the Schuyler share the same stone exterior on the first floor, while the Webster has a brick first-floor exterior. Two of the houses featured finished recreation rooms in the basement, which was uncommon in houses of the early 1930s.

Sears managed to sell the three houses, but felt that profit margin was too low to continue constructing homes before sale.

“We do not propose any further experimentation along this line pending the sale of the Oak Park Houses and the development of better sales conditions,” wrote General W.H. Rose, the General Supervisor of the Modern Homes Department.

Sears built the Webster, the Bristol and the Schuyler side by side on Linden Avenue in Oak Park, IL. These three rare styles were only offered for sale in the 1933 catalog.

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Thanks so much to Lara for sharing this information. You can visit her website by clicking here.

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The 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog was a tiny little thing, about the size of a small index card.

The 1933 Sears Modern Homes catalog was a tiny little thing, about the size of a small index card. Thanks to the hole on the cover, you can see the copyright date (bottom of photo). The 1932 and 1934 catalogs were full size catalogs (approximately 8-1/2" by 11"). The 1933 was the only "small" catalog.

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The catalog

Thanks to tiny print, the copy writers managed to squeeze a lot of info onto the page. In fact, the major difference between the diminutive 1933 catalog and the full-size catalogs was text. Sears copy writers were far less loquacious in 1933. Shown above is The Schuyler with its "Historic Colonial Charm."

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Nice house with a nice floorplan.

The house has a dining room and a diner (which probably had space for a breakfast nook). My only question is, who drives a car shaped like a shuffleboard? Or was a dedicated "shuffleboard room" a suggested use for this space? As a garage, it was ideal for a Mazda Miata or Toyota Yaris. An absolute minimum today for a one-car garage would be 12-feet by 20-feet, and even that size means to have to eject your passengers before rolling into the garage.

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2nd floor

The Schuyler had many very progressive concepts for an early 1930s "kit" home. The master bedroom had a private bath, and two spacious closets. Even the study has a spacious walk-in closet. The house had 2-1/2 bathrooms which was quite unusual for 1933.

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Sears

The Sears Schuyler, as seen in the 1933 catalog.

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The Sears Schuyler

The Sears Schuyler with its attached garage. Would you ever have guessed this is a Sears kit house? And do the owners know that their house was sold by Sears Roebuck? Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Sears Bristol

The Sears Bristol, offered only in 1933. Love the inset dormers! However, this is a not-so-great design because these type of dormers ALWAYS leak.

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Sears Bristol

You may notice that there's a lot of flashing around those inset dormers on this "Bristol." And while this model does not have the garage now, it looks like there was a garage door in that space when the house was originally built. See the strips of aluminum siding tucked under the garage-width picture window? Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up on the Bristol's former garage door. It's likely that, when first built, the Bristol had a garage. Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The third

The third house in our trifecta is the Sears Webster (1933).

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This Sears Webster is distinctive, with the unusual window arrangement and the jettied second story. Was this the only Sears Webster built? It's certainly quite possible! Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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garage

And if you zoom in on this large bay window, you'll see that this house also started life with an attached garage, and today, there's a a grade-level room in its place. The house is brick (painted), but under the bay window, it's either wood or aluminum siding. It'd be interesting to see if there's a curb cut on the street for a driveway (in front of this window). If not, it's possible that this "modification" was done when the house was built. Still, in that these were models for Sears & Roebuck, it seems likely the homes would have built "according to plan." Photo is copyright Lara Solonicke 2012 and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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A price sheet from the 1933 catalog shows that these models were their finest and most expensive.

A price sheet from the 1933 catalog shows that the Webster and Schuyler were among their finest and most expensive. The prices shown above (Schuyler - $2,458 and Webster - $2,658) were for the plans and materials. The price that Lara quoted (The Schuyler for $14,900 and Webster for $15,300) included the lot and all construction costs. In the 1919 catalog, Sears stated that a completed kit home would cost about 2-1/2 to 3 times the cost of the kit. In other words, a $2,000 kit house would cost you about $6,000 when all was said and done. By 1933, the factor had jumped to about six times the cost of the kit. ($2,458 x 6.0618 = $14899.)

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Lara Solonickne is an architecture enthusiast and blogger. She is the founder of Sears-homes.com, which spotlights catalog homes in the Chicago area. Lara worked as a communications consultant and technical writer in a former life. She currently lives in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Drop her a line at lara@sears-homes.com.

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To visit Lara’s blog, click here.

What Do George Bailey and Sears Roebuck Have in Common?

July 19th, 2013 Sears Homes 1 comment

One of my favorite movies is the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Many folks think it’s a movie about one man’s life making a difference in this world, but I saw it a different way. I saw it as a movie that explained why homeownership is so important.

In the first years of the 20th Century, magazines and newspapers of the day declared that Americans had a patriotic duty to be homeowners. It was well-understood that home ownership was a boon to individuals and their families, but the “patriotic” angle made the point that homeownership also benefited neighborhoods and communities, and by extension, it benefited cities and even the country, as a whole.

To put a contemporary spin on this, what better modern-day model do we have than Detroit? How much of Detroit is now rental (non-owner occupied)? Despite 30 minutes of searching, I wasn’t able to find an answer, but I’d guess it’s a lot. (Heck, how much of Detroit’s housing is just not occupied by anyone?)

The early Sears Modern Homes catalogs made this point in a variety of ways, but in short it said this: Homeowners have a vested interest in their community and communities with a large percentage of homeowners will enjoy a greater proportion of prosperity, stability and peace.

In the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey sees what Bedford Falls, would have looked like if he’d never been born. Without George’s positive influence and his ever-fledgling Building and Loan, the modern subdivision of Bailey Park would never have been developed and many residents would have remained renters, rather than homeowners.

Without the Bailey Building and Loan, George finds that Bedford Falls is full of substandard rental properties.

And because there are so many rental properties, there is less stability in the family, and in a broader context, there is less stability in the community as well.

Look at Bert (the cop) and Ernie (the cab driver).

In this alternate “George-less” world, Ernie does not live with his family in their own “nice little home in Bailey Park,” but instead, he lives is a decrepit shack in Pottersville and it’s implied that this hardship is largely to blame for the fact that Ernie’s wife “ran off three years ago and took the kid.”

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

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

I’m of the opinion that Sears was, to small communities in the Midwest, what George Bailey was to Bedford Falls.

Sears empowered and enabled tens of thousands of working-class and immigrant families to build their own home. What would countless Midwestern towns have become without Sears homes?

How many towns in the Midwest were spared the fate of becoming a Pottersville, thanks to these little kit homes? Probably many.

Sears Modern Homes made a significant difference in many communities throughout the Midwest.

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In the movie, Its a Wonderful Life, the real heroes are the people who kept this little Building and Loan afloat, enabling countless residents to become homeowners.

In the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," the real heroes are the people who kept this little Building and Loan afloat, enabling countless residents to become homeowners.

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In the end, George realized he had a wonderful life because he had touched so many peoples lives, enabling them to become homeowners. He saw that his town would have collapsed into blight had it not been for Bailey Brothers Building and Loan.

George realized he had a wonderful life because he had touched so many people's lives, enabling them to become homeowners. The angel ("Clarence") showed George that Bedford Falls would have collapsed into blight had it not been for Bailey Brother's Building and Loan.

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The value of homeownenrship was also touted in

The value of homeownership was also touted in the front pages of the Sears Modern Homes catalog (1921).

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Father is throwing out rent receipts - because theyre worthless - whilst dreaming of his very own home.

Father is throwing out rent receipts - because they're worthless - whilst dreaming of his very own home.

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Meanwhile, Father and Mother are dreaming of owning their very own Sears Hathaway.

Meanwhile, Father and Mother are dreaming of owning their very own Sears Hathaway. Even the little girl is lost in bliss! Is there a Hathaway in Lima, Ohio? It'd be fun to know!

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A real live Hathaway in Hampton, Virginia (Old Wythe section).

A real live Hathaway in Hampton, Virginia (Old Wythe section).

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

Learn more about the biggest and best Sears Home by clicking here!

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The Thrift Book of a Nation

May 26th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Earlier this week, my friend Rachel posted a picture of this 1922 Sears catalog in our Facebook group “Sears Homes.”

I found it utterly enchanting.

The cover shows a little girl dashing out to the mailbox to retrieve the goodies that just arrived from Sears & Roebuck. In the background, there’s a Sears Silo, a Sears Barn, and a Sears kit home, The Silverdale.

It’s an entire farm built by Sears!

Years ago, I interviewed Joseph Origer who’d purchased a Sears Hammond (kit house) out of the 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.  He was inspired to buy a Sears House by his father.

Mr. Origer explained,

My dad built a Sears kit silo in 1911 and he was so impressed with the quality of the lumber (all cypress) that he decided to buy and build Sears Modern Home #101.

I remember my father telling me that his kit home was all number one lumber and material. All the building materials cost $879 and the total expense, including all carpenter labor, was less than $1500. I still have the itemized list of materials for that house!

When I decided to marry and stay on the farm, my parents suggested we go to Chicago and pick out another Sears home. Dad said, “you know the material will be good.”

These 60-plus years The Hammond has been a wonderful house. I am glad I built it. This house has been well maintained inside and out, and it is still just as good as new.

Mr. Origer’s experience was probably fairly typical. Potential customers might have been hesitant to purchase an entire kit house, but they were ready and willing to buy chicken coops, silos, corn cribs, milk sheds, tool houses and more.

How many American farms were filled with Sears outbuildings and kit homes?

I wish I knew!

Many thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing these wonderful images!

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Cover of the 1922 Sears General Merchandise catalog.

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The barn in the background is a Sears kit barn, L2055.

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Sears barn 1918

The Sears barn as seen in the 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Unnamed, happy child with severely deformed left leg and mangled left hand rushes out to the mailbox to see what parcels have arrived from Sears and Roebuck.

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house house house

These must be some of Sears best customers! Not only did they order a house, silo and barn from Sears, but each day they receive a plethora of packages!

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Close-up of the Sears Silverdale. But what kind of car is that?

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silverdale

The Silverdale, as seen in the 1916 Sears catalog.

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Hettick, IL

A real live Silverdale in Hettick, IL.

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house hose

Thanks again to Rachel for sharing this wonderful picture!

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To learn more about the amazing Mr. Sears, click here.

To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

To visit Rachel’s blog, click here.

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Alhambra Abuse

May 14th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Alhambra was a fine-looking Spanish-flavored bungalow, and a very popular model for Sears.

However…

In my travels, I’ve seen these little pretties subjected to all manner of abuse.

The most egregious abuse is typically inflicted by vinyl-siding peddlers, those plastic-pushing pernicious parasites who roam the country, seeking whom they may devour with their polyvinyl chloride products of pestilence.

Not that I have strong feelings about this, mind you.

Several years ago, a vinyl-siding salesman appeared at the door of my 1925 Colonial Revival home, asking me if I was getting tired of painting the old cypress clapboards. He said he had a product that would make my house “maintenance free,” and asked if I’d like an estimate.

“Mister,” I said in a low growl, “You just need to back away very slowly, for BOTH of our sakes. Now just be on your way, and don’t ever EVER come back.”

I never did see him again. And that’s a good thing.

When applied to older homes, vinyl siding is very damaging to old houses, and can trap moisture between interior and exterior walls, causing mold, mildew, bug infestation and eventually wood rot.

In “The Vinyl Lie” (an article that can be found here),  Architectural Conservator Gary Kleier writes,

During the installation of vinyl siding a layer of styrene insulation board is applied over the wood siding, and the vinyl siding is applied to that. This insulation board forms an effective barrier to the passage of water vapor, thereby trapping it within the wall. During the winter months this water vapor will condense to liquid water and began rotting the wood materials. Over a period of years the structural integrity of the exterior walls can be completely destroyed. Further, the presence of deteriorating wood has been shown to attract termites and other wood attacking insects.

Gary specializes in restoration architecture and architectural forensic service. You can visit his website here.

To read some VERY well-done articles on the damage of substitute siding on older homes, click here.

Or read the full text of Gary’s article here.

To see a WONDERFUL documentary on the damage that vinyl causes, click here.

Click here to see some pretty Alhambras!

If you’d like to spend several days reading articles on how much damage vinyl siding does to an older home, google the words, “benefits of removing vinyl” plus “historic home.”

If you’d like to see what happens to the curb appeal of houses with vinyl siding, scroll on down.

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The Alhambra

The Alhambra, as seen in the 1921 catalog.

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Its unique floorplan makes it easy to identify!

It's unique floorplan makes it easy to identify!

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Lets start by showing a VERY pretty Alhambra (in Gaffney, SC).

Let's start by showing a VERY pretty Alhambra (in Gaffney, SC). What a fine-looking house!

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Oh man.

Oh man. that's really, really bad. And this time, it wasn't the vinyl siding salesman that ruined the home's original beauty. No, this house was attacked by an older version of the VSS. This house was attacked by a real ASS! (Aluminum Siding Salesman). Location: Ohio.

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Eek.

Somewhere in Ohio, an Alhambra is missing its identify.

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Ouch. Again.

Ouch. Again. By enclosing the front porch, they made those distinctive front windows disappear. They're still visible inside the house. Can this house be restored to its original appearance? Yes, but it'd be a whole lot of work. Location: Wisconsin.

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Yikes.

Substitute sidings wreak havoc on historic homes. Location: Michigan.

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Somewhere in Washington, DC, an architect has lost his mind.

Somewhere in Washington, DC, an architect has lost his mind. Yes Virginia, this is a Sears Alhambra. Or was. Gosh, I'm sure this house is MUCH more valuable now!!! NOT.

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And lets close on a happy note. One of my Top Ten All-Time Favorite Alhambras. This beauty is in Lexington, VA.

And let's close on a happy note. One of my Top Ten All-Time Favorite Alhambras. This beauty is in Lexington, VA. Notice the fan light over the door! And it still has its original downspouts. Beautiful!

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To read more about Alhambras, click here.

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The Bellewood: A Happy Combination!

April 26th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

“The Bellewood is another happy combination of a well laid out floor plan with a modern exterior” (1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

And it’s also a real cutie-pie of a house.  With only 1,000 square feet of living area, it’s not surprising that people often convert the attic into usable living space.

The Bellewood is not an easy house to find, mostly because, it was only offered a short time (1931 - 1933), which also happened to be the first years of the Great Depression. In 1931, housing starts plummeted, so finding any post-1930 Sears Home is a special treat. (In January 1931, the Chicago Tribune reported that housing starts for the year [1930] were down 53%.)

Post-1930 Sears Homes are hard to find, and yet, there was one Sears House that will still selling by the hundreds in the early 1930s: The Crafton!

By the way, are you near Staunton? If so, come to our lecture on May 2nd!  :)  A good time will be had by all!

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1933 catalog house

The Bellewood (1933). Note that the Sears Modern Homes department is now known as the "Home Construction Division." In 1934, Sears closed down their kit homes department and in 1935, they reopened it for a short time. In 1940, the whole program was shuttered once and for all.

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1932 text

In 1932, it was described as a "Happy combination of a well laid out floor plan with a modern attractive exterior." In 1933, it was simply "an up-to-the-minute...design." How pedestrian.

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house floor plan

The Bellewood had a very simple floorplan, with two large closets and a tiny bathroom.

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Bellewood 1933

The Bellewood, as seen in the 1933 catalog.

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1932 catalog house

A close-up of the house as seen in 1932.

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Bellewood in Hopewell

Here's a lovely Bellewood in Hopewell, Virginia. Notice the vent on the 2nd floor has been replaced with a double-hung window. There's probably not a lot of head room on that 2nd floor.

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Andrew Mutch Ann Arbor

This Bellewood (Ann Arbor, MI) is in wonderfully original condition. It still has its original windows, siding and trim. Down this wall, there should be a single window in the living room, and paired windows in the dining room, and kitchen. The living room window is paired, and the dining room windows are missing. Given that it has its original siding, it was probably built this way. There's certainly room for another set of windows down that long wall. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch, and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Ann Arbor Bellewood house

The "short side" of the Sears Bellewood in Ann Arbor. Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch, and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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The Bellewood came with "batten" shutters (shown here).

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The Bellewood in Ann Arbor still has its original shutters! Photo is copyright 2013 Andrew and Wendy Mutch, and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Lara Solinicke Des Plaines IL

And Lara Solinicke found this beautiful Bellewood in Des Plaines, Illinois. What a pretty house!! Again, that upstairs vent has been replaced with a double-hung window! Photo is copyright 2013 Lara Solickne and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Does Hopewell, VA have a large collection of Sears Homes? No, they do NOT. However, they do have a Bellewood (and a handful of others). Click here to learn more.

Want to learn how to identify Sears Homes? Click here!

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The Paloma: A Two-Story Bargain

March 6th, 2013 Sears Homes 4 comments

In 1919, The Paloma was indeed a “two-story bargain.” The very modest 860-square-foot, two-story house cost a mere $1,131 which was a sound value.  And all in all, it wasn’t a bad-looking little house. But it was little.

Upstairs, they managed to carve three bedrooms out of the 18×24′ footprint, but they were very small. Each of the three bedrooms measured eight by something, and that makes for some pretty cramped quarters.

In Spanish, “Paloma” means pigeon. But Paloma is also the name of a city in Illinois. So was it named for the city or the bird? I’m guessing the city.

Many thanks to Donna Bakke for supplying photos of the real life Palomas in Cheviot, Ohio, a neighborhood in Cincinnati.

Want to learn more about kit homes? Join us on Facebook!

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The Paloma

The Paloma from the 1919 catalog.

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"Profitable investment"? At least it will be a dignified investment.

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Now that's a small kitchen. Add some cabinets and you've got a kitchen so small that you have to step into the dining room to change your mind.

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Notice how that closet window on the 2nd floor is not centered. Also, look at how small these bedrooms were. Not one of them is bigger than eight-feet something.

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Apparently, it was fairly popular.

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The Paloma as seen in the 1919 catalog. Love the flowers! In this line drawing, it appears that the closet window (second floor) is centered between the two bedroom windows. That's not accurate. The floorplan (shown above) gives a more accurate rendering.

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A Paloma in Cheviot, Ohio. Notice how that little closet window is off center? That's one very distinctive feature of this simple little house. This Paloma's original porch columns were transmogrified into pillars of wrought iron - probably in the 1950s or 60s. Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house

The vinyl-siding salesmen have had their way with this poor little house, but at least the porch survived that experience (even if the window frames did not). And the little closet window on the 2nd floor got buried. Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Close-up of the detail on the front porch. Notice the classic Sears detail at the top of the column! Photo is copyright 2012 Donna Bakke and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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

To read about the abundance of kit homes in Staunton, VA, click here.

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SAVE the Westly in Lewisburg, WV!

March 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

When Back to the Future” first came out (1985), I was a lass of 26, and yet my sympathies readily fell to the Clock Tower Lady (Elsa Raven) and the Hill Valley Preservation Society.

Heck yeah, they needed to save that Clock Tower in Hill Valley! It was an integral part of the community and its history and culture.

And now, a historic preservation group in my much-loved state of West Virginia is trying to save a Sears kit home that I identified during a visit to their town in Fall of 2010, and heck yeah, they need to save that Westly.

The endangered house is in Lewisburg, WV.

The Sears Westly was first offered in the very rare 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and by 1914, this model had undergone a significant “face lift” and the new Westly looked quite a bit different from the old Westly.

According to the folks at PAWV, the Westly in Lewisburg was built about 1924 or 1925. Perhaps at some date in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the opportunity to see the inside of this fine old house and perhaps learn a bit more about this piece of architectural history.

Unfortunately, thus far, I’ve not had good success in saving kit homes in college towns. Last year, I blogged continually about another rare kit home (in Bowling Green, OH), threatened with extinction. Seems like all my blogging accomplished was to get that house torn down AHEAD of schedule. However, that house was on the college campus, and colleges are notorious bungalow-eaters.

Hopefully, the Westly in Lewisburg will be spared that fate. As I understand it, this house is not on a college campus, but is currently used as a West Virginia University Extension Office. It is not threatened with immediate demolition, but is dying a slow, ugly death due to neglect.

Please visit this website to learn more about what you can do to save the house in Lewisburg.

Click here to learn more about the kit homes in Lewisburg.

And a PS to the folks at Preservation Alliance of West Virginia: If it would help your cause, I’d gladly come out and give a talk on your kit home(s) gratis. Please contact me by leaving a comment below.

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The Sears Westly was first offered in the very rare 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears Westly was first offered in the very rare 1909 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It was then known merely as Modern Home #144. Note the floorplan, which is a little different from the Westly that was offered in 1915 and beyond.

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The floorplan shows a vestibule, which is certainly an eye-catching feature.

The first-floor floorplan shows a vestibule, which is certainly an eye-catching feature.

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And

And the second floor is a bit different from the later model Westly, too.

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Close-up of the house.

Close-up of the house.

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And heres the Westly in Lewisburg!

And here's the Westly in Lewisburg! See that Vestibule!

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Close-up on the details of the old Westly.

Close-up on the details of the old Westly.

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Pretty

The details on the Westly in Lewisburg are a little different from the image above. That could be for several reasons. For instance, the front porch has columns that were offered on a later-model Westly. This house seems to have elements of both the old and newer Westly. According to PAWV, this house was built in the mid-1920s.

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Heres a Westly as seen in the 1919 catalog.

Here's a Westly as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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And a real life example in Portsmouth, VA.

And a real life example in Portsmouth, VA. Notice how the porch columns look more like the Westly in Lewisburg. This house also has the windows as seen in the 1909 catalog.

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Another view of the house in Lewisburg.

Another view of the house in Lewisburg.

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Please visit this website to learn more about what you can do to save the house in Lewisburg.

Click here to learn more about the kit homes in Lewisburg.

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The Fulton: A Thoroughbred

February 28th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

The Fulton appeared only in the 1939 and 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog (which were identical). Sears Homes offered in the 1930s are hard to find, and Sears Homes offered only in the late 1930s are well-nigh impossible to find, and yet, one of the faithful readers of this blog found what appears to be a Sears Fulton in Massachusetts!

Now that’s remarkable!

And, 1940 was the last year of the Sears Modern Homes program. It was shut down once and for all (after a temporary closure in 1935), and all sales records were destroyed, as was the other ephemera (catalogs, blueprints, manuals, etc).

The Fulton was an elegant home, and yet it was a mere 1,250 square feet. The enclosed front porch looks almost like an afterthought, but in fact, it was original to the home. Have you seen a Fulton in your neck of the woods? If so, please send me a photo!

Sadly, amongst the 50,000 photos on my computer, I neglected to note the name of the wonderful and kind soul who sent this photo along, so if you’re the person who so graciously supplied this photo, please drop me a note and give me your name?

To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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The Fulton was offered only in the 1939/1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs, which were identical.

The Fulton was offered only in the 1939/1940 Sears Modern Homes catalogs.

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Interesting house

Fortunately, the Fulton has many distinctive features, such as this oversized center chimney, modest cornice returns on the house, and a shed roof on the foyer. The details around the foyer would be the first thing to catch my eye.

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Are they describing Secretariat or a house?

Are they describing Secretariat or a house?

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The first floor

The first floor shows a very simple floorplan.

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2nd

2nd floor has two teeny tiny bedrooms, one good size bedroom and one bath.

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house

The Fulton, as seen in the 1939/1940 catalog.

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My notes say that this house is in Massachusetts, but I neglected to retain the name of the kind soul who sent me this photo. Please contact me if that was YOU, as Id like to give proper attribution.

My notes say that this house is in Massachusetts, but I neglected to retain the name of the kind soul who sent me this photo. Please contact me if that was YOU, as I'd like to give proper attribution. BEAUTIFUL photo, by the way!!

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Details around the front porch

Details around the front foyer make this house easy to identify.

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

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

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So Many Kit Homes in Staunton, Virginia!

February 17th, 2013 Sears Homes 32 comments

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Rose is returning to Staunton May 2nd to give a talk on Sears Homes!

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Click here to learn more!

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In 2005, I stopped for a short visit in Staunton, Virginia and during that short visit, I spotted a beautiful Sears House overlooking Gypsy Hill Park. To my chagrin, I did not have my camera with me.

That was eight years ago. I’ve waited all these many years to get back to Staunton and take a photo of that wonderful old Sears House overlooking the park.

Thursday morning, I finally got my chance!

And I must say, it was worth the wait.

In addition to the house overlooking the park, I also drove around town a bit to see what else I could find. And I found quite a few interesting kit homes. Neither my husband nor myself know anything about Staunton, so we stumbled around a bit, trying to find the right neighborhoods (1920s/1930s housing within 1-2 miles of railroad tracks).

I’d love to return to Staunton when I can find a Staunton native who’d be willing to help a flatlander tourist do a proper architectural survey of all the best early 20th Century neighborhoods.

Because - I am confident that this historic mountain town has many more kit homes. Below I’ve featured just a few that we found driving through two small neighborhoods!

If you’re new to this site, you may be wondering, what is  Sears kit home? Well…

In the early 1900s, you could buy an entire house out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. These were not prefab houses, but real “kits” (with about 12,000 pieces of building materials!). The lumber came pre-cut and numbered to help facilitate construction. Those numbers, together  with a 75-page instruction book, and blueprints designed for a novice, enabled a  “man of average abilities” to build their own home.

In fact, Sears promised that you could have a house assembled and ready for occupancy in 90 days!  When Sears closed their “Modern Homes” department in 1940, all sales records were destroyed, so the only way to find these homes in one by one. In fact, based on my 12 years of experience, more than 90% of the people living in these homes didn’t realize what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

This is a piece of American history that is at great risk of being lost, which is why I travel all over the country, take photos and maintain this blog.

And on a side note, I had a terrible time getting good photos. Almost without exception, these houses were facing west, so my early morning photos were snapped looking right into the rising sun, creating a really poor photo. Alas!

To learn more about the kit homes in Staunton, please scroll on down!

To contact Rose, please leave a comment below.

1919 Maytown

The Sears Maytown as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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house house house

This is the Sears House that overlooks Gypsy Hill Park. It's a beautiful Maytown. Do the owners know that they have a Sears Home? More than 90% of the Sears Homeowners I've encountered do NOT realize they're living in a kit home from Sears.

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Sears Sears 1921

The Sears Westly, from the 1921 Modern Homes catalog.

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Westly Staunton

This Westly in Staunton has seen a few changes, but it's still easily identifiable as a Westly.

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house house

The Sears Lynnhaven was a popular house for Sears (1938).

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Staunton

And the Lynnhaven is all over Staunton. I found FIVE Lynnhavens in Staunton which was quite a surprise. This Lynnhaven is on N. Augusta Street, and a few hundred feet away - just across the street - is another Lynnhaven that's being used a business. The front door has been closed up, which doesn't look too attractive.

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house

The house above was at the corner of Belmont and Augusta. The Lynnhaven (a very popular house for Sears in general and Staunton in particular) was also known as "The Belmont."

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house

This Lynnhaven has a slightly altered dormer (more wide than most). Is it still a Lynnhaven? I'm just not sure on this one. It's hard to be 100% certain without seeing the home's interior. The Lynnhaven has a handful of unique features, and this house possesses most of those "unique features."

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house

Another Lynnhaven? Did one builder buy a kit Lynnhaven from Sears in 1930 and build several of these houses from one set of blueprints? Very possible, as this was often done with Sears Homes.

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house house

And yet another Lynnhaven in Staunton. Are these all the real deal? Again, no way to know without an interior inspection, but my first impression is YES.

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house

Is this a real Lynnhaven? The front gable looks a little wider than the other houses.

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Sears Vallonia

Sears Vallonia as seen in the 1928 catalog.

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house

This house has been through a lot of remodeling but despite that, my impression is that this is a Sears Vallonia. On the side of the house is a bay window with two windows, spaced a couple feet apart. That's another unique feature, seen in the Sears Vallonia. The dormer is too tall, but this is a very common modification to the Sears Vallonia. Based on my 12 years experience, I'd say it *is* a Vallonia. And I'm usually right. ;)

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house house 1927

In addition to Sears, there were other companies selling kit homes, such as Gordon Van Tine and Montgomery Ward. Montgomery Ward did not have a "Modern Homes Department" (as Sears did). Montgomery Ward turned all orders over to Gordon Van Tine for fulfillment. So a Wardway House is a Gordon Van Tine house. The Mount Vernon (shown above) was a popular house for Wards (1927).

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Staunton, VA

And here's a perfect example of the Mount Vernon in Staunton, Virginia.

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Wardway 1930

The Wardway Kenwood was another popular Wardway Home (1930).

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house house

And this appears to be a Kenwood!

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In addition to Sears, there was also a kit home company known as Lewis Manufacturing. Shown above is one of their most popular homes, The Montawk.

In addition to Sears, there was also a kit home company known as Lewis Manufacturing. Shown above is one of their most popular homes, The Montawk (1920 catalog).

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Lewis Montawk? Maybe.

Is this a Lewis Montawk? Probably. Maybe!

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Sears

As mentioned above, Montgomery Ward didn't sell their own homes. Orders placed with Montgomery Ward were fulfilled by Gordon Van Tine. Gordon Van Tine also created and published the Wardway Homes catalog. In 1931, Wardway Homes closed, but GVT continued on until the early 1940s. (Thanks to Rachel Shoemaker for providing this scan!)

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Montgomery Ward didnt sell their own homes. Orders placed with Montgomery Ward were fulfilled by Gordon Van Tine.

"The Roberts" (shown here and on the cover of the 1916 catalog) was one of their most popular models. It was spacious, grand and priced at under $1,300.

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Its another really poor photo, but this shows a beautiful Roberts on Augusta Avenue in Staunton, VA.

It's another really poor photo, but this shows a beautiful "Roberts" on Augusta Avenue in Staunton, VA. The house is in stunningly beautiful (and original) condition.

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Best for last.

I saved the best for last. Aladdin was a bigger kit home company that Sears, but not as well known. Aladdin is more prevalent in Virginia, because there was a large mill in North Carolina. Shown above is the Aladdin Plymouth - a "perfect home."

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Staunton

And here's a perfect example of the perfect home - the Plymouth! (In Staunton, Virginia)

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And this is not a kit home but a plan-book house. These were also quite common in the 1920s and 1930s. This model was The Mayfield.

And this is not a "kit home" but a plan-book house. These were quite common in the 1920s and 1930s. This model was "The Mayfield," (offered in a plan book titled, "Harris, McHenry and Baker").

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This Mayfield is in wonderful condition.

This "Mayfield" is in wonderful condition.

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Whilst driving through Staunton (via Google Maps), I found another kit home, The Cordova (Wardway/GVT).

Whilst "driving" through Staunton (via Google Maps), I found another kit home, The Cordova (Wardway/GVT) on Williams Street. It's had some rough remodeling, but its original features are still present. What a nice match!

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And

And on Straith Street, I saw a "Genessee" found in the "Harris, McHenry and Baker Planbook" (1920s). Look down the right side, and you'll see what a nice match it is!

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Thanks to Sarah (commenter), for telling me about this kit house on Route 11 in Weyers Cave, Virginia.

Thanks to Sarah Puckett (who left a comment last night below), for telling me about this kit house on Route 11 in Weyer's Cave, Virginia. It's a perfect Sears "Dover" and a very nice find! Please keep those cards and letters coming!! :) BTW, I'd love to have a better photo of this "Dover"! Anyone willing to get me a picture?

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Today, February 25, I found yet another perfect little Sears House (The Berwyn) on Noon Avenue!

Today (2/25), I found yet another perfect little Sears House ("The Berwyn"). It's on Noon Avenue! The image above is from the 1929 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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And look what fellow researcher Rachel Shoemaker found in the Aladdin records! Its an Aladdin Stanhope

And look what fellow researcher Rachel Shoemaker found in the Aladdin records! It's an Aladdin Stanhope, sold to William Alfred Linkenhoker of Staunton, VA. Does this mean there's a Stanhope in Staunton? Probably so. Now the question is, how do we find Mr. Linkenhoker's home in the mid-1920s? Rachel checked out the 1920 and 1930 census. In 1920, William Alfred Linkenhoker was a renter and by 1930, he was living in Summers, WV. (Photo is copyright 2013 Rachel Shoemaker and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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Wherefor art thou, little Stanhope in Staunton?

Wherefore art thou, little Stanhope in Staunton?

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Heres a

Here's a perfect Aladdin Stanhope in Scotland Neck, NC (near Roanoke Rapids). Where is the Stanhope in Staunton? Please leave a comment below!

I’d love to return to Staunton soon and do a proper survey and maybe even give a talk on this topic. Please leave a comment below if you’d like to contact me and/or learn more about these kit homes.

To learn more about Rose and her obsession with kit homes, click here.

To read about the kit homes in nearby Harrisonburg, VA, click here.

To see an incredible video about the importance of the Sears catalog in early America, click here (PBS Experience, 1991).

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