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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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house house

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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house

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.

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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Those Crummy Little Kit Houses From Sears…

May 27th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

One of my #1 goals is to disabuse people of the notion that Sears Homes were extremely modest little houses.

Yes, Sears did have several designs that were very modest, but they also had a few designs that were quite grandiose. One of their most magnificent structures was the Modern Home #303. This model does not appear in Houses by Mail (a popular field guide to Sears Homes). In fact, Sears Modern Home #303 appeared only in the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

As my friend Dale points out, several of the designs that appeared in the pre-1915 Sears catalogs were lifted right off the pages of popular pattern books of the day, created by the popular architects, such as William A. Radford, Victor Vorhees, and Henry L. Wilson. (There is a plethora of information on this very topic here.)

So it’s very possible that Sears Modern Home #303 was a pattern-book house that was “borrowed” by Sears, appearing in their 1910 Modern Homes catalog.

And yet, I’ve never seen a good match to #303. And if we ever do find a match, it might take some work to figure out if this house is the real deal (Sears Modern Home #303) or if it came out of a pattern book!

Sears Modern Home #303 appeared only one year - in the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Sears Modern Home #303 appeared only one year - in the 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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As you can see from the catalog page, this was quite a house!

As you can see from the catalog page, this was quite a house! In the small print (just under the price), it's estimated that the house can be built for about $6,700 (which includes all construction costs).

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fine print

"A Mansion of Colonial style of architecture" and it has a Superba front door!

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First floor

This 2,500-square foot house has very spacious rooms on the first floor.

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All Sears Homes

This house has a front and rear staircase, five bedrooms and a trunk room.

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house house house

The exterior has many distinctive features.

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tower twoer

These small window sashes on the tower (third floor) are pretty distinctive.

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On the other side

And this tower has a railing on top!

Have you seen this house? Please send me a photo!

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

To read the next amazing blog, click here.

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