On Friday, I traveled to Danville, Virginia and had the good fortune to meet up with Gary, Joyce and Susan, and Tiffany (the indefatigable reporter from the local paper), and tooled around the town looking for kit homes. It was a delightful day and Danville is a city that’s heavy laden with beautiful architecture. Some day, I’d like to take some time and tour the city at a more leisurely pace!
Below are a few pictures of what we found in Danville.
The first house is the Sears Walton. This was one of 370 designs offered by Sears during their 32 years in the kit home business. The Walton was one of their most popular homes, and it’s easy to identify! Notice the large front porch, which extends several feet beyond the main wall of the house. In the front bedroom, there’s a box window with a shed roof. And in the dining room, there’s a gabled bay with three windows.
The Sears Walton
On this Walton in Danville, someone extended that dining room bay and turned it into a porte cochere! Notice the oversized front porch, with its roof line that's got a slightly different angle than the rest of the house. And you can see a piece of that box windows on the left front. Sears house designs could be "reversed" like this one in Danville. It's the mirror image of the catalog page (above).
The next house is also a kit home, but it was not sold by Sears, but by a company in Iowa known as Gordon Van Tine. Like Sears, they sold homes through mail-order catalogs. The houses were shipped in about 12,000 pieces and came with a 75-page instruction book and a promise that a “man of average abilities” could have the house assembled in 90 days. Sears offered mortgages with their homes (75% loan-to-value, 15 years and 6% interest), and it was a requirement of the mortgage that the home be 100% assembled within four months of shipment!
From the 1921 catalog, this is the Gordon Van Tine #705.
And here it is, in the flesh! Notice it still has those wide bands over the second-floor windows. It's unusual for a house of this vintage (1921) to still have original railings, columns, windows and siding!
Next is my favorite find: The Wardway Lexington! Like Sears, Montgomery Ward also sold kit homes. Sears sold kit homes (12,000 pieces of house and a 75-page instruction book) from 1908-1940. Montgomery Ward started in 1910 and stopped about 1931. I found two “Wardway” kit homes in Danville!
The Montgomery Ward Lexington
A beautiful example of The Wardway Lexington!
Sears Lewiston. This one has two windows (centered) instead of three, but these are replacement windows, and there's certainly room for three windows here. Plus, this house still retains the small windows to the left of the fireplace with their original diamond muntins!
This is a kit home from Aladdin, another kit home company that - like Sears - sold houses through mail order!
This house on Virginia Avenue is a beautiful match to the original catalog picture!
Close-up of the Hampshire (by Aladdin)
Note the original windows! When I first started learning about Danville, I was told this was a Sears Home, but it's not! It is a kit home, but it's from Aladdin (based in Bay City). This is a common mistake. About 80% of the people who *think* they have a Sears Home are wrong. Most often, they DO have a kit home, but it's from a company other than Sears.
Another Aladdin home - the Winthrop!
This "Winthrop" is in wonderfully oriignal condition, and even has the same paint scheme as the house shown in the catalog!
Although it's been altered (and added onto with the roof being raised) this still appears to be a Sears Sunbeam!
Another Wardway Home: The Mt. Vernon
In addition to kit homes, Danville also has prefab homes, such as this Lustron (see below).
“Never before has America seen a house like this,” read a 1949 advertisement for the Lustron, also hailed as “the house of the future.”
The Lustron was an all-steel house, with walls made of 2×2 20-gage metal panels, with a porcelain enamel finish. The roof was porcelain enamel steel, and unlike traditional roofing shingles, has a lifespan of at least 60 years (and perhaps much more).
The modest ranches were designed and created by entrepreneur Carl Strandlunds to help deal with the severe housing shortage after World War II. Unfortunately, Lustrons never became very popular. Three years after the company first started (in 1947), it went into bankruptcy. Sixty years later, there’s still much debate about the reasons for the company’s collapse. The debate over the reasons for Lustron’s demise because a topic for a fascinating documentary.
About 2,500 Lustrons were created.
Quantico, Virginia was home to the largest collection of Lustrons in the country, but those 60 houses are now gone. Some were moved, most were demolished. An interesting aside: Turns out the Marines at Quantico weren’t too keen on living in a pink house! (The houses were offered in pink, blue, brown and yellow.)
On inside walls, nails were a no-no. Instead, magnets are used to hang pictures. The porcelain enamel finish on the 2×2 panels is tough, which makes re-painting the panels virtually impossible. The Lustron (seen below) in Danville was painted, and it’s trying hard to shed this second skin. Painting porcelain enamel never works out too well.
Lustron in Danville
Close-up of the window on Danville's Lustron.
And then on down the road a bit in Altavista, I found this perfect Sears Whitehall.
From the 1916 Sears catalog
Here's a remarkable Sears Whitehall. It fact, it's outstanding in his field! :)
And one of my favorite non-house finds in Danville! A tribute to “Old 97″! After I left Danville, I took the “mighty rough road” from Danville to Lynchburg, and it wasn’t too bad - for a car.
"Wreck of the Old 97" is commemorated with this mural in downtown Danville. If you know the meaning of the little white and yellow birds (upper right), please leave a comment!
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To learn how to identify Sears Homes, click here.
To buy Rose’s book, click here.
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