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Permanent Furniture II: Beautiful Staircases

December 3rd, 2013 Sears Homes 2 comments

In the early 1900s, we seemed to place more value on the idea that we should surround ourselves with beauty.

The staircases shown in the 1927 Builders’ Woodwork Catalog ranged from simple to fancy, and yet they’re all elegant and beautiful.

Too many modern staircases (post-1970) are not just utilitarian; they’re seriously ugly. Looking through several online listings of “new” houses for sale (under $500,000), I didn’t see any staircase pieces and parts that I haven’t seen for sale at Lowes. In other words, the focus of modern staircase building seems to be “fast, cheap and easy.”

What happened to the idea of making a beautiful entry?

As the 1920s text says below, “The staircase is the central feature of the hall or living room and must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling.”

Perhaps that explains why contemporary staircases are so blasé and unappealing.

The pedestrian staircases in modern homes are “in harmony” with their pedestrian surroundings.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing his historic architecture books with me!

Read about bookcase colonnades here!

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Staircase

Even the front page for this chapter is a thing of beauty!

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Stiarcase

"The designs...represent harmonious units." The text also adds, "The staircase...must be judiciously selected to be in harmony with the architectural treatment of the dwelling." How many builders today stop and think about how much "harmony" is expressed by their creations? (In the text above, K.D. stands for "knocked down.")

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staircase 1

"For the modern American small home, this design is very pleasing and practical."

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staircase 2

Another very simple design, and yet it's quite attractive. This type of staircase is often found in mail-order kit homes, because it's both simple and easy to construct.

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staircase 8

According to the accompanying caption, those doors lead out to an "elevated sunporch." I don't recall ever seeing an elevated sunporch off a landing like this - in real life.

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staricase

Another simple staircase, but with a 90-degree twist.

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staircase 8

"The unusual panel effect is a distinctive feature of this staircase..."

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staircase 7

This staircase is categorized in the original literature as a "Colonial design."

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house house house

Another favorite staircase. Years ago, I looked at a house for sale in South Norfolk (Chesapeake, VA) on Park Avenue and it had this very same design, all with original varnish/shellac. I thought it was the prettiest bit of "permanent furniture" that I'd ever seen. I shudder to think what's become of that house and it's gorgeous interiors. Note the phone niche next to the bench.

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staircase

"This panel buttress staircase is suitable for English or modern American homes. The complete absence of balusters and handrail make it easy to keep clean." While I do love the rope, I'm sure modern codes would not allow it.

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staircase

"The charm of this Colonial stairway is the continuous handrail ending in the graceful turning of a volute." Please raise your hand if you knew that this "round thing" at the end of the banister was known as a "volute." :D

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staircase 38

"Very suitable for the modest home without a reception hall." If a mother could have favorites, this would be one of mine. So pretty and so elegant, and yet, "suitable for a modest home."

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house house

"The attractive arches give it real character."

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house house house

Another beautiful staircase. The window mirrors the pattern on the built-in bookcase.

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staircase

"The large central hall is an attribute of the Colonial home, the main feature of which is the stairway." This is the same stairway we had in our 1925 Colonial Revival on Gosnold Avenue (Norfolk), even down to the tapered spindles and center post. Lone difference is, we had three spindles per tread, where this has two. Nary a soul entered that reception hall without making a nice comment about the beauty of that staircase.

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staircase

"This is one of the simpler lines, very economical in construction."

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staircase

Not my favorite, but it must be a design of enduring appeal, because I've seen it in many post-WW2 houses. Original caption says the "sturdy lines of English architecture are faithfully retained in this beautiful stairway."

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staircase 187

"The unusual feature is the handrail is mitered into the newel cap." Makes sliding down a bannister much easier (and less painful). Although it's a mighty short run.

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staircase 8883

"For real charm and beauty, a winding stairs can not be excelled."

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staircaseieie

"This Colonial stairway is very impressive." I agree. Check out the phone niche.

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In the 1920s, we seemed to have more of an understanding that it was important to surround yourself with beauty. Modern staircases are not just utilitarian; theyre ugly as sin.

The image on the left is from a $500,000 house currently for sale in Hampton Roads. The image on the right was a very simple design offered in the 1927 "Builders' Woodwork" catalog. In the 1920s, we seemed understand that low-priced and simple didn't have to equate with cheap and ugly.

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Stiars

To end on a happy note, I've always loved old houses, and that's due in large part to my mother, an artist, who always felt it was important to surround herself with beauty and light and color. She's shown here, sitting on the beautiful staircase of our Colonial Revival home in Waterview (Portsmouth, Virginia). It was about 1968, and she's holding "Bernard," a mutt she'd recently adopted from the local SPCA.

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To read Permanent Furniture, Part I, click here.

To read one of the most popular blogs at this site (featuring a beautiful staircase), click here.

Ready for a change of pace? Read about a really spooky basement here.

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A Number of Nice and Natty Niches

December 1st, 2013 Sears Homes 10 comments

It was described as a “Modern convenience in a typically modern setting” (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

The Montgomery Ward catalog said it, “Answers the problem as to where to keep the telephone.”

The telephone was patented in March 1876.  At the turn of the last century (1905), about 5% of U.S. households had a telephone. By 1930, more than 40% of American homes had Alexander Bell’s fancy new invention installed in their homes.

The new technology brought new housekeeping issues: All those wires were a bit of a mess. The phone niche solved that problem and made this wonderful new convenience even more convenient!

Interested in building one for your own home? Check out the photos below, one of which provides detailed specs.

And as always, if you enjoy the blog, please leave a comment!

To read about Hospitality Seats, click here.

To learn more about beautiful staircases, click here.

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The 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog offered this phone niche.

The 1929 Sears Building Materials catalog offered this phone niche for $4.70 (in Fir) or $7.50 (in Oak). Either way, it was a pretty sweet deal. However, that wallpaper looks ghastly.

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The Montgomery Ward Building Materials also

The Montgomery Ward catalog described their phone niche as "A Wardway Refinement" (1929).

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1929

And it's included "without extra cost."

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GVT 1929

Gordon Van Tine also promoted their snazzy extras, but in COLOR!! (1929)

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1929 Niche

There's a reason that this image (from the Gordon Van Tine catalog) bears a stunning resemblance to the phone niche shown in the Wardway catalog. Gordon Van Tine printed the Wardway catalogs for Montgomery Ward and fulfilled their orders, too. At least they had the decency to change the words around a bit.

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Phone niche in 1927 Builders Woodwork Catalog.

The niches above appeared in the 1927 Builders' Woodwork Catalog. Thanks to Bill Inge for sharing this wonderful old book with me. It's full of fun images, just like this!

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phone niche

This image (also from the 1927 Builders' Woodwork catalog) shows some detail on how these niches were built. If you look at the box on the upper right, you'll see the "bell box" in the top. Back in the day, the ringers were not an integral part of the phone. When we lived in Illinois, we had an early 20th Century home that had the two bells high on a kitchen wall. I imagine that it scared the housewife out of 20 years growth whenever those things clanged.

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1927 Niche book

Close-up of the niche in the 1927 Builders' Woodwork catalog.

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Elmhurst

The owner of this Sears Elmhurst (in St. Louis) went to great lengths to restore his phone niche.

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Phone niche also

Often, these niches get turned into tchotchke shelves (as seen in a Sears Lynnhaven in Greenville, IL).

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Niche Ersela

Ersela Jordan found this niche in a Sears House in Beckley, WV. Finding these old niches with their original varnish/shellac is a rare treat. Notice the surrounding wood trim is also unpainted. (Photo is copyright 2009 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission. So there.)

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Phone Ersela

Ersela found this niche in a Sears Lexington in Beckley, WV. The colossal egg is a nice touch. (Photo is copyright 2009 Ersela Jordan and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.)

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To learn more about awesome built-ins, click here.

To let Rose know that her life has meaning and purpose and that she should continue perusing old catalogs and old books for vintage images and fun stuff, please leave a comment below. Each day, about 1,000 people visit this site. That’s a bunch of people clicking on through. I’m living on love here, so every comment brightens my day and lightens my step and enlivens my soul. Kinda. And on a side note, I’d like to be part of the worldwide effort to educate the American public on the proper use of the word “peruse.” Surely, it must be one of the most-often misused words in the English language (and don’t call me “Shirley”). Most people use peruse to mean, browse, or scan or read quickly. In fact, it means the opposite.

pe·ruse:  pəˈro͞oz/ 1. to read [something], in a thorough or careful way.

“Rosemary has spent countless hours in libraries perusing old magazines and vintage catalogues.”

The End.

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Hospitality Seats

November 30th, 2013 Sears Homes 5 comments

The Dutch Colonial has always been a favorite of mine. I’m not sure I can easily define why I love this house, but one of the reasons is the little extras - cut-out shutters, gambrel roof, plenty of windows, and best of all, those cute little benches by the front door.

And until last week, I didn’t realize those cute little bench have a name.

My buddy Bill Inge loaned me “Builders’ Woodwork” (1927, Smith & Wyman) and it was within its pages that I found the “Hospitality Seats.”

Enjoy the many photos below!

To read about breakfast nooks (first cousin to the Hospitality Seats), click here.

Many thanks to Bill Inge for sharing his books with me!

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It was inside

It was within the pages of this 1927 book that I found "Hospitality Seats."

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And how

On page 311 of "Builders' Woodwork," there were two versions of the "Hospitality Seats" offered! The good news is, they will "harmonize with almost any type of architecture." They were offered with many different cut-outs, too.

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house house house house

Close-up of the hospitality benches with a tree cut-out on its base.

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house house to

These are nice too, but does that "S" mean it's a Sears House? (Just kidding.)

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Sears House house

The Sears Puritan came with two "Hospitality Seats" on the front porch (1928 catalog).

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house house house

They are pretty darn cute!

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more more more

Apparently, the Glen Falls (Sears Home) offers 50% less hospitality than the Puritan. The one bench looks a little lonely out there (1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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Martha 1921

Apparently, there's even less hospitality with the Sears "Martha Washington." You wouldn't even make it to the front porch if you were visiting folks in this house (1921 Sears Modern Homes catalog).

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bench

At least it's under a tree.

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house house Carstine

The Homebuilders' catalog features many houses with Hospitality Seats. Shown here is "The Carstine" (1927 Homebuilders' Catalog).

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callao house

The "Callao" (1927 Homebuilders) has a pergola *and* two benches!

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Colinton

Apparently if you have a non-traditional Dutch Colonial you get only one bench (The Colinton, 1927).

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FUnky Cleo

But if your Dutch Colonial is really ugly, you get the ugly benches to match (The Cleo).

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house house

This was the lone non-Dutch Colonial house I found with hospitality seats. These front porch benches do seem to be the province of the Dutch Colonial! (1927 Homebuilders' Catalog.)

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

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The Sears Elmhurst, Part II

October 11th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Recently, Rachel Shoemaker was looking through a Sears Modern Homes catalog (1930) when she discovered a testimonial for a Sears Elmhurst built in Flushing, New York. She then did some extra digging and was able to glean the home’s current address.

In fact, Rachel wrote a blog on her wonderful discovery (click here to see it).

Now, we need someone near Flushing to snap a few photos of this grand and elegant home in Flushing. If you’re near the area, please leave a comment below and I’ll contact you toote suite!

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Testimoniaal

Here's the testimonial that Rachel found in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Zvonecs loved their house

I have a feeling that the Zvanovec's are no longer extending an open invitation to visit their home. Nonetheless, it sounds like they really did love their home, and were very proud of it.

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As Rachel points out in her blog, this must have been one of the first Elmhursts built, because it appeared in the 1929

Close-up of this beautiful Sears Elmhurst in Flushing, NY. Look at the beautiful stone work on the front porch.

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And heres the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

And here's the Elmhurst recently discovered in St. Louis.

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An Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter).

Here's an Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb (originally discovered by Rebecca Hunter). Notice this house has the decorative blocks under the faux half timbering on that front gable. These blocks are missing from the Elmhurst in St. Louis and Flushing, NY. This Elmhurst and the one in Flushing are both brick veneer, whereas the one in St. Louis is solid brick. As mentioned in the prior blog, solid brick is very unusual on a Sears kit home.

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Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think its likely but Im not certain. This house is in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin.

Is this a Sears Elmhurst? I think it's likely but I'm not certain. It's in Rocky Mount, NC where I found an abundance of kit homes from both Sears and Aladdin. It's not a spot-on match but it's darn close! This is such an unusual house, I'd be inclined to say it probably is an Elmhurst. Probably. Notice, those decorative blocks are in place under the front gable.

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The Elmhurst was featured in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread.

The Elmhurst was "featured" in the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog and had a two-page spread, including this colorized image. Notice, the blocks are shown in the catalog image.

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Are you near Flushing? Would you be willing to get some good, high-resolution photos for us?

If so, please leave a comment below!

To read more about the kit homes I found in Rocky Mount, click here.

To read  more about the Elmhurst, click here.

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Inside The Sears Elmhurst (St. Louis)

October 7th, 2013 Sears Homes 13 comments

Several weeks ago, a reader of this blog told me that he owned a Sears Elmhurst in St. Louis, and he was kind enough to send me a few photos. To my surprise and delight, he was right!  It really was an Elmhurst.

Last month, I visited the Elmhurst “in person” and my oh my, what a treat!

The home’s current owners have a deep abiding respect and appreciation for the unique origins of their historic home. In other words, they really love their old Sears House, and have been faithfully researching the history of this beautiful old house, and restoring it, inch by inch.

Thanks so much to the home’s owners who were gracious enough to let me take a tour of their home and share a few photos of its interior!

Elmhurst first appeared in the 1928

The Sears Elmhurst was a classic (and classy) Tudor Revival with a "half-timber effect" on the second story. Inside, it had three bedrooms and 1-1/2 baths. The house in St. Louis is in mostly original condition.

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house floorplan

The living room and dining room were spacious. The kitchen and lavatory were not.

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Cover of the 1932

The cover of the 1932 "Homes of Today" showed this fetching entryway, which is from the Elmhurst. It's kind of a "Twilight Zone" doorway, out of the hubbub of busy city living and into another dimension of peace and joy and "the satisfaction that comes from building your own home" (as Sears promised in their literature).

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house 1930 catalog

In the 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the Elmhurst was given a two-page spread.

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house 1930

Even in the simplified line drawings (from the 1930 catalog) the Elmhurst looks quite elegant.

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house house house

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a perfect match to the catalog image. Just perfect.

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house gerst

The St. Louis house is being faithfully restored by its current owners, and it's a real beauty.

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Elmhurst compare

Close-up of that entryway shown on the front cover of the 1932 catalog.

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Mike gerst elmhurst

And a fine side-by-side contrast of the St. Louis Elmhurst (left) and the entryway shown in the catalog.

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house ricin

The 1932 "Homes of Today" Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the Elmhurst built in Ohio.

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house stairs

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is a good match to the black/white image above.

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house house stairs

The "Elmhurst built in Ohio" is shown here on the right, and the Elmhurst in St. Louis in on the left. The details are perfect with two lone exceptions: The front door is hinged different in the St. Louis house, and that decorative "S" is missing from the base of the wrought-iron staircase railing (which looks like it'd be a knee-buster anyway). The flip-flops are missing from the Elmhurst in Ohio.

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house la tosca

La Tosca door hardware was a very popular choice in Sears Homes.

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house house la tosca

The LaTosca door hardware, as seen in the Elmhurst and as seen in the 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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phone niche

The moldings and trim in this Elmhurst are birch, according to the owner. Based on the research he's done, I'd say he's probably right. The owner is doing a remarkable job of restoring the inherent beauty of all the original wood trim throughout the house. The patina and beauty of the natural wood finish on this phone niche isn't accurately represented by this dark photo. While walking through the house, I couldn't help but to "reach out and touch" the beautiful wood trim. It really is that beautiful.

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house house door

The 1930 Sears Modern Homes catalog showed this view of the front door (interior). Note that the stylistic "S" is missing from the wrought-iron railing in this picture.

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front door stuff

There was a wall that blocked my shooting the door and staircase from the same angle as shown above, but I got pretty close. This house was a one-hour trip from my brother's home in Elsah, IL (where I was staying), but once I saw the inside of this house, I was mighty glad I'd made the effort. In every way that an old house can be truly stunning, this house *was* stunning. It's a real gem in the heart of St. Louis.

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comparison

Comparison showing the 1930 catalog image and the real live house in St. Louis.

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Wall

From this view (near the landing), you get a better idea of the size of the hallway.

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kitchen 1932

The kitchen of the Elmhurst (as shown in the 1932 catalog). This appears to be a photo, and the picture was taken by someone standing with their backside leaning hard against the right rear corner of the house, looking toward the door that opens into the dining room. Notice the La Tosca hardware on the door.

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kitchen today

The Elmhurst's kitchen today, from that dining room door, looking toward the right rear corner. While I'm a big fan of all things old, even I'd agree that the kitchen needed a little bit of updating for the 21st Century.

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Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath tile and other floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but it was too far gone.

Most Sears kit homes had maple floors in the kitchen and bath (underneath the floor coverings). The owners of the Elmhurst tried to restored the maple floor in their kitchen but these floors were really intended to be used as a subfloor, not a primary floor.

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house inside

The fireplace in the living room has the same square slate tiles as seen on the front porch.

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house hallway upstairs

This over-sized landing window was another lovely feature of the Elmhurst. As seen from the outside, this is the tall dormer window just to the right of the front porch (as seen from the street).

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window staircase

Downstairs looking up at the staircase window.

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house elmhurst

A distinctive feature found in two-story Sears kit homes are these plinth blocks. These square blocks were used to help the novice homebuilder cope with complex joints. The landing of the Elmhurst had three of these plinth blocks on one landing. I do believe that that's the most plinth blocks I've ever seen in one kit house.

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house plinth block

The plinth block at this juncture is actually two-steps tall.

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business card

While doing some work on the home, the owner found this business card inside a wall. I've seen a lot of very cool ephemera in my fun career, but this is one of the best. There were only 40 Sears Modern Homes "Sales Centers" in the country and there was one in St. Louis. Folks could stroll into these storefronts and get a first-hand look at the quality of framing members, millwork, heating equipment and plumbing fixtures. Apparently Miss Manning visited the Sears Modern Homes Sales Center and had some discussion with Marcelle Elton about her new Elmhurst.

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pipe tag pipe tag

The home's current owners found this tag attached to a cast-iron pipe inside the kitchen wall. It shows that the home's purchaser was a "Miss Margaret Manning" of Clayton, Missouri. For those interested in genealogy, I would LOVE to know where Miss Manning lived before she purchased the house in St. Louis and what she did for a living. Lastly, I'd also be interested in knowing how long she lived in this house.

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house pipe tag pipe tag

Close-up of the tab shows a return address of 925 Homan Avenue, in Chicago, Illinois.

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houe exterior house

From all angles, the Elmhurst is quite stunning.

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On the inside, those dormers look like this.

On the inside, those dormers look like this.

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house solid brick

The Elmhurst in St. Louis is an enigma for several reasons. One, this is not a frame house with brick veneer (like every other "brick" Sears kit house I've ever seen). This house is solid brick, and when the owner remodeled the kitchen, he said the exterior walls had furring strips (typical of a solid brick house). And the flashing and original gutters were copper. When built, the house had a tile roof. These are all significant upgrades and probably cost the home's first owner quite a bit extra.

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gerst home

This photo was taken by the home's current owner. You can see a remnant of the tile roof on the ridge of the house. And if you look closely, you can see the copper flashing around the chimney.

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Elmhurst in Chitown

There's another Elmhurst in a Chicago suburb that Rebecca Hunter found. This Elmhurst has concrete sills (as you'd expect to see on a kit house, because it's simpler than laying brick), but the house in St. Louis had *brick* sills.

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house 1930

The Elmhurst was beautiful, but not very popular. It was offered from 1929 to 1932.

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And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes catalog! Its an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York!

And look what my buddy Rachel found in her 1929 "Brick Veneer Honor Bilt Homes" catalog! It's an Elmhurst that was built in Long Island, NY. And Rachel even found the house - as it stands today - in New York! Who wants to get a photo of this house? :)

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Thanks again to the home’s current owners for sharing their Elmhurst with me (and the readers of this blog!). It’s a real treasure.

To read more about Rachel’s discovery in New York, click here.

To join our group of Facebook (”Sears Homes”), click here.

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Help Me Find These Hidden Treasures in Chester, PA!

September 11th, 2013 Sears Homes 12 comments

Say what you will about Facebook, but it is a great boon for those of us who love history.

Recently, the Delaware County (Pennsylvania) History page on Facebook picked up an old blog I did about these lost houses built by Sun Ship Building Company in Chester, PA and their interest in this topic has given me renewed hope that we might yet find these houses.

It’s one thing for me to sit around studying grainy images in 93-year-old catalogs, but it gets a lot more exciting when the local history lovers start hunting around for these treasures!

And this was quite a large collection of Sears Homes.

The neighborhood seems to extend on for several blocks. It’s certainly possible that 90 years later, these houses have been torn down, but I doubt that every last one of them is gone. And thanks to these wonderful old vintage images, I think our chances of finding these houses are very good!

Please pass this blog along to anyone and everyone who may have some knowledge of Sun Ship and/or Chester.

And please take a moment to read the loquacious captions. That’s where the fun stuff is!

If you can provide more info about these houses are, please leave a comment below.

Oh boy, my first UPDATE! Sun Shipbuilding was located at Route 291 and Harrah’s Blvd in Chester, PA. These houses would have been close by!

To learn more about Rose’s upcoming visit to Louisa, VA click here.

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

To join our group on Facebook, click here.

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Sunship

In the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, this front page featured several communities where large numbers of Sears House had been sold. The red arrow shows the houses built by Sun Ship. So that's our first clue: The houses were 100% finished by late 1918.

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Zooming in a  bit, you can discern more detail.

Zooming in a bit, you can discern more detail. The neighborhood was three streets wide, but there's a large "green space" between the two rows on the left, and there appears to be another cluster of houses on the right, in the rear. So that's our second clue: The neighborhood was three streets wide, with one street some distance from the first.

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Zoom

If you zoom in on the center, you can count the houses in the middle row. I see 10 houses, two Rositas and two Arcadias (models of Sears Homes). More detail on these two models below. And that's our third clue. Look at the roofline for this row. Front-gabled with a shed dormer (#1), very small house with a hipped roof and a porch with a tiny shed room (houses #2 and #3), and approximately seven more front-gabled houses with a shed dormer pointing in the other direction (away from the camera).

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More detail

There were six homes on the left side, and I do believe that's an outhouse at the end of the row. And I don't *think* the outhouse is there today. However, here's another clue. Side-gabled bungalow (first) with dormer facing the street, followed by four front-gabled bungalows with dormer facing the outhouse. Hipped-roof house with small shed roof on porch is at the end. And look at the placement of the sidwalks here, too. That probably hasn't changed TOO much.

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house on the right

These houses on the right were really puzzling me, but I think I finally got them figured out. More on that in a moment.

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House

The first house on the left side of the picture is easily identifiable as a Sears Arcadia. I believe the house next to it (and the subsequent four houses) are also the Sears Arcadia, turned 90 degrees. At the end, there's a small house with a hipped roof. Keep on scrolling down and all will become clear.

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See what I mean?

The Sears "Arcadia." Except for the lady sitting on the front porch, it's a perfect match.

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And now look at the middle row.

And now look at the middle row. That's an Arcadia turned 90 degrees on the lot. The dormer was only present on one side, and for the rest of the Arcadias, the dormer is facing away from the camera. But look at those little houses with hipped roofs! What might they be?

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I suspect that these hipped roof houses are the Rosita.

I suspect that these hipped roof houses in Chester, PA are the "Rosita" (shown above). This was a very small house (and also bathroom-less, just like the Arcadia). The panoramic image first appeared in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog, and both the Rosita and Arcadia were offered in the 1918 catalog, so that's a good fit.

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Look at the floorplan for the two houses.

Look at the floorplan for the two houses. The Rosita is on the left; the Arcadia is on the right. This is a minor detail, but look at the placement of the chimneys. The panoramic view shows that the chimneys are pretty closely aligned. On the Arcadia (right), the chimney is 9'4" from the home's rear. On the Rosita, it's 11'1" from the rear. That's *about* the representation shown in the old panoramic view. And it's a quirky feature, but look where the front door is on the Arcadia. It enters into the dining room! And, there is no bathroom in either house.

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And the Arcadia

And the Arcadia floorplan really did lend itself to being spun 90 degrees on the lot. Here, I've taken the floorplan and turned it 90 degrees, and I've also added a doorway into the front bedroom, and moved the front door from the dining room (which is darn quirky) into the living room.

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So heres what youre looking for: The

So here's what you're looking for: The Arcadia (left) and the Rosita (right). Note, a lot of things about a house can change through the years, but the chimney placement and roofline usually do not change. When you find these houses, they should all still be lined up, much like they appear in the vintage photos above. You should be able to look at them on Bing Aerial photos and count the rooflines - five side-gabled, two hipped, etc., and it should be a spot-on match to what is shown above in the street (panoramic) shots.

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house on the right

Last but not least, what model are these houses on the right? I puzzled over them for some time. The first house in this row is an Arcadia. Notice how the next house juts out a bit further than the Arcadia? I think to "mix it up a bit," that they stuck a small front porch on an Arcadia turned 90 degrees. The proportions are right and the placement on the windows (on the side) is right. In Carlinville's "Standard Addition" (where Standard Oil built 156 Sears Homes), those houses also had minor architectural changes, so that the houses didn't look just the same.

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Heres a Rosita in the flesh in Deerfield, VA.

Here's a Rosita "in the flesh" in Deerfield, VA. Somewhere in Chester, Pennsylvania, you have a whole neighborhood of these, and the Arcadias, built by Sun Ship Building Company about 1918, but where? Photo is copyright 2012 Linda Ramsey and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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To contact Rose, please leave a comment below!

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Meet Me in Louisa! (September 15th at 2:00 pm)

September 8th, 2013 Sears Homes 3 comments

This Sunday (September 15th), I’ll be in Louisa, Virginia (near Charlottesville) giving a talk on the kit homes in Louisa County.

In the last 12 years, I’ve given more than 250 lectures in 26 states, and the #1 comment I hear from attendees is, “This was such fun, and I learned so much!”

A few fun facts:

* Sears Kit Homes were not prefab homes, but were true kits. Each 12,000-piece kit came with a a 75-page instruction book and a promise that “a man of average abilities” could have it assembled in 90 days.

*  The instruction book offered this somber warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice on how this house should be assembled.”

* The framing members were marked with a letter and a three-digit-number to facilitate construction. Today, these marks can help authenticate that a house is a kit home.

* More than 3/4ths of the people living in these homes don’t realize that they’ve living in a historically significant home!

* And 80% of the people who think that they have a Sears Home are wrong!

* Searching for these homes is like hunting for hidden treasure. From 1908-1940, about 70,000 Sears Homes were sold, but in the 1940s, during a corporate housecleaning, Sears destroyed all sales records. The only way to find these homes is literally one-by-one.


I hope you’ll be able to come out and join us on September 15th at 2:00 pm, at 214 Fredericksburg Avenue in Louisa.

The auditorium only holds 200 people, so get there early!

And if you know anyone who loves old houses, please invite them to join you!

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Woo-hoo!

Okay, actually this is a simple mailer that Aladdin sent out to their customers the late 1910s to let people know that their Aladdin catalog was on its way. It was so cute I decided I could use it here.

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Aladdin was actually a bigger company than Sears (in terms of mail-order kit home sales). Here in Southern Virginia, Ive found far more Aladdin Houses than Sears.

Aladdin was a bigger company than Sears (in terms of mail-order kit home sales). Here in Southern Virginia, I've found far more Aladdin Houses than Sears. While Aladdin was based in Bay City (Michigan), they had a very large mill in Wilmington, NC. The red dot shows where Louisa is located. Or that's what my husband claims. I have plenty of trouble with maps that have lots of detail. Maps like this leave me feeling like I need to lie down for a bit.

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One of my favorite finds in Louisa was this Aladdin Cape Cod (model name).

One of my favorite finds in Louisa was this Aladdin "Cape Cod" (model name).

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Ooh la la, what a pretty house!

Ooh la la, what a pretty house! And it's in Louisa!

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Also found an Aladdin Madison! (From the 1937 catalog)

Also found an Aladdin Madison! (From the 1937 catalog)

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Oh

The front entry has been squared up and enclosed, but other than that, it's a good match!

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My favorite find was the Aladdin Kentucky!

My favorite find was the Aladdin Kentucky! (From the 1915 catalog).

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This was a spacious and fine home.

This was a spacious and fine home.

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Now thats a gorgeous house!

Of all the houses I've found in my house-hunting career, this beauty is certainly one of my Top Ten Favorites. It looks much like it did when it first appeared in the 1912 Aladdin Homes catalog. Original windows, original cypress clapboards, original columns and porch. Good golly, what a house.

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Man oh man, what a match!

Man oh man, what a match!

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Ill also be talking about what I found in nearby communities, such as this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Orange!

I'll also be talking about what I found in nearby communities, such as this Aladdin Shadowlawn in Orange!

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Another

And what a fine-looking Shadowlawn it is.

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The Wexford, from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

The Wexford, from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

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Mineral is best known as the epicenter of the August 2011 earthquake. Its also the home to a perfect Sears Wexford.

Mineral is best known as the epicenter of the August 2011 earthquake. It's also the home to a perfect Sears Wexford. The house was "reversed" from the original image shown in the catalog, which was a common option.

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And look

And look what I found in Charlottesville!

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And look what I found in Charlottesville!

It's a picture-perfect Sears Rockford! Charlottesville has several kit homes that I discovered during a quickie drive-through. I'm sure there are many more just begging to be found.

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To get more information about the upcoming talk, please contact Elaine at info@louisacountyhistoricalsociety.org

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About Rose:

Rose Thornton has traveled throughout the country, seeking and finding Sears Homes. In that time, she’s written dozens of newspaper and magazine articles and several books.

Rose is the author of The Houses That Sears Built (2002,) Finding the Houses That Sears Built (2004) and she’s the co-author of California’s Kit Homes (2004) and Montgomery Wards Mail-Order Homes (2010). Rose’s newest book - The Sears Homes of Illinois - was published in 2011.

Rose has traveled to 26 states to give more than 200 lectures on Sears Homes, from Bungalow Heaven in Los Angeles to The Smithsonian in Washington, DC. She has addressed a wide variety of audiences from architectural preservationists in Boston, St. Louis and Chicago to kit home enthusiasts in small towns across America.

Rose has appeared on PBS (History Detectives), A&E (Biography), CBS (Sunday Morning News) and her book was featured in its own category on Jeopardy. She is considered the country’s #1 authority on kit homes. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street JournalNew York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, L. A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Old House Journal, American Bungalow, Blue Ridge Country and about 100 other publications. Twice in the last three years, the story of her unique career was picked up by the AP and in May 2009, she was interviewed on BBC Radio.

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A Tale of Two Maggies

August 27th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

Sometime in the late 1910s, someone in Lincoln, Nebraska sat down with a specialty catalog from Sears & Roebuck and ordered a kit house called, “The Magnolia.” It was the grandest kit home that Sears offered, with almost 3,000 square feet, 2-1/2 baths, four spacious bedrooms, a porte cochere, a couple sunporches, kitchen nook, fireside inglenook, butler’s pantry, servant’s quarters annd much more.

As the decades rolled by, the house fell into disrepair. In 1985, it suffered a fire and was then razed.

Today, all that first-quality lumber (Oak, Cypress and #1 Southern Yellow Pine from the virgin forests of Louisiana) is sitting in a landfill somewhere in Lincoln.

And someone’s much-loved “Dream Home” is nothing but a sorrowful memory.

About the same time, someone in West Virginia sat down and ordered a Sears Magnolia, and as the decades rolled by, that house also fell into disrepair.

In 2003, it was purchased by someone who loved and respected old houses and they spent the next three years doing a thorough restoration of the 3,000-square foot manse. They did a beautiful job. Some folks who saw the restoration (and it was a true restoration) estimate that the cost of the work hit the seven-digit mark.

And someone’s much loved Magnolia is now a historical treasure in West Virginia.

The photos below come from the two Magnolias: The black and white photos are of the house in Nebraska, gone for 28 years now.

Thanks so much to the wonderful folks at the Nebraska State Historical Society for having the presence of mind to document this wonderful old house before it was razed, and so generously sharing these wonderful photos with me, three decades later.

It’s so tragic that this historically significant house is now a pile of rubble in a landfill, but at least we can get a good look at our “Maggy,” and remember, this was a house that someone carefully selected from the pages of a Sears Roebuck catalog and then painstakingly erected, more than nine decades ago.

“The Tale of Two Maggies,” is the story of two Sears kit homes purchased about the same time (late 1910s/early 1920s); same model house with a radically different outcome.

If you enjoy the blog, please leave a comment below.

To learn more about the Magnolia that lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, click here.

To read about the Magnolia in West Virginia, click here.

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comparison

In 1985, this Magnolia in Lincoln Nebraska was razed after a fire. Prior to this, it had suffered from many years of neglect. And yet, I'm surely grateful that the Nebraska Historical Society had the foresight to photograph the house and then save those photos for posterity. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house

By contrast, this Magnolia (in West Virginia) did *not* suffer from years of neglect. And yet - being a 90-year-old house - it came to its own crossroads in 2003, and was faithfully restored to its former grandeur.

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Two Maggies

The Tale of Two Maggies; quite a contrast in the "caretaking" of old homes.

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One house was painstakingly restored.

Before the fire and subsequent razing, the Magnolia in Lincoln was in dire need of some basic maintenance. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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And one was saved

The Magnolia in West Virginia is the picture of perfection, and thanks to the restoration, will probably live on for another 100 years or more.

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Photo of Lincoln

Going through these photos, I found it remarkable how similar these homes are. They almost look like "before and after" photos of the same house. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Steve Burke

Both houses began at the same starting point: Identical building materials and similar climate conditions, but the Magnolia in WV looks fantastic today - thanks to the restoration work.

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haunting

Of all the pictures I reviewed in preparing this blog, these side-by-side contrasts were the most haunting.

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beautiful old house

Thanks to the Nebraska State Historical Society, we have several interior photos of the Nebraskan Magnolia. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Reception Hall

The breathtakingly beautiful reception hall in the West Virginia Magnolia.

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haunting too

The side-by-side pictures show a striking contrast.

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house house hosue li

The simple elegance of the Magnolia still shines through in these living room photos. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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living room house

Note, the fireplace mantel is the same (as shown above in the Lincoln Magnolia) but the frieze is a little different.

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living room haunting as well

These pictures really showcase what a loss this was, don't they?

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two maggies

Two unnamed ladies in front of the Maggie's fireplace. Notice the brick hearth and brick trim around the firebox. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house maggie girls

The marble hearth and surround were added during the restoration work. It's not original to the house, but it sure is a lovely addition and very nicely done.

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girls in maggie

The notes that accompanied these Nebraska photos state that the mantel and trim (and floor) in living room were solid oak. Based on the info in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, I'd say those notes are right.

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nebraska up

A view of the upstairs hallway. See the little bit of balcony through the French doors? A lot of fine details on this house survived the many decades. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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magnolia up

And the same hallway in the West Virginia Magnolia.

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Magnolia house house house

Side-by-side views of the two Magnolias.

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den fireplace

The mantel in the den was quite simple for such a grand house. This den fireplace (which backed up to the living room fireplace) appears to be a coal-burner, very common in this era and more efficient than a wood-burning fireplace. The 12" square floor tiles are not original to the house. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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den maggy

The original den in the Magnolia was a mere eight feet deep. The den (and the kitchen) in the WV Magnolia were both enlarged with a 40-foot wide addition across the back of the house.

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Magnolia kitchen

The kitchen in the Nebraska Magnolia was mighty close to original. According to a rough sketch of the floor plan, provided by the Nebraska State Historical Society, the Butler's Pantry was removed to create additional space in the kitchen. In the background, you can see three casement windows, and if you look closely, you'll see two benches, the remnants of a built-in dining nook. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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kitchen new

The kitchen in the West Virginia Magnolia is quite different!

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house Nebraska

All in all, it's pretty impressive that this house stood so square and true for so long sans maintenance.

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Porch Maggie

And yet it sure is gorgeous when a little tender loving care is applied.

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About 90 years ago,

About 90 years ago, two hopeful wanna-be homeowners pored over the pages of a Sears Modern Homes catalog, counting their dollars and studying their budget and decided upon the Sears Magnolia. It pains my heart to think that the Magnolia in Nebraska - someone's cherished and much-loved home - is now gone.

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To buy Rose’s book, click here.

To read more about the Magnolia, 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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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.

Inside the Sears Magnolia: In 1918 and 1985

July 12th, 2013 Sears Homes 9 comments

Last week, I did a blog on the lost Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska. One of only eight known Magnolias in the country, the Sears House in Lincoln was torn down in 1985.

Fortunately, the Magnolia in Lincoln was extensively photographed a few months before it was razed. The photos were then archived and saved by the Nebraska State Historical Society.

And nearly 30 years later, the folks at NSHS were kind enough to share these wonderful photos with me.

After studying their photos, I realized that those historically minded folks at Nebraska State Historical Society had photographed the Magnolia’s interiors from the same angle shown in a special fold-out offered in a 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

I’m in possession of two 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalogs, and yet this “special fold out” is not present in either catalog. I suspect that there were two or more revisions of the 1918 catalog, and the catalog that featured the “interior views” (shown below) was a very rare catalog.

For several years, friend and fellow researcher Rachel Shoemaker has been collecting these old catalogs, and she was kind enough to share her copy of this rare 1918 catalog.

A big thank you to Rachel and also to the kind souls at the Nebraska State Historical Society. Because of them, I’m able to put together these 30-year-old photos with the 90-year-old drawings featured in the old Sears Modern Homes catalog.

And a little hint for today’s blog: Take an extra moment and read the captions thoroughly. While I was going through these images, I learned some fascinating things about old houses in general and the Magnolia in particular.

Please share the link with your old-house loving friends!  :)

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Interior

This fold-out appeared in the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog. I've been playing with Sears Homes for 15 years, and yet I'd never seen this page - anytime anywhere. When the Nebraska State Historical Society sent me their files on the Sears Magnolia in Lincoln, they included a faded (and repeatedly xeroxed) copy of this very same page. And it was this page that they apparently used as a guide when they took *their* photos.

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house

Close-up of the text box in the fold-out (1918).

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house house

If you look closely at the floor plan, you'll see a second set of stairs off the kitchen. In tiny print, it says, "To servants' room." Remember that detail. If you look at the back wall of the kitchen, you'll also see the words, "Ice box door." This feature enabled the ice man to place 25 or 50 pounds of ice directly into the ice box - from the back porch - without entering the house. It was also known as the "Jealous Husband's Door."

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house showing

Those kitchen stairs lead into a small hallway that opens up right into a small bedroom, which leads to a bathroom. The servants' area was purposefully isolated from the rest of the family. The servants' bathroom was also smaller and more modest. Remember that detail, too. The family bathroom has a sink that says, "MC" (medicine chest). The servants' bathroom does not say MC. The poor Irish servant girl didn't even have a place to store her toiletries.

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house house house

Close-up of the Magnolia's 20-foot long living room.

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banana house living room

And here it is in real life. Those folks at the Nebraska State Historical Society did a fine job, didn't they? The fireplace mantel is not a perfect match, which is a puzzler. Notice also that the home's original owners went for the Hercules Steam Heating Outfit (which was the most expensive heating option available). Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house house house house

The Magnolia had a grand entry hall. The French doors at the top of the landing lead to a small balcony outside.

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house house house

The Magnolia was an elegant home with classic lines and aristocratic airs, and despite the deterioration occasioned by decades of neglect, its timeless elegance was still apparent. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house upstairs

The photographer was standing in front of the dressing room looking toward the rear of the house on the 2nd floor. These are the same French doors shown in the prior photo, which lead out to that small balcony. If you look close, you can see the balcony's railing. I believe the door on the left leads to that servants' staircase. It's an interesting arrangement, because the balcony and that door are both on a lower level than the rest of the 2nd floor. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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kitchen

My favorite image: The kitchen. Look at that darling little breakfast nook sitting in the coolest spot in the house, with pretty casement windows on all three sides. The door on the right leads to the ice box (with the "Jealous Husband's Door"). And the door on the right leads to the back porch.

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house house kitchen

The NSHS photographers outdid themselves on this image. Nice match to the picture above! The door that's partially open leads to the servants' staircase. The nook is still intact, but the little dinette is gone. The sink has been moved from the right side to the left. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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kitchen floorplan

Here's a close-up of the Magnolia's kitchen and surrounding area. This is a very complicated space! And there's a Butler's Pantry (with a sink) between the dining room and kitchen.

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the den the den

Most post-1950s homes feature a "den," but this wasn't a common concept in the late 1910s (when the Magnolia was first offered). Another unusual concept was the two fireplaces (in the living room and den). By the 1910s, wood-burning fireplaces had fallen from favor because they were considered primitive and old-fashioned. Most houses had a single fireplace so that the family could burn an occasional fire on a cold-winter evening, just for ambiance, but two? Definitely not typical. Plus, it was getting harder and harder to find cheap firewood in the cities, due to the explosive growth of residential and commercial construction.

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house house house house house

Now this mantel is a good match to the image above (minus the cracked mirror)! The floor tile wasn't original, but was probably added in the 1940s or 50s. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house bathroom

This was not the maid's bathroom. This was the FAMILY'S bathroom. How do I know this? Let me count the ways. First, it has that niche created by the chimney (left corner). And it has a shower. Yes, a shower. And while we're in the bathroom, look at the subway tile on the walls and diagonal tiles on the floor. Nice, isn't it?

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shower

The shower was a pretty fancy deal for 1918. I don't know of any other pre-1930 Sears Homes that were offered *with* showers. And this isn't your typical shower. This one sits at the far end of the tub, away from the tub's drain and supply lines. Now that's curious. I wish I knew when showers came into vogue in typical American homes. If a reader could answer that, I'd be tickled pink.

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house in Benson

This is *not* the Magnolia in Lincoln, but it's another Magnolia with a "Family Bathroom" that's in original condition. When I first saw this bathroom, I was utterly mystified by the hose bibs on the lower right. There's a bedroom on the other side of that wall. Why would there be plumbing on the far side of the tub? And I have thought about this curious plumbing arrangement ever since. Thanks to Rachel's 1918 "interior views," I think the puzzle is solved. I suspect that these water lines supplied water to that funky shower at the far end of the tub. The house bibs may have been added for a washer hook-up later on, but look at the plumbing lines that snake around the back of the tub and (perhaps) to the side where that shower once was.

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house shower

It's a not-so-great photo, but you can see the two hose bibs with two lines coming off and snaking around the back and side of the tub. And if you look close, you'll see a piece of that old subway tile behind the tub.

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house tub

If you look at the front of the tub, you see the lines here (for the bathtub faucets) are original and in use. In fact, judging from the paint, they haven't been disturbed in a very long time.

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house bathroom

The contemporary photo of the bathtub (with those awesome swans on the side) was taken almost four years ago, and yet it's only in the last 24 hours, when I saw this vintage image, that I was able to surmise why there were pipes behind the tub. Who says history isn't fun? :)

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house house house

How many Magnolias are out there? Thus far, we know of eight that were built, and seven are still standing.

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house in Nebraska

The grand old Magnolia in Nebraska was torn down in 1985 due to decades of neglect. These photos are bittersweet, because this house should have been salvaged. Instead, it's now just another pile of construction debris in a local landfill. Nonetheless, I'm unspeakably grateful for these many wonderful images. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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house in neb

This framing members used in the construction of this house were first-growth lumber, #1 Southern Yellow Pine, harvested from the virgin forests of Louisiana. The exterior (siding, trim and balustrades) is Cypress, once lauded as "The Wood Eternal," because of its natural resistance to moisture, decay and insect infestation. The two-story columns were Yellow Poplar. Inside, the entire house had oak trim and mill work, with tongue-and-groove oak floors. The kitchen floor was maple. This house was built with a quality of building materials we will never again see in this country. RIP, Magnolia. Photo is courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and may not be used or reproduced without written permission.

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Many thanks to the Nebraska State Historical Society for sharing these photos, and thanks also to Rachel Shoemaker for sharing the vintage images from that rare 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Read more  the “Jealous Husband’s Door” click here.

To learn more about the Sears Magnolia, click here.

Want to see more photos of the Magnolia in Lincoln, Nebraska? Click here.

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