Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sears Lewiston with LaTosca Hardware ("I've Found a Sears House!")

lewiston sears modern homes model st louis
A 1929* Sears Lewiston in a St. Louis area suburb, with an unusual tuck-under garage.
(*Tax records list the build date as 1936, but I found the mortgage deed for this house, from 1929.)

So, let me be clear: I am completely a novice at kit-home and plan-book searching. 

But, I have learned a thing or two. 

The first thing I learned, was that Sears is not the only kit-home company. I learned of Wardway (homes marketed by Montgomery Ward) early on, when I went to the library to get a Rose Thornton Sears book, and found that she and Dale Wolicki also had a book on Wardway homes.  Turns out there are many companies... Sears was a big one, though.

houses that sears built_rosemary_thornton

The second thing I learned, was that Sears and Wardway (and all of the others) marketed homes that looked just like each other's (sometimes REALLY just like, and sometimes just similar), and just like all of the other homes from the 1920s and 30s. I learned this by thinking that every house in this town where I live must be a Sears home-- and finding out that they're not. Not at all. Almost none of them. Really. But they sure are darn close. Sometimes maddeningly so.

How do you know it's not? Well, usually, an established researcher will point out something to you that is really stupidly obvious... to them (and then to you)... since they look at these houses all the time, and they realize there are not-quite-the-same lookalikes out there everywhere. When you're new to the game, you think something that "pretty much looks like" the catalogue image, just MIGHT be ... but, the experienced researchers see right away that it's not.  The door is in the wrong spot. The width of the front gable is way off. The windows are in totally different spots. The slant of the roof is completely different. The footprint of the house is completely wrong. The house is from 20 years before Sears started marketing that house. That kind of thing.

Here's a house that is right around the corner from me-- I was SO excited when I realized that it was the spitting image of the Lewiston that everyone in the Sears Homes FaceBook group was talking about! So, I walked over, took a bunch of photos (with too many damned trees in the way), and proudly posted my photos:

I was immediately informed that something was wrong about this nearby house,
and it's not a Sears Lewiston.
I think the pointy part is too high. Or too skinny. I don't know.

But... I was immediately informed that this wasn't a Sears Lewiston. There are many other kit-home companies and plan-book companies with SIMILAR designs. Some companies (like STANDARD, have about 5 different size floor plans).

sears lewiston clone lookalike
Here's the "Standard Homes" Holbrooke.  See? Just like the Lewiston.
But not quite! (I got this photo from a friend.)

sears lewiston clone_ sears lewiston lookalike
But, wait! Here's the "Standard Homes" Cromwell!
Wait, now... look closely at the big picture window,
that's NOT there on the Holbrooke. Or the Lewiston.

sears colchester lookalike_sears lewiston clone
And... hold on! Here's the "Standard Homes" CARLTON.
I haven't looked closely at the size of the floorplan,
but I'll bet that the only difference between this and the
Cromwell, is the brick veneer and half-timbered look.
These last two are from the 1948 catalogue, found on

I found that some folks in that FaceBook group were patient and supportive. But, not everyone. Sometimes, talented, knowledgeable folks, with tons of experience, a great eye, and miles and miles of pages of catalogues in their possession (all super-efficiently organized by house-style theme), just don't know how to be diplomatic. Or polite. Or gracious. Or, they just don't want to be. When you come across one of those people, and your house IS a Sears house, they're excited as heck to be the one to "authenticate" it for you (I guess they like giving off that, "see what I know that you didn't really know for sure!" vibe).  But, if you're wrong... whoooooaaa Nelly, watch out! You'll be corrected. Bluntly. Every time. Right away. And your pictures will get mysteriously deleted. Before anyone else can answer your questions. Yes, it's a hobby. Yes, there's no need for this kind of impatience.  But, it's there with some people, that's for sure.

Another view of the house I had no business calling a Sears Lewiston
(now with a fresh, new, bigger window up top in front).

Truly, it's understandable that folks would get a bit tired of the same thing happening over and over again. And having to tell yet another new "enthusiast" that she or he is not looking at all of the details. But, everyone started off at the same point. Some folks just forget that they were there at one point, too. Some folks can handle these repetitious errors from newcomers with unending patience and kindness, and really enjoy helping you come to figure this out on your own. It's probably a special gift to be one of those kinds of people.  And-- they're out there! So, don't despair! (I've found three other great FaceBook groups, by the way-- where I feel at home, and I learn something every day.) Just today, with the incredible patience and guidance of two of my house-seeking buddies (both incredibly knowledgeable and well-versed in researching techniques), I found my first house via a foreclosure deed (a deed or a mortgage record is undeniable proof that the house came from Sears-- or whomever).  It was such fun. It was a dinky little old bungalow, but some family loved it back in 1927, and lost it in 1928, so, as I was excited about my find, I knew to keep in mind that there are real people attached to these homes we seek.

1930 sears lewiston from catalog
This 1930 Sears catalogue image is from an interesting 2011 blog post by Rose Thornton
(you'll notice that Lara commented that the "real" Lewiston Rose showed in that blog post
might actually be the Standard Homes Holbrooke).

With that, I'll leave you with photos of the sale listing (from CircaProperties -- they specialize in historic homes) of the real Lewiston house I showed at the beginning of this blog. It's just gone under contract! A new family will be adding to its interesting history.

sears lewiston for sale st louis webster groves
The house number actually goes to the busy side street of this house,  
but it sits facing a nice, quiet street.

Take a CLOSE look at that door.  That's not just any 1930s door.
That's a Sears model door.
The placement of the window, and the line of the hinge hardware,
can be real clues about which company offered the door
on the house you're looking at.
You can't authenticate a house solely on its door, of course, but it can be a helpful clue.

Wait! Take a look at that door handle hardware.
That's the Sears La Tosca style! Only offered by Sears.
This was the key in identifying this home as a true Sears home,
and not a look-alike.  It was thanks to Cindy C., a truly gracious Sears expert,
that I learned that this house I had run across (driving by it last month) was for sale,
and that interior photos showed it to have the La Tosca door hardware.
Closeup views of several original door handle hardware examples in this house.
EDIT, May 30, 2017: Oh, wait! Here is a much better photo of La Tosca, from the newer Real Estate listing.

These two La Tosca images are straight from another informative and interesting
blog post by the (also always gracious!) author of Sears Homes of Chicagoland.
The February 2014 post (about a Sears Woodland model -- lots of information
about identifying features of this Sears home, and others) can be found at this link.

This photo is from an article from OldHouseJournal, by
Shirley Maxwell and James C. Massey, entitled, "Inside The Sears House", which refers to
 a Sears Cedars that I have written a post about.

I love these wood floors.
This shows a first-floor bedroom, and the bathroom entry.

Looks like they've renovated the bathroom,
while keeping a lovely, vintage feel to it.

Tell-tale signs of a vintage house second-floor bedroom -- the funky sloped ceiling!

Ahh... how I wish I had a screened-in porch like this one. 

This is the 1st-level floor plan as shown by real-estate listing.
UPDATE: This house has now been authenticated.  I located the 1929 Sears deed, signed by Walker O. Lewis, in my research in June of 2015. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sears #110 (Silverdale) in Massachusetts (and a GVT No. 167 in Hettick, IL)

sears no 110
Our Family's 1911 Sears #110 (Silverdale)

In 1911, my maternal great grandparents (both first-generation immigrants from Russian Poland) ordered a house from a Sears catalogue. They chose the #110, later known as the Silverdale.  In 1911, Sears had not yet begun selling their houses as pre-cut packages (known as "kits"), but they did sell the blueprints and all of the needed lumber, hardware, windows, door knobs, screws, nails, shingles, floorboards, mill work, and kitchen and bathroom fixtures-- all as one big package, shipped by rail to a nearby railroad station, where it would be picked up by the buyer, and hauled back to the home site... to be constructed by a hired crew, or by the buyers themselves.

Descendants of my great grandparents still own and reside in this home, and this is where my mother grew up. The design of the upper floor was modified at the time of purchase of the blueprints, to accommodate two families, and, over its 100+ years of history, it has had several other additions and alterations, but it sits on the exact footprint of the #110 as shown in the Sears catalogue, and still contains many of the tell-tale signs of a true Sears #110.  (Though we knew the story of our family home, our house has been authenticated as a Sears house by noted architectural historian, Rebecca Hunter, through shipping labels, visuals, and family history.) Our house has held its own against at least two major floods-- all the way up into the second floor of the house-- but sits today, lovingly cared for by my aunt and uncle, with the same patch of peonies that my grandmother planted many, many decades ago. Here is the story of our family home.

(NOTE ON PHOTOS: All photos used here are the property of the blogger, and may not be used for any reason, without a direct, legible, link to this blog post. Many thanks to my cousin Martha for the wonderful family photos used here.)

Design and Alterations Through the Years

sears no 110 model northampton massachusetts
sears no 110 front porch
In the top photo, of my mom's uncle, you can see the original clapboard siding on the house.  It was later re-sided with cedar shingles.
sears 110 floor plan

sears no 110 front door
sears model 126 catalog
On the right, is a photo of the door of another Sears house -- same door! The dark door also has the original round doorbell, one of which was also on our family's front door, originally.

Click on image to go to Rose Thornton's blog post.

Residents of the Massachusetts #110 Through the Years

My maternal great-grandparents, Jan and Franciszka, purchased and built the Sears #110 in 1911.
If you were able to look really closely here, you would see that the house, at this date, still had the very tight, narrow, wooden clapboard, for its siding. At some point, shortly after this, it was re-sided with cedar shingling. I learned about this bit of info this summer, from my cousin Pete (pictured in the 1959 photo, below), while visiting the family this summer.
The house as it looks today (upper left); the house as it looked in 1940 (upper right), before some of the alterations to the back of the house; the #110/Silverdale as shown in the Sears catalogue.
Another wonderful family photo (thanks, Martha M.!), circa 1959, showing the back of the house, pre- enclosure of the back porch, and pre-2nd-floor addition above the back porch.
The Gordon Van Tine #167 – a Silverdale / #110 Lookalike
Browsing through the Gordon Van Tine (GVT) 1916 catalogue on archive.org one day recently, I came across a Silverdale lookalike! The GVT model is called the #167, and is almost an exact duplicate in floor plan and design, of the Sears #110/Silverdale. There are two noticeable differences: 

• A spot on the left side of the house, where there is a small window (on the GVT model) looking into the front vestibule of the house, where there is a full-size window on the Sears model. 

• The front porch roof is a 3-part roof on the GVT model, but a 4-part roof on the Sears model (this also alters the placement of the entryway onto the porch).

I had read a blog post by Rose Thornton (noted researcher of Sears Homes and Wardway Homes, and author of several books and websites on these subjects) in the past, about a house she identified as a Silverdale, in Hettick, IL.  When I came across this GVT #167, and compared its image to the one Rose posted on her blog, I noticed that the Hettick, IL house she was showing, had the two characteristics that would distinguish it as a GVT, instead of as a Sears Silverdale.  

I left a comment on her blog, bringing this to her attention, and she graciously replied that she felt that the house in Hettick is most probably a GVT #167, and not a Silverdale.  To read Rose’s blog post on the Hettick, IL house, clickhere. To see the GVT 1916 catalogue page showing the #167, clickhere. (To read a newer blog post [March 2015] about ANOTHER company's Silverdale/110 lookalike, click HERE.)
gordon van tine 167 hettick illinois
On the Sears #110 / Silverdale, you see the four-part porch roof.  Even though the placement of the steps and opening to enter the porch was moved to the left side of the porch (during original construction), the roof still has that four-part  construction.

To learn more about Sears Kit Homes, Gordon Van Tine Kit Homes, Wardway Kit Homes, and more:

Houses By Mail (A Guide to Houses from Sears, Roebuck and Company) -- published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation [Katherine Cole Stevenson and H. Ward Jandl]
Kit House.org (Architectural Researcher Rebecca Hunter's website, which also lists her books)
Sears Archives (the basic background on Sears Mail-Order homes, with some images from catalogues)
The Houses That Sears Built (and others on Sears Homes and Montgomery Ward "Wardway" kit homes) [Rose Thornton]-- that link takes you to Rose Thornton's blog on catalogue houses, as well.
Gordon Van Tine.com (by noted researcher and author Dale Wolicki)
History and Field Guide to Wardway Homes: WardwayHomes.com [by Rose Thornton and Dale Wolicki]
Sears Homes of Chicagoland (a very informative blog)
AntiqueHome.org (a source for many images of house plans from many kit-home companies and plan-book companies throughout the 20th century)
The Arts & Crafts Society (a blog with images and information for Sears Homes and others)