Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sears Lebanon in Ferguson, Missouri... and More

sears houses in st louis sears lebanon
401 Estelle, Ferguson, Missouri (St. Louis area) • Probable Sears Lebanon
This home in the St. Louis area town of Ferguson, Missouri, is currently listed for sale. It looks to be a Sears Lebanon.

I didn't find the listing for this house -- Sears researcher and leader of Sears house tours in Springfield Ohio, Cindy Catanzaro, brought the listing to my attention.  We wondered if this was one of the houses that Rosemary Thornton had mentioned in her blog post about a long-ago visit (2002-ish) to Ferguson, and, sure enough, it is.  Unfortunately, Rose doesn't mention in her post whether or not she went inside and found marked lumber, or any other signs to authenticate the house, but she does say that she was hired to look around the town and identify Sears homes that she spotted. This was one of them.  One noticeable difference from the catalog image, is the look of the front porch columns and balustrade, all made of brick, in a style different from what was shown in the catalog.  The tax records mention that the house was remodeled in 1940, so perhaps this design change was made at that time?

1920 sears catalog lebanon model
Here is the Lebanon in my 1920 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
401 estelle ferguson mo sears house plaque
Proudly displaying their Sears-ness :)
The tax records give the build date of this house as 1917, however, I'm not sure how accurate that is.  I spent some time at the Missouri History Museum's Research Library recently, and included this address in my searches through historic St. Louis County Directories.  It's possible to do a reverse search, when you only have a street name and number, so that's what I did. In 1917, this house number was not yet listed on Estelle Avenue in Ferguson:


Sorry -- didn't realize that my photo was so blurry!
I checked every year available -- 1927 was not available -- and first found the house listed in 1928:


Finally! 1928 shows the house as being present on Estelle Avenue.
The 1926 directory did not yet have the house listed, so my guess is that it was built in 1927, and that someone reading the old building permit may have mis-read the 2 as a 1, and thought that it read 1917. Who knows. Oddly, though, the last catalog year that I find the Lebanon in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, is 1922-- it's not in the 1925. I don't know if Sears offered homes that were in previous catalogs, so I don't know if this build date is an issue of concern.

I did double check Milton R. Hume and his wife, Mae (the 1928 residents), to see where the census put them in 1920, but they didn't come up in St. Louis at all.  And, then, in 1930, they were no longer at this address -- they were renting in a nearby town. By 1930, Walker and Joan Hardison were the residents of 401 Estelle Avenue, and in 1932, the Hardisons were gone, and Frank H. Meyer lived there. 
So, it's possible that this build-year information is not accurate. 
The first-floor layout and footprint seem to match the catalog pretty closely-- at least, for the main body of the house (the grey part). But... fellow researcher Andrew Mutch (KitHouseHunters.blogspot.com) points out that it is odd that the assessor's rendering of the front porch (part B) is off center, when clearly, the porch on the house itself is spot on center):

1920 catalog image of the first floor of the Lebanon (left), and tax records property footprint for 401 Estelle.
As you scroll through the real estate listing's photos, you can see that the layout seems to be right for the Lebanon.  Let's take a look at a few (click to enlarge):
401 estelle ferguson mo for sale
Door, windows, and staircase in the right spots. 
sears lebanon entry way
Dining room to the side of the front door, with large casement
for the entry way.
Kitchen off of the dining room, as it should be. Looks like
they enlarged the doorway into the kitchen.
floorplan of second floor sears lebanon




 Cindy Catanzaro thought that she had spied Stratford door hardware on one of the doors inside this house on Estelle.  It may have been the door handle on this bathroom door:
Possible Sears Stratford design hardware inside the Sears Lebanon. Though they opted for the glass-handle door knob, the shape of the plate looks to be Stratford design.
Here is an authentic example of Stratford door hardware, in a Sears Roseberry in Carlinville, Illinois. Thanks, Dale Haynes, for sharing this photo from your home!
sears stratford door hardware
Click to enlarge.
The "Lookalike"
A lookalike is a model made by another company, that has a very close look to one of the major kit company homes. One lookalike that I found for the Sears Lebanon, is the Sterling Homes Garland model:
sears lebanon clone lookalike
Sterling Homes Garland
The Garland is only a close match, it's not a spot-on clone, as sometimes can be found for some models.  The second-floor layout is similar, but with the staircase in a completely different spot, it changes things up quite a bit. The living room stretches across the front of the first floor, whereas the Lebanon's front is split between the living room and dining room. Obviously, the Garland has four windows in the big front dormer, and the Lebanon has only two, plus, the distribution of front windows and entry doorway is different between the two models.  The Garland also has two different sizes (Garland, and Garland-B), and in both sizes, it is deeper than it is wide, which is the opposite of the Lebanon.

Another Sears House in Ferguson?
I was interested in Ferguson especially, lately, because I had found a $6,000 Sears mortgage from about 1930, I believe, and I was having trouble matching up the name on the mortgage, to an address in Ferguson.  When I found the couple on the census, they were listed as living on N. Elizabeth Avenue, but, unfortunately the census just had everyone on the street listed by name, and with their residence as, "farm", and no house numbers were given.  I eventually found them with an address, by looking in later years' St. Louis County Directory, and found them listed at 1000 N. Elizabeth.  Unfortunately, that address no longer has a house for it, and all of the houses around there look like 1950s or '60s ranches... except for this one:

933 N. Elizabeth Avenue, Ferguson, MO
So, I checked back on Rose Thornton's blog post, and found that she had listed this house as one of her finds... she said that she had almost missed it the first time, but was sure that it was a Lexington. And, when you look closely at the front door, you can see that they have one of those, "I am a Sears House" plaques, so I guess that they, too, think that they have a Lexington. What do you think?
Looks like we can see that plaque on the left side.
Sure, the porch and entry door look great for a Sears Lexington, which comes standard with the Colonial front door from the catalog:
Sure looks just like the Sears Colonial front door.
Perhaps they re-did the door some time in the many decades of the life of this house? 
Overall Size Is A Concern
But, what about the overall size of the house? The Lexington should be 26 feet deep... but, 933 N. Elizabeth is 34 feet deep.   The Lexington should be 36 feet wide, but 933 N. Elizabeth is 38 feet wide.

Of course, when Rose Thornton did her survey of homes in this neighborhood, in 2002-ish, I guess it was not nearly as easy as it is now, to get hold of information like the size of the footprint of the house.  Nowadays, we can pull up all of that information online, from the comfort of our lovely little home office space, but the information may not have been available at all back in 2002, or at least not without a visit, in person, to the St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds building in Clayton.  I don't know if, when one is hired to do a survey of a town, if those details are left to the homeowner to search out on their own, or if it would be expected that the fee would cover that level of close checking before authenticating a home. We just don't know those particulars.

"If it doesn't fit, [we] must acquit."
Side Windows Are A Concern
And the side windows, on the non-fireplace side of the house are troubling.  The first floor should have two sets of close-together double windows, separated by a rather large space between the two sets... probably about the equivalent of three windows of distance that should be solid wall.  But, a look at that side of the house shows three full-size windows, spaced not all that close together, with another small window just about as distant. That doesn't look at all like the window layout that the catalog shows. Does it to you?

Window problems on the first floor.
So, how about the second-floor windows on that side? The second floor should have one window in each of the two bedrooms up on that side of the house, with a huge amount of solid wall space between them.  It doesn't look at all like that is the window layout we have up there on the second floor of 933 N. Elizabeth, unfortunately.

More window problems on the second floor.
Front Elevation Is A Concern
So, what about the front elevation?  The number of windows is perfect.  But... what about their size? The catalog shows 6-pane windows (6-over-6: 6 panes in the top half of the window, over 6 panes in the bottom half of the window).  But, our house at 933 N. Elizabeth has noticeably larger windows -- these are 8-over-8 windows.  Even if they are not the original windows, the opening for the windows would not have been enlarged if new windows were added... they would have used the same size. So, this is surely the size of the original windows (and these may be the original windows).

A beautiful house, that maybe isn't a Sears Lexington after all.
6 over 6 windows 8 over 8 windows
Different size windows in the catalog, vs. on the real house.
The windows are clearly larger, as you can see that, were you to add shutters to the sides of each of the windows, you would not end up with the amount of space between windows, that you see in the catalogue image.

Of course, there is the obvious lack of a side porch -- a hallmark of the Lexington-- and the inclusion of these two very unexpected little eyebrow dormers (a style which I don't believe we ever see on Sears homes). As fellow researcher Lara Solonickne (Sears Homes of Chicagoland) points out in her comment below, if this is a Sears house, it is a custom re-working of the Lexington.

Another Sears House on N. Elizabeth?
Now, down the street a bit, at 825 N. Elizabeth, is a little house that actually looks like it may be an over-vinylized Sears Crescent. The footprint, and front and side windows, seem to match the expected finds for a Sears Crescent, including two windows toward the back on the left side of the house, and a side entry door on the right side of the house, just a bit closer than center on that side. The front door is now a double door, instead of the expected single door with two sidelights, and the front windows are newer-- but, they are still triple windows on each side, with skinnier windows flanking a wider single window.  The Google maps images are awful, and there is a tree in the way, but I'll show you what I've got:

Clearly, the vinyl siding folks couldn't deal with the gentle curve
of the original porch roof. The cornice returns are still there, though.
There are the expected two side windows, on the left of the house...
and the triple windows on the left front, and right front.
A brighter view of 825 N. Elizabeth, Ferguson, Missouri
Triple windows, of the correct proportions, on the right side of the front,
and there is that side entry door on the right side of the house.
The chimney makes no sense there, though.
Definitely a 3-part window in front.
And, for comparison, here is a very-probable Crescent in Rock Hill Missouri, with the same footprint as this house in Ferguson. (You can read more about it, and about the many lookalikes to the Crescent, here in my blog post from January 2015.)
Probable Sears Crescent in Rock Hill, Missouri
(Click to enlarge)
Here is a comparison of the tax assessor's footprint information for 825 N. Elizabeth, and the smallest model of the Sears Crescent:

Footprint for Sears Crescent matches this house, and the floor plan shows the side and front windows that the photographs above do, as well.
The residents of this house in 1932 were Danish immigrant to the U. S.,  Christian A. Thornam, and his Missouri-born wife, Ina.  According to the 1930 census (which puts them at 801 N. Elizabeth, but the 1932 County Directory puts them at 825 N. Elizabeth), Christian was a wholesale tire salesman, and, according to his passport application of 1919, he owned two stores.

Christian Axel Thornam's draft registration card for WWI.


Christian Axel Thornam's passport application of 1919.

Christian Axel Thornam and Ina Fey apply for a marriage license in 1926.

EDIT (October 4, 5:30 p.m.): A few fellow researchers and I are still questioning a few aspects of this house.  One is not sure if the porch roof is actually big enough, and the support structures for the porch are not correct. There should be a boxier support area.  Here is an example of an authenticated Crescent, with the red arrow pointing to the boxy support structure that should connect the porch roof to the support poles:

The porch structure on the Crescent should be really impressive in size,
and part of that should be provided by these large, boxy structures.
Does our house at 825 N. Elizabeth have that? No. But, it looks to me like the porch has been going through a re-build.

Another issue, pointed out by fellow researcher Cindy Catanzaro, is that the Crescent should have cornice returns on the sides of the house, at the bottom of the roof, like you see on this beautiful authenticated Crescent (note red arrows):


I was about to pull the plug on this house, and declare it not a Crescent. But, the matching footprint, front windows, and side windows, along with the probability of a porch re-build and changes that might have come about from re-roofing and/or adding vinyl to the house, make me wonder.  I think that I need to visit this house in person, and report back. 

See how challenging it can be to correctly ID a Sears house? 

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That's it for our visit to Ferguson, Missouri!
Rose found a Marina, a Walton, a Barrington, and a Gordon-Van Tine No. 605, so if you know the exact street address of any of those homes in Ferguson, please feel free to leave me a comment, or contact me through the blog. I'd especially love to know if there is any authenticating evidence for the home at 933 N. Elizabeth Avenue, and we'd love to add your homes to our National Database of Sears Homes.

To read Rosemary Thornton's post about the houses she found in Ferguson, click here
To read Cindy Catanzaro's blog, Sears Houses In Ohio, click here.

4 comments:

  1. Hi, regarding the Lebanon... Sears would sometimes bring back old models if the customer wanted it. I've found cases where it was only 1-2 years past its last appearance in the catalogs, though. Is there a chance Estelle had a name change and that's why you never found it in the street directory before?

    Regarding the Lexington--WHOA that house is huge! I would be very uncomfortable calling that a Lexington, despite the porch overhang. There are more strikes against it than elements that support that identification. If that house were authenticated by a mortgage (which I doubt), I would call it a custom build rather than a Lexington.

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    1. Hi Lara -- No, I don't think that Estelle, the street, would have had a name change, because the street existed in the 1917 directory, there was just no one listed at the address. I considered that possibly there might have been a shift in addresses, but at least one of the street's residents (Frank E. Miller), was at the same address (No. 425) both in 1917 and 1928.

      I suppose that it is possible that the house was there, but no one was living in it? Perhaps it was built as some kind of spec house for a local builder?

      As always, thanks for your comment, and your collaboration!

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  2. I can see how you can get hooked on researching these houses. I'm not a fan of the brick front porch redo (or the updates). The front lacks the balance and flow of the original look.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I don't know why they would have chosen that look, but St. Louis was a major brick supplier back in those days, so maybe they were in the biz :)

      Delete

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