Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sears Altona (or NOT!) in Webster Groves, MO

Originally thought to be a 1920 Sears Altona  •  829 Atalanta, Webster Groves, MO   
Original front porch was enclosed, and this is an added-on front porch.  
A wonderful find:
Three Sears Altonas, all on Atalanta Avenue in lovely Webster Groves, Missouri (in the greater St. Louis area).

April 27, 2015 Update:
As you can see from the comment from author Rosemary Thornton (below), there was, indeed, a good reason why she hadn't mentioned these three houses as Altonas during her 2002 interview about Sears houses on this street... she has good reason to feel that they are plan book designs that were very similar to the Altona, and not the actual Sears model itself. 

As you can see in her comment below, she points out that the original Sears catalogue design is for a 1-1/2 story house, and this one is clearly 2 full stories on the side that has the gabled dormer jutting out.  I was unable to see that element in the catalogue, as the photo is from the other side.  However, if you look at this photo, you can just make out the little bit of cornice end jutting out on that side... follow the yellow arrows (the real house in the photo is in Louisville, Illinois, and is from Rose's March 2012 blog post that I cite near the end of this post).


The yellow arrows point out where the roof line comes down into a cornice, and shows how the roof itself continues across the house, making that double-window dormer.  On the three houses in Webster Groves, that section blends into the full second story on that side of the house, instead of jutting out of the roof like a dormer.


So, Rose commented that this house design that I show here was a very common plan book design. I'm wondering if anyone knows which plan book this comes from? 

I would be tempted to write the new homeowners, and ask them if they had any reason to believe that this might have been an altered plan from Sears-- an option to make the upper bedrooms into a full second floor, instead of a half-story, but this Sears design was never offered as a pre-cut home... so, there won't be any marked lumber to support that possibility. The option is not mentioned in the catalogue, anyway.

What follows here, however, is my explanation of the process that I went through in (mistakenly) coming to the conclusion that these three homes were the Sears Altona model. And... what does all of this show? It shows how very tricky it is to authenticate a Sears house!

I recently ran across a little 2002 article in the Kirkwood-Webster Times, about Sears homes in this area (read it HERE).  It was an interview with noted researcher, Rosemary Thornton, back in the year that her first book on Sears homes was published (The Houses That Sears Built; Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sears Catalog Homes).  Rose was then living in Alton, Illinois, which is near St. Louis, so the Kirkwood-Webster Times snagged an interview.  In the article, Rose mentioned that folks had brought to her attention a (1935) Sears Crescent on this street, and a beautiful (1919) Sears No. 126.  

However, that same evening, I came across a real estate listing for another home on the same street -- 829 Atalanta Avenue-- and the description referred to it as "an original Sears house".  I was surprised, because I thought that, if there were another Sears house on that same street that Rose had visited, and mentioned in the article, then she would have mentioned it, too. But, she hadn't. Rose Thornton has an incredible eye for recognizing not only Sears houses, but models from other kit companies. She seems to have almost a photographic memory for these models. So, it's quite possible that she noticed and mentioned these Altonas, but the interviewer didn't include them in the article. I can't be sure about that, of course, but, that article was in 2002, so who knows. Somehow the owners of 829 Atalanta came to know that their house was a Sears home, so it may well have been Rose who informed them. But, it hadn't been mentioned anywhere since. 

The Altona as it was shown on the Zillow listing
(obviously, it has been painted blue since this photo was taken).

So, I showed the listing to some of my Sears-homes-researcher friends.  I didn't recognize the model, and neither did they, on first glance. 

But, then, the next day, I was flipping through my 1913 Sears Modern Homes catalogue, and I spied the No. 121 (the early name for the Altona). Wow! I'm sure it was the little front-gable surround above the front second-floor windows, and that little flower-box-looking section under them, that caught my eye.  It reminded me of the house on Atalanta -- but, it didn't look quite like it. 


Sears catalogue image, compared to 829 Atalanta.
The Atalanta home does not have the little dormer, and the front porch we see is an addition, in front of the original.

The house on Atalanta didn't have the little dormer on the right side of the roof.  And, it had an unexpected front porch protruding from the house, instead of the inset porch shown in the catalogue image. 

Trying to Verify the Altona

So, I set to work investigating.  Through St. Louis County Department of Revenue Real Estate information, and Google-map searching, I was able to compare the footprint and some side views of the Atalanta home, to the catalogue image. Bingo. I discovered that the footprint was a match, but that the original porch had been enclosed, and the porch seen here was added on in front of it.  With further help from the interior photos from the real estate listing,  I was able to compare the interior layout against the first-floor layout shown in the catalogue -- excellent results. 

Catalogue footprint image, vs the footprint shown on the St. Louis County DOR Real Estate page.
 Then, I decided to take a drive to Atalanta Avenue, on my way home from work, and snap a few of my own shots (the shots you see of the house when it is painted blue, are my original shots this past week).  However... what else did I find?? I found that there were two other houses right by this one, that I'm sure are also Altonas. One is to the right of this one, and one is to the right of the Crescent (that makes it about 4 out of 5 or 6 houses in a row, that are Sears houses, three of the same model). I'll show those in a moment, but first, the photos comparing against catalogue images:

There's no denying the similarity.  Look at those huge cornice returns, the layout of the side windows, and... there it is... the enclosure of the original porch (there where the long, slim window is).

VoilĂ !  The enclosed front porch.  There is the little skinny window you see on the outside.

Follow the colored arrows.  Living Room (Parlor) and Dining Room.

More colored arrows ;)  Dining Room, headed into pantry, a teeny view of the kitchen, and the two entrances to stairways...
the ones behind the door head down into the basement.

A different view of the Dining Room... note the stairs and the double windows.

Kitchen!  It looks like a section of the pantry was converted into a powder room.  The sink and window above it are just where the catalogue floorplan shows them to be.

More Altonas!

The (probable) Altona at 829 Atalanta was built in 1920.  Of the other two I found just near it, the one next door, at 833, was built in 1910, and the one that is just a few doors away, at 843, is shown to have been built in 1920.

This is a bit odd, because Houses By Mail (Stevenson and Jandl, page 111 -- available HERE) shows the No. 121 / Altona as being in the 1911 through 1918 catalogues. I first wondered if what happened here, is that the original house was built in 1910 or 1911, and then that same owner used his his blueprints to build the other two, in 1920. However, 843 Atalanta is the reverse footprint, so... I don't know! Additionally, I notice that there is another Altona with a build year of 1910: it is listed on the page of the Sears Archives website for Sears Homes Enthusiasts that shows a list of owners of certain homes.  Apparently, there is a 1910 No. 121/Altona in Bayport, N.Y. (Long Island):

entry from the Sears Archives page of Sears Homes Enthusiasts, available online HERE.


I compared the side views of all three houses, to compare window layout, and look for those lovely cornice returns.  I compared their footprints from the DOR listing. Everything checks out to show that these houses seem to all be the size and look of the Sears Altona.

1988 Renovation

Unfortunately, it looks like the original 1910 house, at 833 Atalanta, had remodeling done in 1988, and, as you can see from the outside, all of the original cedar shake siding, as well as the beautiful details around the top left windows. was done away with, and replaced with vinyl or aluminum siding. The front porch was also enclosed, making a smooth-across-the-front, plain vanilla, look to the front of the house.

Here are views of all three of the Altonas on Atalanta Avenue, showing the cornice-return, double-windows side of the house:
833 Atalanta • 1910 -- with all of the character stripped away!
(You can see 829 Atalanta right next to it.)

843 Atalanta • 1920

829 Atalanta • 1920

And here are shots showing the other side of the house, with the same window pattern on all three:

843 Atalanta


829 Atalanta

833 Atalanta
As always, I must add that I have not been able to authenticate that these three are Sears Altonas, because I haven't seen blueprints, a mortgage or deed record, or seen marked lumber (any one of those would cinch it).  But, I think that all evidence presented here supports the strong probability that these three wonderful homes are Sears Altonas.  

A few more views:
The 1910, with its newer plain-vanilla front.
At least spring has sprung, and the setting was gorgeous the day I took this photo.

843 Atalanta, has the least changes to the front -- the original porch, unenclosed,
and some lovely decorative wood treatments. It is the reverse floorplan from the other two.


Here are the matching backs of 833 (yellow) and 829 (blue) Atalanta.
(By the way, that cellar hatchway also matches the Sears Altona floorplan.)


If you're interested in seeing a few more Altonas, Rose Thornton has a blog post from March of 2012, showing several. Click here to read that.

If you have photos of a Sears Altona, I'd love to see them. Feel free to leave a comment below.  

p.s. I haven't forgotten about the great-looking Crescent and the magnificent No. 126 also on this street, and pointed out by Rose Thornton in her interview.... another post to come, showing those :) UPDATE:  Rose's most recent blog post shows the Atalanta Avenue No. 126 that she located back in 2002. Isn't it beautiful? Here's the post.

Friday, April 17, 2015

St. Joseph, MO: Radford House Design No. 102

2705 Renick Street, St. Joseph, MO • 1911
Radford design No. 102
In an earlier blog post about a Radford house design with a centered turret-style dormer, I showed the plan book page of this design, from a 1903 Radford catalogue.  I thought I had run across it in my Google-map travels around the streets of St. Jospeh, Missouri... and, indeed I had! Here it is, looking wonderful for its 100+ years of age. 

This image from Google Maps shows the same address in a previous year,
presumably before the beautiful renovations had been done.

It looks like the builder added a side window for the front upstairs bedroom.  That wall had no window in the plans.

Another pre-renovation shot from Google Maps.

Here is Design No. 102 in the 1903 Radford Ideal Homes: 100 House Plans catalogue,
available HERE on Archive.org.
Click to enlarge a bit more.

The renovated house was for sale recently, and is shown on Trulia.com. The very top image, and all of the interior images below, come from that listing, accessible HERE.








I found an earlier listing, too (complete with blurry photos.... aaaarrrgggh!), that shows the previous incarnation of the kitchen, as well as the fireplace: HERE on Zillow.

Of course, I can't officially document that this 1911 home is the Radford Design No. 102, because I can't access real estate information for Buchanan County, Missouri, without paying a (hefty) fee.  All I would be able to get would be a footprint, anyway.  I don't know how one would actually verify that a house was a Radford design, without a copy of the blueprints. 

It looks like a good match to me, though! What do you think?

(To read a bit more about the history of St. Joseph, Missouri, or a bit more about buying Radford House Designs, see my previous post, HERE.)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

St. Joseph, MO: Radford Planbook House, No. 564 and Similar Models

Radford model No. 564 •  2702 Sacramento, St. Joseph, MO • 1912
Historic St. Joseph, Missouri, looks to be home to a number of homes built from Radford Architectural Company's plan-book house plans.  These are not kits -- these homes were built after the owner bought only the house plans / blueprints from the Radford company.  It was up to the owner to hire a contractor and builder to figure out the lumber needed, order everything, and build the house.

This beautifully-kept-up 1912 home looks a perfect match for the Radford Homes No. 564 (even down to the little upper ornamentation along the edges of the front porch).

Okay, it's true that I wish it had the double windows on the front part of the middle section of windows,
but, surely, it's still a 564.





You can see this house plan for yourself on Archive.org 

About Design No. 564

The No. 564 was known as the No. 1564 in later plan books, as seems to be the case with Radford. I haven't figured out the reason for this change in numbering, but I've noticed this addition of the 1 or of a 2 in front of the original number, in books after 1903.

These are the floorplans for the No. 1564 in a 1907 book of Radford plans (seen HERE).
They are identical to the floorplans shown in the 1903 book.

The side windows go well with the layout of windows on the house plans of the No. 564.
As I traveled around the streets near this house, via Google maps, I ran across a yellow version of this same house.  Unfortunately, I did not note the street, so I don't have the address, but I did snag a photo:

This home does have the second set of double windows on the second floor of this side of the house.
There is no way for me to verify the size and footprint of this house against the floorplans, as would be needed to help document it as a likely Radford No. 564, because Buchanan County, Missouri does not have free online access to its public records information for real estate. They charge 25¢ per minute, or $250 for a month's access to their detailed records.  Documentation is interesting, but not necessary at those prices :) I found the year from a Trulia listing. 

This is from the Public Record Search page of the Buchanan County, Missouri, assessor's page.


Other Small-Turret-Style-Dormer Houses

When you're first noticing different kinds of house designs, you sometimes only retain a vague recollection of a major feature or two of a house, once you've run across its design somewhere. For this house, surely, the major feature would be that unusual little turret-style dormer.  In fact, when I first saw this house on Sacramento Street, I thought immediately of a Sears house I knew that I had seen, with some kind of rounded dormer sticking out of the center of its front roof.  Since I don't have every aspect of every house's design engraved on my brain, I rushed to look through my Houses By Mail guide, to check this house against that one. 

Heavens. Not at all alike. But, the Sears No. 190 (available only for a few years in the early 19-teens) does have a curved turret-style dormer.  In fact, this feature is carried through from the first floor, where you see a bay window the same size as the dormer's bay shape.  

A quick Google image search of the Sears No. 190, brings me an image from Sears house researcher Rosemary Thornton's May 25, 2012 blog post about this model.  Click HERE to read her post and see the image of a No. 190 out in the world (I believe it's in Richmond, Virginia).  Here is a 1912 catalogue image of the No. 190, taken from Rose's blog post:

Click to enlarge. But, do go to Rose's blog post to read more. This is her image, not mine.

Interestingly, Rose shows a house in that blog post that looks almost exactly like the Sears No. 190, but it sports a slightly different style porch roof and front porch posts.  Sometimes, this could be explained away as unimportant and a probable simple design change at time of purchase of the home package from Sears.  But, in this case, it turns out that another company, Chicago House Wrecking Company (later known as Harris Brothers), had a version of this house -- the No. 84 -- that has those exact differences from the Sears No. 190.  

This image is from the April 7, 2015 blog post of Sears Homes of Chicagoland.

In an excellent entry on her Sears Homes of Chicagoland  blog,  Lara S. provides interesting background information on Harris Brothers and the Model No. 84 house.  She shows two homes in Maywood, Illinois, that have apparently been mis-identified as possible Sears No. 190 houses. 

Her entry is really worth the read, and you can access it HERE.


Chicago Millwork Supply Co. Clone of the Sears No. 190

But... to confuse matters more, another company had an almost exact lookalike to the Sears No. 190: Chicago Millwork Supply Company's Design A-119, shown here:

Chicago Millwork Supply Company's Design A-119.
This image comes from their 1912 catalogue, accessed HERE.

Click to enlarge.
There's really no way to distinguish these two models from each other, from the outside.  Even from the inside, it would be a challenge. Since they were offered in years before the pre-cut era, there would therefore be no markings on the lumber. I suppose that you might find shipping labels attached under millwork, but the layout is just the same. The biggest difference looks to be the size of the upstairs front bedroom, which C-M lists as being 12 x 13'6", and Sears lists as being 12 X 10'10":
Click to enlarge.
Read Rose Thornton's blog post HERE.

Other Radford Models

Radford has another house plan with a kind of crazy-looking large rounded turret-style section in the center of the top half of the house.  It's design No. 102.  Here it is from the 1903 book on Archive.org:
You can see this image HERE, on Archive.org.
I am pretty sure that I saw one of these on one of the streets of St. Joseph, but I didn't note where. Look around, maybe you'll find it! UPDATE: I found it! You can see it in this new blog post.


I have also noticed that there is another Radford design similar to the No. 564: the No. 9053.  The centered front turret-style dormer seems to be a bit larger than on the No. 564, and there is only a half-porch in the front.  This design was shown in the 1908 Radford's Artistic Homes- 250 Designs catalogue.

You can see it in the catalogue online, HERE.

a 1908 Radford catalogue


Or, what looks like an earlier version of the No. 9053, the "Design No. 4" from the 1902 Ideal Homes--100 House Plans Radford catalogue:
Access this image online, HERE
Click HERE to go to the opening page of this catalogue.

St. Joseph, Missouri

St. Joseph is a historically significant town.  The Pony Express took off from St. Joe, and, during the time of Westward Expansion in the United States, it was the last railroad stop on the route toward the Oregon Territory. After St. Joe, it was horses and covered wagons for the rest of the trip. 

To learn a bit more about St. Joseph, Missouri, and also a bit more about buying Radford house designs, you can read my previous post about Radford design No. 121 (a double-gambrel house design seen all over the streets of St. Joseph).  


If you know of the location of that Radford No. 102 in St. Joe, please feel free to let me know in a comment, below.  If you have a Radford design home, I'd love to know about it!