Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sears Milford in St. Louis Suburb of Glendale, Missouri

sears milford st louis glendale missouri authenticated 1933
Authenticated 1933 Sears Milford • Glendale, Missouri (St. Louis area)
296 Edwin Avenue, Glendale, Missouri
The Sears Milford model, a double-window Cape Cod style, is not found everyday.  And, by the current looks of this one, you'd never have found it by driving by!

During my mortgage searching for St. Louis Sears homes (in June of 2015), I found a 1933 mortgage taken out by C. William Schemm and his wife, signed by Sears trustee E. Harrison Powell.  Oh, I just love seeing that name in the grantee listings!  It was for lot 23, block 4 of Dickson Place subdivision of Glendale, Missouri, in the St. Louis area.  That didn't ring a bell, so I searched for C. William Schemm in the census records for 1940.  I was excited when I found him listed at an address on Edwin, in Glendale, because it's another street near me, parallel to Elm Avenue, where I had found a mortgage for a brick Sears Maplewood (read about it here).  When I checked the address in the St. Louis Department of Revenue real estate listings, I found that, sure enough, 296 Edwin sat at lot 23, block 4 of Dickson Place. Bingo!

sears house in st louis glendale missouri sears milford
Sears Milford as shown in the 1936 catalog (at Archive.org), compared to the re-constructed versions in 2012 and 2014.
Notice the chimney placement: the Milford's chimney sits near the center of the house, off a bit to one side, facing the side of the house, rather than the front.  That's a tell-tale feature for the Milford.  You can see that on the catalog image, as well as on the real-life images here.
So, I took a ride up there on Google maps, and lo-and-behold, I spied this grayish-blue house.  And a dinger went off in my head, because I remembered walking by it while they were doing construction on it last summer.  I remembered noticing the front porch, and the fresh, new cedar shingle (look?) siding on the two big dormers. But, when I looked at the older Google view, from 2012 and 2007, I saw the yellow version shown above, and below,... and, I then remembered noticing that house during walks the previous year.  I thought that big added shed dormer looked cumbersome, with those three pointy dormers sticking up.  I never had liked the look of that yellow house, and I hadn't realized that the new version was the same house.  I like it much, much better in its latest version.

st louis sears house milford
2012: Notice the heavy overhang in the front of the awkwardly-placed shed dormer, with its three little pointy peaks.  There is also a substantial addition on the back of the house. 
sears milford cape cod with renovations
2015: Major changes to the house when I photographed it after finding the mortgage earlier this summer.
Hats off to the architect responsible for re-configuring the front elevation.  The house looks much more balanced now.






Original first-floor floor plan of the Milford, from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes catalog.  An addition was added to the back of the house, and something was added upstairs to enlarge the upstairs bedroom spaces with those larger dormers.
When the house was up for sale, in 2013, they marketed it as being ready for you to "bring your personal touches" to "add instant equity".  And that's what someone did. Here are the rather poor quality photos from the listing, on Zillow.

You can see the expected hall closet, and the dining room to the right.
(Taken from the Zillow listing, here.)
The current footprint (from the St. Louis County Department of Revenue website).
sears catalog 1936 milford floor plan archive.org
1936 catalog (from Archive.org, here): two floor plans available.
Our Milford on Edwin Avenue, is the 3385, on the left, which you can tell by looking at the placement of the staircase and closet next to it.
Who Lived Here?
C. William Schemm was an electrical engineer, with four years of college.  He and his wife moved into their little Milford cape cod when he was 28, and she was 24.  By 1940, they had their two little children with them, as well as the services of a live-in maid, Frieda Schneider. Their mortgage was for $4,650.

1940 census for C. William Schemm.

1940 census listing for the Schemm family.
To read about another 1933 Milford, in Wilmette, Illinois, click here to go to the March 2015 blog post by Lara Solonickne, on her blog,  Sears Homes of Chicagoland.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Harris Brothers No. 117 In Massachusetts


chicago_house_wrecking_co_harris_brothers_harris_homes_117
Probable Harris Brothers No. 117 in Massachusetts
I recently had a wonderful visit with family I love, in the area of Massachusetts where my mother's mother spent her youth.  It's been a difficult year, with an important loss in our family, and this was an especially important trip for us.

My mother, aunt, and sister and I devoted an afternoon during our trip, to a drive up to Leverett, Massachusetts, to see the old family farm where my maternal great-grandparents (my mother's mother's parents) -- immigrants from Russian Poland-- eventually settled and raised their family in America. My great-grandfather had come first from Poland, leaving his wife and young son behind, to establish a home here in the United States.  He started off in New Jersey for a bit, working as a gardener for a well-known wealthy estate, and then moved up to Wisconsin, where he had heard that there was a settlement of other Polish immigrants.  My great-grandmother was able to join him there, with their little son, and there they continued to grow their family.

After a few years in Wisconsin, the family moved permanently to Leverett, Massachusetts.  Eventually, my grandmother met the man who would become her husband, and he courted her by taking the very long drive out to the countryside of Leverett, from Northampton, Massachusetts, where he lived (in a Sears No. 110, I can add).  I think the joke was, that he figured that they had better get married, because he was afraid he'd end up getting lost one day, having to take that long drive out to Leverett's farmlands.

My grandmother was a very special woman, proud to be a young woman with a high-school diploma, awarded with high honors, in the late 19-teens. She raised five children alone after my grandfather died, and lived to see tragedies occur in the lives of her own cherished children.  At one point, she told a loved one, "I finished crying a long time ago."

It was with dear memories of her, at the side of my own aging, and cherished mother, and with the special company of an aunt I love especially much, that my sister and I took that drive on a beautiful August afternoon, up to Leverett, to see the family farm.  It was a great day, capped off with dripping maple-walnut ice cream.

Of course, because my family knows of my special fondness for architectural history (even if they don't really quite understand it), they understood when I, the driver, suddenly yelped out, "Whoa! Hold on!", and veered the car off to the side of the road.  I thought that I had spotted a Sears No. 126-- what an exciting find that would have been.

745_atalanta_webster_groves_missouri_for_sale_circa_properties
This is a probable Sears No. 126, at 745 Atalanta, Webster Groves (Saint Louis area), Missouri.
Photo from the Circa Properties listing for this house.  The build year is wrong for this house, I think. It is listed as circa 1919, but I just found a building permit for this lot for 1910, and found no building permit anytime between 1915 and 1922 for this lot. It still may be a Sears, but Sears was not listed on the building permit.
I did not find this Sears house -- it was Rose Thornton, author of Sears homes books, and blogger at Searshomes.org, who mentioned it in THIS newspaper article. I assume she found it herself, but this one may have been sent by the homeowner. 
But, though I snapped several photos of the house, I knew that there were definite differences, and that the house wasn't a Sears No. 126.  Still, I took several photos, wanting to check to be sure.
chicago_house_wrecking_co_becomes_harris_brothers_house_117
No. 28 on a road whose name I'm not sure I noted, in a town I'm not sure I noted, either.
Though the interesting shape of this house mimics that of the No. 126, the roof line -- especially the front eaves -- doesn't fit.  This cute little diamond-shaped dormer-ette (hah! what else can you call this little thing, eh?) doesn't belong, and the extension of the front porch roof doesn't match.

It's not a Sears No. 126, but what it probably is, is a Harris Brothers No. 117.  The image below is from the 1914 Harris Brothers catalog, just as they were transitioning to the company's new name, after having been known as Chicago House Wrecking Company, and I thank the ever-gracious owner of both Daily Bungalow and Antique Home, for making available this catalog image.

chicago_house_wrecking_comapny_transitions_to_harris_brothers_house_117

My find at house number 28, includes windows inside the front porch, that are not shown on the Harris No. 117, but I think it may be a match, nonetheless.

Well, you can't see much, I know, but this does show the curve of the front sections.
And... the floor plan. 
See how that first window doesn't start till a good bit back on this side? That seems to be what the floor plan shows, as well.

chicago_house_wrecking_company_chicago_transitions_to_harris_brothers_1914_1915
The gorgeous cover of the Harris Brothers Company 1914-15 catalog.
Thanks to Daily Bungalow, on Flickr.
Thanks, tonight, to my good friends and fellow researchers in the world of documenting Sears homes, and other kit homes and plan-book homes, for your help and fellowship.  On to more researching, and let's add on to that list!

Update:
Thanks to a reader who enjoys my blog and takes a personal interest in my family photos, I've learned of another Harris 117 that was recently for sale, at 54 N. Parsonage St., Rhinebeck, New York:

harris brothers model no 117

harris brothers model no 117




Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sears Maplewood in Glendale, Missouri


brick_sears_maplewood_aka_ridgeland_1930
Authenticated Sears Maplewood • 1930 • 12 Elm Avenue, Glendale, Missouri
This Maplewood is the first Sears house that I found, in person, and that was back probably in about 2012 or 2013.

Of course, I knew about Sears homes, and had known something about them for decades -- of their existence, anyway.  Reading the best book out there about Sears homes, Houses By Mail, I learned more about the background of the kit-home phenomenon, and I became interested in studying all of the different models.  HBM, as we call it, has its flaws, but there is nothing (yet) like it to use as a well-organized reference. It was put out by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Also, anything by meticulous researcher Rebecca Hunter, is not to be missed-- books or online information. Pair HBM with catalogs you can find online, and you're well supplied to begin. But, there's lots and lots to learn along the way.

However, for self-published books (on any topic, really), no matter how well-researched, keep in mind that there is no real editor or publisher to demand authentication of the author's "finds", and that can lead to inclusion of homes that look, on the outside-- and sometimes even on the inside-- just like a kit home model-- but have not been authenticated. They may, instead, be a plan-book home made by a plan-book company that only sold blueprints... like C. L. Bowes, or Standard Homes, or Architects Small House Service Bureau (still a great house, but just not a kit... and we're trying to identify homes that came as a bundle: blueprints, lumber, doors, windows, screws, nails, shingles, paint, hinges -- the whole shebang--and an instruction booklet).  If your book has lots of photos of houses simply labeled as, "This is a Sears Osborn", with no mention of it having been authenticated or documented (through marked lumber, blueprints, building permit, shipping labels), keep in mind that it may well NOT be authenticated. There is certainly value in seeing a real house that looks like that model, but, sometimes you're looking for little details, and using that real house's photo to help you. If you can't be certain that it really is an authenticated kit house, you just don't know what to trust. If I were an editor (and I am not!), I would tell my author, "For each house you include, you must tell whether or not it is authenticated, and how." I've said it before: there is no harm in showing what you believe to most probably be a kit home model... but, it is unethical and wrong not to state, clearly, that the house is not authenticated.

Just before I found this house,  a few blocks from my own home, on a lovely street filled with homes from the 19-teens, twenties, and thirties, I found a FaceBook group about Sears homes.  I eagerly joined it.  There, I learned about the existence, as well, of numerous other kit-home companies (Wardway, Gordon-Van Tine, Lewis, Sterling, and more).  But, that group (I think it's called Sears Homes) became a disappointing ego-fest experience, where there was no room to learn, no room to make a mistake, and no room to ask questions that didn't suit the two main administrators.  Their need to show off, brag, make fun of others, and delete comments that showed that others knew as much -- or more-- than they did, turned my stomach.  In fact, at least one member of that group still, to this day, seems to try to track the research and blogs of members who left (because of her rude, twisted remarks and off-putting behavior), to try to discredit it, and them. I imagine there are people like this in most groups.  They're bullies, really.  They can be oh-so-artful at twisting the story and presenting themselves as the victims... yeah, right.  Their behaviors are always well-documented, as member after member of the group will have witnessed the bullying behavior over and over, so the only folks they are fooling, are themselves.  Oh well -- I hear this happens in sewing groups and opera groups, too :)  C'est la vie, eh?

Notice the front door.  If you look closely, you can see that the original curved iron hinges were removed.
This is definitely a Sears door.
Notice how the number of windows, and their placement, matches the house.  That is an important detail to look for.
The top hinge on the door of the catalog photo, is straight, not curved, but the one on the house was curved. You can see an example of the curved-hinge door in a catalog snippet posted below.
So, I pulled myself out of that group, and figured I would just stop thinking about this interesting historic topic.

But, then, some of the other former members (and admins) of that group, pulled out to start their own FaceBook pages, no-doubt sick of the never-ending drama and rude atmosphere of the original group.  Sears Modern Homes was begun, and Sears Homes of Chicagoland (also an informative blog, available here), both welcoming pages where interesting posts and images are shared, and folks are able to leave questions and post pictures of homes they might want more information on.

All of the windows match up with the catalog, on all sides.  There is a later addition, on the back.
Some of the avid, and accomplished, researchers who started those two FB pages, also wanted an FB group in which they could interact, share research finds, and seek opinions and advice from other intelligent, experienced researchers. But, they wanted it to be by invitation only, so that they could avoid the ego problems and bloated control-freak atmosphere that comes from including self-important members (you know the type-- I'm sure you do).

From an early 1930s catalog. The Maplewood was later re-named, The Ridgeland.
So, the group Sears Homes and Plan Book Houses was born on Face Book. And, knowing that I was interested in learning more, one of the admins invited me to join and have the opportunity to follow along and observe.  Since then, I have learned an enormous amount.  And, I have even become a contributor, and a blogger.  I can't identify 863, 000 models by fifteen different companies, but I'm getting pretty good at paying attention to the details, and looking for the right things. And, I enjoy it. I learn more every day. I am able, sometimes, to help others learn more, and grow in their own abilities to identify homes.  I have contributed to the building of a database of kit homes in the United States, an important reference for historic preservationists in our country.

sears_houses_doors_1930s_catalog_image_maplewood_ridgeland_round_door_curved_hinges
Here's that Sears door, right there in the catalog.
Notice the faint trace left from the original, curved iron hinge.
So, what about this house?
I have since found the mortgage deed for this home, signed by Sears trustee E. Harrison Powell, authenticating it as a Sears home.

Who lived here?
The original owners of this home, the family that went in to the Sears Modern Homes office in St. Louis, and picked it out of a catalog, and then committed themselves to (probably) five years of monthly payments, were Joseph John and Iva Heath, who brought their little boy, Joseph John, Jr. into this house in the early days of their marriage. Iva was only 19 when they married!

From the 1940 census for Glendale, Missouri.
More information on the Heaths, from the 1940 census.
layout_sears_house_maplewood_ridegeland

This was another model (like the Stanford and the Clifton models I blogged about, previously), that was marketed as versatile -- you could start it off as a basic little one-bedroom home, all on one floor, and then, as money allowed, expand it to add two more bedrooms in the upstairs area under the roof.

And here is the Ridgeland, as shown in the 1936 catalog -- the new name of the Maplewood
(possibly changed as early as 1933).
Brick Veneer / Face Brick
The Sears Maplewood at 19 Elm Avenue has a brick veneer, which was maybe a bit unusual for this model, in certain areas, but actually quite common, in other areas (thanks to Andrew Mutch, for that good bit of info). The model probably had a different name when offered in brick, but I don't remember what is was off-hand. For more information on this topic, read Did Sears Kit Homes Come in Brick? at the Sears Homes of Chicagoland blog.

That's about it!  I got a great satisfaction out of not ONLY identifying this house by a sight-ID, but ALSO authenticating it by proper research showing Sears provenance. It's on the list.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 in Webster Groves, Missouri

207 Oakwood Avenue, Webster Groves, Missouri • suspected Gordon-Van Tine No. 535 • 1922
Sometimes, houses just pop up right in front of you, and you can't help but laugh out loud at the irony.

I've been away on vacation. But, I'm back, and back to work, and today, I needed a good walk. I also wanted to enjoy some time looking for houses in the town next to mine, Webster Groves, Missouri. So, I headed over that way by car -- about a mile from my house -- and drove around the streets of Webster Groves for a while.  I found a house or two to check out, decided I had had enough of driving around, house hunting, and stopped off at the Webster Groves public library for a bit.  Since I was already parked, and there is a great neighborhood with gorgeous houses behind the library, I decided to take my walk there.

By that time, it was late in the day.  It was kind of hot.  And, I wasn't sure I really felt like a walk anymore.  So, I walked a few blocks, and took a right, intending to head back to my car.

It's amazing how you just sometimes get a feeling... and I got that feeling.  I spied a creamy dark beige house with a dark purple door (just like my house colors!), through the foliage. I could only see a bit... but, I knew.  I had stumbled upon the Gordon-Van Tine house I had been hoping to find one day! Right here in Webster Groves: a Gordon-Van Tine No. 535.

This model by Gordon-Van Tine goes by many names--numbers, usually.  It's been the subject of four of my previous blog posts.  You can read all about how this house began in the 1916 catalog as the No. 560 (with only first-floor side sun porch), and, in its various formations, is also known as the 536, 535, 535B, and Glencoe (as well as a few longer numbers), in this blog post I wrote in June of this year.  In this post, I wrote about a testimonial house that I (and others) found, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  In that post, you can learn more about the different changes in floor plans over the years, too. There was also a family by the name of Parsch, in Ohio, that owned this model, and sent in a testimonial about it, and you can read alllll about that family, and the house, in this post. And, finally, if you want to read about Edward C. Roberts, president of the Gordon-Van Tine company in 1916, and the No. 535 in which he (however briefly) lived, go here.

You can see the stairway right inside the door... that was left open as guests began to arrive for today's party.  I spoke to the sister-in-law of the owners,  as I was standing there gawking at the house when she arrived.  I asked her if the owners knew that this was a historically significant home, and explained its background to her, and gave her my name.
The No. 535 as it appeared in my 1919 catalog. Notice the 9-pane square window sidelights on each side of the door.
Nice match to the catalog image.
Even though the front porch columns have been changed, it sure looks to be a No. 535.
(click to enlarge)
In 2010, the home was for sale (see the listing here), so I was able to find a few interior photos... sadly, they are not the best quality, but they nonetheless give a wonderful idea of the open feeling of this spacious home.

Entry foyer from the Zillow listing.
The shape of the staircase shows us that this is the early floor plan, the No. 535, because the later, 535B floor plan, had a straight staircase.  The image below shows a comparison of the two plans:
Remember, you can learn more about the different floor plans, in this post of mine.

Here's the living room that you get a glimpse of from the spacious entry foyer.
From this view of the front of the living room, you get a glimpse of the side sun porch, to the left of the living room.
This all follows the original No. 535 floor plan.
The lovely dining room, just where it should be, across the hall from the large living room.
Gordon-Van Tine In Saint Louis
So, why did I think that I might find this house -- or some GVT house -- in Webster Groves? Well, I didn't realllly think that I'd necessarily find one in Webster Groves, but I sure felt that I should be finding more GVT models in Saint Louis (Webster Groves is, by the way, in the suburbs of Saint Louis County). Why? Because Gordon-Van Tine had a major plant in Saint Louis.  It's mentioned all over the place in my 1919 catalog.




In fact, most of the lumber for a large portion of the states to whom GVT sold, came from our Saint Louis lumber yard.
From the 1919 catalog.  A huge number of states to which GVT sent lumber, got that lumber from Saint Louis.
Just a month or so ago, I said to one of my house-hunting friends, that you'd think there would be tons of Gordon-Van Tine houses around Saint Louis, since there was a plant here-- yet, I'm not running across them left and right.  I was looking more for bungalows, though, and not so much for spacious, expensive homes, like the No. 535.

In any case, Gordon-Van Tine assured its buyers -- in Saint Louis or anywhere!--that they were getting first-rate architects designing their homes:


Who Lived Here?
It did occur to me, that, given the year of this house (1922), the original owner might have been an executive with the GVT plant here in Saint Louis.  And, it may have been. But, I wasn't able to verify the residents at this address before 1930.  I couldn't find a 1920s City Directory for Webster Groves, and the 1920 census did not have a listing for this address -- makes sense, since it turns out that the city tax records are incorrect.  The building permit shows that the house was built in 1922.

I did, however, find a 1930 and 1940 census listing for this address: Frank C. Hunt, his wife, Eura, and their daughter, Laura, lived here as early as 1930, and perhaps earlier than that. In 1920, they lived in nearby Maplewood, so the move must have happened sometime between 1920 and 1930. Frank was a bank teller in 1930, and his GVT No. 535 home at 207 Oakwood Avenue, was listed as having a worth of $20,000.  By 1940, Mr. Hunt had become a bank executive (despite having only an 8th-grade education!), and he gave his yearly salary as over $50, 000... and the home's value as $10, 000--- so, either his estimation of the worth became more realistic, or the years of the depression had drastically affected the Saint Louis housing market.  He and his wife included a live-in "servant" by 1940, as well (though not in 1930, according to the census): 21-year old Ethel Threlkeld, from a farm somewhere outstate in Missouri.

Here in this snippet from the 1940 census, you can see the Hunt family at 207 Oakwood Avenue.
Footprint: A Concern?
Of course, we don't even know if this home is a Gordon-Van Tine No. 535, because I haven't been able to document it with a mortgage, or a visit inside to check for marked lumber or blueprints. I've written before about the dangers of mis-identifying homes based solely on a "windshield survey" drive-by id.  And, in fact, even in 1919, you could order this house as either ready-cut, or not ready-cut, so we don't know if there would be marked lumber in the house at 207 Oakwood Avenue.
This is the listing number for the two-porch model of this home, in my 1919 catalog.
Notice that you could buy the house as either ready cut, or not.
So, perhaps all of this excitement is for naught... because the footprint from the Saint Louis County Department of Revenue, shows a size that is only close to the GVT No. 535, not a perfect match... and, those front porch columns were not like the ones shown in the catalog.

207 Oakwood is 26' deep, and 39' wide, whereas the GVT catalog shows 24 X 38.
Also, the catalog shows that we should expect a 21-foot deep first-floor porch, and
the tax records show this one to be only 18 feet deep. 
But... we'll probably never know for sure!  But, one thing that I do know: I'll not forget the day that I laughed right out loud, as I turned the corner and came upon this bigger-than-life house, sitting happily at 207 Oakwood Avenue.