Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Sears Mortgages for Customized Houses

sears home custom
From my1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
This past summer, when I was chasing down homes with Sears mortgages in the greater St. Louis area, I came across some houses that were clearly not designs from the Sears Modern Homes catalog.
But, they had Sears mortgages.

So, this has to mean one of two things:

• The customer had his own blueprints, and sent in to Sears to provide all of the building materials
• The customer worked with Sears to develop a design that was ultimately created by a Sears architect, and then Sears provided all of the building materials.

In the case of the first situation: We do not consider that a Sears house.  If Sears had no hand in the design of the house, but only supplied the materials (and maybe even helped arrange the construction), it's just a building materials purchase.

In the case of the second situation: We do consider that a Sears house. And, even a "kit" house, as long as Sears pre-cut all of the parts for the house, and bundled everything up and sent it on its way to the lot of the soon-to-be-homeowner.  If Sears did the final architecturally-finished design, and pre-cut the materials for the house to be built, then it is a Sears kit house.

sears homes of chicagoland custom sears house
A custom Sears house for a very important client: the general supervisor of the Sears Modern Homes Department.
Read all about the discovery of this house on Lara Solonickne's blog post, at Sears Homes of Chicagoland.
It is pretty rare to be able to document one of these homes.  Just having proof of a mortgage or grantor record is not proof that the home is a Sears DESIGNED home... only that the owners must have at least gotten their building supplies from Sears.  One would have to see a blueprint, or some kind of accompanying paperwork that showed Sears to be responsible, as well, for the design.  One such case is that of the 1930s home, shown above, of the then General Supervisor of the Sears Modern Homes Department. Lara Solonickne, of Sears Homes of Chicagoland, discovered and documented this home, and wrote about it here.

custom sears house glencoe illinois
Another custom-designed Sears home discovered, documented and written about by Lara Solonickne of Sears Homes of Chicagoland.  Read about this house here.

This appeared in the 1932 Sears Modern Homes catalog, on the page presenting the options of customized homes.
St. Louis Area Homes
What follows, here, is a set of photos of some of the homes that I found Sears mortgages for in the city of St. Louis (Missouri), or in the nearby suburbs of St. Louis County.  I have no way of knowing whether these homes were designed by Sears -- making them "custom kit homes" -- or if they were homes with existing blueprints, whose building supplies came from Sears. But, I thought it was finally time to show them off.  You might notice that some of them have a few design elements that hark back to some of the Sears Modern Homes models in the catalogs. Click any image to enlarge.

6203 Walsh, South St. Louis City
$14,000 over two mortgages • R. A. Barker and wife
I believe that R. A. Barker was a dentist.
customized sears house
This home at 6203 Walsh reminds me of a supersized Sears Normandy...
just some elements, of course.  Built in 1932.
customized sears house
customized sears house
Another St. Louis resident told me a nice little tidbit about the house:
This home belonged to one of my customers when I was a milkman for Bailey Farms Dairy back in the mid eighties. Lovely elderly couple lived there. They also had a mint 60's Cadillac in the garage they only drove on Sunday to church.

EDIT: Another couple of readers, who live in St. Louis, pointed my nose in the direction of Loughborough Avenue and Trainor, across from a park I know well, Carondelet Park (this is the Holly Hills neighborhood), where there is an almost double to this home! I'm wondering if the City of St. Louis didn't have a plan book of home designs that folks could choose from, and the folks on Walsh simply ended up choosing Sears to supply the building materials and arrange the construction, for this house. Take a look. Not a perfect match, but almost the same. I really wish I knew who designed this house!

623 Westborough Place, Webster Groves, Missouri 
$15,000 over two mortgages • Cecilia F. Smith
(EDIT: This home also was shown in the St. Louis Star & Times, June 27, 1931, p. 11, as having been built by Sears Roebuck.)

This house, though nothing at all in finish, like the Sears Elmhurst, has some of its design elements. You can kind of imagine wealthy Cecilia Smith sitting down with the designer, and pointing to things she likes on this model, and that, and having the designer incorporate those elements:

"What do you think of this Elmhurst model, Mrs. Smith? Don't care for the entryway? Prefer a more cohesive entry that melds into the front elevation? Certainly, Mrs. Smith. But, you do like the double set of windows in the front gable, Mrs. Smith? and the overall English tudor styling? Certainly. And the little peak gable dormer to the side of the main entry gable? Certainly Mrs. Smith, we can keep that. And you do like those peak gable dormers along the right side of the house? Yes, of course, Mrs. Smith, we can incorporate those elements of the Elmhurst into your own lovely design."

sears house webster groves
623 Westborough Place, Webster Groves, Missouri, built in 1931.
Webster Groves is a desirable suburb in St. Louis County.
We are confident that this was a custom-design or customized-design home
by Sears Roebuck, thanks to its link  to a mortgage through Sears,
and the 1931 newspaper mention shown above.
St. Louis Star & Times, June 27, 1931, page 11.
sears house webster groves missouri
sears customized house next to sears elmhurst
On the right, the Sears Elmhurst as seen in the catalog. 
sears elmhurst university city missouri
The house on the left is a St. Louis area (University City) Sears Elmhurst for which I found the mortgage this summer.  It was already known as a Sears home. The side view of that house shows the row of three peak gable roof dormers along the side of the Elmhurst model. The image on the right is the home at 623 Westborough Place, and you can just make out the short row of the same kind of dormers, along the right side of the house.  This house also has Sears curlycue iron strapping on the door to the house.
sears house webster groves missouri

425 Parkwoods, Kirkwood, Missouri
$12,500 over two mortgages • Mr. & Mrs. Dallas M. Smith • Built in 1932
(EDIT: This house turns out to have been designed by the district architect for Sears at the time, L. J. Steffens. We now consider this a Sears Custom home. Read more here.)
425 Parkwoods, Kirkwood, Missouri
Kirkwood is another desirable suburb in St. Louis County.
1932 sears house kenfield model
Now... you can't tell me that Mrs. Dallas M. Smith
didn't see this Kenfield model in the catalog,
and say, "Oh, darling, this is a cute little house...
but, I want something larger, taller, making a bit more of a statement.
I'll have to have some things moved around, and some things added."
Apparently, the charming stories of folks actually building their Sears homes all by themselves,
is really not what the normal case would have been... at least not by 1932.
Sears had local contractors and engineers to engage on the homeowner's behalf,
in the area where their Sears home would be built.
9341 Lincoln Drive, Sunset Hills, MO • 1931
Marjorie M. Kinsella and husband • $15, 600 over two mortgages
A sprawling ranch, measuring 74 feet across.
Sunset Hills is a wealthy suburb in south St. Louis County
5 Berkley Lane, Ladue, Missouri • 1932
Mr. and Mrs. James E. Baker, Jr. • $10, 500 over two mortgages
5 Berkley Lane, Ladue, Missouri
Ladue is a wealthy suburb of St. Louis County.
It is possible that the house at 5 Berkley Lane is a version of the Sears Alden, obviously with an all brick-face veneer, instead of the two types of siding shown here.  But, it's not a perfect match. The main footprint of the house does fit the Alden's footprint, however. Still... the Alden came out in 1934, I believe, and the Berkley Lane home was built in 1932.
sears alden
Image courtesy of the Sears Archives page.
5 Berkley Lane has had a good bit of adding-on over the years.
Floor plans for the Sears Alden model.
From the Sears Archives page.
6245 Itaska Street, South St. Louis City • 1932
Eugene M. Hahnel, a music instructor • $9,600 mortgage
(EDIT: This house turns out to have been designed by the district architect for Sears at the time, L. J. Steffens. We now consider this a Sears Custom home. Read more here.)
sears house st louis

5900 Marwinette, South St. Louis City • 1931
Dr. Jean J. Merz and wife • $9,300 over two mortgages
st louis sears house

And, even a few modest little houses, all with the characteristic peak gable entry area we see on many of the homes in the St. Louis Hills section of South Saint Louis City:

5651 Neosho • 1931
Mr. & Mrs. L. J. Walsh • $6,150 over two mortgages
(EDIT: This house turns out to have been designed by the district architect for Sears at the time, L. J. Steffens. We now consider this a Sears Custom home. Read more here.)

5715 Neosho • 1932
Mr. & Mrs. E. H. Layton • $6,000 over two mortgages
5827 Riverview • 1931
Mr. & Mrs. Joseph F. DeMasy • $6,800 over two mortgages

To read more about St. Louis area Sears homes that do match the models in the Sears Modern Homes catalog, consult the archives list on the right hand side of my blog.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sears Arlington: Three In A Row in Detroit, Michigan

sears arlington color catalog sears 145
This color catalog image is a treat -- normally they are in black & white. This one is from the Sears Archives page.
The Sears Arlington model began its life in the Sears Modern Homes catalogs, as the No. 145, making its first appearance in 1911.  It was offered in the catalogs through 1922.  The Arlington was never sold as a pre-cut kit -- it was only offered as a "not cut or fitted" package, meaning that the lumber that came with the bundle was cut to standard lengths, and your builder (or you) would still have to measure and cut to the lengths you needed for each spot. The package you bought and had delivered, nonetheless, contained all of the screws and bolts and nails and hinges and door hardware and paint and varnish and stain and exterior cedar shingles (or whatever siding you chose), and flooring and windows and stairs, balusters, newels, porch railings and columns -- just about everything.  As part of your order, for a fee on top of the base fee, you could choose the bathroom fixtures, the light fixtures, the heating system, and the electrical system components, and have all of that bundled up and sent along, too. The only things you couldn't get delivered in your package, were plaster, brick facing, or cinder blocks... but, Sears would hook you up with a local supplier of those items, and facilitate that order for you (according to a letter I've read, written by the son of man who ordered his Sears house as a kit, describing how the whole process took place for their family).

This is the base-package price as offered in the 1914 catalog. As you can see,
Sears estimated that the final construction cost would be about $3,150.00.
The three Arlingtons we have in Detroit, Michigan, are all in a row, on Chalmers Street, in the Jefferson Chalmers district of Detroit, sitting at numbers 605, 621, and 635.  All three were likely built in 1915 (though tax records show the middle house, #621, to have been built in 1921-- that is probably not accurate). In 1921, Detroit radically changed its street address system (thanks to Benjamin Gravel, for the link to this handy document about that), so, despite an enormous amount of digging done by Lara Solonickne (Sears Homes of Chicagoland) and me, we never did figure out what the original addresses were for these houses, in 1915.

Now, I am not the researcher who found these houses (and, we don't have authenticating documents of any kind, so we are declaring these as "probable" Sears Arlington models)-- that was young Nigel T., a very bright teenage member of our Face Book Sears homes research group.  Nigel is a whiz with searching real estate listings and Google maps, and has come across dozens of Sears and Wardway homes, especially in Michigan.  Lately, he has been on a roll with finding houses in Detroit and Flint, and, on January 12, 2016, he posted this in our group:

The actual house numbers are 605, 621, and 635.
Usually, several of us weigh in on Nigel's finds, comparing catalog images, floor plans, and images of authenticated homes we've got on our National Database of Sears Houses, to the images Nigel puts in front of us. Now, not every "find" is a match -- that's natural for this process -- but, as you can see from the 10 comments under Nigel's post ("3 J'aime  10 commentaires" -- I use my Face Book in French), we were all excited about this find.  The consensus was: yes! It looked like Nigel had found a batch of three Sears No. 145 houses in Detroit!

sears no 145
We Sears-house lovers especially like the tracery elements on the Arlington, that you see circled here. Many times, this tracery is gone on houses we find standing today, especially if new siding was added. Our stucco gems here still have theirs!
Benjamin Gravel, who runs the Facebook group, Historical Detroit Area Architecture, lives not too far from the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, and offered, despite the cold and snow, to run over to Chalmers Street and get photos for us. Let's take a look (and, remember, these images are the personal photos of Benjamin Gravel, and should not be taken and posted elsewhere without a direct link to this blog post, and credit to him as the photographer) :

sears arlington
605 Chalmers Street, Detroit, Michigan • 1915 • probable Sears No. 145 -- the Arlington model
(photo by Benjamin Gravel -- link to this blog post and cite him)
sears arlington
621 Chalmers Street, Detroit, Michigan • c. 1915 • probable Sears No. 145 -- the Arlington model(photo by Benjamin Gravel -- link to this blog post and cite him)
sears arlington
635 Chalmers Street, Detroit, Michigan • 1915 • probable Sears No. 145 -- the Arlington model
(photo by Benjamin Gravel -- link to this blog post and cite him)

Construction Elements
Most often, when a buyer chose a Sears model, the norm would be to go with the construction and interior elements that Sears normally shipped with that model, so most of the time, especially on the exterior, any build of that Sears model would have the same kinds of porch columns or porch rails, for example, as any other. But, you could certainly make changes to some of those elements (sometimes a small extra fee was required), and opt for a different porch column design, for example, or a different interior lighting package, or different door hardware.

sears no 145 1914 catalog
The 1914 showed these prices for the heating and lighting options of the No. 145 model house.
In the case of these three Chalmers Street houses, they look to have chosen the standard "Square Porch Columns" that the catalog image shows. I just recently edited a November 2015 blog post of mine, to show a probable Saratoga model Sears house in New Bern, North Carolina, that sports these same square porch columns (available in different lengths), even though the standard Saratoga came with a somewhat chunky, boxy porch column, more appropriate for a "wild west" kind of setting, but out of place in elegant colonial New Bern, North Carolina. (You can read that post here -- it shows a wonderful Sears Milton and Sears No. 178 on Spencer Avenue in New Bern, NC, as written about in the 1988 book by Peter B. Sandbeck, The Historic Architecture of New Bern and Craven County North Carolina-- surely a must-read for any lovers of old homes who choose New Bern for a weekend B&B getaway! )

sears building materials catalog porch columns
You can see that all three houses were built with the Sears Square Porch Columns.

Unfortunately, we have no interior shots of our three probable Sears Arlingtons on Chalmers Street, but the 1912 Sears Building Materials catalog gives us some good views of elements the buyer could choose from:

sears 1912 building materials
There were a variety of staircase designs one could choose, mixing and matching
stair newels and balusters.  The New Bern Saratoga, for example,
has the stair newel design shown on the right here,
even though the standard choice was the one shown in the center of the picture here.
(click any image to enlarge)
sears 1912 building materials
A closeup of stair newels shown in the 1912 building materials catalog.
1912 sears building material
There were various  door hardware packages from which to choose...
1912 sears building materials
... and a nice variety of gas and electric lighting fixtures, too.
Floor Plan
The No. 145 / Arlington model was a two-floor, 35' X 26' home with 3 bedrooms upstairs, and a maid's room on the first floor, a nice wrap-around porch, a big pantry off of the kitchen, and a spacious dining room and living room:

sears no 145 floor plan
From my 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
sears no 145 floor plan
From my 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
More Views of The Three Chalmers Street Houses
Google maps street view provides some pretty good quality screen shots these days, so here are a few more shots of our Detroit houses, with a little bit of information about early residents of the houses:

605 Chalmers Street:
The window pattern on the left side of an Arlington is pretty busy!
Because of the street-address changes in 1921 in Detroit, it was pretty difficult to trace the original residents of these three homes. In any case, since three were built in a row, they were most probably built as either rental properties, or as spec homes for immediate sale, and weren't actually originally ordered by their first residents. I can tell you that in 1940, the residents were William and Anna Gabriel, who were in their late 60s, and had lived in the house at least since 1935.  William was a life insurance salesman, and they owned their home.

621 Chalmers Street:
sears arlington
Notice the triple windows above the dining room "bump-out", just as you'd expect on the No. 145/Arlington.
The catalog shows a peaked roof over the bump-out, but all three of our houses here sport the shed-roof style.
The catalog also shows a stone chimney, with a slightly different style, but I imagine that this simple stucco chimney was less costly.
Nice comparison to the catalog image.
The 1940 residents of this house were Frank and Isabelle Babcock, who were in their early 40s, and owned their home.  Frank was an electric welder for the automobile manufacturing industry.

635 Chalmers Street:
sears arlington sears no 145
Proud No. 635 Chalmers Street looks to have but one of its four original upper dormer windows.
Here's that same stucco chimney style, and the bump-out with the flat, sloped roof, like the other two houses.
The 1940 residents of this house were 43-year old Elmer Williams and his wife and three children. Elmer worked as a newspaper copy reader (hmm.... did he edit the copy?), and the Elmers were renting their home.

Some Other Possible Sears Arlingtons Around the Country
Our National Database of Sears Houses has a number of Sears Arlingtons listed, but none are authenticated.  It's pretty hard to authenticate the houses that were not pre-cut-and-fitted, and, therefore, labeled on joists and under stairs.  I'm not sure which researcher found that last house, the one in Wisconsin, so apologies up front for not giving credit. Feel free to message me if you are the one who found the Lancaster home shown here. (Click any image to enlarge it.)

4000 White Avenue, Baltimore, MD (available at this Zillow listing)
Thanks to Nigel, once again, we were able to add the address for this house to our National Database of Sears Houses.  He tracked it down after knowing only the town where one might be located.
sears arlington

sears altona

seras arlington

1004 Farnsworth, Waterville, Ohio • 1916
This beauty was found by top researcher, Cindy Catanzaro, who writes the blog Sears Houses in Ohio. She is also busy re-creating the blog of Laraine Shape (Sears Houses of Cincinnati), who was from Waterville.
sears arlington

1004 farnsworth waterville oh

134 N. Tyler Street, Lancaster Wisconsin
134 n tyler st lancaster wi

134 n tyler st lancaster wi

77 Wabash Avenue, Kenmore, New York • 1925 (Buffalo area)
Found by researcher Sarah Mullane, who lives in the Buffalo area.
sears arlington

77 wabash avenue kenmore new york buffalo new york


Thanks to Nigel T. for finding us these three Sears No. 145 / Arlington probabilities in Detroit, Michigan!