Friday, December 7, 2012
11:53 AM | Posted by CoffeeandCream | | Edit Post
If you know me in real life or are Facebook friends with me, you have probably heard me rattle on about Sears Houses. If you ask me a simple question about them, I will talk your ear off and give you way more information that you thought you wanted. I am a bit obsessed with these houses. Ok, a LOT obsessed. I drive around my town looking for them. When I see one I yelp with joy and take pictures.
Allow to me to share with you some of the Sears homes I have found and to give you some insight on these amazing pieces of American history...
The invention of the Model T in the early 1900s caused many people to pack up and head out of the crowed city and into the peaceful suburbs. Soldiers were returning home from World War I and many immigrants had come to live out the American Dream. At the time, many young families did not have a home of their own. They either lived with their elders or in boarding houses.
Houses were in short supply and HIGH demand.
In 1908 Sears Roebuck Company decided to add houses to their very popular mail-order catalog. Houses in the form of a "kit" that you built YOURSELF. (Now they were not the first company to think of this idea. Others like Aladdin and Montgomery Ward were also in the Kit Home business, however most people only remember Sears). By buying a kit home, you would create immediate equity - around 30%. That was a very affordable and smart choice for many.
Image source: http://www.antiquehome.org/
House-Plans/1928-Sears/Crescent.htm Whitehall, Pennsylvania
From 1908-1940 there were about 370 different house plans. Prices ranges from $450 to $9,000 with the average being about $2,000. There was something for everyone; bungalows, foursquares, tudor revival cottages, and even trailing edge victorians.
Buyers simply picked out the design of their liking, then Sears sent (by railroad) one or two boxcars filled with the materials to build their dream house (excluding masonry and plumbing materials due to weight). The boxcars contained about 30,000 pieces and a 75 page instruction book written so that "a man of average ability could build the house in 90 days"-that was Sears' promise. Everything was labeled and each piece of lumber was pre-cut and stamped to make the assembly go as easily as possible.
This was a golden idea. Sears was essentially creating more customers for themselves. After all, all these newly built homes would need ovens, lamps and furniture. In the 1920s Sears hired an interior designer to draw in the ideal furniture placement in all their house plans. It was pretty helpful.
Image source http://www.arts-crafts.com/archive/sears/page46.html
In 1911 Sears even started giving out mortgages. There was ONE financial question, "What is your occupation?" If you answered it, you got a mortgage! Horay!
In the 1920s sales of Sears Kit homes were booming!
Image source: http://antiquehomestyle.com/
homes/images/1927-1932/1932_3302.jpg Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Unfortunately in 1931 sales plummeted after the Great Depression. Sears was forced to foreclose many of their mortgages. Rosemary Thornton said it best "Think of that public relations nightmare!! Sears was foreclosing their BEST customers on the houses they built with their own HANDS."
In 1940 Sears closed their Modern Homes department and destroyed all their records.
That means that there is no way of knowing where these kit homes are.
Architectural Historians, like Thornton, have gathered information mainly from old Sears Modern Home catalogs purchased off of places like ebay.
In total there were about 370 different houses. Thornton says that she tends to find the same 65 houses. (See her book below) It is very possible that some house designs were never purchased.
It is sometimes difficult to identify a Sears house. Think of all the remodeling that may have been done over the last 100 years or so. Plus Sears allowed buyers to customize their houses, adding a few feet to the depth or possibly changing a wall or a window here or there.
You will find most of them are within 2 miles of a railroad (think of what a pain it was to haul the material from the train station to your building lot).
Many of them are on the main streets of towns, (think the areas that were heavily built up in the 1920s).
Image source: http://www.arts-crafts.com/
Sears allowed you to reverse the floor plan if you wanted.
Now an important fact to remember is that just because a house looks like a Sears House design, doesn't always mean it is one. The architects Sears used purposely modeled their homes after popular styles of the day. That is why when you look at pictures of Sears houses, they mostly seem like the houses you see everyday! The only way to 100% know if it is a Sears kit home is to see stamped lumber, shipping paperwork on the back of mouldings or trim, or to see the shipping label or mortgage paperwork.
Sears sold around 75,000 kit homes from 1908-1940.
Think you've seen one? Are you maybe living in one?! Please write to me!
*** 98% of what I know about Sears Kit Houses is from Rosemary Thornton. Her blog www.searshomes.org and her books "The Houses that Sears Built" and "Finding the Houses that Sears Built" are a WEALTH of knowledge, information, and pictures. She has dedicated her life to finding Sears homes and educating people on them. Most of the people living in kit homes have no idea they are in one!***
I'd love to hear everyones' thoughts on these beautiful houses. Any questions? This post is just skimming the surface on the topic. Have anything to add? I'm always looking to learn more. If I get enough questions, I'll probably do a follow up post with Q and A's ... how exciting for a house nerd like me!
Thank you for letting me share one of my passions with you :-)
- Hi! Thanks for stopping by. I'm a 28-year-old mommy who loves to bake,cook, decorate,sew,and DIY everything I can get my hands on. Grab yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy my adventures!
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