February 27, 2023

The Strange Case of the Wandering Bungalow

Call me a cynic, but I often wonder why kit houses were not stolen. When a customer dropped a bunch of building materials on their lot, it would have been easy pickings for anyone criminal-minded.

Lumber for a Sears house in Oakbrook Terrace after it was unloaded from the truck. Lumber was expensive, and anyone could come by and grab some. Photo courtesy of the Oakbrook Terrace Historical Society.

And then I recently uncovered a story about a stolen kit house that made national news in 1937.

Headline from October 1937.

Let's set the stage for this nefarious plot.

One of the national kit house companies was the Lewis Manufacturing Company of Bay City, Michigan.  In 1937, Lewis Manufacturing was selling houses in the Chicago area.

Lewis Manufacturing offered a "five-day examination" payment plan which meant they would send the customer a house with no money down. The customer would deposit the full amount for the house at their local bank. The bank would send a letter to Lewis Manufacturing stating that they were holding the money. After the customer received the building materials, the bank would release the money to Lewis Manufacturing.

Description of the payment plan from the Lewis Manufacturing homes catalog.

Enter Michael Tauber and John Heersema, both of Chicago. Tauber was a carpenter, and Heersema was a plasterer. They "needed some lumber", according to Tauber, and they devised a scheme to defraud Lewis Manufacturing.

Tauber (left) and Heersema. Photo from the Chicago Tribune.

In September 1937, Lewis Manufacturing received an order from Midwest Service Company on South Dearborn Street in Chicago. The letter said that the company was a broker for the customer, a John Farmer, and provided a certificate stating that Farmer had deposited $763 to purchase a Sterling model from Lewis Manufacturing.

On September 11, the building materials arrived by train in Chicago, and two men claimed the order and loaded it onto three trucks.

Needless to say, Lewis Manufacturing never received the $763. A representative from the company tried to track down Midwest Service Company, but found the company was no longer at the Dearborn Street address. After further investigation, officials from Lewis Manufacturing learned that the office space had been rented to a Michael Tauber and that Tauber had also purchased a supply of business stationery.

Police obtained a warrant that charged conspiracy to defraud, and Tauber immediately confessed to taking the lumber. He told prosecutors that he and Heersema rented the trucks and took the lumber to Tauber's house. Tauber then used the materials to build a two-car garage on his property and a new porch.

"Harseema [sic] and I worked the scheme out together," Tauber said to a reporter from the International News Service. "It looked good but I guess there must have been a weak spot somewhere, huh?"

This story went viral and was in newspapers nationwide. Editors had fun with the headlines.

State authorities turned over the case to federal prosecutors. Tauber and Heersema were charged with using the mails to defraud.

January 30, 2023

A Vibrant Sears Americus in South Holland

14956 Riverside Dr., South Holland. Photo from Realtor site.

The Sears Americus.

The Americus is one of the most distinctive models that Sears ever sold, which makes it easy to identify "out in the wild". The house, with low-pitched hipped roofs and an asymmetrical facade, is loaded with Craftsman details. Sears sold the Americus for more than a decade--from 1920 to 1931.

The vibrant green Americus in South Holland has the original pillar supports and decorative railing, but is missing the eaves brackets.  

The Americus is 26 feet wide and 26 feet long. Photo from Realtor site. 

A swing is almost mandatory on a front porch like this. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The illustration of the living room from the 1923 Modern Homes catalog is not an accurate depiction of the dimensions in the South Holland house. The closet "mirror door" is not that far to the left, and there isn't enough room to put a sofa on that wall. Additionally, the dining room opening has been shifted. I have seen other Americus houses that do accurately match the illustration and others that look like the South Holland house.  I haven't done enough research to confirm this, but I suspect Sears slightly altered the floor plan sometime after 1923. (Cook County says this house was built in 1927.)

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The Americus sits very close to the Little Calumet River. I bet the building materials were delivered affordably by barge

A stretch of the Little Calumet by the house.


The Americus is less vibrant these days. The kitchen and bathroom were remodeled.
Photo from Realtor site.

Goodbye pink tile. Photo from Realtor site.


December 20, 2022

The Top Three Articles of 2022

Once again the holiday season is approaching and with it, the end of another year. It's time to reveal our top three most popular articles of 2022 and what you, the readers, enjoyed most.

1    Were All Sears Houses Delivered by Train?  Short answer: nope--this is a unsubstantiated claim and we delve into the facts.

2    A Sears No. 109 Hidden in a Bridgeview Park  There's a lonely Sears No. 109 behind a old Pizza Hut and cars just speed by it on 79th Street.

3    Did Sears Houses Come with Plaques?  Many people insist Sears houses came with plaques and they have seen these plaques. What is going on? 

I wish you the happiest of holidays and an auspicious New Year.  Thank you for reading; it really means so much. See you in 2023!

A (modified) Sears No. 126 in Galesburg on a snowy night. Public photo from Facebook.

For the Sears house connection to "A Christmas Story", click here!