November 29, 2022

The Unpopular Multi-Family Houses Sold by Sears Roebuck

Sears Roebuck sold multi-family houses. 

In the 11 years of writing this blog, I have featured Sears multi-family models only three times. They are uncommon in the Chicago area, and, honestly, they are uncommon everywhere. The multi-family units never sold well for Sears.

Beginning in 1909, Sears sold two-family houses and four-family houses. More two-family houses were sold than the "apartment houses" with more units. Throughout the decades that Sears sold houses, about 15 multi-family models were offered, the majority of these before 1920. 

It almost seems counter-intuitive that middle-class buyers would prefer to buy a single family home rather than an income property that did not cost much more. However, there was a stigma against multi-family housing, and buyers pursuing the American dream certainly wanted a home of their own.

1926 advertisement for Sears Modern Homes.


Ad in the Chicago Tribune from 1937 that explicitly states nobody wants to live in a multi-family dwelling.


Additionally, there were nationwide changes to zoning laws starting in the 1920's where city planners encouraged the construction of single-family homes and would not allow multi-family housing in many areas. In 1926, the Supreme Court's landmark Euclid v. Ambler decision upheld single family-only zoning. Because of this, by the 1920's, Sears had phased out most of their multi-family offerings.

After 1932 Sears never offered a multi-family model again. One reason for that is that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), established in 1934,  favored single-family projects. The FHA discouraged multifamily units by offering unfavorable loan terms for that type of housing. 

There are a few rare Sears multi-family houses in the Chicago area. Here are some examples.

Sears Garfield

The Sears Garfield was likely the biggest multi-family seller for Sears, and it was featured in the Modern Homes catalogs for the most years. Researchers have located more Garfields than any of the other Sears apartment houses.

390 Prairie, Elgin. Built 1927. Capture from Google Streetview.

Sears Garfield from the 1929 Modern Homes catalog.


The Garfield is a two-flat. There were two private entrances.

The entrance to the first floor unit is in the middle of the building, and the entrance to the second floor unit is on the right side.

The second floor unit. Both the upstairs and downstairs units had five rooms. There was also a rear staircase that led to both kitchens.



Only three Sears Garfields have been found in Illinois--this one in Elgin, one in Morton Grove, and one in Barrington.

Sears Manchester

1503 Hamilton Court, Waukegan. Capture from Google Streetview.


Sears Manchester. Scan courtesy of antiquehome.org.


The Sears Manchester was a two-family home. Sears called it an "income bungalow". It was sold from 1926-1929. There are five in Illinois, including this one in Waukegan.

There is one front door on the right side of the building. Inside, a door on the left leads to the first-floor unit, and stairs lead to the second-floor unit.

This Manchester in Waukegan is authenticated. The owners got their financing from Sears Roebuck in 1926.

Sears Calumet

312 E. Locust, Bloomington. Capture from Google Streetview. 


Sears Calumet from 1918.


The four-apartment Sears Calumet was sold only in 1918, and only this one in Bloomington has been identified to date.   I wonder why nobody wanted this model? Let's look at the floor plan.

Sears recommended that the customer use wall beds to transform the living and dining rooms into comfortable bedrooms.  And Sears didn't sell the wall beds--the customer would have to source those on their own. Sure, OK. 


Sears Oakdale 

528 S. Prospect, Park Ridge.


Sears Oakdale, from the 1918 Modern Homes catalog.





The Sears Oakdale (also known as Modern Home No. 149) is a Colonial style two-family house that was offered from 1909-1918.

The house in Park Ridge was demolished in 2013. It was the only Oakdale in Illinois, and, as of this date, there are only four standing nationwide.

Sears La Salle

1912 Elim, Zion. Photo from Realtor site.

The Sears La Salle from the 1930 Modern Homes catalog.

The Sears La Salle two-flat was the last multifamily unit Sears sold (along with the Sears Dexter which no one has ever seen in real life). The other models were phased out years earlier. The La Salle did not sell well, as you might suspect, and there is only one in Illinois. Sears sold the La Salle from 1926-1932.

This La Salle in Zion is authenticated. The owner got financing from Sears Roebuck in 1928.



October 25, 2022

A Sears Sherburne in Brookfield?

4009 Dubois Blvd., Brookfield. Photo from Realtor site.


Sears Sherburne, also known as the No. 187.


This house in Brookfield is alleged to be a Sears Sherburne/No. 187. 

It was purportedly built by local builder Conrad Schneider, who was known for his "boulder bungalows". Originally a stone mason, Schneider would select field stones from the area and incorporate them into his designs. You can find his houses today in Brookfield, La Grange, and surrounding communities.

 

Schneider's own home at 4126 Raymond Ave. in Brookfield (then called Congress Park). He designed the house himself. The house collapsed in 2011 because a renovation company didn't know what they were doing.


Another house designed and built by Schneider was 712 Bell Ave., La Grange.


The house today looks almost the same. Photo from Realtor site.


At the time, Schneider was becoming well-known for his house designs.


I have no reason to doubt that Schneider built the alleged Sears house. It clearly resembles his other documented homes in the area. 

An undated older photo of the Sherburne-like house in Brookfield.



Is the house a Sears Sherburne? Did someone hire Schneider to put it together the Sears house with his trademark boulder look (Schneider did houses of his own design but he also worked as a builder for hire)? Did Schneider just base this house on the Sherburne with no purchase from Sears?

If it is a Sherburne, the front porch stairs were moved to the side. There is an enclosed second-story porch that may have been added at a later time.

The Sherburne floor plan.


The right side of the Brookfield house has a dining room addition, not found on the floor plan of the Sherburne. The triple windows on the living room are replacements--who knows if there were triple windows there originally. Photo from Realtor site.



Let's take a look at the interior, and compare it to an authenticated Sherburne.

How Sears showed the living room of the Sherburne.


An authenticated Sherburne in Dunkirk, NY. Sears said the Sherburne staircase came with "handsome newels". Photo from Realtor site.
 

The living room in the Brookfield house. The door to the right is gone, but previous owners also reconfigured the area. Photo from Realtor site. 


The dining room of the Sherburne in Dunkirk, NY. The Sherburne came with a built-in buffet (partially shown here) and a bump out with a unique window configuration. Photo from Realtor site.


Remember the house in Brookfield had a dining room addition? You can see that in this photo. The buffet is not from Sears Roebuck that I can tell, nor is the original light fixture. The three windows are not on the Sherburne floor plan, and I doubt they are original to the house. Photo from Realtor site.
 

One of the upstairs bedrooms that shows a door out to the second floor deck. This would be a variation of the original floor plan which shows double windows in that spot. Photo from Realtor site.


A view of the second story porch on the Brookfield house. It may have been added at a later time. You can see similar decorative moldings that were on the illustration of the Sears Sherburne.  Photo from Realtor site.



Schneider became very ill by 1918, so the house was likely built before then. He never built another Sears house (or Sears-like house) anywhere else. He died in 1922 at age 61.

Schneider's boulder bungalows were on the pricey side--often running about $4,500. Frank and Elsie Dawson were in the house in 1920, and may have been the original owners.  Frank was a salesman for Scully Steel Company. The Dawsons moved out by 1928.









September 27, 2022

Was the Real Estate Listing Possibly Right?

I get many emails from readers who send me real estate listings in which the realtors identify houses as being from Sears Roebuck.

Invariably, most of these descriptions are incorrect and the houses are not Sears kit houses at all. (Why are so many people wrong about their "Sears" houses?) Therefore, I usually just glance over the listings because it's not worth the time investment.

And then a listing came up for a house in Glencoe that made me pause.

345 Jefferson, Glencoe. Photo from Realtor site.

 

This house has clearly been expanded multiple times. Photo from Realtor site.

 
 

 
The listing read: "Built in 1913 as a Sears home, there is so much character throughout including the additions that were made over the years." I took a closer look. 

This looks like the original structure to me. The window on the far left seems off from the others. The large addition on the left also does not appear to be original. The railings are replacement. The columns appear to be old, possibly original. The windows are new.


Does this farmhouse, purportedly from 1913, loosely match any of the farmhouses Sears sold in that time? Yes.




The Sears Rossville a.k.a. No. 171, from the 1914 Modern Homes catalog.


Could it be a Sears Rossville? 

First off, for this to be a Rossville, the roof must have been raised at some point. Based on the huge amount of additions and changes done to the house, this is certainly in the realm of possibility.

The left front window could have been brought forward as part of an addition for a new dining room. The addition off the left side could have been an extension of the original structure. The porch could have been rebuilt as well.

Were the original columns from Sears used in the porch redesign?  Photo from Realtor site.

 

These colonial porch columns sure look like a match, from the 1912 Sears Building Materials catalog. And check out those prices!


Let's examine the floor plans for the Rossville and the Glencoe house. You'll need to remember that the house in Glencoe was reversed from the Rossville standard floor plan. Reversed plans were common for Sears houses.


Here's the Rossville. Note the staircase with a landing that is adjacent to the front door. The Glencoe house still has the parlor and bedroom intact, although they have been combined into one den.

 

The parlor and bedroom are on the right side of the Glencoe house. The dining room is new, and you can see that the wall is flush with the front door now. The kitchen is in the same general area, and a living room was added next to the kitchen. That constitutes the large addition on the left of the house.


We have the front door adjacent to the landing of the staircase. The new hallway leads to the dining room. Photo from Realtor site.

 
This is the combined parlor and bedroom to make the den. The kitchen is on the left and a family room addition is in the back of the house. Photo from Realtor site.


The new dining room with a window facing the front porch. Photo from Realtor site.


The Rossville has two bedrooms on the left. The front bedroom has a closet at the front of the house.

 
The Glencoe house is reversed, so the two bedrooms are on the right of the house. The front bedroom closet faces the front of the house. The hallway at the top of the stairs has been reconfigured. The two bedroom closets were combined into a bathroom (more or less).

 
Here's that narrow bathroom on the second floor. The door looks original, and was likely the one of the closet doors. Photo from Realtor site.



Although the owners believe the house was built in 1913, it was not in the 1914 Glencoe city directory. The original owners were Henry J. and Clara Egan. They were married in May 1915, and I suspect the house was built that spring or summer. The 1917 directory shows the Egans in the house.

Sears sold the Rossville from 1911 to 1918, so a 1915 build date would be in that range.

By 1920, the Egans moved elsewhere in Glencoe and sold to the Pieroni family.