March 13, 2018

A Montgomery Ward Not-a-Kit House

Like Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward sold ready-cut kit houses and also building materials.
  • Kits from Wards consisted of the blueprints for a particular house that was depicted in the catalogs, as well as almost all the materials needed to construct that house (such as pre-cut lumber, paint, shingles, and nails). 
  • Wards also sold building materials separately. You could purchase the lumber, doors, and windows from Wards, but the house did not have to be a Wardway kit house and could be a design from your local architect. 

In 1930, you could buy the Wardway Whitmore kit house for about $65 a month. You could also buy various building materials from Wards and build your own house.  Wards would finance both kit houses and building materials.

February 27, 2018

What Else is Hiding in Rockford?

During the tenure of the Modern Homes Department (1908-1942), the top executives at Sears Roebuck were adamant that the company would not build homes prior to sale (with one exception--a costly experiment in Oak Park).  Model homes that Sears had "open for inspection" were built and paid for by customers who agreed to have their house open for tours before they moved in.

However, in the late 1930's in Rockford, that business model changed. Residential construction in the area was on the upswing beginning in 1936, and the Modern Homes sales district that encompassed Rockford was so busy that E.H. May, the district manager, was desperately looking to hire additional salespeople.  Business was so strong in Rockford that Sears was willing to disregard its normal policy and build homes prior to sale. May believed if customers could see and tour actual houses, they would be more inclined to purchase.

Fast forward to today. Long-time Rockford resident Jeff Aulik wondered whether E.H. May's name would be associated with any of the building permits for the homes that Sears paid for and constructed. He did a local newspaper search and... BINGO. May's name was listed on the permits for over 30 houses built by Sears from 1937-1942.

Only one of the Rockford houses that Jeff discovered was identified in previous architectural surveys. And among these newly found houses, he located two Sears models that have never been seen before in the United States. I suspect there are many more Sears homes still hiding in Rockford (the city currently has 134 accounted for!).

Introducing the Sears Bayside

Sears Bayside. Sears said that guests should enter through the picketed gate to the sheltered entrance.

1819 Carney, Rockford. Photo courtesy of Jeff Aulik. A perfect match, sans gate.

The Sears Bayside was sold for only one year--1938. Rockford may very well have the only authenticated Bayside in existence.

Sears expected to pay $3,000 to construct the house according to the permit. It was built in 1940. The original owners were George and Alice Sipple. George was a supervisor at the post office.  The Sipples sold the house in 1941.

February 20, 2018

A Sears Somers the Way It Was Intended to Look

The Sears Somers was a basic bungalow. It wasn't a huge seller for Sears, but it sold well enough so that the company kept it in the catalogs from 1926-1931.

Although basic, the Somers has a few unique features that help to definitively identify it.

Sears Somers.

1. There is stickwork in both gables.

2. There is a bay window on the chimney side with a subtle angle. The windows fill the entire width of the bay. (Sears occasionally sold a rectangular bay window with the Somers, but this was uncommon.)

3. The front door is on the side opposite the bay window, and there are three windows in the front.

4. The pillars in front have a rectangular inset.

Unfortunately for us, many Somers have lost all these identifying elements over time.

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