May 24, 2016

A Busy Carpenter in Oswego

Layton Lippold was a carpenter in Oswego in the late 1920's. He built many houses in the village, and today we feature three cute Sears houses he built on Douglas Street.

441 Douglas St., Oswego.  Photo courtesy of Kendall County Assessor.

Sears Claremont.

Lippold built this authenticated Sears Claremont in early 1930. He got a mortgage from Sears in February of that year for $3400.

This Claremont has a reversed floor plan, but that option was offered by Sears at no cost.

May 17, 2016

Elgin's Kit Houses

Researcher Rebecca Hunter worked from 1997-2004 compiling a list of the Sears houses in Elgin. She did a complete architectural survey and managed to authenticate many of them.

Elgin has 211 Sears houses, and it is the community with the highest number in Illinois. (Carlinville is number 2 with 159.)

332 River Bluff, Elgin. For many years this was the only Sears house that anyone knew about in Elgin. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Crescent.

A new website was recently launched that enables you to check out Elgin's Sears houses., created by Elgin resident Steve Stroud, showcases the thousands of bungalows in the city, including the Sears houses.

Why Elgin?
Why does Elgin have so many Sears houses? 

Hunter believes that there are three reasons: 1. Elgin was serviced by three major rail lines so the shipments from Sears were convenient for the homeowners to pick up; 2. Elgin was located near the Sears company headquarters in Chicago; 3. Hunter believes neighbors in Elgin who built Sears houses recommended Sears to their friends, who in turn built more houses.

I don't agree that those reasons make Elgin unique. Wouldn't they also apply to almost every Chicago suburb? They were all geographically near one or more train lines and near Sears headquarters. And I am sure Sears customers in every town would mention how much they loved their houses to their friends.

I think the reason that Elgin currently has more Sears houses than anywhere else is a simple one. Teardowns.

In the Chicago area, the teardown phenomenon started in earnest in the 1990's. Western suburbs like Glen Ellyn and Hinsdale lost hundreds upon hundreds of old homes. Hinsdale to date has replaced almost 20% of its housing stock and the teardowns continue. Glen Ellyn and Hinsdale have high median incomes, easy commuter access to Chicago, little vacant land on which to build, and terrific schools.

A typical street in Hinsdale. Photo from Chicago Magazine.

In contrast, Elgin is a less affluent community and did not experience the teardown phenomenon. I recently drove around Elgin for about an hour and saw one teardown. If you drive one block in Hinsdale or Glen Ellyn you might see 10. In Elgin, property values are not high enough where the value of the land exceeds the value of the structures on them. 

Glen Ellyn or Hinsdale (or Elmhurst or Park Ridge or Downers Grove or any of a dozen other suburbs) could have easily had 200 Sears homes at one time,  like Elgin. We'll never know since many of their older houses were gone before researchers even began looking for kit houses.

664 Oak, Elgin. If this house were in Hinsdale, it would be gone.

Sears Elsmore.

May 10, 2016

Sears Homes Really ARE Indestructible

Ask any home inspector and they will rave about the quality of the houses from Sears Roebuck. I have heard the word "indestructible" used more than once.

Now, thanks to a Sears house in Deerfield, we can prove that supposition.

814 N. Spruce, Deerfield. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Colchester.
The house in Deerfield is not a Sears Colchester, but it was purchased from Sears and is definitely based on that model.  Both houses are the same English Tudor style, and they both share the same front entrance, fireplace chimney, and the projecting gable of the dining room.

But the house in Deerfield is super-sized.  On the left extension, it  has an eyebrow window, which I've only seen on one other Sears house.

Rather than the stucco, stone, and red brick facade of the Colchester, the house in Deerfield has yellow brick and limestone.

May 3, 2016

Sears Sherwood

The Sears Sherwood is an unusual-looking house that was sold only in 1929 and 1930. There had been two Sherwoods identified in the United States, and I authenticated a third in North Chicago.

1830 Elizabeth, North Chicago. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Sherwood from the 1930 Modern Homes catalog. The lower thin rectangular window is over the staircase the the upper one is in the bathroom.

The house was built in early 1930 by Allen and Irene Henry. He was a "pump man" at the Great Lakes Naval Base.  They took out a mortgage from Sears for $7350 in October 1929.

The Henrys sold the house in 1935 to the George Kapheim family.

Ad for the Sherwood in the Indianapolis Star, February 1929. Scan courtesy of Cindy Catanzaro.

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