March 2, 2021

A Sears Barrington with the Front Porch of a Farmhouse

946 Highland, Glen Ellyn. The uncontemporaneous front porch was added in the 1990's. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Barrington from the 1928 Modern Homes catalog. You can recognize a Barrington by the extended vestibule and a dormer cut into the roof.

The Sears Barrington look was copied by many local builders. One way to distinguish the Barrington is to look for a double window in the upstairs bedroom. Many of the clones have only a single window here. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The stone and brick fireplace was painted white. Photo from Realtor site.

The same fireplace, unpainted. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.


The area to the left used to be a dine-in breakfast nook. Photo from Realtor site.

An older photo of the kitchen shows the nook. Photo from Realtor site.

Upstairs bedroom that has the original Sears door and door hardware. Photo from Realtor site.

This Sears Barrington in Glen Ellyn is authenticated. The original owner was George J. Schock, who received a mortgage from Sears Roebuck in April 1928 for $5,800. Sears ultimately foreclosed on the mortgage in the 1930's.

Glen Ellyn used to have a parking lot called Schock's Square. This was named for George's business, the Schock's Service Station (opened about 1926), which one stood on the spot of the parking lot.

Schock's Service Station was originally Miller Bros Service Station. When Miller Bros opened, there were less than 100 cars in Glen Ellyn.

February 16, 2021

Does a Letter "S" on a Chimney Mean a House is from Sears Roebuck?

In this post I will re-examine another common misconception about Sears homes.

Does a Letter "S" on a Chimney Mean a House is from Sears Roebuck?
"Clues such as the metal vintage S on a chimney means a house is from Sears."

"There is a big rod iron 'S' on some chimneys to indicate the house was purchased from Sears."

According to the internet, a house with an S on the chimney meant that it was purchased from Sears Roebuck. There are neighborhoods in my area built in the 1930's where almost every house has a letter S on the chimney. Does the "S theory" make any sense?

Short answer: no.

Sears Had Only Four Models with a Letter S.
The first problem with this theory is that if Sears were using an "S" on the chimney as some sort of branding, they did not use it consistently on their houses. Actually, rarely.

Sears sold over 370 models from 1908-1942. Only four of them had a letter S on the chimney--we can see that from the catalog illustrations. So it certainly wasn't a "thing" that Sears was doing to signal that a house was from their company. Even the Sears houses with prominent front-facing chimneys typically did not have a letter S.

Three of the four "S" models were designed by architect David S. Betcone. (The fourth may have been designed by him as well but we do not have documentation to support that.) All the houses were "English cottage" style, according to the Sears catalog copy. 

The S letters on the chimneys of these four models were non-functional and purely decorative.

The Sears Lewiston.

The Sears Strathmore.


The Sears Yates.

Closeup of the letter S on the Sears Yates.

The Sears Hillsboro.

A real-life Sears Hillsboro in the Edison Park neighborhood of Chicago.


What was the S Supposed to Represent if not Sears?
Betcone used the letter S on the chimneys of his English cottages, because that was a common stylistic element on Tudor Revival houses built in the late 1920's and 1930's. You will see them on Tudors across America, whether the houses were from Sears or not.

The decorative S's were supposed to replicate the tie-bar ends used in old European structures. Back in the day, iron rods were run through chimneys and brick structures and a plate was put on each end. They helped stabilize masonry buildings. Because they were visible, those end plates often looked like a letter S or other decorative style such as a star or triangle. (Wikipedia calls them anchor plates.)

Chimney with an end plate from a house in France.


End plates on a masonry structure in Ireland.

In twentieth century homes, the "end plates" are often attached to the outside of brick veneer buildings or chimneys just to mimic the look of old European architecture. 

In Conclusion
The letter S was found on the chimney of four Sears models. It was not a reference to Sears, but served as a stylistic element found on many Tudor Revival houses.

February 2, 2021

Old Tyme Sears Modern Homes Advertising, 1930's and 1940's

In a continuing series of articles, we'll examine the changes in Sears Roebuck advertising of the Modern Homes business over the decades. In this final installment we will look at the advertising from the 1930's and 1940's.

This is the cover of the 1930 Modern Homes catalog. In earlier years, Sears had been showcasing very expensive houses on the cover. This is the Sears Lewiston, a moderately priced house. Even the dog can't wait to get home.

From the 1930 general merchandise catalog, an ad asking: "You are paying for an Honor Bilt Home. Why not own one? It's amazingly easy." You could buy the Sears Lorain for about $35 per month, which was a typical rental amount.

By the early 1930's, the catalog copy had become more streamlined. No more flowery language and color illustrations, just the house, the price and the brief details. During this time of the Great Depression, Sears house sales had plummeted. Additionally, the idea of a "recreation room" was launched by Sears during this time period.

In 1933, a creepy guy is handing over a house to you. Also included were blueprints, money, and trees.

Sears began running this ad style in 1934 and continued it through the 1940's. Attention grabbing headline, house, price, family looking on, inset of the Modern Homes catalog.

The 1935-1938 Modern Homes catalogs featured the same illustration on the cover. This is the 1938 catalog. They did go back to full color covers in 1935, an indication that sales were picking up.

By 1938, Sears Roebuck was no longer offering financing. Customers had to get a loan from a local bank or the FHA. The FHA ended up being a thorn in Sears's side because the FHA often would reject housing applications, and Sears would not get the sale. As a result, Sears Modern Homes salespeople often ended up managing the application process for their customers. This was a lot of additional work.

During the 1930's, men were often portrayed in advertising as the breadwinners, and Sears ads were no exception. Men were shown as self-assured and in-charge, while women were busy managing the house and kids. This ad is from the 1939 general merchandise catalog.

Sears again repeated the same catalog cover in 1939 and 1940. This illustration shows a streamlined Cape Cod house in a suburban neighborhood. This reflected how most Sears customers envisioned themselves living during that time.

From the 1940 general merchandise catalog, actual real-life models were shown. "But like so many others, we longed for a home of our own--with a garden in back and space for the children to play."

Also from 1940, a variant of the ad with the couple and the house. "Why, Mary and I didn't dream we could afford to build our own home...not on my small income!"

A Sears Lewiston in Lake Forest.

After 1940, national advertising for the Modern Homes business was completely curtailed.  This corresponded with the government's restrictions on lumber at the start of WWII. Sears ended the Modern Homes business in 1942.