March 25, 2024

An Authenticated Sears Willard in Zion

1904 Elim, Zion. Zion was once a religious utopia with biblical street names. Elim, according to the Hebrew Bible, was one of the places where the Israelites camped following their Exodus from Egypt. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Willard. 

The Sears Willard was a one-and-a-half story English plan designed by architect David S. Betcone. This Willard in Zion is authenticated.

The original Sears door with ornamental wrought iron hinges. It is the same one pictured in the catalog illustration. Photo from Realtor site.

The Willard featured a corner fireplace and triple windows that provide a lot of sunlight. The living room was generously sized at 14' 5" by 17' 5". Photo from Realtor site.

There is a rear staircase. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Closeup of the lower cabinets and sink. Those are original Sears hinges and hardware. 

Photo from Realtor site.

The front bedroom. Photo from Realtor site.

The Willard had a second story dormer in the back and a projection on the first floor. The projection was intended to accommodate the refrigerator and some cabinetry.  Today, it serves the same purpose. Photo from Realtor site.

I don't know whether the overhang over the rear door is original, but it looks to be. Photo from Realtor site.

There are many Willard lookalikes in the Chicago suburbs. Many of the knock-offs do not have the triple window on the side of the house. Photo from Realtor site.

The original owners, Arthur and Grace Yarroll, got their mortgage from Sears Roebuck in April 1929 for $4,500. 

Arthur worked as a supervisor at Fieldcrest Mills in Zion, a factory which made lace. He also served one four-year term as the Benton Township assessor. That election made national news.

The election for assessor was a tie, and then the tiebreaker was a tie!

By 1936, the Yarrolls had moved out of the Willard and it was listed for rent.

February 26, 2024

A Fresh Look at the Sears Magnolia

The most searched Sears house on Google is the Magnolia. It was the most expensive precut house ever sold by Sears Roebuck, and, consequently, there aren't many of them around.

The Magnolia was in the Georgian Revival style, with a hipped roof, two-story front portico, six massive columns, and side wings.

Sears introduced the Magnolia in the 1918 catalog, and sold the house through 1923.

Sears used the same cover for both the 1918 and 1919 Modern Homes catalogs. The Magnolia was the cover girl.

The first floor plan. Some upscale features include a large reception hall and curving staircase, a double-sided fireplace with built in seating, a half bath, a large pantry with a butler's sink, an eat-in area off the kitchen, and a separate staircase for the servants. The Magnolia had nine-foot ceilings and inlaid oak floors in the primary living spaces.

The reception hall. The living room is on the right, the dining room on the left. The double doors in the back go to the rear hall.

The living room. The right doors go to the sun room. There is a sitting area in front of the fireplace with built-in benches. The fireplace is shared with the den, which is directly behind the living room and is accessed through the rear hall.

The dining room. The triple windows face the front of the house. The French doors lead to the porte-cochère. The swinging door on the right leads to the butler's pantry.

The breakfast alcove in the kitchen. Behind the open door was supposed to be space for a refrigerator.

The second floor plan. The Magnolia had three decks, a balcony off the master bedroom dressing area,  and an enclosed sleeping porch. There were three decent-sized bedrooms, with plenty of storage for dresses and hats. The servant had their own bedroom and bath. 

Each bedroom (except the servant's bedroom) had access to a deck. 

The Magnolia had two full bathrooms including the servant's bathroom.

The architect of the Magnolia is unknown, but the housing style was popular in the early 1900's and there were many inspirations for the design.

During the years the Magnolia was sold, the price ranged from a low of $4,485 in 1918 to a high of $9,990 in 1920. There was a massive spike in lumber prices in 1920, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, and that would account for the sky-high price in 1920.

Sears Roebuck estimated that the complete price of the Magnolia in 1922 would be $14,360. This did not include the price of the lot.

The high price of the Magnolia kept it out of reach of most families. Around 10 have been identified to date. Some of those were demolished, others have not been confirmed to be from Sears. No Magnolias have been located in the Chicago area.

South Bend, Indiana

325 West North Shore Dr., South Bend, IN.The Magnolia was built in 1926, which is three years after the Magnolia was discontinued in the Modern Homes catalogs.   Photo from University of Notre Dame, Architecture Library.

The Magnolia has a flat roof over the front porch with a balcony. Many similar models have a pediment there instead. Photo from Historic Preservation Commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County. 

The Magnolia has three grouped columns supporting the front portico. The columns are Ionic on the South Bend house, although the catalog shows Corinthian. The Magnolia is 40' wide and 36' deep.  The porch adds another 10'. 
Photo from Historic Preservation Commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County. 

A Magnolia has unique first-floor windows. There is a large picture window with a double-hung window on either side and 15 little square windows across the top of the set of three. Photo from University of Notre Dame, Architecture Library.

Benson, North Carolina

301 W. Main St., Benson, NC. This Magnolia is authenticated--the model number was written on lumber. Photo from Wikimedia.

Syracuse, New York

1500 James St., Syracuse, NY. Photo courtesy of proulxhome.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

What was 4133 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI. Is this a Magnolia? The house was demolished, but local lore said it was from Sears. We'll never know for sure. Photo discovered by Andrew Mutch.  

January 30, 2024

The Aladdin Massachusetts: a Distinctly Original Type

2128 N. 76th Court, Elmwood Park. Capture from Google Streetview.
The Aladdin Massachusetts. 

First sold in 1913, the Massachusetts was described in the Aladdin Houses catalog as "a distinctly original type following Swiss lines..." The cobblestones were optional.

Elmwood Park was incorporated as a village in 1914, and the house was built around that time.

A photo of the house taken in the 1940's. The porch was already enclosed by this time. The house retained its distinctive "claw" brackets and the bay window in the dining room. Photo courtesy of Linda Tetzlaff. 

Aladdin heavily marketed the Massachusetts model. It was featured on the front of the 1914 Aladdin Houses catalog as well as in numerous national publications.

The floor plan of the Massachusetts. Note that the Massachusetts has access to the upstairs from both the living room and kitchen. There is billiard room upstairs in lieu of a fourth bedroom. Closet space is sparse in the Massachusetts!

The living room of the Massachusetts, as shown in the 1913 Aladdin Houses catalog.

The living room staircase matches the one shown in the catalog. Recalls Linda Tetzlaff: "My mom and dad got married in the living room, so I included a photo of mom and her best friend on the sprawling staircase, with a seated area added to the left of the staircase." Photo courtesy of Linda Tetzlaff.

A front bedroom of the Massachusetts, as shown in the 1913 Aladdin Houses catalog. The small window is one of the two diamond muntin windows.


The original owners were Henry W. and Medora Boerner. Henry was a saloonkeeper, and his father George owned the same Chicago saloon in the 1870's. 

Not only did Henry build the Massachusetts, he also owned land in the immediate area--including the entire block the house sat on. 

Henry made statewide news when he sued Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson and the Chicago chief of police in 1916. Henry sought an injunction against the Sunday closing law of saloons. He said his Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when the city took his license fee and yet refused to let him run his business on Sundays.

Henry took his case to the Illinois Supreme Court. This was when the media took notice--if the court ruled in his favor, all saloons in the state could be open on Sundays. The court ruled that the mayor and chief of police had the right to close saloons on Sundays. Boerner continued to fight and in 1917 went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately affirmed the decision. 

After Medora died, Henry sold the Elmwood Park house and four lots to the Einar Johnsen family in 1936. Einar's granddaughter, Linda Tetzlaff, recalls that: "Because of the size of our home, it took up the entire lot, so the empty lot behind us was used as our backyard.  Plenty of room for parties and lots of fun times!"

Article courtesy of Linda Tetzlaff.