May 14, 2018

"A Pretty Little Home" Even Today

The Sears Rodessa bungalow was one of the most popular kit house models. Just under 700 square feet, the Rodessa was just four rooms and required only a 28-foot lot. It was a "pretty little home", according to Sears, and it was affordable for most Americans.

Evanston has two Rodessas still standing.  Let's take a look.

The first Rodessa is on Dodge Avenue. Despite the fact it is charming, this house was gutted by a builder and is currently listed for sale as a teardown.
 

2046 Dodge, Evanston. The house retains its original trellises. Photo from Realtor site.


Sears Rodessa.



The same Rodessa from a few years ago--in much better shape. Photo from Realtor site.


The unfinished interior of the Rodessa today. Photo from Realtor site.


Our second Rodessa is on Noyes Street. This Rodessa was built between 1918 and 1919. The outlook is much more positive for this house.


2225 Noyes, Evanston. Photo from Realtor site.


The landscaping is so lush in the summer, it's impossible to get a clear shot of the house. 



A little office by the front door. Photo from Realtor site.


The front bedroom was changed into a TV room. Photo from Realtor site.

 
Photo from Realtor site.




The door to the left leads to a finished basement. Photo from Realtor site.


The house now has one bedroom and those french doors face the backyard. Photo from Realtor site.


Photo from Realtor site.


At 616 square feet, this Rodessa is a great alternative to a condo.


May 2, 2018

Does Stamped Lumber Mean a House is a Sears House?

In this post I will examine another half-truth about Sears homes.

Does Stamped Lumber Mean a House is a Sears House?
  • "Stamped lumber is one way to identify a home ordered from a Sears catalog."
  • "...to decide if your home is a Sears kit home.... Look for stamped lumber on the exposed beams/joists/rafters in the basement, crawl space or attic."

I get many emails each month from readers who find stamped lumber in their houses and believe they must own a kit from Sears, based on information they found on the internet.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty.



Scott is ready to learn more.

Since the Turn of the Century, Lumber in the U.S. Has Been Marked 
Lumber mills started marking cut lumber with rubber stamps or stencils around the turn of the century. This information might include:
  • the code for the truck on which the lumber was transported
  • the mill ID number
  • the name of the lumber company
  • a trade group logo
  • the grade of the lumber (beginning in the 1920's)
  • the size of the piece
  • the condition of dryness
  • the wood species
  • the customer name

The mere existence of marked lumber in your house does not mean your house is a Sears house. I saw some stamps on the joists in my basement, and my house was built in 2005.

Stenciled lumber from a house built in the 1920's.  This house was not from Sears, but had materials furnished by a Baltimore area lumber company. Just because a house has marked lumber, does not necessarily mean it is a kit house. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Brick by Brick.



All Sears Houses Do Not Have Marked Lumber
Sears began offering pre-cut lumber for houses in 1916. Prior to that date, the lumber would occasionally be stamped with "Sears Roebuck" or the customer name--but not always. There are Sears houses built in the 1910-1916 timeframe that have markings indicating their origin, but the vast majority of Sears houses from that time period do not have anything.



Many Sears Houses Have Similar Markings, But Other Sears Houses Have Totally Different Ones
Many Sears kits have a similar marking pattern on their lumber. After 1916, Sears typically would stamp the pre-cut framing members with a single letter followed by a three-digit number ("A388").  The stamped codes corresponded to the instruction manual and helped the builders determine what piece went where. 


Stamped lumber with a four-character alphanumeric code authenticates a house as being from Sears Roebuck. This lumber is from a Sears Conway in Lombard. Photo courtesy of Margaret Kansa.

 

This illustration from the Sears Modern Homes catalog shows how the ends of the lumber were marked.

 

This stamp was found inside a wall in a Sears Sheridan in Barrington. Photo courtesy of Wende Dau.


This stamp is under the basement stairs in a Sears Americus in Lafayette, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Ryan Russell.

 

This stamped lumber is from a Sears Willard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Bill Marcotte.

 

Just to complicate matters, not all Sears houses were marked with these alphanumeric codes. (You thought this would be easy?)

This marked lumber is from an authenticated Sears Del Rey in Downers Grove, built in 1927. I have never seen Sears markings like this. Photo courtesy of Chuck Holtzen.
 
 

This lumber from Sears has the customer name and delivery location stamped on it. No alphanumeric codes were located. This is from a Sears Woodland in Rolling Meadows, built around 1931. Photo courtesy of Kathy Muno.

 

This stamped lumber is from a Sears Somerset in South Carolina, built around 1920. The Sears name is stenciled on this wood, which is unusual. No alphanumeric codes can be found in the house. Photo courtesy of Sallie Fallaw.

 

Beginning in the Late 1930's, Most Sears Houses No Longer Had Stamped Lumber
Beginning around 1939, most Sears houses no longer had stamped lumber, but instead had simple handwritten labelling. Why this change was made, I have no idea.


This lumber with grease pencil markings is from an authenticated Sears Lynn in Highland, Indiana.  8478 corresponds to the Sears order number listed on the shipping label. There is no other marked lumber in the house. The Lynn was built around 1940. Photo courtesy of Jill Grusak.

 


In Conclusion
The topic of marked lumber as it pertains to Sears houses is a complicated one. The information propagated on the internet tries to simplify the issue (that is, marked lumber must mean a Sears house), but that's not always the case. Sears houses may have markings or may not, and other houses may have markings and yet may not be kit houses.

Clear as mud?


April 23, 2018

Still Beautiful: A Gordon-Van Tine No. 535

217 S. Lincolnway St., North Aurora.


The No. 535 from the 1920 Gordon Van Tine Homes catalog.



A closer look at the distinctive front entrance. According to the Gordon-Van Tine catalog: "...the big stucco pillars, the heavy brackets supporting the quaint hood over the entrance; the attractive front door and side lights... are welcome additions that serve to emphasize the fine harmony that prevails throughout."


Gordon-Van Tine debuted the No. 535 model in 1918. The company offered a couple variants of this house, but the No. 535 had a double porch off the left side.

This No. 535 in North Aurora has been vinylized and had its windows replaced, but it's still a lovely house. 





The No. 535 was an expensive house. Room dimensions were generous. I cannot describe the floor plan better than the original catalogs did:
"In 535 the front door opens from the attractive hooded stoop into a large hall. To the left is a cased opening leading into the beautifully proportioned living room: the fireplace is placed in the middle of the inside wall: opposite it is a beautiful French door leading onto the sunporch. To the right another cased opening leads into the dining room which is lighted by the casement window in the front and the two windows at the side, making a most cheerful and airy room; plenty of wall space has been provided for the necessary dining room furniture.... A very convenient arrangement in this plan is the service hall directly behind the main hall. The rear door opens into this. The cellar steps go down from it and a short flight of steps leads up connecting with the main stairs, giving all the benefits of a separate back stairway.
"Upstairs there are three fine chambers and a maid's chamber each with a
separate closet and each with cross ventilation provided.... Over the front hall and entrance is built a dressing room which is arranged as an alcove from the principal front chamber, and to which access is also had from the hall. This can be used as a little upstairs den or sewing room as well, and is one of the most attractive features about this home.... Note that the two windows at the back of the stair hall provide an abundance of light and ventilation and help to make the whole upstairs cool in summer and cheerful in winter."


Photo from thewildroseflorist.com.


Lincolnway Street changed names multiple times over the last 100 years, and I do not know who the original owners of the house were. The structure has held businesses since the 1980's, and likely before that. Today, The Wild Rose Florist is on the bottom floor, and the top floor is a rental.

Where are the Others Hiding?
According to the company, "This beautiful home is one of the most popular designs we have ever shown. It has been built in practically every State in the Union, and adds distinction to any community where it is erected. "

Despite the company's assertions that this house was a popular model, I know of only two No. 535's in the Chicago area--this one in North Aurora and another in Richmond. There must be others still hiding.  The No. 535 is a distinctive looking house... maybe you have seen one?






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