September 11, 2018

A Inviting California Bungalow

437 S. Ardmore, Villa Park. Photo from Realtor site.

Harris No. 1000.

Based in Chicago, Harris Brothers sold building materials and kit houses. The Harris Brothers model No. 1000 was likely their best selling house. 

According to the Harris Homes catalog: "Many types of the California bungalow are not practical in climates where the winters are severe. In developing this design our architects have exercised utmost care to combine the fascinating features of a true California bungalow with a convenient, comfortable interior properly constructed for any locality."  Most communities in the Chicago area have at least one No. 1000 bungalow; some towns have several. 

This No. 1000 in Villa Park has been changed very little in 93 years, so we can see the flow of the original floor plan. It still has just five rooms.

The No. 1000 is easily identified by its curved veranda. Photo from Realtor site.

The house in Villa Park has a reversed floor plan. There is a traditional front door that leads into the living room and French doors that lead into the dining room.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The pantry on the original floor plan has been eliminated in favor of a larger kitchen. Photo from Realtor site.

The larger bedroom. Photo from Realtor site.

The smaller back bedroom. Photo from Realtor site.

August 28, 2018

A Sears Bellewood in St. Charles... or Not?

1210 S. 4th St. Charles. Photo from Realtor site.

This house in St. Charles is an English cottage--a style that was very popular in the early 1930's. The official list of Sears houses in St. Charles has this residence listed as a Sears Bellewood. But is it one?

The extra width on the right side of the door is because the house in St. Charles has a closet there. Was this a customization to the Bellewood plans? It might have been. Sears did not have a problem modifying the standard plans to accommodate minor changes such as this. That is a replacement front door.

Sears sold the Bellewood for only a short time--1930 to 1932. The county has a 1938 build date attributed to this house. County dates are often incorrect, so there's not much we can take away from that.

Sears house aficionado Mark Wissing has been inside the purported Bellewood and says there is no evidence to support that it is, in fact, a Sears Bellewood. He has searched the house for marked lumber and could not find any.

I believe the original owners were George and Helen Irk. George worked as a truck driver. The Irks lived in the house until at least 1950.

Bellewood or not, the house is so cute inside.

The plaster arch leads to the vestibule. Per the standard Sears house plans, there is not a fireplace in this location. It may have been added after the initial construction. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The stairs are where a closet once was. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

A back bedroom is now a TV/gaming room. Photo from Realtor site.

So where does that leave us? The best possible way to authenticate whether a house is from Sears is to head to the county and pull the land records. If the Irks financed through Sears Roebuck, there will be a paper trail to support that. According to Mark, the current homeowner will be conducting that research soon.

TO be continued....

August 14, 2018

The Sears Home Leaderboard

Researchers have compiled a substantial list of Sears houses located all over the United States (over 10,000 to date).  I want to share with you the largest totals for communities in Illinois. Please note that these totals can change. We discover more houses daily; we lose houses to demolition or fire.

Here are the top six from Illinois:

Community          Number of Sears Homes
Elgin                                    213

Carlinville                            149
Rockford                             145
Aurora                                 117
Downers Grove                   67
Joliet                                    62

Elgin, Rockford, Aurora, Joliet

These communities were population centers in the 1920's and 1930's, and they experienced consistent growth.

Rockford in 1930 was the second largest city in Illinois behind Chicago. With a 1930 population of almost 86,000, Rockford was the 100th biggest city in the United States.

Aurora clocked in at almost 47,000 residents in 1930, and grew 28% over the prior decade. Joliet's 1930 census tallied almost 43,000 residents. Elgin had almost 36,000 residents in the 1930 census.

Many employers were based in these areas, and there was a healthy supply of well-paid workers with steady jobs who wanted to be homeowners rather than renters.

It's no coincidence that these four Sears house leaders have not experienced the magnitude of teardowns that other suburbs have.  They have not lost the same amount of early 1900's housing stock like Winnetka or Western Springs or other communities, some of which have entire blocks of homes decimated. This helps account for their relatively high number of extant Sears houses.

Sears established Modern Homes sales offices in areas in which housing sales were strong. There were sales offices in all four of these communities for many years. Sales office in town = more Sears houses.

Finally, the vast majority of Sears houses in these communities have been identified. Author Rebecca Hunter conducted full architectural surveys in Elgin and Joliet. Hunter and other local researchers have searched county records for Aurora and Rockford properties that Sears financed.  This detailed research resulted in the high tallies of Sears houses.

A Sears Westly at 626 May, Elgin. The house was built in 1927, and is authenticated by marked lumber in the attic. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Westly.

In 1918, Standard Oil opened the first of four coal mines in the Carlinville area. The company wanted to ensure its workers had adequate housing and placed an order with Sears Roebuck for 156 houses. The houses were built as a new addition to the town of Carlinville, rather than near the mining areas, because Standard Oil wanted the workers to have the advantages of electricity, municipal water and sewers, and schools for their children. The blocks that contain the Sears houses were named the "Standard Addition" to Carlinville.

Standard Oil constructed 14 different models in the Standard Addition. The houses were further varied by modifying the roof and porch designs. Excerpt from The Bulletin of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, 1919.

The same Sears Madelia and Sears Carlin on North High Street, Carlinville. Still looking good! Image from Google Streetview.

Carlinville was prospering, and everything was looking up... until the mine closed in 1924. Carlinville had a population of 5,212 in 1920, and proceeded to lose 20% of its population after the mine's closure. 

However, the Sears houses are still standing as a memorial to those boom years. Of the 156 houses that Standard Oil built, 149 exist today.  Tours are often given of the Standard Addition if you happen to be in the area, and there are Facebook groups devoted to those Sears houses.

Downers Grove
Downers Grove in 1930 had a population of 8,977. However, the suburb grew an impressive 153% over the previous decade! Housing was needed desperately, and many new Downers Grove residents turned to Sears Roebuck.

Downers Grove resident Chuck Holtzen spent hours pulling the deed records from DuPage County, and she managed to uncover many Sears houses that were previously unknown. That research contributed to Downers Grove ending up in the top six locales for Sears houses in Illinois.

All the Western suburbs have a substantial number of Sears houses, including Lombard, St. Charles, Elmhurst, and Glen Ellyn. All these suburbs have also had a significant number of teardowns as well. We'll never know which of these suburbs officially had the most Sears houses, but Downers Grove has come out on top today.

Sears Elsmore at 5210 Grand, Downers Grove. Photo courtesy of Chuck Holtzen.

Are you interested in finding the hidden Sears kit houses in your community? Email me!

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