September 28, 2012

The House that Sears Built--in Paris

This blog has a large number of readers from France. So in this installment, we'll discuss the house that Sears built--in Paris.

In 1931, Sears, Roebuck and Co. was awarded a contract by the United States government to create a full-scale replica of Mount Vernon (President George Washington's Virginia residence) at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale in Paris. The Mount Vernon replica (and two adjacent buildings) would house the official exhibits of the United States.

The government selected Charles K. Bryant from Richmond, VA as the architect, because he had designed a replica of Mount Vernon for an exhibition in 1915 and still had the blueprints. 

The government awarded the Home Construction Division of Sears the contract for construction after Sears said it could complete the buildings in a few short months and agreed to build them at cost (ultimately $75,495). The materials for Mount Vernon came from the Sears lumber mill in Port Newark, NJ, and within 12 days of signing the contract they were on their way to Paris. The wood was numbered, just as with the traditional Sears kit houses.

Every detail of the historic Virginia mansion was reproduced.The house featured a portico, a balustrade, and a pediment with an oculus. The structure was flanked by two colonnades. On the roof was an eight-sided wooden cupola. Inside, Sears copied all brass and bronze hardware, mantelpieces, staircases, trim, and cabinets.

Sears publicized the company’s role in constructing the Mount Vernon replica to garner interest in their kit homes. "I had no idea that Sears built such fine homes", trumpeted the ad copy.

A feature on the Mount Vernon reproduction from the 1931 Modern Homes catalog.

Beginning in 1932, Sears offered a house in its catalogs that was loosely based on Mount Vernon. The model was inexplicably named “The Jefferson”. Sears described it as “a true example of Southern Colonial architecture.” 

The Sears Jefferson had a five-bay portico and a balustrade.

I should also mention that in 1932 Sears constructed the same Mount Vernon reproduction in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth. This house was taken down after the event.

After the exhibition concluded, the building in France was purchased by Dr. Alexander Bruno, an American surgeon working in Paris. According the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Bruno planned to reconstruct the house at his tuberculosis sanatorium in the French Alps. That never came to pass, and, in 1936, the Paris Mount Vernon was relocated to a western suburb--Vaucresson.

Dr. Alexander Bruno in 1918.

The building has served as a private residence to this day. 
This house is currently for sale for about $27 million USD.


Grahan said...

I have read on another site that in addition to the Mt Vernon copies Sears built what the site descibed as a "dream house" as a special order for Warner Brothers, presumably for a film project, but did not have any details.

SearsHouseSeeker said...

Fascinating! I love the way the newsprint ad says the, "I had no idea that Sears built such fine homes!" phrase in French right above it :) (With a grammar error or two ;)
I love this!

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

I believe the dream house was in the Pittsburgh area.

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