February 17, 2015

Two Italian Families and their Neighboring Sears Houses

By the late 1920's 40 percent of first generation Italian immigrants were homeowners, and Sears Roebuck helped many of them realize the American dream. 

In the 1920's, mortgage loans were supplied by mortgage bankers and savings and loan companies. These lenders typically required 50% down and would provide a short-term interest-only loan of three to five years. When the loan matured, the borrower needed to pay the balance off in full or renegotiate another short-term loan. These second (or third or fourth) mortgages came with interest rates as high as 18%. 

The mortgage process was complicated and unpleasant, and it deterred many Americans from purchasing a home. Immigrants were particularly hard hit because they had to continually renegotiate their loans (often every year), and they experienced race and class discrimination from lenders.

Kit houses from Sears Roebuck already provided a big cost savings to consumers.  Around 1912 Sears began offering financing on their houses. They offered better interest rates, longer terms, and lower down payments than the traditional mortgage lenders. Sears normally required a down payment of about 33% and offered customers an amortized loan with 6 percent interest for five years or a higher interest rate for a loan up to 15 years. The loan application was submitted by mail and Sears did not ask for the applicant's race, ethnicity, or gender.

Payment plan offered by Sears in 1918.

By offering more favorable loan terms and a more equitable loan application process, Sears helped two Italian families in Highwood get homes of their own.

In the 1920's, Highwood was a working-class town filled with Italian immigrants. According to author Adria Bernardi, the influx of Italians into Highwood started around 1924. Highwood was, according to Bernardi, "a town of laborers amidst towns of industrial barons, presidents of banks, and chairmen of boards." The Italians worked as chauffeurs, gardeners, maids, and seamstresses to to the wealthy families in towns like Lake Forest, Glencoe, and Highland Park.

The Sears Rodessa at 117 Maple

117 Maple, Highwood.


The Sears Rodessa.


This Rodessa has been owned by the same family since its construction in the 1920's. Obviously there has been an addition off the left side.

The original owners were John Caringello and his wife, Rose. John worked as a truck driver for the Charles Fiore nursery, a company that employed many Italians in Highwood. John immigrated from the province of Bari in 1913.

The Sears Richmond at 109 Maple

109 Maple, Highwood.


The Sears Richmond, from the 1932 catalog.
This authenticated Sears Richmond was built in 1933, in the heart of the Great Depression. The architect was L. Cosby Bernard

The Richmond in Highwood has a stucco exterior, not wood siding. The side patio has been enclosed.

In its Modern Homes catalog, Sears says that, "The RIchmond, reminiscent of the beautiful Virginia home of the first Chief Justice of the U.S., reflects that good cheer and gracious dignity which made Southern hospitality famous." The description doesn't make any sense, and it's also historically inaccurate. The writer meant the Richmond is reminiscent of the house owned by the  fourth Chief Justice--John Marshall--who lived in Richmond, Virginia.


The John Marshall house. Photo courtesy of the The John Marshall Foundation.



The original owners of the Richmond in Highwood were Paul (formerly Paolo) and Rose Caringella (no relation to the Caringellos who lived next door). Paul worked as a construction worker and likely built the house himself.

Paul got a mortgage from Sears--I found it listed in the Lake County deed records. This means the Richmond is a genuine Sears house.



By 1949 the Caringellas had sold their house to another Italian family and moved to sunny California.


Anonymous said...

Interesting information on loans of the 20's!

SearsHouseSeeker said...

Lara, your blog posts are always so full of in-depth, interesting information. I love reading them. I always learn something. :)

Shari D said...

Those circumstances you described regarding the onerous processes involved in getting, paying off, or just keeping your mortgage intact so you didn't lose your home entirely, were what made such hateful villains out of said mortgage lenders in the really old (pre late 30's) movies, later movies about those times, and even older stage plays. You know! The caped, top-hatted, mustachioed "Snidely Whiplash" type, threatening to foreclose on the poor widow and her six children, who would all end up homeless in the dead of winter, if she couldn't come up with the $500 balloon payment in the mortgage in the next two weeks! And the struggles and pitfalls involved in being saved in the end by turning in the bank robber at the last second, and collecting the $750 reward! Enough to pay the house off, buy mama the sewing machine she needed so badly so she could support them all by designing and sewing all the lovely gowns that all the rich ladies admired so, but that she couldn't make fast enough by hand sewing them, even by sitting up all night long and sewing by the light of the oil lamp! Ooh ooh!! We're saved!!
No, no - not usually so silly and over dramatic, but a serious problem just the same. The one that was saved by the (still discriminatory) new mortgages that came into being with the 1934 changes to the housing finance laws that stopped all that balloon mortgage, second mortgage, onoerous interest rate debacle, and replaced it with the federally insured, low down payment, amortized over a longer period of time mortgages that "paid off just like rent" and made it possible for not only more people to afford houses of their own, but also for most people to stop losing their homes through foreclosure, by getting those other mortgages refinanced, including Sears mortgages, which didn't help their stability any, by losing out on all that interest money, which came along with the early payoffs.
But, those government programs were still heavily weighted against all the people who Sears did help get their first and for some, their only homes - racial minorities, immigrants, women, and so forth. First, you had to get someone locally to GIVE you the mortgage, before second, the government would insure it. And that still is the biggest hurdle of all, even today. While official "redlining" has been outlawed in the books, it hasn't erased it from some people's minds and opinions.

Shari D said...

Interesting thing about that mortgage application information. In the description of the house they use for an example, their $4,500 house includes "plumbing goods, heating plant and lighting fixtures" as well as the other usual housing materials. Nothing there about those items being considered an "additional cost" at all. But they do, of course, make a point of the fact that the lot, masonry supplies, and so forth are not included as part of the deal, except that the lot can be used as "collateral" towards the loan, which CAN include some extra cash for labor and masonry supplies!

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