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 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.

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