February 27, 2018

What Else is Hiding in Rockford?

During the tenure of the Modern Homes Department (1908-1942), the top executives at Sears Roebuck were adamant that the company would not build homes prior to sale (with one exception--a costly experiment in Oak Park).  Model homes that Sears had "open for inspection" were built and paid for by customers who agreed to have their house open for tours before they moved in.

However, in the late 1930's in Rockford, that business model changed. Residential construction in the area was on the upswing beginning in 1936, and the Modern Homes sales district that encompassed Rockford was so busy that E.H. May, the district manager, was desperately looking to hire additional salespeople.  Business was so strong in Rockford that Sears was willing to disregard its normal policy and build homes prior to sale. May believed if customers could see and tour actual houses, they would be more inclined to purchase.

Fast forward to today. Long-time Rockford resident Jeff Aulik wondered whether E.H. May's name would be associated with any of the building permits for the homes that Sears paid for and constructed. He did a local newspaper search and... BINGO. May's name was listed on the permits for over 30 houses built by Sears from 1937-1942.

Only one of the Rockford houses that Jeff discovered was identified in previous architectural surveys. And among these newly found houses, he located two Sears models that have never been seen before in the United States. I suspect there are many more Sears homes still hiding in Rockford (the city currently has 146 accounted for!).

Introducing the Sears Bayside

Sears Bayside. Sears said that guests should enter through the picketed gate to the sheltered entrance.

1819 Carney, Rockford. Photo courtesy of Jeff Aulik. A perfect match, sans gate.

The Sears Bayside was sold for only one year--1938. Rockford may very well have the only authenticated Bayside in existence.

Sears expected to pay $3,000 to construct the house according to the permit. It was built in 1940. The original owners were George and Alice Sipple. George was a supervisor at the post office.  The Sipples sold the house in 1941.

Blurry 1941 news article about the sale of the house. It looks as if the house didn't have a gate originally.

Introducing the Sears Carver

Sears Carver. Not your run-of-the-mill Cape Cod.

2922 Kenmore, Rockford. Snapshot from Google Streetview.

2304 Lawndale, Rockford. Snapshot from Google Streetview.

The Sears Carver was featured in the Modern Homes catalogs from 1938-1940, but no one has ever seen one "in the wild". Rockford has not one, but two authenticated Carvers.

Sears built both Carvers in 1941. 

2922 Kenmore was purchased by Dennis and Dorothy Hissong. They moved out in 1946.

2304 Lawndale was purchased by Frank and Frances Walker. Frank worked as a CPA. They sold the house in 1943 when Frank enlisted in the navy and was relocated. 
The Lawndale house in 1943, in the local newspaper.


Frances and Frank Walker. According to local news accounts, Frances was considered one of the most beautiful women in Rockford.

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