November 27, 2018

Sears Arrow in Kankakee

Beginning in the late 1930's, Sears Roebuck introduced several new house designs that were never included in the Modern Homes catalogs. Only if customers went into a local Sears Modern Homes sales office could they see the new "bonus" houses. One of these models is the Sears Arrow, designed by Chicago architect A.H. Bacci.

1989 W. Calista St., Kankakee. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Arrow.

This Sears Arrow in Kankakee is authenticated. It was one of 53 houses built by Sears Roebuck for employees of the Florence Stove Company in 1937 and 1938. There were eight new models created for the Florence Stove project--the Arrow being one of them.

The Florence Stove employees lived in terrible conditions before the Sears houses were built. 

The idea for the housing development came from Robert Fowler, president of the Florence Stove Company. He brought the workers' living conditions to the attention of General Robert E. Wood, president of Sears Roebuck. (Sears partially owned Florence Stove.) Wood and his team believed that they could build affordable houses (between $3200 and $3800) for the employees in a new subdivision. Employees would receive financing through FHA or local banks, and their house payments would be the same as what they were paying to rent the crummy shacks. Sears did not make any profit on the development.

The eight new models were added to the existing lineup of 63 Sears Modern Homes and sold throughout the country.

Roland and Helen Legg bought the Arrow on Calista Street. It was one of the more expensive Sears models in the development. Roland was a mounter at the stove company.

Mary Judith Legg was four when this photo was taken. She died in 1988.

Living roomPhoto from Realtor site.

Those are the original kitchen cabinets, except those found under the sink. Photo from Realtor site.

Sears Roebuck and Florence Stove had a business relationship for many decades. In 1957, the Florence Stove Company acquired Roper Corp. and changed its name to that of Roper.
By 1974, Sears owned 41.4% of Roper and the retailer accounted for 71 percent of Roper's $336 million in sales.

Roper closed all Kankakee area operations in 1982. About 2,500 workers lost their jobs. The local economy was devastated because of this and nine other plant closings. Kankakee became a national news story, with headlines like: "The New Poor".

The 35-acre Florence Stove plant was demolished in 2016 after being unused for over 30 years. However, the Sears Arrow is still standing in Kankakee in tribute to the Florence Stove Company and its president's concern for the workers.

The Florence Stove factory in the 1930's--now gone.


Cindy Catanzaro said...

I love that we are still finding so much new information about the Sears Modern Home Department. Great post!

SearsHouseSeeker said...

I second what Cindy said!
Sears House Seeker blog

Architectural Observer said...

Fun! It's interesting to see that the Arrow was built without eaves. I'd guess that the house was updated in the 1960's with eaves and "board and batten" siding in the gable... it certainly did make the place look newer than it had... almost like a 60's "storybook" style ranch house!

The Florence Stove Company made a great product - I heated my last house with a Florence Hot Blast for the ten years I lived there and was never cold during the winter months. Nice to know there is a Sears connection there!

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

That's funny... I'd never heard of Florence before this!

Unknown said...

For what it's worth to possibly help someone identify a Sears kit home I will tell a quick story. I had a small craftsman style home in Oregon that was originally built in the 30's. The town it was in is in the heart of Oregons' lumber & sawmill country. It was not a Sears "kit" home but I mention this because needless to say it was built by either a lumberjack or someone who worked in a local sawmill. Upon doing an extensive remodel of the home I noticed the beams (bones) of the house were of a non-standard dimension. For example instead of the industry standard sizes such as 2 × 6, 8 or 10's the beams were approx 5 × 4 and they had about a 1 inch square groove channeled the length of the beams. A local old-timer who had spent his life in all phases of the lumber industry told me that beams like that were milled back in the day specifically for Sears kit homes. It was very typical in those lumber towns to see homes that were built by people who worked in the mills to use scrap or left over pieces they could take home to build their houses with.

Odds are the house you suspect might have been a Sears kit home has been remodeled at some point and identifying it as such may be really hard to say with any certainty but the "bones" of the house may reveal it's origin. Look for odd (non-standard) lumber sizes that were milled that way as opposed to just "rough cut". For me Sears will always be remembered fondly and I hate to see it lose its place in the Americas' retail story. Happy hunting.

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