July 23, 2019

A Kit Home That Everyone Needs to See

I often say that the Chicago House Wrecking Company is the kit house company that no one knows about. Headquartered in Chicago on 35th St., the Chicago House Wrecking Company sold houses before Sears Roebuck (beginning in 1907).  They were originally an architectural salvage company--hence the unfortunate name.

The Harris Brothers company was created by merging three companies in 1913--the Chicago House Wrecking Company, the Harris Home Company, and the Harris Steel and Wire Company.  The kit houses were then sold under the Harris Brothers nameplate. Harris Brothers had several sales offices in Chicago and the suburbs where customers could look at models and floorplans of houses and talk to salespeople. Chicago House Wrecking/Harris sold many homes in the Chicago area.

In 1909, the Chicago House Wrecking Company introduced a house plan that was progressive... and a little daring for Middle America.

The catalog description reads: "This very picturesque cement veneered house has a very striking appearance and is sure to make a hit with anyone who likes a house of this order." The No. 152 is a two-story residence in the Prairie School style. 

The structure of the house was frame. The outside wall construction consisted of  "Byrkit's Patent Sheathing Lath", which was a combined sheathing and wooden lath that was very popular around the turn of the century. Then a metal lath was laid on top.


Chicago House Wrecking/Harris said that the inside layout could be customizable. This makes it difficult to identify a No. 152 model today since the floor plans can differ.

A 1913 advertisement.

Chicago House Wrecking/Harris sold the house from 1909 to 1915.  In the early years, the lumber was not pre-cut at the lumber mill, and the customers had to do all the measuring and sawing.

No. 152 was the cover girl on the 1914-15 catalog.

Although the No. 152 must have been a decent seller since it was offered for so many years, I only know of one in the Chicago area.

1203 W. Main, St. Charles. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Charles Community & Economic Development Department.


Chicago House Wrecking Company/Harris Brothers No. 152.

This No. 152 in St. Charles was authenticated by researcher Rebecca Hunter. It was built around 1910-1915 by William J. Johnson (originally Johansson). William was a building contractor originally from Sweden. The Johnson family moved out in 1919.

But wait! What's this in Oak Park?


308 S. East Ave., Oak Park. Photo courtesy of Historic Resources of Oak Park.


Could it be another No. 152 in the Western suburbs?


Built in 1905, this house in Oak Park is likely the inspiration for the No. 152. It was constructed before the Chicago House Wrecking Company even sold houses. What we do know is that the kit house companies often licensed plans from local Chicago architects. We have seen other houses in Oak Park and Elmhurst used as kit house designs a few years after their construction.

This No. 152 lookalike was constructed by E.E. Andrews, a local builder, for his own family. There is no record of the architect.

I think this another 
Chicago House Wrecking Company No. 152 in La Grange. The floor plan matches to the inch. The county says it was built in 1915.

227 S. Catherine Ave., La Grange. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.


Architectural Observer said...

Fascinating! You found the prototype for House Design No. 152! I love that kind of history. I'm surprised that the house was offered for six years. Didn't Sears also offer a Prairie Style kit? I'm guessing that it didn't do as well as this one. Chicagoland definitely embraced the Prairie School of design much more enthusiastically than the rest of the country.

The house in St. Charles has obviously seen many changes, but it clearly began as a No. 152. In addition to window and porch alterations, the replacement siding really subdues the intended Prairie character. I'd love to see one of these that hasn't been altered... I wonder if the Prairie styling continued on into the interior or if they just had "normal" woodwork. Fun!

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Yes, Sears did offer some Prairie style models, but we've only found one.


I've never seen the inside of one! There are No. 152's also at:

312 13th St., Pleasanton KS (authenticated) and 378 S Hancock St., Gary IN.

Monkeysocks said...

We’ve found records that our house in Brookfield was a Harris Brothers model 111. We haven’t been able to find a book of plans that includes this design. Do you know of any that I might be able to access/see?
We do have many pages from the Book of Building Plans “Quality Homes” from Gordon-Van Tine Co. In Davenport, Iowa, copyright 1914. They were found in the walls of this home, along with the 1914 letter confirming that materials for house #111 were loaded on the train and headed our way. I would love to know more about this company and this design!

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Harris Brothers and Gordon-Van Tine were two different companies. You can email me at lara@sears-homes. com

rodrigo7 said...

I have almost the exact design as house in St. Charles, where the porch is completely enclosed. My only difference is that I had large pocket windows originally that operated by a lever, to drop down into the cedar wall base board for an open-air porch during the summer. Ten years ago the previous owner replaced those windows with vinyl windows. The multi-pane upper windows are also gone from my house too. Notice the sloping base on the St. Charles house and mine here: https://www.zillow.com/homes/3111-Daisy-Ave-Cleveland,-OH-44109_rb/33352633_zpid/

I am so glad I found this site as my house is the only one of it's kind in my neighborhood.

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Hi, Rodrigo! I agree with you that your house is a No. 152, and I added it to the database. Harris Brothers sold a good number of homes in Ohio. There is another No. 152 in Sidney, OH, north of Dayton.

Jamie said...

I recently bought a house in Gallatin, Missouri that is definitely a Harris Brothers 152. The house was built in 1910 and the dead give away is the steps up into the house only to go down three steps into the kitchen. The pantry is gone in the kitchen but otherwise the layout is exact. https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/208-N-Maple-St-Gallatin-MO-64640/127164956_zpid/

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

I added your house to the national database, Jamie. Thanks!

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