February 26, 2024

A Fresh Look at the Sears Magnolia

The most searched Sears house on Google is the Magnolia. It was the most expensive precut house ever sold by Sears Roebuck, and, consequently, there aren't many of them around.

The Magnolia was in the Georgian Revival style, with a hipped roof, two-story front portico, six massive columns, and side wings.

Sears introduced the Magnolia in the 1918 catalog, and sold the house through 1923.

Sears used the same cover for both the 1918 and 1919 Modern Homes catalogs. The Magnolia was the cover girl.

The first floor plan. Some upscale features include a large reception hall and curving staircase, a double-sided fireplace with built in seating, a half bath, a large pantry with a butler's sink, an eat-in area off the kitchen, and a separate staircase for the servants. The Magnolia had nine-foot ceilings and inlaid oak floors in the primary living spaces.

The reception hall. The living room is on the right, the dining room on the left. The double doors in the back go to the rear hall.

The living room. The right doors go to the sun room. There is a sitting area in front of the fireplace with built-in benches. The fireplace is shared with the den, which is directly behind the living room and is accessed through the rear hall.

The dining room. The triple windows face the front of the house. The French doors lead to the porte-cochère. The swinging door on the right leads to the butler's pantry.

The breakfast alcove in the kitchen. Behind the open door was supposed to be space for a refrigerator.

The second floor plan. The Magnolia had three decks, a balcony off the master bedroom dressing area,  and an enclosed sleeping porch. There were three decent-sized bedrooms, with plenty of storage for dresses and hats. The servant had their own bedroom and bath. 

Each bedroom (except the servant's bedroom) had access to a deck. 

The Magnolia had two full bathrooms including the servant's bathroom.

The architect of the Magnolia is unknown, but the housing style was popular in the early 1900's and there were many inspirations for the design.

During the years the Magnolia was sold, the price ranged from a low of $4,485 in 1918 to a high of $9,990 in 1920. There was a massive spike in lumber prices in 1920, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, and that would account for the sky-high price in 1920.

Sears Roebuck estimated that the complete price of the Magnolia in 1922 would be $14,360. This did not include the price of the lot.

The high price of the Magnolia kept it out of reach of most families. Around 10 have been identified to date. Some of those were demolished, others have not been confirmed to be from Sears. No Magnolias have been located in the Chicago area.

South Bend, Indiana

325 West North Shore Dr., South Bend, IN.The Magnolia was built in 1926, which is three years after the Magnolia was discontinued in the Modern Homes catalogs.   Photo from University of Notre Dame, Architecture Library.

The Magnolia has a flat roof over the front porch with a balcony. Many similar models have a pediment there instead. Photo from Historic Preservation Commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County. 

The Magnolia has three grouped columns supporting the front portico. The columns are Ionic on the South Bend house, although the catalog shows Corinthian. The Magnolia is 40' wide and 36' deep.  The porch adds another 10'. 
Photo from Historic Preservation Commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County. 

A Magnolia has unique first-floor windows. There is a large picture window with a double-hung window on either side and 15 little square windows across the top of the set of three. Photo from University of Notre Dame, Architecture Library.

Benson, North Carolina

301 W. Main St., Benson, NC. This Magnolia is authenticated--the model number was written on lumber. Photo from Wikimedia.

Syracuse, New York

1500 James St., Syracuse, NY. Photo courtesy of proulxhome.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

What was 4133 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI. Is this a Magnolia? The house was demolished, but local lore said it was from Sears. We'll never know for sure. Photo discovered by Andrew Mutch.  

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