August 6, 2019

Have You Ever Seen a Fairy?

3417 Grand Blvd., Brookfield. Photo from Realtor site.

The Sears Fairy from the 1932 Modern Homes catalog.

Sears described its Fairy house as follows: "The charming simplicity of this soft stained shingled bungalow with combined living and dining room, makes it very economical."

Appropriately named, the Fairy was one of the diminutive Sears houses at just over 600 square feet. There are several Fairies in the Chicago area in places such as St. Charles, Wheaton, Oswego, and Highland Park.

The Fairy has two windows in the front--one in the front bedroom and one in the living room. Photo from Realtor site.

The Fairy was one of the diminutive Sears houses at just over 600 square feet. It could fit on a 30-foot lot.

The combination living room/dining room is just over 15 feet wide. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The front bedroom is an office today. Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

Photo from Realtor site.

The new spiral staircase leads to...


...a new master suite. Photos from Realtor site.

Sears began selling this version of the Fairy in 1930. The McMullen family built the house in Brookfield that year.

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.

July 9, 2019

The Sears Alden--an Omnipresent Garrison Colonial

The Garrison Colonial was a wildly popular style in the United States from about 1925 to 1955. You will recognize this house--it's omnipresent.

A Garrison Colonial in Riverside.

There a couple distinguishing characteristics of the Garrison design. It has a cantilevered second floor, and this overhang creates additional living space on the upper floors. There are decorative wooden pendants beneath the overhang, often in teardrop shapes. The upper level is often wood siding and the lower level is often brick or stone.

Sears sold several Garrison style colonials in the 1930's. Unfortunately, the simpler Sears designs are impossible to identify by appearance only since they look like so many other non-Sears houses.

Take the Sears Alden, sold from 1933 to 1935. 

The Sears Alden has all the classic features of a Garrison Colonial. It included stone on the front of the lower level with brick on the remaining three sides. Many people believe they own Aldens, but they need solid authentication to prove they are from Sears Roebuck.


Researchers have identified three Aldens to date--two of which are in the Chicago area. 
All three Aldens have been authenticated. 

Let's take a look at our Aldens.

Glen Ellyn

212 N. Park Boulevard, Glen Ellyn.  Obviously the dormers and the porch overhang are not original. Blurry photo from Realtor site.


Researcher Chuck Holtzen uncovered the Sears mortgage issued to Lawrence F. Triggs in July 1932.  Lawrence took out a loan for $9,000 to build the Alden. (You'll notice the price in the catalog for the Alden was $2,418. This gives you an idea of the true price to build a fully outfitted Sears house.)

Lawrence was a copywriter for an ad agency. By 1940, he and his family had moved to Westchester  NY.


Those are the original pendants.

Photo from Realtor site.


Photo from Realtor site.


Photo from Realtor site.


Many Sears houses in the 1930's had that door. Photo from Realtor site.


2108 Harrison, Evanston.

Researcher Rebecca Hunter authenticated this Sears Alden. The house was built in 1932 for A.P. Bradley, and the cost was $10,000 (about what the Alden in Glen Ellyn cost all inclusive). 

The builders of this Alden were the Blume Bros--contractors from Des Plaines who built dozens of Sears houses around the area. I suspect that Sears listed the Blume Bros as one of their recommended contractors.

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