My recent posts about a neighborhood of Wardway homes reminded me that I had come across one of these homes prior to discovering the larger neighborhood of homes. This Wardway Avalon is located at 740 Joslyn. Unfortunately, the reason I discovered this house was its inclusion on a list of homes that were up for auction after being foreclosed on for failure to pay property taxes. For a foreclosure house, it doesn't look to be in bad shape from the outside and still has some of the original features of the Avalon model. Let's hope that it has a new owner who will take good care of it.
740 Joslyn - Pontiac, Michigan - Wardway Avalon
Image courtesy of Oakland County Treasurer's Office
Updated! See the link at the end of the post for more details.
One of the enjoyable aspects of being a kit house hunter is the chance to collaborate with fellow kit house enthusiasts. Today, one of the newer members of our group of kit house researchers shared a house he had found in the Medbury's-Grove Lawn Subdivisions Historic District in Highland Park, Michigan. While we were discussing that house and its neighbor, one of the other members, Cindy Catanzaro, who manages the Sears Modern Homes page on Facebook, spotted what looked like a rare Sears model - the Ashmore.
180 Moss - Highland Park, Michigan Image courtesy of Google Maps
The city of Northville, Michigan is only a couple of miles south of where we live in Novi. Best known for its historic downtown and Victorian Festival each year, Northville is also home to at least nine kit houses from Aladdin, Lewis and Sears. The City of Northville is split almost equally between Wayne and Oakland Counties and Baseline is the dividing line between the two counties. The most often recognized of these kit homes - a Sears Vallonia - can be found at 317 Baseline.
When Wendy and I were getting started finding kit homes, we made several trips to Ann Arbor to look for and photograph Sears houses. Our guide was the list of kit homes that Grace Shackman and Rob Schweitzer has assembled back in March 1991. But as we drove the streets of Ann Arbor, it seemed like every other house was a kit house - at least to our then untrained eyes. As we worked our way across the city, we eventually reached a neighborhood on the far west side of Ann Arbor that didn't include any kit houses from the list. We almost skipped it. But the neighborhood consisted of only a couple of short streets and we decided to give it a look. As we turned into the neighborhood, we discovered that the streets weren't even paved. Dirt roads in Ann Arbor? Who knew! I wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not but as we drove the short couple of blocks, each street ending in a dead-end, we saw only a couple of houses that could have be "maybes". But we didn't see anything we recognized. As we reached the last dead-end of the last street in this small subdivision, we spotted this house at 3417 Ferry.
Wendy and I first started looking for Sears houses in our area in late 2012. Not long after we started our search, Judy Davids published a series of articles about kit homes located in and around Royal Oak, Michigan. One of those articles titled "Local Mail Order Homes (Some Assembly Required)" included photos of a number of local kit homes in the communities of Berkley, Ferndale and Royal Oak. Berkley, Ferndale and Royal Oak are located along the interurban and railroads lines that ran northwest from Detroit. We weren't surprised by the fact that there were kit homes located in those communities. But we were astounded by the size of some of these houses. We had seen the catalog images of some of these grand homes in the reproduction of a 1926 Sears Modern Homes catalog that we owned. But we didn't realize that some of these models were located so close to us! As the weather turned warmer in the spring of 2013, we finally made a road trip to Berkley. By that time, a little driving around in Google Streetview had provided us with a list of streets where we knew that some of the homes featured in Judy's article were located. First on our list was Beverly Boulevard. As we headed down Beverly, we were greeted by this house, a Sears Sherburne.
A common challenge for kit house researchers is differentiating between similar models offered by kit home manufacturers. In some cases, these houses can look almost identical to each other, making it next to impossible to know for sure whether a house is from one company or another. Two of the look-a-like models are the Dutch Colonial Revival style Sears Puritan and Wardway Salem. The Puritan was a popular model for Sears. It first appeared in the 1922 Sears Modern Homes catalog and continued to appear through the 1931 catalog. The Salem was offered by Wardway for a few years starting in the late 1920s.
Stumbling across a neighborhood filled with Wardway homes in Pontiac, Michigan was quite an exciting discovery. As I explained in that post, it's unusual to find neighborhoods made up predominantly of kit homes. But that fact also had me wondering - how did all those Wardway homes come to be built in this neighborhood? I did some searching around on Google to see if there was any reference to these Wardway homes in Pontiac - no luck.
My next step was to see if the land records for this area would reveal any clues. I started out by using Oakland County's Property Gateway mapping service to get some basic information about this area. The Property Gateway is a really cool online service that allows you to zoom into individual parcels and see details like subdivision names, lot numbers, lot dimensions and current and historical aerial photos. In this case, the map provided the name of the subdivision plat - "Modern Housing Corp Oakland Park".
Image of subdivision plat from Oakland County Property Gateway
Our Sears Hamilton is located in the southwest corner of Oakland County, Michigan. Like many Sears homes, our house was built by a family that owned a farm and our house sits just north of the original Salow family farmstead. But most of the Sears houses that we've found or seen in Oakland County were built in the communities that stretch along the Woodward Avenue corridor from the border at 8 Mile with Detroit north and west to Pontiac and the communities that grew up around Pontiac. All of those communities had one thing in common - direct access to railroad and interurban (streetcar) lines. This map shows where those railroad and interurban lines were located in Oakland County.
Recently, Wendy and I were traveling through Pontiac, Michigan on our way to meet a friend for dinner. As often is the case driving through areas with older homes, we were keeping an eye out for anything that looked familiar. At one intersection, we stopped for a red light and we immediately spotted several houses that looked promising. Could they be Wardway Kenwoods? As the light changed and we drove through the intersection, I was sure that I spotted a Wardway Piermont down the side street. On the next block was another home that looked like a Kenwood. It was an intriguing discovery but as sometimes happens, we didn't have time to stop and take photographs.
I'm sure that every "Kit House Hunter" has a story about how they first got interested in kit houses. In my case, my 1926 Sears Hamilton was the inspiration for the journey into discovering kit homes. When I purchased my house in 2003, the previous owners passed along a binder that included a collection of photos and articles about the house and Sears houses in general. While some owners don't know that they own a kit house, in my case, I was one of a long line of owners who knew that our house was a Sears kit house.
Photo of our 1926 Sears Hamilton under construction