Monday, November 16, 2015

Where are the Sears houses located in Oakland County?

Map of Oakland County Municipalities
Image courtesy of Oakland County
One of the questions we most frequently get asked about kit houses in Oakland County is "where are the kit houses located?" Our answer - "Just about everywhere!" While we haven't identified kit houses in every one of the county's 61 communities, you will find kit houses in all parts of the county, from the densely developed southeastern corner to the more rural northern and western portions of Oakland County. In reviewing the over 300 identified Sears houses with mortgages discussed in the "The Sears Mortgages of Oakland County", we found Sears kit houses in 28 different cities, villages and townships. But you might be surprised by which communities have the most Sears kit houses.

Map of the Oakland County portion
of the Detroit United Railway system (1904)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Broadly, the answer to "where are the kit houses located?" is best answered by "where people were building homes in the 1920s and early 1930s". The earliest identified Sears house with a mortgage was built in early 1920 (Pleasant Ridge) and the last in late 1931 (Northville). During that that 11 year period, the vast majority of the 300 plus homes with Sears mortgages were built in the areas of the county that were experiencing the greatest growth. Whether it was in established municipalities like Royal Oak and Pontiac or the newly emerging "streetcar" suburbs like Berkley and Ferndale, the communities along the Woodward corridor between the county border at 8 Mile Road and Pontiac saw the greatest increases in population and subsequently, the most new housing including kit houses. While the Woodward corridor was the primary path of growth, there was also a significant number of homes that were built along the interurban lines extending north from Royal Oak through Clawson to Rochester, from Pontiac to Sylvan Lake and West Bloomfield and from Royal Oak south to the Detroit border in what would later become Hazel Park. A couple of the primary railroad lines through the County ran through many of these communities helping facilitate the delivery of kit homes by boxcar.

Specifically, the answer to "where are the Sears kit houses located?" is found in the following list. Keep in mind that this list is based on the 300 plus homes that were identified using Sears mortgages. There are many more homes from Sears that have been identified where the builder and/or owner purchased the house from Sears without relying on a Sears-financed mortgage. Also excluded from these numbers are any houses from other kit house companies or any homes that were built and later demolished. To be included in this list, it has to be a Sears house with a Sears mortgage that is still standing today!

Pontiac
Sears Hampton (Custom) - 212 West Brooklyn - Pontiac, Michigan
Image courtesy of Google Maps
Anyone familiar with the history of Oakland County won't be surprised to see that Pontiac tops the list with 64 Sears homes. Thanks to the growth in the automobile industry, General Motors particularly, Pontiac almost doubled in population between 1920 - 1930. Many of the Sears houses in Pontiac were models modest in size and price designed to appeal to the people working in the auto factories of Pontiac. The largest concentration of homes is in the Marimont Subdivision at the intersection of Baldwin and Walton on the northwest side of the city where a single developer, Norman Meginnity, bought and built over a dozen Sears houses. Many of them are like this house at 212 West Brooklyn which is a Sears "Hampton" model with clipped gables, which would have been a customization from the standard "Hampton" design. More expensive models were built in the areas south of Huron (M-59) and east of Telegraph Road. Pontiac is also home to a number of examples of two-family Sears models including the Sears LaSalle and the Sears Manchester. Sadly, Pontiac had many more houses from Sears that have been lost over the years to industrialization and later to blight and neglect.

Waterford
Sears Crescent - 6200 Lanman - Waterford, Michigan
Image courtesy of Bing Maps
I don't think anyone would expect to find Waterford at number two on the list with 52 Sears homes. I've worked in Waterford for 17 years and I didn't expect to find Waterford on the list. It wasn't a place I thought I would find a lot of kit houses. Waterford wasn't even on an interurban line. But it is bisected by a main rail line of what was then the Grand Trunk Western Railway. More importantly, Waterford is directly west of Pontiac and was a popular destination for Pontiac residents seeking to build outside the city. Waterford is home to the only publicly accessible kit house in the County, the Hatchery House, which is a 1917 Sterling "Senator" model located at the Fish Hatchery Park. Waterford has two clusters of Sears houses (an area with multiple Sears houses in a defined area). One is in the Huron Gardens subdivision near the township's eastern border with Pontiac. The other is in the northwest portion of the township in the Maceday Gardens subdivision. The Sears Crescent featured here was one of five Sears houses that Samuel G. Backus financed through Sears on the same day in May 1929. The five houses were built in a row with the Crescent in the middle. All are located on Lanman Drive in the Maceday Gardens subdivision along with at least nine other Sears houses in the same subdivision (plus there are several kit houses from Wardway).

Royal Oak
Sears Vallonia - 518 West Houstonia - Royal Oak, Michigan
Unlike Waterford, no one would be surprised to find Royal Oak on this list. I bet most people would have expected to find Royal Oak at the top of the list. With 45 Sears homes, Royal Oak has a nice collection of houses from Sears. These include several models not found anywhere else in the county including a Sears Alhambra and one model that, to date, hasn't been identified anywhere else in the United States, the Sears Tarryton. Royal Oak is also home to several houses with Sears mortgages that don't match any known Sears models. These are likely examples of custom homes that customers would have had Sears design for them. Those custom homes are not included in these totals. The Sears Vallonia featured here was built in 1923 and is one of several Vallonias located in Royal Oak.

Berkley
Sears Bellewood - 3268 Catalpa - Berkley, Michigan
Another surprise to some people may be to find Berkley in the top five. Although it's only 2.5 square miles in size, Berkley's home to one of the most diverse collection of Sears kit homes in the county with 34 Sears homes. Any fan of Sears houses has to visit the five grand houses of the Oakland Manor subdivision and the nearby Sears Sherburne. These houses represent some of the finest examples of some of the largest kit house models offered by Sears. The five houses in Oakland Manor were all financed on the same day in late 1921 at a price of $8,000 each. I'll tell the rest of that story in a future blog post. In addition to these grand homes, there's a cluster of Sears houses on Griffith and several examples of Sears houses finished in face brick including a side-by-side pair of Sears houses on Catalpa. Not a Sears house? That would be the kit house inside the entrance to the Roseland Park cemetery which is an authenticated Aladdin Pomona.

Clawson
Sears Garfield - 26 and 28 Renshaw - Clawson, Michigan
On the interurban line from Royal Oak to Rochester, Clawson is another small community with a lot of kit houses. In addition to the 18 Sears financed kit houses, Clawson has multiple examples of kit houses from Aladdin, Lewis and Montgomery Ward (Wardway). Much of the credit for identifying the kit houses in Clawson goes to Melodie Nichols, the curator at the Clawson Historical Museum. Melodie tracked down and identified many of the kit houses in Clawson that are featured in this online tour she put together. Among the Sears houses with mortgages in Clawson is a relatively rare Sears Honor model and a very rare Sears Chesterfield model, another house that, to date, hasn't been identified anywhere else in the United States. The Sears Garfield featured here is one of a handful of models that Sears offered that were designed as duplexes. This house is still used as a duplex today.

In future posts, we'll explore some of the other communities that are home to Sears houses.

Sears houses with mortgages in Oakland County by community:

Pontiac 64
Waterford 52
Royal Oak 45
Berkley 34
Clawson 18
Ferndale 17
Hazel Park 11
Rochester Hills 8
Auburn Hills  7
Sylvan Lake 7
West Bloomfield 6
Northville  5
Oak Park 5
Farmington Hills  4
Keego Harbor 4
Southfield 4
Bloomfield Township 3
Troy 3
Birmingham 2
Pleasant Ridge 2
Clarkston 1
Commerce Township 1
Farmington  1
Holly 1
Novi 1
Ortonville 1
Oxford 1
Rochester 1
Total  309




8 comments:

  1. That is an amazing list and reflects an enormous amount of effort. Way to go!!

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    1. Thanks Lara! It was a lot of work, as you can imagine, so it was fun to be able to share the fruits of the labor.

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  2. Very nice to see a Hampton all fixed up, and looking nicely taken care of :) That big front porch on the Crescent is inviting, too.
    Even though I don't know these communities, I find this information fascinating, and am enjoying following along on the tour.
    Judith
    Sears-House-Seeker.blogspot.com

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  3. As always, your details on the development of your area as it applies to the Kit House construction is wonderful. I see a History Book on Oakland County. in your future.

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  4. My parents' house at 1427 Villa Road in Birmingham is a Sears House. I'm not sure if it was a kit house, as they bought in 1954, and it was built in 1922. I am trying to find a way to preserve it and its accompanying vacant lot, as both are endangered in such a McMansion community. Great job on the research!

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    1. We would love to learn more about the history of the house. Send us an e-mail if you want to share more. Thanks!

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