Wednesday, February 3, 2016

3000 Sears Houses and Growing!

Sears Martha Washington - Quincy, MA
Atlas Obscura Readers - After you read this post, check out this overview about our kit house hunting activities.

This week, we reached a milestone of sorts! The "we" in this case is a group of kit house researchers who are also contributors to a growing list of identified and authenticated Sears catalog and kit houses. The milestone was the addition of the 3000th house to this ever growing list. This list started in January 2013. Over the past 3 years, it has grown steadily as houses have been discovered, identified, in some cases authenticated and added to the list.

While the actual list dates back to January 2013, the idea for the list started long before that. A number of us who were researching Sears houses were frustrated by the lack of any centralized database of known Sears houses. Unlike the sales records for Aladdin homes that were rescued and archived at the Clarke Historical Library, Sears infamously purged their sales records at some point after the Modern Homes Department was closed. In the absence of any records from the Modern Homes Department, kit house researchers were left on their own to locate Sears houses one-by-one. But once a house was located, then what?

While several people had kicked around the idea of creating a list, it was Chicago-area kit house researcher Lara Solonicke who took the initiative to create the list back in January 2013. The list started with a handful of contributors and their existing list of Sears houses. Slowly but surely, the list started to grow.

Bea Lask conducting a tour of
Sears houses in Cincinnati (1994)
Image courtesy of Cincinnati Historical Society
Not long after the list was started, it got a huge boost with the discovery of a list of addresses of around 500 Sears houses located in and around Cincinnati, Ohio. That list, which was created by Beatrice "Bea" Lask of Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of her Master's Thesis, is an amazing compilation of Sears houses, meticulously documented and organized by house model and location. In short, it's the kind of historical document that many a kit house researcher could only wish to discover. If you haven't heard the story of Bea's list, you should take the time to read Cindy Catanzaro's retelling of meeting Bea for the first time and learning the story of how the list came to be.

Image courtesy of Archive.org
Created in the early 1990s, Bea's list of addresses wasn't in a format that would easily translate into a digital spreadsheet. A few of us got the idea to work together as a group to review and update Bea's list to create a modern version of it that could then be used by kit house researchers for reference purposes. Over several months, a group of us worked together to methodically check every house on the list, confirming that a house was still standing (or noting if it was gone) and double-checking Bea's identifications. In some cases, we had access to information about Sears houses that led us to revise a few of Bea's IDs. But in the vast majority of houses, Bea had done an incredible job of correctly finding and identifying Sears houses without access to the resources that we have available to us today. Along the way, we found even more Sears houses in the Cincinnati area that we added to the addresses from Bea's list (and we've since learned there's many more Sears houses to discover around Cincinnati!)

Excerpt from  updated version of "Bea Lask Thesis List of Sears Homes"

Once we had successfully re-created and updated Bea's list in a digital format, I think all of us that had worked on that project realized a few things:
  1. It was possible for kit house researchers located across the country to work together collaboratively to discover and identify kit houses. 
  2. The concept of having a shared list of houses was worth pursuing and it could be an invaluable resource for further research.
  3. A shared list would help preserve the location of homes that have been located in the unfortunate event anything ever happened to any of the researchers (which - unfortunately - has happened too frequently within our small community)
  4. The list of Cincinnati Sears houses created from Bea's list would be a huge addition to the national list of Sears catalog and kit houses
The revised and updated list of Cincinnati houses was added to the list of homes that we had compiled ourselves or were publicly available from various print and online resources. Over time, it has grown and grown and grown! Although some detractors thought the end result would be a "train wreck", we think the quality and value of the list speaks for itself.

Excerpt from "Sears Roebuck Houses in the United States"
Almost every day, members of our group of kit house researchers add in new homes or update information about existing homes on the list. When we're looking for examples of a specific model, we can consult the list and quickly find existing homes across the country to use for comparison. The list also helps us to see which models were most popular (or rare) and the geographic distribution of houses. The list also allows us to assist homeowners seeking to identify and authenticate their Sears house or communities wanting to learn more Sears homes built within their borders.

It's a tremendous resource that represents countless hours of research going all the way back to the years of work that Bea did to create her original list. While we realize that we'll never be able to track down all of the catalog and kit houses that were sold by Sears Roebuck, it's our hope that over time, the list will grow to include all of the known Sears houses. We have a long way to go but it's off to a great start and it's only going to get bigger and better over time!

25 comments:

  1. Awesome blog! Only about 70,000 more to find and add.

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  2. Thanks! In the case of Carlinville, I think we have found all of them!

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    1. In the case of Grand Blanc, I would say that is true as well.

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  3. Bea Lask was a true pioneer and an excellent, disciplined researcher.

    Yes, science is a DISCIPLINE. If you call yourself an architectural historian, your findings needs to be logged and shared with other researchers nationwide. It's easy to simply proclaim yourself a historian, but a much different thing to "walk the walk".

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  4. Great post, Andrew. I didn't realize that locating Bea's list was the reason this all got started. I just thought Lara needed a way to manage all of her finds, and it took off from there. But what a wonderful group effort it has turned out to be. It's so very sad that there are Sears House "researchers" out there that don't, or rather, won't, collaborate with us on this important part of what we do.

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    1. Thanks! I think you're right that Lara was the first to create a shared list. I'm going to tweak the blog post to reflect that.

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  5. My grandmother's best friend lived in one in Owens Cross Roads, Alabama. It recently sold.
    http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/4318-Hobbs-Island-Rd-Owens-Cross-Roads-AL-35763/92167845_zpid/

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    1. Thanks for sharing! We don't get to see many examples of those early Sears houses.

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  6. Our church rectory is a Sears house!

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  7. Hi! I bought a Sears house about 6 months ago here in Detroit, MI. Built in 1924, I believe it's a modified "Fullerton". Please drop me a note if you're ever in town and would like a tour.

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    1. Cool! We love to hear about Detroit-area kit houses!

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    2. What would you like to know? It's in relatively poor condition, having sat empty for over 10 years, but it is livable and has a lot of the original gorgeous woodwork inside.

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    3. Can you drop me an e-mail? Our contact info is on this page:

      http://www.kithousehunters.com/

      I'll follow-up with questions. Thanks!

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  8. I live in a sears greenville. In northern ky

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    1. If you can let us know where, we would love to add it to the list!

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    2. I live in Warsaw ky, it's a greenview. Dang auto correct.

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    3. We've got it John. We've added it to the list. Touch base via e-mail if you have more information to share. Thank you!

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  9. In Beckley, WV there are 2 identical metal kit homes. I lived in one when I was 18. There is another in Princeton, WV that is identical as well. I believe they were called Lustrom homes?

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    1. They sound like Lustron houses. Check out the web page on Wikipedia about these houses to see if they match your memories.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lustron_house

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  10. My partner and I bought a kit home last year- I'm not sure if it's on the master list or not. Love to have it featured! It's truly special. Also- I think there could be dozens in my city- Hyattsville, MD- a few miles from Washington, DC. Here is our place: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/5416-39th-Ave-Hyattsville-MD-20781/37516962_zpid/

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    1. Jennifer,

      It is on the list and you're right, there are quite a few Sears houses in Hyattsville. We have 17 on the list but there may be more out there. You can read about the Sears houses that have been identified in the County here:

      http://kithousehunters.blogspot.com/2016/04/sears-mortgages-of-prince-georges.html

      We would love to feature your house. We can use the photos from Zillow or if you have some that you want to share, our e-mail address is listed here:

      http://www.kithousehunters.com/

      Drop us a line and let us know more about your Sears house!

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