Monday, March 20, 2017

Sears Testimonial Houses in Kansas City, Missouri

Recently, I've been looking for Sears kit houses in and around the Kansas City, Kansas/Missouri metro area. I wrote about a couple of Sears houses that I located in Prairie Village, Kansas, a suburb of the two Kansas Citys. While researching another Sears-house related topic, I came across one of the Sears promotion posters that I own that's titled "Honor Bilt Homes Make Happy Homes". The two-sided poster contains several dozen testimonials from satisfied customers from various cities in the Midwest and Eastern United States where Sears kit houses had been built. One of the cities that is featured on the poster is Kansas City, Missouri with 3 different testimonials. A check of the National Database of Sears Homes didn't reveal any testimonial houses for Kansas City so I decided to get looking! Let's see what I found!

I wasn't surprised to see testimonials for Kansas City, Missouri. One of the reasons I started looking in the area in the first place was the fact that Kansas City, Missouri was listed as a location of a Sears Modern Homes sales office for several years. Also, in 1925, Sears opened one of their massive mail-order facilities in Kansas City, Missouri. The combination of a Modern Homes sales office plus a large corporate facility that employed a lot of people struck me as the right combination to lead to a number of Sears homes being built in the area. In addition to the homes that I had already found in the area, the testimonials potentially would lead me to more.

Sears Roebuck Mail Order Plant - Kansas City, Missouri
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
As I previously explained in a post about a testimonial house in Fulton, New York, testimonials are prized by kit house researchers because they provide a way to authenticate a house once it's located. It also allows us to connect the house to a specific owner or builder in a way that's not always possible using other methods. Plus, digging through the layers of history to connect the owner to the house can be very satisfying when the end result is an authenticated house! In the case of Kansas City, there were three different testimonials that talked about four different houses.


The first testimonial I decided to look for was Arthur M. Wells of Kansas City, Missouri. Mr. Wells described how we had "just completed two of your 'Honor Bilt' homes, the 'Oakdale' and the 'Wellington'...".


From the sound of things, Mr. Wells may have been a builder. A search through Ancestry.com provided a listing in the 1929 Kansas City city directory for Mr. Wells at 345 Spruce St. I decided I would check out his house first to see if that address would lead me to a Sears house...it did! Actually, it lead me to two Sears houses - an Oakdale and a Wellington!


345 Spruce - Kansas City, Missouri - Sears Oakdale
Image courtesy of Johnson County, Missouri
If you've read my post about the catalog perfect Sears Oakdale in Prairie Village, Kansas, you'll recognize that this Oakdale is showing off almost all of the original detailing you would have found on this house when it was first built.

Catalog image of Sears Oakdale (1925)
Image courtesy of Archive.org
Right next door at 347 Spruce is the Sears Wellington that Mr. Wells described.

347 Spruce - Kansas City, Missouri - Sears Wellington
Image courtesy of Johnson County, Missouri
While the images from Johnson County date back to 2005, these houses still look about the same in more current views from Google Maps Streetview. Unfortunately, due to some street trees, we're not able to get clear views of the houses from Google Maps. But we can get a good view of the side of the Wellington and see some of the elements we would look for with a Wellington.

347 Spruce - Kansas City, Missouri - Sears Wellington
Image courtesy of Google Maps
These details include those big boxy porch columns, the side gable over the dining room bump-out, the exposed purlins on the front and side gables and the placement of the fireplace and furnace chimneys. You can see how well those match up the catalog image below.

Catalog image of Sears Wellington (1925)
Image courtesy of Archive.org
As you can see, the Oakdale and the Wellington share a lot of common elements and they were almost identical in price. I am only speculating but I wonder if Mr. Wells built one for his own home and the second as a rental/investment property? Did he build any other Sears houses in the area? I didn't see any in the immediate area but perhaps we'll find more in the future.

The second testimonial I searched for was Dora E. Steele.


It took a bit more digging but I finally found a listing for Mrs. Dora E. Steele at 2034 Oakley Ave in the 1928 Kansas City city directory.


I cruised over to 2034 Oakley Ave and there was the Sears Clyde.

2034 Oakley Ave - Kansas City, MO - Sears Clyde
Image courtesy of Johnson County, Missouri
The big 5 piece "Sears" eaves brackets are the first thing you notice with the Clyde and they are easy to spot on this house. A little more difficult to see from this view is the bedroom bump-out on the right side of the house but if you look closely, you can see a bit of the gabled roof and brackets where that bump out is located. We've seen the porch roof extended on several Clydes so this must have been a somewhat common modification made by owners either at the time of construction or over time to provide more protection from the weather.

2034 Oakley Ave - Kansas City, Missouri - Sears Clyde
Image courtesy of Google Maps
This isn't a great view from Google Streetview but it lets you see the other side of the Clyde. This Clyde was built with a reversed floor plan as compared to the catalog image.

Catalog image of Sears Clyde (1925)
Image courtesy of Archive.org
I was on a roll - three for three in Sears houses! But my luck ran out on the final testimonial from Kansas City. I wasn't able to place the name at an address that matched up to a house from Sears. The testimonial is for a Sears Walton and I bet if it's still standing, we'll find it some day.

It was nice to add these three houses to the National Database of Sears Homes as testimonial houses. But I'm hoping there are more Sears houses to find in and around Kansas City, Missouri (and Kansas too!). Do you know of any other Sears houses in the area? Let us know in the comments below!

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