Thursday, September 3, 2015

ID this house! Ashmore v. Avalon

Recently, I wrote a post about how a group of kit house researchers had tentatively identified a house as a Sears Ashmore in Highland Park, Michigan. When identifying homes, we try to match up as many of details as we can before deciding whether a house is a kit house or not. But when you don't have access to ways to authenticate a house like a mortgage record or stamped lumber, we have to make an educated guess based on the available information and admit up front that we're not 100% sure.

Sometimes, something like this happens...

Lewis Avalon

Image courtesy of Cindy Catanzaro

Cindy Catanzaro, who first spotted the possible Sears Ashmore shared this catalog image with us. Does it look familiar? If you saw images of the Sears Ashmore, you might think this too is an Ashmore. But from the caption, you can see that this isn't an Ashmore. It's an Avalon - a Lewis Avalon. But it's not just any Lewis Avalon, it's the exact same house we identified as the Ashmore!

That's right, the house in the Lewis catalog is the house in Highland Park. From this view of the house taken from Bing Maps, you can see the two houses in the background of the catalog photo are still there. The garage behind the Highland Park house is still there. Even the curved sidewalk in the foreground is a match.

180 Moss - Highland Park
Image courtesy of Bing Maps

The earliest listing I could find for the Lewis Avalon was in the 1920 Lewis catalog. That catalog included this photograph of the house. 

Catalog image of Lewis Avalon
Image courtesy of

Four years later, the 1924 catalog still included the Avalon and the photograph that Cindy shared. This isn't the only Lewis house from this neighborhood that appears in the catalog. Another kit house researcher found a Lewis Ardmore in the neighborhood that Cindy was able to match to the listing for the Ardmore in the catalog.

With the photo of the exact house in the Lewis catalog and at least one other example from the same neighborhood, you would think that would be the end of the story. Clearly, this is a Lewis Avalon, right?

But something is still nagging at me - the floor plan. You see, the floor plan for the Avalon doesn't match the floor plan for the house. Here's the Avalon's floor plan.

Catalog image of first floor plan of Lewis Avalon
Image courtesy of
If you look closely at the exterior photos of this house in Highland Park, the exterior layout of the house doesn't match the Lewis Avalon. The Highland Park house has two bump outs on the left hand side and another on the back of the house. But as you can see in the floor plan above, the Avalon doesn't have any of those bump outs. 

180 Moss - Highland Park, Michigan
Image courtesy of Google Maps

180 Moss - Highland Park, Michigan
Image courtesy of Bing Maps

In addition to the bump outs, most of the windows on the Highland Park house are in configurations that don't match the Avalon. Instead, they are a better match for the Ashmore. Is this Avalon not an Avalon?

Despite all these discrepancies, it's hard to believe that Lewis would have featured a Sears house in their catalog and called it their own. Perhaps Lewis started out by trying to emulate the Ashmore when this house was built but then settled on the more simplified plan than is shown in the catalog. Or perhaps there's a pre-1920 version that has the bump-outs that were removed in later years. It's hard to know. But it's hard to argue with the photos so for now, we'll call this house a Lewis Avalon. This winding tale is a good reminder to all kit house researchers of the limitations of our efforts and to make clear to others what we do and do not know about a house.


  1. Holy cow, what a hoot! This is a very interesting development. Very.

  2. The whole kit-house era is so interesting. Has anyone made a coffee-table book offering about it?

  3. Walter - There are a few books out there about kit houses. Rebecca Hunter's "Mail-Order Homes: Sears Homes and Other Kit Houses" is small but packed with details about kit houses. Schweitzer and Davis's "America's Favorite Homes: Mail-Order Catalogues as a Guide to Popular Early 20th-Century Houses" was published in 1990 so it doesn't include the latest research on kit houses. But it's a scholarly title with lots of nice photos. I would love to see someone do a book that's just photos of the nicest examples of kit houses. There's a lot of good looking examples in the Detroit area.

  4. I live a few miles north of HP in Ferndale. The house in question (and the subdivision it resides in) is amazing. Especially when you see what surrounds it.