Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sears Vallonias of Metro Detroit - East Side Edition

I recently had a chance to attend a meeting on the grounds of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. The "Ford House" and estate is everything you might expect from one of America's most famous automotive families. Located north and east of the City of Detroit, the five Pointes communities were among the earliest "suburbs" of Detroit and home to some of the grandest examples of homes built with the wealth of the titans of the automotive industry.

As Detroit experienced explosive growth during the first half of the 20the Century, the surrounding communities like the Pointes grew too, especially those located first along the railroad and interurban lines and later along the major roads, like Gratiot Avenue, that radiated out from the heart of Detroit far into the farmland of the surrounding counties. People looking for the 1920s version of the suburban life took advantage of new transportation options to built homes in urbanizing outposts like Center Line, Roseville and St. Clair Shores. Among those new homes were kit houses from Sears, including one of the most popular models, the "Vallonia". Let's take a look! 

Although it's only about 30 miles from my home in Novi to the Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, as those who are from Metro Detroit know, in some ways it's like 2 different worlds. Because of how the Metro Detroit area developed, largely following the main roads that started in downtown Detroit and extended outward like spokes on a wheel, it hasn't always been easy to travel from east to west (and vice versa) across the suburbs. Because of that, the various suburban areas have developed their own distinct (if sometimes overstated) identities. Although there's no consensus on where that dividing lines should be  drawn, both eastsiders and westsiders agree that it exists! From myself, it means that I haven't spent a lot of time on the east side of the Detroit Metro area. So when I finally made my way east, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to check out one thing the two areas have in common - Sears houses! 

Most of what we consider the "east side" of Metro Detroit lies in Macomb County, which is directly north of the City of Detroit on the other side of 8 Mile Road (the Grosse Pointes lie almost entirely south of 8 Mile between Detroit and Lake St. Clair). Today, as in the 1920s, the primary non-freeway road through the county is Gratiot Avenue which connects the county seat at Mount Clemens to downtown Detroit. 

Portion of 1936 USGS Topographic Map (Grosse Pointe Quadrant)

We can see from the historical topographical maps that most of the development that was happening during the 1920s and 1930s was within a corridor a mile or two east or west of Gratiot Avenue along with areas along the Lake St. Clair shoreline. This is what we expect as the interurban and railroad lines followed the same route to Mount Clemens. A smaller amount of development was happening along Van Dyke Avenue (which you can take all the way to the tip of Michigan's "Thumb") and Jefferson Avenue, which runs near the shoreline of Lake St. Clair. 

All of the houses I'm sharing had been previously located, some by myself, some by fellow kit house researchers. A couple of them have been authenticated and I'm hoping we'll be able to authenticate the others. All of today's examples are the "Vallonia" model from Sears Roebuck. I've previously shared some of the history of the "Vallonia" so I won't go in depth into that today. But as you can see, it was a popular design and examples of it can be found all over Southeast Michigan with some communities having multiple "Vallonias". 

The first "Vallonia" is from Grosse Pointe Woods. While the Pointes are best known for the estate-style mansions that line Lakeshore Drive, much of the housing stock actually consists of older homes of more modest scale on smaller lots. Only a few examples of Sears houses have been identified in the 5 Pointe communities but the ones that have been identified are all nice examples. Ben Gravel, who runs the Historical Detroit Area Architecture group on Facebook brought this one to my attention. A couple doors down from this "Vallonia" is a Sears "Mitchell". This "Vallonia" is also the only house I'm sharing today that's not located in Macomb County. It lies just a couple block south of 8 Mile Road, the dividing line between Wayne and Macomb Counties. 

Sears "Vallonia" - Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan


Sears "Vallonia" - Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan

Once you hop on Gratiot Avenue, cross the county line at 8 Mile Road and head north a couple miles, you'll cross into the city of Roseville. Ten houses from Sears have been located in Roseville including a recent discovery I made of a customized "Vallonia". 

Customized Sears "Vallonia" - Roseville, Michigan

As you can see from the photos, this "Vallonia" has an extra porch pillar centered on the front of the house. Based on the crossbeams with "keystone" detail, I'm assuming that these are original to the house. It very much looks like the design of the porch on the Sears "Americus". 

Catalog image of Sears "Americus"

I wonder if someone saw the "Americus" porch and asked Sears to customize the plans to match that? Although you can't see it in these photos, this "Vallonia" also has a back dormer, which is not standard on the plan. Based on those differences, I would classify this as a "Vallonia" with customizations. 

Customized Sears "Vallonia" - Roseville, Michigan

Just a mile or so north is another "Vallonia", also located in Roseville. This is another great example with a lot of the original exterior details still intact. You can also see that this house has a reversed floor plan. Sears would reverse the floor plans for no additional charge. In this case, it put the living room, dining room and kitchen on the south side of the house where they would be able to enjoy the natural light that comes from the sun. 

Sears "Vallonia" - Roseville, Michigan

Sears "Vallonia" - Roseville, Michigan

The last "Vallonia" I'll share today is located in Center Line. Center Line is a small city - less than 2 square miles in size - that sits inside the City of Warren, which is about 34 square miles in size. Center Line incorporated first in 1936, over 20 years before Warren was incorporated from the surrounding township. This is the only Sears house that's been identified in Center Line but there may be more out there to find. 

Sears "Vallonia" - Center Line, Michigan

As you can see, this "Vallonia" has lost some of its original details. But it's easily identifiable by those that remain like the purlins on the front dormer and the seven on each side of the house. You can also see the flared bases for the porch pillars that once would have graced this front porch. 


Sears "Vallonia" - Center Line, Michigan

Thanks for joining me on this trip to the "east side" of Metro Detroit to see examples of one of my favorite Sears models. Hopefully, it won't be too long before I get back there so I can share more houses with you. 

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