The final Sears in Chicago is closing on Sunday. Known as the Six Corners store, it opened in the Irving Park neighborhood 80 years ago. This was during the Great Depression, but even so, on the first day, 100,000 shoppers went through the doors.
In late June of this year, Sears also announced it was laying off about 200 workers. About 150 of those working specifically at Sears’ Hoffman Estates support center. Sadly, it seems the Sears brand may vanish forever soon. Once however, Sears was a retail power house. Thanks to it’s catalogue division, Sears was pretty much the Amazon of it’s day. You could literally order just about ANYTHING from Sears and have it delivered. Some 90 years ago, you could even order a HOUSE from Sears and have it delivered.
Many years ago, while working with another firm, I had the honor of working on a Sears Catalog Home right here in Tampa Bay (pictured above). I remember being surprised because the home was in the well-to-do area of Hyde Park and was HUGE! Three stories, if you include the attic which had been fully built-out. Long before IKEA got the idea, you could have a full house (minus the foundation) shipped to you by railroad.
Sears Catalog Homes (sold under the Sears Modern Homes name) were catalog and kit houses sold primarily through mail order by Sears, Roebuck and Company. Sears reported that more than 70,000 of these homes were sold in North America between 1908 and 1940. More than 370 different home designs in a wide range of architectural styles and sizes were offered over the program’s 33-year history.
Sears Modern Homes offered the latest technology available to house buyers in the early part of the twentieth century. Central heating, indoor plumbing, and electricity were all new developments in house design that “Modern Homes” incorporated, although not all of the houses were designed with these conveniences. Primarily shipped via railroad boxcars, these kits included most of the materials needed to build a house. Once delivered, many of these houses were assembled by the new homeowner, relatives, friends and neighbors, in a fashion similar to the traditional barn-raisings of farming families. Other homeowners relied on local carpenters or contractors to assemble the houses. In some cases, Sears provided construction services to assemble the homes. Some builders and companies purchased homes directly from Sears to build as model homes, speculative homes or homes for customers or employees.
Sears discontinued its Modern Homes catalog after 1940. A few years later, all sales records were destroyed during a corporate house cleaning. As only a small percentage of these homes were documented when built, finding these houses today often requires detailed research to properly identify them. Because the various kit home companies often copied plan elements or designs from each other, there are a number of catalog and kit models from different manufacturers that look similar or identical to models offered by Sears. Determining which company manufactured a particular catalog and kit home may require additional research to determine the origin of that home. National and regional competitors in the catalog and kit home market included Aladdin, Bennett, Gordon-Van Tine, Harris Brothers, Lewis, Pacific Ready Cut Homes, Sterling and Wardway Homes.
One area where there is a concentration of documented Sears homes is in Elgin, Ill. Additional information can be found in the video link below.