Free to Good Home: 1920s Sears, Roebuck Catalog Bungalow
In 1926, this Wellington model "kit house" sold for $1,998. Today, preservationists and a couple of architects want to give it away – that is, if you can move it.
It came out of a box on the rails. In 1926, the entire 2-bedroom, 960-square-foot "Wellington" bungalow was shipped as a prefabed home for the motivated DIYer. It's one of 100-to-200 Sears "kit houses" built in the former working-class neighborhoods of Arlington County and could have been next for the demolition crew were it not for Paola Lugli and Paola Amodeo, architects with a preservationist's spirit. The new owners didn't want to keep the home and they didn't want to level it either. What to do?
They decided that if you can move it, you can have it, absolutely free. Lugli and Amodeo say they're fielding offers from the interested, the enthusiastic and the disbelieving. That's expected. But it's neither a cheap nor a simple process. Costs could run upwards of $30,000, said the architects. The whole thing has to be lifted from its foundation and trucked to a new site and you need specialists for this.
But this could be one of those collectibles worth the towing fees. It's a unique part of American architectural history that dovetails with one of the first consumer movements: affordable housing for the everyday man.
From 1908 to 1940, you could flip through a Sears Modern Home catalog and order a house. Sears, which eventually offered 447 different styles, began selling building materials from its catalog in 1895, an unprofitable arm that was redeployed in 1906 to ship precut homes direct from the factory through its Sears Modern Homes program. It was a novel idea and the homes were advertised in the signature Sears Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans. Before the program shut down, an estimated 100,000 mail-order homes were sold "complete, ready for occupancy" to an expanding middle-class planting stakes in the suburbs.
With its indoor plumbing, electrical wiring and central heating, these homes were on the leading tech edge of the times. (Think of today's "networked" or "automated" home to compare how forwarding-thinking these designs actually were.) The Honor Bilt line was the crème de la crème, superior in quality, with Douglas fir framing lumber, clear cedar siding, maple and oak kitchens, baths and floors.
The bungalow is in Lyon Park National Register Historic District, in Arlington, Va., just outside Washington, D.C., and last sold in 2013 for $750,000. For more information, check out the Preservation Arlington website.
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