More about kit homes and standardized house plans…

The recent discovery of the Sears Roebuck Argyle home just up the street—which is maybe more of a realization than an actual discovery…it’s been there for 100 years—got us to thinking about and looking around in search of other Sears Roebuck cousins.

There are plenty of them, which should not come as a surprise. Here’s a helpful field guide to identification.

In the same way that all art is derivative of other art, so too with residential architecture, defined by the period, the market, the ways of living at the time. As we’ve discussed in the profiles we’ve written about eastside builders, most used widely available sets of building plans.

Page through any of the catalogs from the early years and you’ll see lots of familiar designs, including maybe your own house. For a time during the building boom of the 1920s, The Oregonian actually published sets of plans of example houses, many of which were indeed built on the eastside.

A page from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes Catalog.

Here’s a link to the best repository of old house plans we’ve found (with many thanks to the folks at Antique Home Style). If you haven’t seen this, it’s going to be a rabbit hole you’ll want to go down, there’s so much to see and think about here. Even the marketing language from the catalogs will make you smile. The Wikipedia piece on Sears Modern Homes is actually pretty good as well.

And here’s another good local source of information about mail-order homes, and all things related to older buildings in our fine city.

Here’s the invitation and challenge: Next time you’re out for a walk (good for you and a great way to experience neighborhood history), see if you can find built versions of any of these plans. We’ll welcome any insights or photos of matches you find.

4 responses

  1. I did some research on Sears kit homes years ago when I lived in Chicago and started my first rehab. There are so many there and there are many in Portland. I noticed quite a few when I lived in North Portland. They’re not always small 1-1.5 level homes. There are plenty that would blend right into Alameda/Grant Park (and surely do). They’re particularly common in neighborhoods with easily accessible rail lines. I highly recommend the book “Houses By Mail” for anyone who is interested in these homes. I love them and they last forever!

    • Thanks for the book recommendation Virginia.

      We noticed something interesting when we had a detailed look at the nearby Argyle: no numbering on any of the house parts. As we thought about this, it makes sense: why ship all of that framing lumber from the midwest to Oregon (the lumber producing capital of the lower 48). Maybe the folks up the street just bought the plans and sourced the wood close to home…

  2. I’ll take one of those 2 bedroom Sears Argyle packages at $1759. Which now is the price of a very good bicycle (but not a great bicycle – those will run $5000 or more.)

  3. So, I live in what I thought might be a kit home but it is at any rate built from commonly available plans. I haven’t been able to find a plan source though.
    What I have found is about 200 houses built by the same builder (George A Ross) in the late teens and twenties. I can always tell because of the living room built-ins and the fireplace construction, and often there is a tandem driveway/garage. His personal residence was at 4312 NE Hazelfern Place in Laurelhurst. I’ve plotted the houses I know of here:
    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1iwbvStLLjzkVw6_kq9-69LuB-ac
    I’d love to know if anyone else has more details. There are a couple of newspaper references in 1912, 1920 and 1922. The houses are not overly remarkable, but he sure built a lot of them!

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