DISCOVERING MAIL-ORDER DREAMS: HOW TO IDENTIFY SEARS, ROEBUCK & COMPANY CATALOG HOUSES
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Type of WorkText
ProgramMA in Historic Preservation
RightsTo obtain a complete copy of this thesis please contact Goucher College Special Collections & Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org or (410) 337-6075.
SubjectsHistoric preservation -- Theses
Sears, Roebuck and Company. Home Construction Division -- History.
Architectural surveys -- Virginia -- Arlington County.
Prefabricated houses -- Conservation and restoration -- Virginia -- Arlington County.
House construction -- Virginia -- Arlington County -- History.
Architecture, Domestic -- United States -- Designs and plans -- History.
This thesis establishes two objectives: (1) how to authenticate genuine examples of Sears, Roebuck & Company mail-order catalog houses, and (2) whether or not they can be distinguished from similar examples of local stick built houses of the same period. The thesis categorizes specific architectural and stylistic details that may suggest mailorder origins and outlines a detailed identification process using three methods of verification: an exterior examination, an interior inspection, and historic research. Although various local studies suggest that Arlington County, Virginia, contains about 200 mail-order catalog homes, these claims have not been proven in any systematic or comprehensive manner. Four homes within the Lyon Park neighborhood were analyzed to demonstrate the effectiveness of each of the methods in the search for authentication. The analysis involved studying, photographing, and comparing exterior and interior architectural features to copies of original catalog advertisements, as well as seeking original forms of Sears documentation. Mail-order homes did not introduce new architectural design, but merely represented the popular styles and trends of the period in which they were built. Their uniqueness was demonstrated in their marketing and influence in providing a dream home for the rising middle class in America during the first half of the 201h century. Catalog houses are visually indistinguishable from stick built dwellings since both feature the same types of materials, massing, proportions, and even architectural detailing. Despite these visual similarities, this thesis proves that mail-order architecture can be identified and differentiated only after completing an extensive three-phase analysis involving exterior and interior investigations and historic research. As illustrated by the case studies, genuine examples of Sears homes were both proven and refuted, based upon the discovery of original structural markings, shipping documents from Sears, mortgage loans issued by Sears, and local building permits. Thus, this thesis proves that not all homes presumed to be Sears mail-order catalog houses are indeed true examples of Sears houses.