There are many homes in Grosse Pointe that are unique, special and individualistic, but there is potentially only one house in the community that can claim to be a one of a kind home with nothing else like it. Welcome to 849 Notre Dame, built in 1926, it is quite possible the only Sears Robuck Kit House in Grosse Pointe.
Sears Catalogue Homes (sold under the Sears Modern Homes name) were introduced in 1908 and sold through the company’s’ mail order catalogue until 1942. The kit houses (as they were known after 1916) offered many Americans the chance to afford their own home that they could select and assemble themselves.
Because Sear’s mail-order catalogs were sent to millions of homes, large numbers of potential homeowners were able to open a catalog, see numerous house designs, and visualize their very own ‘Modern Home’.
The Sears Catalogue, through which the homes could be purchased, offered 370 different models in various architectural styles. Based on research from Wikipedia the kits were shipped by railroad boxcar, and then trucked to the homes location. Many of the kits arrived with approximately 25 tons of materials, with over 30,000 parts. Most of the Sears homeowners would either construct the home themselves or they could hire a contractor to put it all together. The base price of the house did not include plumbing, electrical fixtures or heating systems, however, these could be purchased for an additional cost, thereby allowing families to have a custom built home with many state of the art conveniences.
Research on Wikipedia also states sales of the Sears Modern Homes ‘peaked in 1929 – the least expensive model was under $1000 (around $14,000 in 2016), while the highest priced kit was under $4,400 (around $62,000 in 2016).
The Sears Modern Home located at 849 Notre Dame was constructed from a kit called the “Kilbourne”, No. C7013. It came “Already Cut” and fitted for $2,554.00, but that did not include the cement, brick or plaster. The photo below is the product page from a Sears Catalogue, which also shows the options that could be purchased for an additional price.
The “Kibourne” is 1,450 sq ft a five-room bungalow, and bath, however there was space in the attic to add an additional three rooms for an extra cost of $241.00, which is what the original owners of 849 Notre Dame opted to do.
The architectural style of this home is Craftsman. The front façade is rather handsome and features a large front porch and terrace. The catalogue describes the interior of the “Kibourne” kit as ‘very modern with an open floor plan and easy to access from one room to the next. Convenience was clearly a consideration when Sears’ designers planned the Kilbourne’.
Research by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society explains the original owners hired a contractor to build their home. The GPHS also discovered the present owners ‘discovered the history of the home by accident when some interior remodeling revealed a shipping tag from Sears stapled to the underside of a door casing facer board’.
Sears reported more than 70,000 Modern Homes were sold across the United States between 1908 and 1940. The majority are located on the East Coast and in the Midwest, but some homes are known to exist in Florida and in California. Sears stopped selling its Modern Homes due to financial difficulties, in part due to the Great Depression, and stopped issuing its Modern Homes catalog after 1940, which resulted in the Sears Modern Homes division closing.
The sales records of the Sears Modern Homes were destroyed ‘during a corporate house cleaning’, and it is nearly impossible to tell how many still exist today. However research on Wikipedia states Elgin, Illinois has the largest known collection of Sears Modern Homes, with more than 200 located in the city.
Here in Grosse Pointe, we know we have only one example of a Sears Kit Modern Home. Since 1926 only the windows have been updated and the house looks exactly the same as it did when it was constructed.
849 Notre Dame is a unique find, not only in the community but also nationally, which makes it a very special house indeed, and quite possibly Grosse Pointes rarest home.
The Grosse Pointe Historical Society awarded 849 Notre Dame a bronze Historic Plaque.
*Photos courtesy of the Higbie Maxon Agney archives unless stated.
Written by Katie Doelle
Copyright © 2016 Katie Doelle