California's Kit Homes, Part I
Photos and Text by Rosemary ThorntonIn the six years I've spent studying and researching kit homes, I've found that many people who think they have a Sears home are mistaken -- somewhat. Most of these folks dohave a kit home, but it was first published, I received a steady stream of letters and photos from homeowners in California who believed that they owned a Sears kit home and wanted to know more.
Despite my knowledge of the 370 designs of Sears kit homes and my passing familiarity with the designs from the other kit home companies, I was never able to identify the homes in the photos from the West Coast.
Then about three years ago, someone sent me information about a "Sears Kit Home" in Studio City that had been featured in a nationally-syndicated home improvement program. I carefully studied the picture of the modest California bungalow but again, didn't recognize it as a kit home from Sears or the other companies.
I sent the photo along to my friend and fellow architectural historian, Dale Wolicki. He responded almost immediately with a phone call.
"This house is in the Los Angeles area, right?" he asked, matter-of-factly. "It's probably a house from Pacific Ready Cut Homes."
Later, I found the house on page 30 of the 1919 Pacific Homes catalog. Dale had been right. It was a kit house from this regional company, based in Los Angeles.
So what is a kit home?
Kit homes were sold via mail order catalogs and shipped to the wanna-be homeowner in about 10,000 pieces. These complex do-it-yourself kits came with a 75-page instruction book that told you how all those pieces went together. Kit home companies promised that a man "of average abilities" could build his own kit home in about 30-90 days.
In addition to Sears, there were five national companies selling kit homes through mail order.
Aladdin Homes (Bay City, Michigan) was one of the largest and Gordon Van Tine (based in Davenport, Iowa) was another large company. (Gordon Van Tine supplied kit homes for Montgomery Wards, too.) There were also Lewis Manufacturing, Harris Brothers and Sterling Homes. Pacific Homes (also known as Pacific Homes Systems) only sold regionally.
Pacific Homes was probably one of the larger regional companies, selling about 40,000 kit homes during their 32 years in business.