Friday, June 12, 2015

Sears Cedars and the Multack Family • Kirkwood, Missouri

Sears CEDARS • 625 Evans, Kirkwood (St. Louis) , Missouri
• 1930 • Ben and Pearl Multack's home
Last week, I spent 2 afternoons at the local library, peering at microfilm in the quiet History & Genealogy section.  I was looking through the Inverted Deeds Index for Saint Louis County, from about 1915-1930, trying to find the Grantee names Walker O. Lewis or E. Harrison Powell.  I was looking for Sears mortgages, and these two names were pretty much the most common, as Sears Trustees (there are others, too).
This is what most of the 1915 and 1917 pages looked like... honestly.  So so so faint, and just about impossible to decipher.
Pages from closer to 1930 were usually more legible, thank heavens.
(click to enlarge... and, good luck LOL)
I came home with a list of a number of names (not addresses -- the deed has names, and then official descriptions, like "189 feet south of Manchester road, lot 4 of plat 5 of the Enod B. Gentry tract"), and the intention of going back another day to try to find the actual mortgage deeds. I had only had time to find two of those that second day.

Some pages looked more like this.  This is a page that is supposed to give the date the deed was filed, and the book and page number, and then a description of the location.  The left side was okay, but.... good luck trying to find the book and page numbers!
When I talked about my finds with other Sears House friends, one reminded me that I could try looking up the names on, to see if I could find addresses from the census lists, or city directories. That is how I first came upon the wonderful Lexington I recently wrote about.  And, then... bingo! I was on my third or fourth name of the night, usually coming up with no address, or an address that had no house at it, when I came up with Ben Multack... and it gave his address in 1940 as 625 Evans, Kirkwood, Missouri. "I know that address!" I said to myself.... very excitedly :)

I recognized that address, because it belongs to one of a handful of Sears homes in the Kirkwood area of St. Louis that Rosemary Thornton found, and has mentioned in newspaper articles (like this one) and a blog post (this one).  It's a cool Cedars model, with a big cat-slide front gable entry, and another bigger, pointy front gable above and behind that. Very nice house. I was excited to drive by it and finally see it, a few months ago.

What the house at 625 Evans looked like in 2003, when Rose visited it.
(her photo from the blog post linked to, above)
But, Rose doesn't usually say whether the homes she spots visually, from driving down a street (everyone calls them, "windshield surveys"), are authenticated or not.  Some of them have been authenticated, but some have not, and we just don't know.... because she doesn't say.... so how would we know, eh? We do know for certain that some of them have turned out not to be authenticated, so that kind of leaves every one in question, unfortunately. Maybe alllll of the rest of them are Sears homes, and maybe allll of the rest of them are authenticated, but... you just can't know, because there is usually no mention of authentication means, when Rose shows a house she found herself -- in a book, or in a blog post. In the case of "windshield survey only" houses (anyone's "windshield survey"), some turn out to be larger or smaller than the Sears model, and maybe to have been built a few years before Sears offered them in the catalog. Some look just like a Sears model, but maybe turn out to have no marked lumber or authenticating mortgage or blueprints.   Some turn out to have a very different inside layout, and so aren't from Sears.
This is an example of a turns-out-not-to-be-a-Sears-Barrington house,
that was misidentified through a "windshield survey".  Looks good in many ways! But,
I've been inside.  Wrong layout, wrong size, no marked lumber, and the family (the original builders of the house)
 says it wasn't from Sears. I just had the luxury of being able to check it to verify that.
Nothing to be ashamed of... just not a Sears house.
Rose has commented that, of course, in those early days when "windshield surveys" were about all you could do, the amount of information you could find without visiting every recorder of deeds in the country, was limited.  So... I thought this Cedars might never have been authenticated, and I was just thrilled (thrilled!) to have found a mortgage deed, to prove that THIS Kirkwood purported Sears house, was for SURE a Sears house (it would then be the first Kirkwood one that anyone -- other than the homeowners and Rose-- knew of... because.... you know.... Rose just doesn't usually say).  And, before you choke on your midwestern barbecue or swallow your reed (sorry, that's an inside joke), let me just say that I GET IT... Rose found this house, and tons and tons and tons of others, first. She has an incredible eye, and probably a photographic memory, and has done years and years of research-- and she deserves TONS of respect for all of that. I get it. But... we'd just all like to know whether or not a home a person shows is authenticated. It's no sin to be taking a highly-educated guess... but, if that's the case... say so.

Here is a snippet of the page from the 1930 deed index, showing the Sears trustee (Powell, E. Harrison)
and the homeowners (Ben Multack and wife). And, you see there to the far right, it says, "Mtg.".
That means this is a deed for a mortgage. As opposed to a "Deed of Trust" where, I believe, the homebuyers would be
putting down cash to cover the whole amount in one fell swoop. Or, some deeds say, "Release", which shows that the homebuyer has fulfilled the terms of the mortgage, and now owns the house free and clear, so the house is being released to them, by the company that held their mortgage. In this case, there are two mortgages ("Same"), so the second seems likely to be for the garage.
That's my opinion. And I'm sticking to it.  No matter how many apoplectic fits it causes across the Tulsa plains (I don't know... are there plains in Tulsa? Eh, who cares. Lots of hot air, though, we know that.)

Here's another shot I took of the house. You can see that there is a big addition there, to the left.
The Department of Revenue tax website says that the house was remodeled in 1949, so maybe that's when these changes were made.

But, if you look at the comments on the blog post I linked to above, you'll see that this is one house that Rose actually had authenticated, through nice, bright blue stamps on the lumber, that she saw with her own eyes (actually, she told me about the bright blue ink in an email).  Great! But, my mortgage-finding research is fascinating and rewarding, so I was also excited to find the mortgage deed.
See how they mark the ends of the lumber?
Pardon the tree :) But, this shows even more of the addition.
(Remember, you can click any photo to enlarge it.)

Here are two images from my 1930 Sears catalog, showing what Ben and Pearl Multack fell in love with, and decided to build, during their visit to the St. Louis Sears Modern Homes office around 1930.

See the garage back there?  Also from Sears, I believe, since it matches the style of the house, and since there were two mortgages listed together, for the Multacks.

What I love about finding a mortgage deed, is being able to connect names to a house. And then, to be able to connect a history, and a family, to a house. So, I'm going to talk about the family of Ben Multack, who, along with his wife, ordered the kit for this Cedars from Sears, in 1930. But, first, a bit more about the design of a Sears Cedars.

This is the slightly smaller model, at 26 feet deep, the 3278-A
And this is the larger model, at 28-feet deep. This is what the Multacks chose.
There are two sizes of the Cedars: both are 24 feet wide, but one (3278-A) is 26 feet deep. The other (3278-B) is 28 feet deep.  It looks like Ben and Pearl Multack chose the larger of the two, so plan 3278-B is their floorplan.

2nd Floor of smaller model
 There's a good bit of change to the arrangement of the rooms, on both floors, between the two models.
2nd floor of the larger model.
The footprint for this Cedars on Evans Avenue, is not available on the Department of Revenue tax website, for some reason, but, from looking at the window placement of the original part of the house's second-floor, left side of the house, I see that there is one upper-floor window left visible (the other would be further back, and now part of the addition to the left side of the house), and it is pretty far back into the depth of the house. That would mean that this is the larger of the two floor plans, because that window on the 28-feet deep floor plan (3278-B), is further back. On the smaller floor plan, that upper-left window that is closest to the front of the house, goes to a bedroom. On the larger floor plan (our house), it goes to the landing of the stairway.

Article in Old House Journal

Our 625 Evans Avenue Cedars, was the subject of an article in Old House Journal, in the May/June 2003 issue.  You can read (some of?) the article in the online version of the magazine, HERE (written by James C. Massey and Shirley Maxwell, photos by Anne Matheis; with the note, "special thanks to Rosemary Thornton"). There are several images included with the article, and it's not entirely clear whether or not all of them are from this home, but here is one of the Cedars living room:
The article shows an image of door handles of the Sears La Tosca style, so I assume that these were from the house itself.  This is a Sears-only design (I believe).  I blogged about a Sears Lewiston model in Webster Groves, Missouri, that also showed the La Tosca hardware, pointed out to me by highly-experienced Ohio Sears-homes researcher, Cindy Catanzaro.

Images from my 1930 catalog.

Two Other Sears Cedars From Our National Database of Sears Homes

Here's another probable Cedars, from our National Database of Sears Homes 
(begun by Lara, of Sears Homes of Chicagoland), at 1435 Ashton Road, Havertown, PA.
You can see that this must also be the larger of the two models, because those two upper-floor windows on the left side, are further back

In Springfield, Ohio, Cindy Catanzaro located a 1931 Cedars, through mortgage records. She sent a letter to the homeowner, who replied, and graciously invited Cindy to see the blueprints that had been handed down from owner to owner. That's a real treat, and it's rare to find blueprints!
That original side porch looks so inviting.
The Cedars in Kirkwood has this porch screened in, but the original design was like this.
Photo is property of Cindy Catanzaro, and, like all photos on this blog, may not be used without permission.
Photo is property of Cindy Catanzaro.
And, here is that La Tosca door hardware!
Photo is property of Cindy Catanzaro, and, like all photos on this blog, may not be used without permission.

Photo is property of Cindy Catanzaro, and, like all photos on this blog, may not be used without permission.
Photo is property of Cindy Catanzaro.

From my 1930 catalog.

Here they are, "24-inch, extra thick, clear red cedar" shingles. The Multack home still has its original cedar-shingle siding.
Photo is property of Cindy Catanzaro, and, like all photos on this blog, may not be used without permission.

The Multack Family

Benjamin Multack was about 4 years old when he and a sister and brother came to America with their 26-year-old mother, Lina (Lena). They left Russia in 1908, to come join their father, Samuel Multack, who had left a year or two earlier, and had settled in the city of St. Louis, Missouri.

The Multack (or Multach) family on the 1910 census. Just above the word "Russia" for each of them, "Yiddish" is noted as their language, telling us that the family must have been of the Jewish faith.

Wikipedia is the source for this introductory explanation of what the term pogrom means.

As a Jewish family, the Multacks were no doubt anxious to escape the anti-Jewish pogroms of that time in Russia, which had begun in the 19th century in the Russian Empire, but, by 1903-06, had worsened to the point where the attacks and murders of Jews were so unspeakable, that The New York Times is quoted as writing that the censor would not allow the kind of description that would be needed to relate the slaughter of children and adults taking place in Russia at that time.
Please click to enlarge, and read for yourself about the atrocities during 1903-06, against the Jews, in Russia.
Or, click here, and go to the source, on Wikipedia.
Once safe in America, Samuel continued his trade as a tailor.  By 1910, he was proprietor of his own shop, and the family had grown by one, so siblings Ben, Rosa, Simon, and Hyman, were living with Lina and Samuel on Laclede Avenue, in the city of St. Louis (their 1910 address is now the site of St. Louis University's Chaifetz Arena). The family continued to grow, adding two more children by 1920.

By 1924, Ben had met and married a Missouri girl, Pearl Glenn, of the small, working class suburb of Wellston (that has now seen better days). They were married on November 24, 1924 (two days before the birth of my own 90 year old mother, who would be brought home to grow up in a Sears house, herself!) 

Ben and some of his siblings grew the family tailoring business into a thriving dry cleaning business, and, in 1930, he and Pearl ordered the Sears Cedars, to be built at 625 Evans Avenue, in Kirkwood, Missouri, a desirable suburb in St. Louis County, which was founded in 1853. It still retains many of its historic homes and business buildings, and has many fine homes from the 1920s and 30s. 

Lindbergh Boulevard (now called N. Kirkwood Rd.) in downtown Kirkwood, as it looked in 1936.
The Multacks had a dry-cleaning business on this street, on the right side.
(Source: Missouri History Museum )
The Multack Buidling today.  Built by the Multack family in the late 1940s, on the street you see in the image above.

The 1940 census shows that Ben and Pearl had two little girls, as well as a live-in servant named Sophia Hogenmiller, a Missouri woman who had come to live with them by 1935, all living together in the Sears Cedars on Evans Avenue.

In 1943, father Samuel continued his tailoring business, at 221 S. Kirkwood, across the street from Ben's Kirkwood dry cleaning business, and he and Lena had an apartment on nearby W. Monroe. Ben and siblings had grown the family dry cleaning business into three locations in the St. Louis area. 

Father Samuel's tailoring business was at 221 S. Kirkwood Road, in this building where Spencer's Grill would come into business in the 1940s. His door was the one at the far right of that building. (Image from current-day Google Maps)

1943 City Directory (source: )
The Multacks' Webster Groves dry cleaning business was located here on W. Lockwood Avenue, in the storefront where Hair Saloon is seen in this current-day Google Map image.
The Multacks must have been a well-known family in the Kirkwood-Webster Groves area, with their many businesses, and a building named after them.  Pearl "Peggy" and Ben enjoyed just over 50 years together in their Sears Cedars.  Both passed away in the early 1980s.

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  1. It is nice to know if a house is authenticated just so you know that you're using a "real" model for comparison in the future. The protocol I follow on my website is that: if a house is authenticated, I say it is and also say how. If it's not authenticated, I don't say anything. :)

    Windshield surveys are supposed to be used as a reconnaissance survey (not a true intensive survey). I think in the Sears home world, there are SO MANY Sears homes out there that no one could do an intensive survey on each one identified in the windshield survey. So the windshield survey for Sears homes is used as a higher standard for identification than it would be in any other area of architectural research. This is where a lot of problems start... houses misidentified based on a drive-by and it also opens the door for other people to claim houses are Sears houses even though they don't look anything like the catalog image (in a windshield survey it's all subjective anyway).

    The windshield survey technique of identifying Sears houses is inherently flawed. There has been talk in this area about creating a non-contiguous local historic district of the Sears houses. I'm very wary of this idea, because I believe that the houses must be authenticated to include them in the district and not ID's based on windshield survey.

    Lara Solonickne
    Sears Homes of Chicagoland
    Big fan of Midwestern barbecue

  2. Once again, amazing research -- well done. Architecturally, I'm really surprised by the two versions of the Cedars floor plan -- they are completely different, though only two feet were added to make the larger one. The front door opens into the living room in one, and into a hall in the other; the dining room is to the right in one, at the back in the other; one has no fireplace and in the second it is added, and similar changes upstairs…. wow, two utterly different houses in almost the same skin. Fascinating!
    Love the Maltack family history, too. Great job.

    1. I know! I was impressed :) Thanks for your thoughts!


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