Friday, May 27, 2016

Third Street in Pittsburgh: Sears Yates, Avondale, and Avalon

Authenticated Sears Yates • 5612 Third Street, Pittsburgh, PA • 1939/40
Let's take a drive down Third Street, in the Penn Hills (Verona) area of Pittsburgh.  Why?  To visit Sara Fortnam's childhood home, a Sears Yates model.  While in the neighborhood, we'll be treated to two more wonderful, much older Sears models: a (probable) Sears Avondale, just a couple of houses away, and a (probable) Sears Avalon, at the end of the block!

sears yates sears modern homes 1940 catalog
The Sears Yates as it appeared in my 1940 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
See the whole catalog here, on
Sara contacted me via my blog (and also contacted us at the Sears Modern Homes Facebook page), to talk about some interesting GIS mapping that she does, specifically, mapping, recently, of the locations of Sears homes she knows of.  As part of the email, she mentioned that she grew up in a Sears Yates. Wellllllll, now..... a Sears Yates!? Until this year, I hadn't ever seen a Yates model. This, now, makes five that I have heard of: the first three, I read about in an October 2015 blog post at Sears Homes of Chicagoland, by researcher Lara Solonickne. Lara shows us one in Airport Drive, Missouri; one in Hackettstown, NJ; and one in Kankakee, Illinois. (NOTE: As of March, 2017, we may have two more on our list.)

sears yates
One of the Yates models shown in the Sears Homes of Chicagoland blog post.
Sara told me that her parents had been only the second owners of their Yates, and that they had found marked lumber, and a shipping label in a cubby under the basement stairs. She also said that the year 1939 was stamped in the concrete in the garage, making us doubt the 1940 build date given by the Allegheny County Assessor (we've found, through researcher Karen DeJeet, that most build dates from that source seem to be a wild guess-- some close, and some surely way, way off).
sears yates side view
This side view of 5612 3rd Street,
shows the same window configuration as the catalog image,
and the Airport Drive home, above.
With a little searching in historical Pittsburgh newspapers, I found that the Fortnams purchased their house from the estate of its original owner, M. Margaret Zimmerman:
Pittsburgh Press, March 3, 1983
Knowing that the Fortnams were the second owners, we can surmise that their Yates was originally ordered from the Sears Modern Homes catalog, by M. Margaret Zimmerman.  She died in 1982.
Pittsburgh Press, June 24, 1982
Here's a photo taken by our Pittsburgh researcher:
sears yates pittsburgh
Here's a good shot of the right side of the house, taken in person by our Pittsburgh researcher. Thanks, Karen!
In 2012, 5612 Third Street sold for $109,000, and, fortunately for us, we can still see the real estate listing on Here are a few interior views from their listing:
sears yates
Nice vestibule area.
sears yates
Living room. Nice wood floors and floor molding! 
sears yates
Dining room. Lots of windows, and more nice wood trim.
sears yates
One of the upstairs bedrooms under the eaves :)
And, here's a great family photo that Sara Fortnam kept, of their family home:

Secret Lives and Private Eyes: A Delanie Fitzgerald Mystery
Not only have we learned about a number of real-life Sears Yates models this year, but, thanks to mystery author Heather Weidner, we now have a "spunky" private investigator who lives in a fictional Sears Yates, set in Chesterfield County, Virginia:
delanie fitzgerald mystery by heather weidner
From Anastasia Pollack's blog, Killer Crafts & Krafty Killers.
More from the same blog post.
(I have to add this correction, however:  Many of the homes in Hopewell, VA,
that have been labeled by folks there as Sears homes, most probably are not.
I won't link to the blog post I learned about this error from,
because it's pretty mean-spirited, but it does look to us researchers
that many of those homes do not match the look of the Sears models. ) 
mystery author heather weidner
Visit author Heather Weidner's website, here
Funny thing about how I know about Heather's P.I.: Heather contacted us at the Sears Modern Homes FB page, and told us, "I'm an author, and my private investigator lives in a Yates model."
I've been helping out on the FB page, and so, as I always do when someone mentions to us that they have a Sears house, I asked, "Would you mind giving us an address?" And, at the same time, I was thinking, "Wow, I wonder why this author needs a private investigator? Pretty interesting." Haaa! She's a MYSTERY author, and her FICTIONAL P.I. lives in a FICTIONAL Sears Yates :) What a hoot :)

The Sears Avondale, or Hawthorne?
sears hawthorne model 1918
This is from the 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
The Sears Avondale, from the 1916 catalog (Thanks to our friends at Daily Bungalow)
sears hawthorne
5604 3rd Street, Verona (Penn Hills)/Pittsburgh, PA
As I mentioned, two houses away from the Yates, sitting at 5604 Third Street, is what looks clearly to be a much older model than the Yates: a Sears Avondale... or Hawthorne? The Hawthorne was different from the Avondale only in two ways: it had the addition of a dormer or two, for added upstairs bedrooms, and it was a little higher... more space was visible above the window line.  This house in Penn Hills has the dormer, but not the extra, Hawthorne? or Avondale? Our team of researchers has decided that we should still call it an Avondale.

The early Hawthorne was only offered in the 19-teens (1913, then again from 1916-1918, according to Houses By Mail), though its single-story sister model, the Avondale (no upper dormer, no upstairs bedrooms), was offered from 1909-1922. As another example of how Allegheny County PA assessor information can be "off", let me tell you that they gave a 1940 build year for this house, too, even though these models weren't even offered after 1922!  Additionally, when I looked at the "footprint" image provided for this house, it shows dimensions that, I'm almost certain, are off by 10 feet in the depth of the house. The house at 5604 Third Street looks, from every angle, to perfectly fit the size and window layout of the Sears Hawthorne, but the Hawthorne's measurements are 42' deep, by 36' wide.  This house is shown as being 36' deep, by 36' wide. I put it side-by-side against the side view of an authenticated Avondale in Illinois, and it was exactly the same.  The assessor's footprint image is wrong.
The house is set back a bit off of the street, and there are many trees, but let me show you what I could get from Google Maps. Notice the front bay window, the left side bay window, the side dormer, the placement of the chimney, and the placement of all of the windows... just like the catalog image. However, what you can only barely see, on the right (no photo here), is that there is an additional bay window, and that is not on the floor plan from the catalog.  Again, this is a "probable" Avondale -- I have no authenticating documentation for it. But, given that it this is Pittsburgh (where Sears advertised that they had built hundreds and hundreds of homes -- and our Pittsburgh researchers have found hundreds of homes), and that there are two other Sears houses on the block (and an Aladdin Sunshine), this is very likely the Sears Avondale (by the way, Sears later assigned the Hawthorne name to a two-story colonial model, in the early 1930s):

sears hawthorne

sears hawthorne

EDIT: March 1, 2017:
Our Pittsburgh researcher went to Third Street this week to get better photos of our houses.  The Avondale has had a fresh paint job, and is now a greyish-light blue, so i'm including those photos, too. Here is the same view, today:

5604 Third Street, Pittsburgh, PA in March of 2017 with its new paint color

5604 Third Street, Pittsburgh, PA in March of 2017 with its new paint color

sears hawthorne
This is the back of the house (wow! It is highly unusual for Google maps to provide a rear view, but there is an alley behind the house, and it zoomed me to here!).  Although...not sure if these windows in the back are right.
sears hawthorne
And, here's the upper floor plan.
5604 Third Street, Pittsburgh, PA in March of 2017 with its new paint color.
Now, here we see an unexpected bay window, on the right side of the house. This shouldn't be here, according to the floor plan.  We're wondering what the story is on that... if it was added at build time? or added later? why it would have been added to the bathroom? Or if it indicates that we don't have a Sears Avondale, after all?

5604 Third Street, Pittsburgh, PA in March of 2017 with its new paint color.
Here is a close up view of the unexpected dormer. You can see that it seems to be a single unit, unlike the bay window on the left side, which has window sections inserted into the bay-shaped wall, so that there remains space between the sections of window.  We have debated whether that explains anything about when it was added to the house... but, we just don't know.
Some Actual Sears Hawthorne Bungalows
Here are two homes that we think may actually be Sears Hawthorne models... the taller version of the Avondale, with upper dormers. Notice how these two houses, in addition to having dormers, also have that kind of striped area built up over the windows, before you get to the roof, adding height to the house.
Possible Sears Hawthorne bungalow, in Highland Park, Michigan (Thanks to Nigel Tate for locating this for us.)
 And, here is the catalog image, again:
Sears Hawthorne bungalow 1918 Sears Modern Homes catalog

possible Sears Hawthorne bungalow
Possible Sears Hawthorne bungalow, in Detroit, Michigan.  Unfortunately, this house has been demolished.
(Thanks to Nigel Tate for locating this for us.)

possible Sears Hawthorne bungalow
Possible Sears Hawthorne bungalow, in Detroit, Michigan.  Unfortunately, this house has been demolished.
(Thanks to Nigel Tate for locating this for us.)
Another (Probable) Sears Avondale with dormers
In Litchfield, Illinois, at 121 E. Fisher Street, sits another house that we believe to be an early Avondale, but it, too, has the dormer that the Hawthorne should have, not the Avondale. This house was brought to my attention by researcher Dale Haynes, who lives in a Sears house in Carlinville, Illinois. I drove over to Litchfield a few months ago, and got some photos of it (click any to enlarge):

Sears porch columns!
Yup, Sears porch columns.
sears porch columns
Same porch columns we saw on this probable Sears Saratoga, in New Bern, North Carolina.
(My blog post, here.)

The reversed plan from what is shown in the catalog... notice where the front bay window is.
sears avondale model
And, here's the Sears Avondale -- the single-story version of the Hawthorne -- from the 1918 catalog.
A Sears Avalon on Third Street
Sara Fortnam had also mentioned to me, that there was another Sears house, similar in look to the Osborn, at the end of the block.  Sure enough, sitting at 5638 3rd Street, is what looks clearly to be a Sears Avalon (similar bungalow style to an Osborn). The build date given for this home, is 1925, and that is quite likely, as the Avalon was offered (according to HBM), from 1921-26. I was super excited to see it, but, as it turns out, we already had it on our master list of Sears Houses in the U.S., because, it had been found earlier by our Pittsburgh researcher (you go Karen!).  Here it is:
sears avalon
Here is the wonderful Sears Avalon bungalow, as shown in my 1925 catalog.

sears avalon
5638 3rd Street, Verona (Penn Hills, Pittsburgh), PA • 1925
sears avalon
The catalog shows flared, stucco porch columns.
 I believe that these differ somewhat, because they are brick.
Windows on this side match the floor plan.
sears avalon
The little window in this side gable,
is an indication that this is most probably an Avalon,
as the many lookalike models don't usually have that.
sears avalon
Front windows, porch windows. chimney, upper window -- all are correct.
sears avalon
These distinctive upper posts on the porch columns, are pure Sears Avalon.
sears avalon
The back windows, side windows, and side door, all fit the layout of the Avalon.
sears avalon
Sears Avalon layout.
UPDATE, March 1, 2017: Our lovely Sears Avalon has had a nice, fresh paint job. Thanks to our Pittsburgh researcher for taking a walk out this way today, and snagging a few great photos for us:

Sears Avalon Verona Pittsburgh PA

Sears Avalon Verona Pittsburgh PA

That's it for 3rd Street, in Verona, or Penn Hills, or Pittsburgh... or whatever you want to call it!
Thanks to Sara Fortnam and her dad for sharing the info on the Yates with us, and to Heather Weidner for putting her P.I. in a fictional Yates!