Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Honor Bilt Modern Homes/Aladdin Homes (late 1910's/early 1920's)

I've been on a catalog binge on the aforementioned lately... you should see me sitting around trying to daydream keywords that would bring up the results I've come to expect from this endless font of full-scanned library books. "Hats" yields mostly picture hats of the Edith Wharton variety (thrilling!) The discovery of the Sears and Roebuck"Honor Bilt Modern Homes" (1921) and "Aladdin Homes" (1919) catalogs more than fit the bill for the kind of entries that I like-- home economics, full color illustrations, wish-fulfillment-fantasy-shopping. Look at page after page of full-hued, Technicolor tinted spec sheets for late teens/early twenties' houses? Don't throw me in the briar patch. :)

Looking at these guys, I reflect somewhat morosely on what could have been. I spent a few furtive weeks mooning over the 1920-built house below, which was on a backstreet off a major street, behind a razor wire fenced car lot and a Walmart neighborhood market that always reminds me of a zombie movie for its near constant foot traffic, in the parking lot, in the dark, as I'd drive home from downtown on the weekends. Still, the wraparound porch, original light fixtures, and one jade green glass tile fireplace had my little heartstrings wrapped up in knots. Yes, one of the walls in the upstairs bedrooms had a crack running from crown molding to baseboard. Yes, the entire backyard was taken up by a weird, ramshackle assortment of out-buildings (a garage, a workshop, a gazebo) to the point that there was hardly any grass. But I was very much in love. Even with its imperfections, what I wanted to be Babu's and my future homestead was a little out of our price range, and waaaaay out of our home improvement skill set (I can take up carpet, hammer, scrub, and paint, but that's about the width and breadth of it). Sigh, sigh, sigh.

As some solace, however, flipping through these catalogs, I daydreamed about how nice it would be to still be able to build one of these guys from scratch. In 1920, for one almost all inclusive price (minus labor, minus "cement, brick or plaster", minus the lot of land), I could have a brand new, fully loaded Aladdin or Honor Bilt house! I wonder how many of these are our next door neighbors or just down the street, even ninety plus years later. My dream house might just be one of these, still somewhere out there.

Wouldn't it be nice to throw away your rent receipts and start working on a mortgage, shouts the accompanying text in the picture below. This family certainly thinks so. And look at their new house! I would, too! The trellis on the porch is a nice touch. Click any picture to see a normal, real-life page sized version.

The advertising copy in the Aladdin catalog runs pretty much along the lines of "See the generous dimensions of the living room! Note the gracious curve of the ballustrades as you enter your new foyer!". However, the ad for the Roseland, above, is just wild and out. Hoping to appeal to the returning WWI veterans, or just riding a wave of patriotic fervor at the end of the Great War, the innocuous looking Roseland model's entry is begun in this way:

Um...what? When did Erich Maria Remarque start writing blurbs for ready constructed houses?

And then it just goes into specs for the construction! Can you picture the frustrated English major now ad man sitting at his desk in 1920 saying, "Jumpin' Jehosephat! At last! A chance to really shine!" before putting pen to the gun metal prose that preceded the actual advertisement writing? So strange!

Above, from left to right, the Elsmore ($1,964), the Americus ($2,166), the Hathaway ($1,334), and one of my favorites, the Allahambra ($2,674). The Allahambra package, without all the excluded items listed above, would cost approximately $28,389.76 in today's dollars. Still sounds like kind of a deal to me. The interiors would obvioiusly set you back a little more, but I would be so Gloria Swanson in these digs. You would have to pry the peacock feathers and opera length pearl necklaces out of my cold, dead hands.

Ugh! I am somewhat disgusted by how happy I would be in this house.

My friend Ruthie in high school lived in a house that looked a lot like the one on the right. Her mother did a painstakingly accurate needlepoint from her own design, in a perfect needlepointed image of the house, by which I was always mightily impressed. My own attempts at needle-based crafts have begun and ended with feeble attempts at cross-stitch and knitting, half started and gladly abandoned. Seeing some of the successes of others in the vintage blog circles I've been following, however, I must say I'm tempted to put my guts into it. Who doesn't want a pink elephant sweater?! (Disclaimer: I've been lusting after this By Gum By Golly sweater for weeks now) WHO. DOESN'T. I'm glad some people are still carrying the torch of handicraft. The house on the right is almost like the 1910's version of a McMansion...I can just see Jiggs and Maggie moving in. Who, of course, would make great neighbors for me in my Allahambra/needlepointed dream house next door.

I also love the coloring in the pictures...never had considered a green roof before, but they do "pop". The red and the green and the yellow of these houses, as well as the landscaping, give you a good idea of what a model home would look like BEFORE someone decided to remove the shutters, paint it teal, and park a broken down pick up truck in the yard. Ninety years can be hard on some houses.

The "Kentucky", above, has a great, planar kind of design that appeals to me for its massive, Cracker Barrell like front porch. Plus, the fact that you could refer to it as "My Old Kentucky Home". None too shabby.

Here are some interiors, this time done by photograph. Not as cluttered my house would have to be, but so open! So airy!

These last three will give you an idea what the entire ad looked like without my virtual clipping scissors:

Give me those awnings!

Moral being: there's more than one 1920 constructed fish in the sea! I hope I run across one of these in my happy homehunting days with more money stuffed in my mattress to offer up to a purveyor of real estate. Which one would you like to live in? DO you live in one?

See the original catalogs, fully scanned, available for your viewing:

Vive l'!


  1. Your posts are so happy and fun! This one brightened my day :)
    Home-daydreaming is one of my favourite pastimes! I like "the Hathaway."

    M xo

  2. Darl I live in a Queenslander, which is a wooden house up on stilts, so quite different indeed! But I like these houses too, if I lived in a cooler climate.xx.

  3. Oh I love Internet Archive and old house catalogs. I grew up around them because my dad (an architect) collects them. I actually think the house I live in (a 1920s Tudor) might have been bought out of a catalog, but I haven't been able to find it yet.

    You have a really cool blog, by the way!

  4. So great--really enjoyed this post...I love riding around old neighborhoods picking these out...

  5. Hilarious article!

    Not only did Sears (and Aladdin) offer green roofs, Sears also offered a *multi-colored* roof called: "Oriental Hex Vari-Color Shingles". Now that would be awesome to see.


  6. And, yes, the Alhambra is really an awesome house.



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