Thursday, March 24, 2016

Aladdin Kit House

I recently learned that the house I grew up in was kit house. Built in 1919, it was a product of the Aladdin Company of Bay City Michigan, and it had a name: The Pomona.  

Kit house companies sold houses in a variety of styles which could be selected from a catalog. Once purchased, the kit house company supplied all the materials needed for construction. Every piece of lumber needed to build the house was pre-cut, labeled, and then shipped to the customer. Shingles, doors, windows, railings, hardware, and paint were included. When the materials arrived, the customer would then arrange to have a carpenter assemble the pieces.

It seems like a strange way to get a house built, but more than 100,000 kit homes were constructed in the United States between 1908 and 1940. They revolutionized home buying and building for the middle class.  

The Aladdin Company was one of the first manufacturers of kit houses, and also the most long-lived. Begun in 1906, the family owned business continued to make houses until 1981. Kit houses were also made by Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Pacific Ready Cut, among others.

We moved into our Aladdin kit house when I was three, and I lived there until my early twenties. But I never knew it was a kit house, and I don't know if my parents were aware of it. 
(That's me on the steps with my chihuahua in 1958.)

Located on the corner of Third and Cedar in Wyandotte, Michigan, our house had a lot of great Craftsman style details, but it was torn down by the city to make way for a development of brick McMansions in 2000.

This is the best photo I have of the house, taken in the fall of 1999. The front porch of our Pomona was enclosed, and it had brick-looking asphalt siding. The eave supports were covered over with aluminum siding, but the criss-cross detail in all the the windows remained intact.

I regret selling the house to the city so they could tear it down. I miss being able to see it; to drive by that corner and remember my childhood there. And I'm sorry I'll never be able to show it to my grandchildren. But, at the time, it seemed like the best thing to do. 

I saved one of the doorknobs from the house before it was torn down, and it has been in my china cabinet since then. 

I was thinking about that door knob one day not long ago when it finally occurred to me to Google, "Aladdin Houses." 

It delighted me to learn our house on Cedar street had been a kit house, and it especially delighted me to find the Aladdin catalog description of it, and its floor plan, online:

I am now slightly obsessed with Pomona's. Here is one in Oklahoma without the window details, and the unfortunate addition of  shutters: 

Here is one in nice shape, with the window details & the original eave supports:

Here is one that has lost its chimney, but has the eave supports and the original front door - which I remember distinctly: 

I found these photos online, and I'm sure they are just a tiny sampling of the many Aladdin Pomona houses that must be out there. I would love to be able to go into one some day. Especially if it had the 1919 floor plan. Walking into a version of our old house would be so cool. It would be like traveling back in time. Reviving the dead.

Here's another one:

And another one:

I am fascinated by the way these houses are all the same, and yet no two are exactly alike. It reminds me of people. Of DNA. And the nature/nurture debate. These houses are all made from the same design, the same pre-cut lumber.  Their "bones" are identical. But they became individuals because of  choices made by their owners and the amount of care they received.

The Aladdin catalog copy for the Pomona spins the story of a  young woman from Pomona California, transplanted to the East Coast and longing to retain "some part of her golden west."  The Pomona was supposedly designed for her. "A home that would radiate the delightful sunniness, and typify the bungalow-craft for which the sunset country is renowned."

"If there is such a thing as personality in a home the Pomona surely expresses the feeling in every angle and line. Bathed in a hot summer sun's rays, its wide eaves, shady porch and many windows offer cooling protection...  The porch in front is in perfect harmony with the balance of the house. Observe the tapered porch pillars of stucco, surmounted by clean lined columns of the same design."

As an additional selling point, the catalog mentions that the bedrooms have closets.

You could get the Pomona as a single level, or with a staircase and a second level. Our house was just one level, with unfinished attic space.  Our house had three bedrooms, oak floors, oak woodwork, cove ceilings, and an Art Deco chandelier in the dining room.

My parents bought the house from the heirs of the original owner. They purchased it in 1957 for $10,000, and paid an additional $250 for "furniture, rugs, dining room set, glider, and stove."  The rugs were room sized oriental rugs that remained in the house until the 1980s.  The glider was on the front porch until sometime in the late 60s. And I still own the china cabinet from the dining room set. It is where I keep the door knob.

When I was a little kid there was a swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room, but it was removed.  There were also french doors between the dining room and living room, but those were also removed.  And our fireplace was plastered over.  Such a shame.

This is one of the last photos I took inside  the house, just before I drove to the city hall to collect my check and give them the keys.

This was taken in the dining room. The opening leads into the living room - that's where the french doors once were.  I felt heartbroken the day I walked out of the house for the last time, knowing it would be torn down. But it was the last old house left standing on the block, and the city would have given me a hard time if I had tried to sell it to someone. I'm sure the plumbing and electrical were not up to code.  The house was in need of a lot of work.  I'm just so sorry it couldn't be done.