Owner has Sears catalog home

The dull drudgery of scraping paint from doors and baseboards led homeowner Dana Swalla to a house-c

The dull drudgery of scraping paint from doors and baseboards led homeowner Dana Swalla to a house-changing discovery: she owns an unmodified Sears catalog home.

Her house, on Phoenix Avenue, was built from a kit a century ago. Given its presence here, as well as others that have been found in Latham, Historic District Commissioner Chairman Jim Jamieson suspects there was a Sears dealer in the Albany area.

If that’s the case, there are likely to be dozens of other Sears kit homes here. No one knows for sure — the sales records at Sears were destroyed years ago.

But Swalla found unmistakable proof: parts of her wood trim have numbers of them, used to help buyers put the house together. They were covered by paint until she started restoring the house.

Once she found the numbers, she went online to search for an explanation. She quickly found the Sears catalog kits.

“I started Googling around, and I saw one, the Van Jean, that was the spitting image of my house, even down to the materials and floorplan,” she said.

The news led Swalla to ask for inclusion in the Union Street Historic Corridor, so that her house would be forever preserved from destructive renovations.

The house is just one lot away from the historic district’s border. The Historic District Commission unanimously supported the request last week, which must also be heard by the Planning Commission and the City Council. The council makes the final decision.

Swalla has meticulously restored the house — even to the point of taking apart and repairing broken windows with salvaged “wavy glass.”

“I really went to a lot of effort to restore it and I want it protected,” Swalla said. “Some people see historic districts as a hurdle, but if you have something that’s 100 years old and you want to preserve it, that’s a hurdle I don’t mind.”

Mainly, she wants to make sure the house is preserved forever. Historic homes are essential to a neighborhood, she said.

“That’s what gives it its character,” she said.

For those who want to determine whether their house came from a Sears kit, Swalla recommends determining what year the house was built and then searching online images of Sears catalog houses that were available that year.

“Then check materials, floor plan,” she said. “Some houses have the Sears stamp in the attic on the rafters.”

Others might find labeled parts.

“Look during renovations,” she said.

Jamieson wants to preserve Sears homes as examples of the original kit house.

“It’s an idea that keeps resurfacing. We have modular homes today — and this was the original,” he said.

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