My Pacific Systems Home
- Created: March 24, 2016
- Written by: Debbie Hinman
I have always been fascinated by the concept of Sears catalog homes. Between 1908 and 1940, prospective homeowners would obtain a catalog, peruse the various designs and choose their own floorplan and exterior style. They would arrange payment, and beginning in 1912, Sears would finance your home for even greater convenience. The kit would be delivered to its town via boxcar train, then trucked to the construction site, to be assembled by the owner, friends, or a hired contractor. Everything would be included: lumber (which beginning in 1916 would be precut to size), windows, hardware, doors, cabinets and every other item needed to complete the home. In 1908, Sears issued its first specialty catalog which featured 44 styles ranging in price from $360–$2,890. Sears claims that 70,000 homes were sold across the United States over the 32-year span. The truly sad part of the story is that according to Wikipedia, a few years following the end of the catalog home sales, all records were destroyed in a corporate housecleaning. So many modern homeowners will never know that they own a Sears catalog home unless they find telltale signs such as a shipping receipt glued to a board or a number stamped into the lumber or it strongly resembles a catalog model.
Sears had a great idea, so great that other companies followed suit in offering kit homes. The third largest seller of kit homes was Pacific Portable Construction Company, founded in 1909 which became Pacific Ready Cut Homes, then later Pacific System Homes. Pacific followed the largest seller, Sears, and the second largest, Aladdin Homes. Most of the Pacific System Homes were sold in California, predominately Southern California, though some appeared in neighboring states. In business until the early 1940s as was Sears, the catalogs throughout the years offered homes in all the current styles, with a heavy emphasis on the bungalow and the Spanish eclectic styles. By 1940, the Minimal Traditional style was in vogue for smaller starter homes. Pacific System touted its contingency of accomplished architects who designed the homes, the quality of its building materials and completeness of its kits.
In 1940, local real estate agent Reinhold Redelius became an authorized agent for Pacific System Homes and began building a few in Reno, mainly in the Old Southwest part of the city. Most were Minimal Traditional and all except one brick home had the same wide wood plank siding on the exterior.
Two months ago, in spite of my longtime interest in Sears kit homes, I had never heard of Pacific System Homes. But an acquaintance mentioned she knew of someone who had a Sears home. I asked for the address and did some research, to see if I could find any information on the house. What I found stopped me dead in my tracks—it was a full-page newspaper ad from 1941, displaying five newly-completed Pacific System homes, built by Mr. Redelius. One of the homes was indeed this person's home but another was—my own home! I have owned this house for nearly 20 years and never had a clue, through all my years of fascination with Sears homes, that I owned a kit home. I have yet to find any shipping receipt or numbered piece of lumber although Pacific Systems tended to scrawl the model number on the bottoms of drawers or cabinets with a colored grease pen. But I have yet to find that either.
As a postscript, I wrangled a visit to my acquaintance's friend's house to see how like my own home it is. I was particularly curious to see if she had similar curved walls and a soffit ceiling. Although her house has been enlarged and extensively remodeled whereas mine has not, there were several striking similarities: the exterior siding was the same as was the entry way and yes, she had the soffit ceiling, though her edging was deeper and squared off, rather than rounded. Her interior plaster was rough, where mine is smooth. She was interested to learn that her home was built by Pacific Systems rather than Sears. Now all I have to do is talk my way into the other three houses!
We all know what happened to Sears—it got out of the catalog home business but continued a thriving mail order business for other products. Pacific Systems, you ask? It began producing in larger numbers an earlier side product—surfboards!