The Kit Houses of the Pacific Ready-Cut Home Company

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I’ve noticed that in ads and Hollywood movies, when it comes time to symbolize the values of comfort, family and domesticity the style of architecture chosen is almost always a bungalow built between the years 1900 and 1929. In the popular culture’s subconscious, Victorian houses are the haunted domain of serial killers and modern Dwell-style abodes house unhappy hipsters. The ur-North-American-house is a pre-cut kit house built between WWI and the crash of 1929.

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The Pacific Ready-Cut Home Company, like other kit houses manufactures such as Sears, milled and cut everything at a large central facility and shipped to the building site on the back of a truck or train. You hired a contractor to finish the home or you did it yourself. Like modern tract homes, you could customize your house with cabinet, door and window choices. I suspect that our house was a kit as there’s an almost exact copy a block away.

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Headquartered in Los Angeles, Pacific Ready-Cut was the largest kit house company in the United States. Looking through the 1925 catalog I spotted many familiar homes in our neighborhood. My friend Colin, who tipped me off to the catalog, found his own home. While I didn’t find our house, I found one suspiciously close, “Style #48,” whose floor plan is a mirror image of ours.

For those of you who own homes from this period, the Pacific Ready-Cut catalog can help solve restoration questions. I have a rule for restoration work around our house: if it’s missing replace it, if it’s broken repair it. When it comes time to replace missing features a kit house catalog can be invaluable.

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As an example of a typical repair, I blogged about fixing our built-in ironing board. Thanks to the Pacific Ready-Cut catalog I now know that it had a sleeve board and a tiny shelf. I can now add those items to the repair bucket list.

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When fixing our living room floor I discovered that what we thought was the front bedroom had a large doorway opening into the living room. The bedroom was actually a dining room with a curtain, probably like this one in the picture above.

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In our neighborhood, house flippers have taken to ripping out all the walls and built-in cabinets in old houses in a misguided attempt to make them conform to the current vogue for everything mid-century modern. As a real estate agent once told me, “people like an old house on the outside and a new house on the inside.” Let it be known (and you heard it first on Root Simple) that the mid-century modern trend is over. Soon, Eames chairs will be tossed out on the parkway to join unwanted 1970s Mediterranean headboards. The Pacific Ready-Cut Home catalog will become a kind of sacred scripture guiding us all back to sensibly constructed homes with solid and modest cabinets.

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Kidding aside, I really think we need a small house movement rather than a tiny house one. Why not just start building these perfectly good early 20th century houses again?

A big thanks to Colin for the tip on the catalog and on a article in the LA Times about the Pacific Ready-Cut Company. Which, before its demise switched to manufacturing surfboards! The Times article notes that there are thousands of Pacific Ready-Cut Designs not shown in the 1925 catalog I linked too.

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10 Comments

  1. Thank you for the information about the Pacific Ready-Cut Home Company. I will enjoy looking at the catalog.
    My house is quite similar to this Sears kit house:
    http://www.searsarchives.com/homes/images/1915-1920/1916_C2034.jpg

    But it has been moved twice and added onto several times. The bedroom has a closet door that is 1915 vintage, the front door is from the 1920s, and the interior doors are 1930s vintage. (These dates are from an architectural salvage expert who looked at some photos I took.) I call it my “Bride of Frankenstein” house. I have looked for numbers stamped on rafters, door and window frames, etc., but haven’t seen any. Perhaps it was a kit house wannabe.

  2. The house in which I grew up was a late 1940’s Halliday home that my parents built/assembled. I know I have the plans somewhere; this inspires me to look them up. Unfortunately the house was torn down about four years ago to make room for modern monster homes. I wish I had been able to buy the place when my mom moved out.

  3. Not to defend my home, but I love Victorian homes. Insulation would have been nice, though! There is a Sears mail order home about two blocks from me. Several years ago when someone was remodeling it, I worried what was going on inside when I saw the outside work. For one, they were pouring a concrete porch! Since we live in a Historic District, I was hoping they would intervene.

    Mediterranean is out? Bummer! I was hoping to rake in dough for my 7′ sofa.

    • I love Victorian homes too and am hoping when this mid-century fever dies down they will be appreciated again. And keep pushing that Mediterranean thing . . . who knows what the future holds!

  4. I’ve just checked out LLoyd Kahn’s Small Houses from the library and it’s got all sorts of small houses. And I especially like his pictures of small houses he takes as he sees them.

    My house is tiny(16×16) and its too small! I have additions planned. But first I have to redirect water. Sigh.

  5. I am all in favor of a small house movement. I have a small house and I adore it. The one thing I would add is a designated laundry room because the stuff that gets left out around the house are almost all laundry room-types of items.

  6. One word: zoning.

    Take the plan to build a small home to your local planning office and you will likely be denied. Why? Zoning.

    Tiny houses get around this by being mobile.

    It’s a damn shame. My first home was a kit home from the Sears catalog. It was a well thought out ~900 square foot Cape Cod with a finished 3/4 second story and a full unfinished basement. Everything I needed at the time and probably all I need today despite my home “upgrade.”

  7. Pingback: Chicago Kit Houses | Root Simple

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