Starting in 1906 Sears, Roebuck and Co. (dates to 1886 but was officially formed in 1893) began selling building supplies through their general catalog. In 1908 their first specialty catalog was issued for houses. In the 32 years between 1908 and 1940 Sears sold more than 100,000 homes (not including cabins, cottages, garages, outhouses, and farm buildings) through their mail-order Modern Homes program. Sears designed 447 different housing styles, from the elaborate to the simple - a three-room no-bath cottage for summer vacationers - outhouse sold separately. But wait, there's more: The houses were in kits of about 10,000 pieces.
The complex do-it-yourself kits, sold from the "Wish Book" were shipped to the buyer along with a 75-page instruction book that told the builder how all those pieces went together. Kit home companies promised that a man "of average abilities" could build his own kit home in about 30-90 days.
In addition to Sears, there were five national companies selling kit homes through mail order: Aladdin Homes of Bay City, Michigan (one of the largest); Gordon Van Tine of Davenport, Iowa (also supplied kit homes to Montgomery Wards); Lewis Manufacturing; Harris Brothers and Sterling Homes.
Pacific Portable Construction Company, later Pacific Ready-Cut Homes, sold regionally and Internationally from Los Angeles (to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Latin America). Pacific Homes sold about 40,000 kit homes during their 32 years in business (1908 – 1940).
Homes to Surfboards
The later history of Pacific Homes is interesting because the company transitioned from making kit homes to surfboards in the 1930s. In fact, Pacific Ready-Cut Homes became one of the country's first commercial producers of surfboards, creating the famous "Swastika" surfboard (The swastika is a symbol from Eastern philosophies denoting peace and harmony). They dropped the swastika from their boards in 1939 as World War II started and the symbol became associated with Hitler and the Nazis. The company was renamed "Waikiki Surfboards," and a year later got out of the kit home business to focus solely on the surfboards business. The early history of Pacific Read-Cut Homes is covered in a 1986 UCLA thesis by Carolyn Patricia Flynn titled: "Pacific Ready-Cut Homes: Mass-Produced Bungalows in Los Angeles, 1908-1942" (a downloadable PDF file with images removed).
Location, location, location?
Hundreds of Pacific Ready-Cut Homes still dot Pomona, Pasadena, Fullerton, Anaheim, Long Beach, Monrovia, Whittier, Santa Monica, LaVerne, Claremont, Ontario, Glendale, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and South Central Los Angeles. In fact, any area within about 500 miles of Los Angeles with 1920s bungalows will probably have some (and perhaps many) Pacific Ready-Cut Homes. Some of the homes Raymond Chandler described are probably Pacific Ready-Cut.
The Pacific Ready-Cut Homes Mill was located on 24 acres at (5800) South Boyle Avenue and Slauson Avenue in Vernon, South West of downtown Los Angeles and catawampus from Marmol Radziner Prefab (http://www.marmolradzinerprefab.com/factory.html), the 21st Century equivalent of kit homes. Pacific Ready-Cut Homes built an entire "show-room" neighborhood of kit homes at 1330 South Hill Street, just South of Pico. Other tracts of Homes were built along 81st Street between Main and Figueroa and in South Central Los Angles, and North Carson Road (North of Wilshire) in Beverly Hills. When the Harbor Freeway (I-110) was built it cut through 81st Street and dozens of little bungalows were destroyed. The 110 divides what remains of the long tract of Pacific Ready-Cut Homes along 81st Street. What is interesting is that 81st Street East of South Broadway (between Main and Broadway) is difficult to distinguish from North Carson Road in Beverly Hills, while the homes on the West side of Broadway, including those between the 110 and Figueroa, are very much dilapidated.
When I was taking pictures of the homes along North Carson Road, I was stopped by an owner who was moving out. His parents had purchased his home in the 20s from the contractor who built the tract along North Carson Road, and he lived in that home until 2006.
The (50 or so) kit homes along the two blocks of North Carson Road in Beverly Hills are mostly still standing, with the exception of several that have been razed and replaced by some of the world's ugliest Mac Mansions (the purview of those with more money than brains paired with the world's worst architects), or ruined through thoughtless remodeling.
If you would like to learn more about Pacific Ready-Cut you can order "California's Kit Homes: A Reprint of the 1925 Pacific Ready-Cut Homes Catalog" by Rosemary Thornton and Dale Patrick Wolicki at http://www.oldhouseweb.com
Pacific Ready Cut Homes in Beverly Hills & South Central Los Angeles (can you tell tell the difference?)