Kit Houses: A Significant, Yet Difficult to Identify Aspect of Portland’s Architectural Heritage

In case you missed it, the Architectural Heritage Center recently hosted a presentation on “Kit Houses” – as in homes that one could order from a catalog and receive delivered to a building site with all the pieces cut to size and coded for easy construction. Most people associate companies like Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward with such homes, but there were clearly other companies that had a bigger impact on building in the Portland (OR) area.

The Captain Nathaniel Crosby house was once located at SW First and Washington. This photo was taken around 1910 after the house had been moved to SW Fourth and converted to commercial use. Later demolished, it is believed that this was the first “kit house” to be constructed in Portland. Newspaper and other accounts claim the home was shipped “around the horn” already cut and ready to assemble. Image courtesy of the Portland Archives and Records Center.

Two such companies were Aladdin and Fenner. Aladdin, based in Bay City, Michigan sold homes all over the world for more than 75 years, finally closing down in 1987. In 1920, they actually opened a mill right here in Portland, where they built house kits and most certainly sold many of the kits locally, to both individuals and real estate speculators. Several Aladdin homes showed up in local newspapers when they were first built, but in reality no one really knows where all of the Aladdin homes in Portland are. However, recent research has uncovered the fact that the University of Central Michigan’s Clarke Historical Libraryhas a collection of Aladdin sales records. Perhaps one day an intrepid researcher will head to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan and discover just how many Aladdin homes were built here in the Rose City. Until such time, if yo have a home you think might be from a kit, keep an eye open for telltale signs such as some sort of alpha-numeric coding stamped on the lumber. Keep in mind, however, that there were several manufacturers of kit houses and they often used plans that were nearly identical. Naming the exact company that built your kit may prove extremely challenging.

Fenner advertisement in November 14, 1920 Oregonian.

Aladdin advertisement in January 1, 1920 Oregonian.

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1 Comment

Filed under Historic Preservation, Local History

One response to “Kit Houses: A Significant, Yet Difficult to Identify Aspect of Portland’s Architectural Heritage

  1. Julie Handsaker

    Interesting. Is there an online database that lists where the kit houses were sited? Thanks

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