Originally posted on Jan. 8, 2014 by Laraine Shape
I recently had the distinct pleasure of meeting Beatrice Lask, the preservationist and architectural aficionado who performed an in depth survey of Sears Houses in the Cincinnati area in the early 1990′s.
The first (and only) Sears House survey of its kind in Cincinnati, Mrs. Lask’s research was performed as part of her university studies which culminated in a thesis titled Sears, Roebuck Catalogue Houses in the Cincinnati Area. The thesis, in which she identified nearly 500 Sears kit houses, is once again safely on file in the rare book section at the University of Cincinnati thanks to the efforts of Cindy Catanzaro.
According to Mrs. Lask, the purpose of her study was twofold;
“to compile a list of identifiable Sears houses in the Cincinnati area” and “to help the public and particularly Sears home owners become familiar with these houses and appreciate their unique qualities and historic value. Perhaps this knowledge will help protect against further indiscriminate alterations or demolitions.”
Her study was done over a two year period, using little more than a guide book published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation titled Houses by Mail, A Guide to Houses from Sears, Roebuck and a drive through Cincinnati…neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, street by street. She did not have the benefit of the internet for her studies. But according to Mrs. Lask, she enjoyed every minute of the task. “It didn’t seem like work to me,” she said.
Ms. Lask’s work first came to my attention in a 2003 Cincinnati Enquirer article titled SEARS Homes Come Into Their Own. In it, the writer noted that “Some people are insulted when Mrs. Lask tells them they live in a Sears home, until she explains. “Then they often say, `We wondered why it had such fine wood,’ or `I couldn’t believe each window screen was numbered to match each window,’ ” she said. “They wondered how such a modest home could have features like hardwood floors, . . . built in shelving, things you don’t usually find.”
When asked how many of the homes she was able to get inside, Mrs. Lask said “about one in four.” That means she had the opportunity to see at least 100 Sears houses in Cincinnati.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Mrs. Lask loves Sears houses. She radiates with passion when she talks about their distinctive features, quality materials and craftsmanship. And when Cindy Catanzaro, fellow Sears House enthusiast, Sears House owner and historian from Springfield, Ohio showed Mrs. Lask a photograph of the Osborn model located on Eastwood Circle in Madisonville her eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas day. “That’s my favorite.” she said.
Cincinnati owes Beatrice Lask a debt of gratitude for having located and identified a piece of its history that may never have been found otherwise. I’m honored to have made her acquaintance and to have had the opportunity to chat with her about the work that wasn’t really work. It’s a day Cindy and I will both cherish.