Cataloging Your Dream Home

Online market places like Amazon have made every day shopping affordable, fast, and convenient. Now imagine you could order a ready-made dream home online. The house would be built based off a set of models available, but could be customized to your exact preferences. Want granite countertops and two fireplaces? Or how about a neon yellow kitchen and hardwood floors? Consider it done, and ready to order. Now this is not a service available to Amazon customers (yet), but from 1906 to 1987 you could do almost exactly the same thing through a catalogue from The Aladdin Company (Aladdin Homes).  

The Aladdin Company logo from Catalogue No. 33 Second Edition 1922

Founded by two brothers in Bay City MI, Aladdin Homes manufactured over 75,000 houses pre-cut houses around the country. Variety, locally sourced lumber, and “Readi-cut houses sold by the Golden Rule” were the selling points of their business. Aladdin advertised the superiority of their “Readi-cut” homes claiming that their “exact and sound architectural design”, and use of “modern power-driven machines” made them more efficient and cost effective.

The homes could be ordered through a catalog that showed all the designs and floor plans of each house the company could build. After selecting the design for your house, you could set it up with add-ons and customizations to add flair. Homes from The Aladdin Company were also very reasonably priced. To put things into perspective, during the early 1920’s the prices of their homes ranged from $674.50, to as high as $6,441. This was a time where the average family annual income was around $3,300 dollars, so building precut houses was very affordable for families.

Price list from Catalogue No. 33 Second Edition circa 1922

Walking through the neighborhoods of Michigan you’ll see that The Aladdin Company wasn’t the only contender in the catalogue to manufactured homes business. One such competitor was the Miller & Zeilstra Lumber Company, established in 1934. Their catalogues looked very similar to ones from Aladdin Homes, with floor plans, basic information on the home style, and pictures of the homes all included. Depending on the decade the catalogue was printed, actual photos may have been used, or they may have included artfully drawn renditions of future homes.

Miller & Zeistra Lumber Co. 1952
Miller & Zeilstra Lumber Co. catalogue 1956

Spears Lumber Company, with a lumber yard in Grandville MI, was another such catalogue that specialized in many types of buildings: from cozy summer cottages to garages. Over the years many of their buildings were given names like: The Cliffwood, The Gorman, and The Wingate. No matter where families got their homes from, and what creative names they were called, the companies that made these houses have left a mark on the history and landscape of Michigan. So, while we wait for Amazon to eventually pick up the slack, you may be able to find a Gorman or Wingate on Zillow as you search for your next home. 

Spears Lumber Co. Catalogue Cover
Selected Small Homes catalogue from Spears Lumber Co. 1937

To view the housing catalogs held in our collections, please visit GVSU Special Collections & University Libraries.

Rosedale Library

Rosedale Library, 1882

Rosedale Library is a bit of a mystery. A story paper series published by Street & Smith in the early 1880s, the Rosedale Library has all but disappeared in modern collections. There are approximately four examples currently extant in institutional libraries with publication dates from 1880-1882.

Printed without pricing or consistency, Rosedale Library may have simply served as a promotional tool for soliciting subscriptions to more popular Street & Smith publications, like their flagship New York Weekly. In fact, the publishers seem to have leaned on a “bait-and-switch” strategy. In each of the surviving Rosedale Library issues, there are opening chapters to 2 or 3 stories with the “continuation” to be found in a specific number of the New York Weekly.

Ad for the New York Weekly

What is a Story Paper?

A story paper is a serialized publication full of stories and illustrations primarily geared towards children or adolescents. They were most popular between World War I and World War II. In the United States, story papers were more commonly referred to as “dime novels”. Dime novels became a catchall phrase to refer to story papers, pulp magazines, and other popular fiction printed in inexpensive paper bindings.

The publications typically consisted of around 8 pages released weekly and costing about 5 or 6 cents an issue.

An illustration from “But Only Once a Wife”

Street & Smith

Francis Street and Francis Smith ran one of the biggest publishers for American dime novels. Beginning in1855, Street & Smith published a variety of pulp fiction, comic books, and sporting magazines until the company was bought out in 1959. Street & Smith purchased the New York Dispatch (which would become New York Weekly) in 1858.

Street & Smith published some of the most popular dime novels (more accurately called “nickel weeklies” at that time) including: New Nick Carter Weekly, Tip Top Weekly, Buffalo Bill Stories, Jesse James Stories, and Brave & Bold Weekly. Many of these dime novel stories featured private detectives or Wild West settings.

To view the Rosedale Library, or other dime novels held in our collections, please visit GVSU Special Collections & University Libraries.

The Ski Hill

In the mid 1960s, Grand Valley students didn’t have to go far to enjoy winter sports. When the university first opened, a portion of the ravines on the north end of campus was used by students for skiing. The hill overlooked the Grand River making it a beautiful place to visit even outside of the winter months.

As the student population increased, several expansions were added to the ski slope including a tow rope to bring skiers back up to the top of the hill and, for several years, a nearby ice skating rink. In 1967, a few years after students had been using the ski hill, three members of the Board of Control donated $2,500 for the construction of the ski chalet. Construction was completed quickly, and the ski chalet was open for student and club use in March of that year.

Ski Chalet in the 1960s

Starting in 1966, during the first few weeks of the winter semester Grand Valley hosted the Winter Carnival. This two week celebration of winter made full use of the season with ice carving, skiing, and dog sled competitions. The ski chalet was also used for winter-themed lectures, like President James Zumberge’s talks about his Antarctic expeditions. The ski slope was the central hub of this event bringing the Grand Valley community together.

Students being pulled up the tow rope

The ski hill was free for students to use and equipment was available to rent. Occasionally the ski club would section out time for private practice, but for the most part, the hill was a way for students to take a break from classes during the winter months.

After several decades of use, the ski slope was closed and both the ski chalet and tow rope were removed. None of these structures remain today.