Plus, time's all weird in there, so most of it probably broke down and decomposed hundreds of years ago. Which reminds me, I've been meaning to get in touch with Yucca Mountain to see if they're interested in a partnership.
As you surely know, the stars of Donald Trump’s recent press conference were what looked like hundreds of file folders full of papers, which both Trump and his lawyer, Sherri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, said were “just some” of the paperwork involved in turning over Trump’s stuff to his sons to solve conflict-of-interest problems.
I don’t want to address here whether the legal plan they have described actually would solve conflict-of-interest problems, except that to the extent I understand what that plan is, I find the claim that it might solve those problems hilarious. But what I want to address is the equally burning question, to me, of whether there was actually anything in those folders other than blank paper.
There was not.
Again, both Trump and Dillon said there was. According to the transcript:
Trump: “these papers are just some of the many documents that I’ve signed turning over complete and total control to my sons” (that’s the hilarious part).
Dillon: “Here is just some of the paperwork that’s taking care of those actions.”
Trump again, at the end: “So this is all—just so you understand, these papers—because I’m not sure that was explained properly. But these papers are all just a piece of the many, many companies that are being put into trust to be run by my two sons….”
Again, hilarious! But on to the mysterious papers.
Other than the statements above, to my knowledge there is no direct evidence as to what those folders contained. That is, we can see they contained sheets of paper, but the question is whether anything was printed on the paper. That we do not know, because despite the folders having center stage at the press conference—literally; the podium was off to the side a bit—no one outside the Trump team was allowed even a glance inside them. In the absence of direct evidence, or an admission, the claim that the papers were blank remains “unproven,” as Snopes.com says in its report on this. So there’s that.
But while “circumstantial” is sometimes used as a synonym for “weak,” the fact is that people are convicted all the time based on circumstantial evidence. Sometimes those people are even guilty. And here, as far as I’m concerned the circumstantial evidence only allows one conclusion.
First: they didn’t let anybody see inside the folders. You would not expect them to display anything privileged, of course, but the implication was that these were documents Trump signed for business purposes, and presumably at least some would be for public filing and so not privileged. Even if every document were privileged, it wouldn’t breach the privilege to hold up a document and riffle through it just to show skeptical reporters it had some writing on it. (You couldn’t hold it still or some jackass like me would take a screenshot.) The complete refusal to allow even a glance at any document is therefore very suspicious.
Second, as many have pointed out, none of the visible folders have a label or any sort of mark on them, not even a Post-It or other sticky note, and in fact they look quite pristine. As a practicing lawyer, I can tell you that we do not keep documents in unmarked manila folders, at least if dealing with more than a few. It seems highly unlikely that Morgan Lewis has large stacks of manila folders sitting around in its offices, and if somebody needs a particular document the only way to find it is for somebody to go through the whole stack until they get lucky.
Third, no writing or any other sort of mark can be seen on any of the papers themselves. I did not think this was conclusive, though, because as far as I know no more than a fraction of any page was visible. Maybe they just use really big margins. Also, one report speculated that these were unlikely to be legal documents because they clearly aren’t on legal-sized paper. But there’s no rule saying you have to use legal-sized paper for anything. I haven’t used it willingly ever, and I hate it, because it’s stupid. Why is it longer? If long paper is somehow better, why aren’t we still using scrolls? But anyway, this is not conclusive either.
Fourth, here’s what is conclusive, to me: none of the pages, so far as I can tell, have been stapled together. Many individual pages are individually aligned. This makes it impossible that a lawyer or anyone else at a law firm has been using these documents. They are unstapled.
Even if you did use the stacks-of-unlabeled-file-folders system of organization, and you don’t, there is no way in hell any lawyer would fail to bind together the pages of even a written draft, let alone a final document your client is supposedly going to sign in order to make major business changes. You don’t just print out all the pages of multiple documents and stick them in a binder, or leave them in a stack. Nor would you use a mere binder clip (a few of those are visible) for final documents. Never. These things are not done.
[Update: someone has just reminded me that a stack of any significant number of legal documents will virtually always exhibit “stack tilt” because of the cumulative effect of page fasteners. That is, the upper-left corner of such a stack is always higher. This is further evidence that Trump’s “legal documents” were unstapled, which, again, is compelling evidence they were all blank. I should also say that Sherri Dillon so far has not responded to my email asking for comment on the alleged blankness of the pages, although that is not at all surprising.]
In short, the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that somebody on the Trump team created fake stacks of documents to which the president-elect could point when talking about his conflict-of-interest plan. (And it was an amateur—an expert would do a much, much better job.) This doesn’t mean there are no such documents, of course. Probably are, somewhere. But they weren’t in those folders.
No, this is what they want us to do now. Complaints about the circus of fake documents distract from the original question: what does Trump plan to do about questions of conflict of interest? All the jokes and detailed analyses about blank pages simply distracts from that. It's not even good sleight of hand.
To a large extent I agree and tend to look at a story like this as a break from the unrelenting sadness I feel that a guy with decades of known ties to Russian mobsters--among many other flaws--is apparently going to sail right into the Oval Office. Sadly, I think fighting is required at many levels. He does produce quite the blizzard of chaff.
I certainly don't have any good answers for how to deal with all of this. I do think that we need to find better ways to take the circus out of all of this, but I don't know how to do that without a very hard reboot of our media (news, social, entertainment, all of it) and I have little hope that that is even possible. I'm trying to do what I can to distance myself from the circuses (and yeah, that means missing out on "breaks" from the darker questions), but I don't yet know how to help other people to do that, other than be the cynical, grizzled figure in the background of a terrible film constantly repeating dumb variations on "Don't focus on that! The real bad guy is getting away."
“When I remark that President Obama had eight years without any ethical shadiness, Mr. Thiel flips it, noting: ‘But there’s a point where no corruption can be a bad thing. It can mean that things are too boring.’”
Several loyal MR readers requested I cover this topic. My views are pretty simple, namely that I am a fan of the movement. Police in this country kill, beat, arrest, fine, and confiscate the property of black people at unfair and disproportionate rates. The movement directs people’s attention to this fact, and the now-common use of cell phone video and recordings have driven the point home.
I don’t doubt that many policemen perceive they are at higher risk when dealing with young black males, and that is part of why they may act more brutally or be quicker to shoot or otherwise misbehave. I would respond that statistical discrimination, even if it is rational, does not excuse what are often crimes against innocent people. For instance, a man is far more likely to kill you than is a woman, but that fact does not excuse the shooting of an innocent man.
I also don’t see that citing “Black Lives Matter” has to denigrate the value of the life of anyone else. Rather, the use of the slogan reflects the fact that many white people have been unaware of the extra burdens that many innocent black people must carry due to their treatment at the hands of the police. The slogan is a way of informing others of this reality.
“Black Lives Matter” is a large movement, if that is the proper word for it, and you can find many objectionable statements, alliances, and political views within it. I don’t mean to endorse those, but at its essence I see this as a libertarian idea to be admired and promoted.
Yep. My biggest "problem" with BLM is just that it's a huge, diverse, unfocused movement that is lacking a specific actionable direction. Same problem that Occupy had. I like & support the Campaign Zero offshoot of BLM, which DOES have an enumerated, specific, actionable agenda. I wish they got a lot more muscle behind their efforts.
Hello Friends! Today I will take a break from typical McMansion fare to talk about one of my most requested topics: mail-order houses and how to identify them.
NOTE: This is a long article - for those who wish to open in browser/new tab, now is the time to do so!
So, let’s get started:
Ok, let me get this straight: you could order a house by mail? When was this even a thing?
Before the turn of the 20th century, the detached urban or suburban single-family home was primarily the realm of the upper classes. The lower and middle classes were relegated to townhouses, tenements, or lived and worked in rural, agrarian settings.
The new processes of mass-production meant that the overall cost of homebuilding, along with everything else, was greatly reduced, enabling those in the middle class to purchase and build homes. The invention of the horse-drawn streetcar in 1853, followed by the electric streetcar in 1888, meant that middle-class families could now expand outwards into the first generation of suburbs, the streetcar suburbs.
The streetcar suburb of Friendship, PA. Public Domain
Enter the kit house: a home you could order from a catalog, and have shipped via rail to your building site. Before kit houses, many homes were built from pattern books: collections of house plans with blueprints for skilled contractors and carpenters to follow.
The kit house, a product of mass-production took the pattern-book concept even further. For each kit house, every piece of lumber, siding, doors, windows, columns, etc. were produced to exact precision in a factory, numbered for easy assembly, and sent to the site by rail and delivered to the lot via cart or truck.
Instruction Manual for a Sears Ready Cut Home. Public Domain.
The house was assembled in a paint-by-numbers sort of fashion, with detailed instructions on putting the pieces together. Many kit houses could be assembled within a couple of weeks by a lone carpenter, making the labor costs more affordable to the burgeoning middle class.
Kit houses were incredibly popular among not only the new suburbanites, but also corporations, who bought and built the kits en masse for their company housing.
General view of company-owned mill village - Highland Yarn Mills - High Point, North Carolina, 1936. US National Archives, Public Domain.
Kit houses were at their peak popularity during the years 1908-1930. The Great Depression reduced the number of kit houses (and everything else) dramatically, and many kit house manufacturers ceased production during this time. Still, several companies persisted into the 1950s and 60s. The last kit house company to cease catalog circulation was Liberty Homes in 1973.
Kit houses fell out of popularity in the 50s and 60s due to competition from development companies, who constructed entire neighborhoods en masse via teams of construction workers. The DIY aspect of the kit homes was no longer desirable in a fledgling technological era, where fewer individuals were skilled in the building trades.
Many kit houses are still standing today and continue to make wonderful, durable, desirable homes; and they’re easier to find than one might think.
A Brief Guide to Identifying Kit Houses: Introduction
For the purpose of this guide, I will be using a location I am very familiar with: Greensboro, North Carolina (where I went to college go Spartans woo). During the 4 years I lived in Greensboro, I was obsessed with meticulously cataloging the kit houses in the area after living in one (a 1923 Sears Westly.)
Identifying Kit Houses Step 1: The Three Common Site Locations
One of the easiest ways to begin one’s search for mail order houses is knowing where to look in the first place. Kit Houses are most commonly found in these areas:
1.) First Generation Suburbs (Streetcar and Railroad Suburbs) (1906-1930)
These are the first ring of suburbs, made possible by the streetcar. However, until the burgeoning railroad suburbs began to develop in the 1890s, most houses in the inner-circle of this area were pattern book houses rather than mail order houses. The expansion of the railroad in the 1900s enabled more kit houses to be shipped to new lots.
Streetcar and Railroad suburbs can be easily identified as being outside the city center. The streets are almost entirely in a grid formation. Kit houses from this period were built from approximately 1906-1930.
2.) Company Housing (Near Industrial Sites) (varied)
Many kit houses were built as company housing for industrial sites. Industries where this was common include textile mills, energy production, steel mills, coal mines, and large factories.
In the case of Greensboro, NC, many Sears houses were built outside of the textile mills that used to employ the vast majority of the population before the 1980s. In this example, White Oak Mills, a textile company employing mostly African American workers, can be seen with its remaining company housing.
The ages of these kit houses are closely linked to the age of the industry they serve.
3. First Generation Automobile Suburbs (1915-1940)
These are the suburbs that sprung up when the car became wildly accessible to the middle class around the year 1915, and developed until the end of WWII. These suburbs are also relatively close to either industrial areas or the city core, and can be recognized by their more curvilinear streets.
The main difference between the first generation and the second generation of auto suburbs, is that the 1st generation was not subject to the Federal Housing Administration’s community guidelines, which encouraged cul-de-sacs, dramatically curved streets, and dead ends to deter thru-traffic.
Homes built in these neighborhoods date mostly from the late 1910s through the 1940s.
Step 2: Common Kit House Architectural Styles
Most mail-order houses fall under a certain number of architectural styles popular during the time they were constructed.
The earliest mail order houses came from the Aladdin Homes Company, whose first catalog was issued in 1906. Houses built before 1906 were most likely pattern-book houses or were designed by an architect. Kit houses didn’t become commonplace until 1908, when Sears Roebuck & Co issued their first catalog of Ready-Cut Homes. The houses from this period are often difficult to distinguish from their pattern book counterparts, but it can be done!
Queen Anne Style
This ornate style of architecture popular during the mid-late 1800s was often too expensive and detailed for kit house production; however, early kit houses can be found in a more paired-down interpretation of this style. By the time 1920 rolled around, most kit homes had moved past the Queen Anne into other architectural categories; however, some catalogs include them up until the late 1920s.
More ornate examples:
Note the ornate turret.
This example from Sears features a gambrel roof with a gambrel cross-gable, and is a blend of the Queen Anne and the contemporaneous Shingle styles.
More Commonplace Examples:
Sears Modern Home No. 115 (1908). A simple layout with ornate wooden details. Simple plans like this are sometimes referred to as being of the so-called Farmhouse or National styles, though these names often refer to types of vernacular architecture in the professional literature.
Note the second story window on the Harris Home in the bottom left corner: this window configuration was very common on Queen Anne and Shingle style homes.
I would wager to say that of all the house plans dating before 1930, the majority of those built were American Foursquares. There are so many different variations of this simple plan that it is almost impossible (with a few exceptions) to tell one from the other from the exterior alone.
Foursquares are essentially boxes, with pyramidal roofs and a central porch. The house may or may not include a dormer, which is usually a shed dormer (on front of the above house) or hipped dormer (seen on the side of the above house.) The style was popular until around 1930, when the Great Depression greatly slashed the size of new homes being built.
Foursquare houses often incorporate architectural details from contemporary styles. The earliest Foursquares show Queen Anne influences. Houses built after 1912 start to show early Craftsman influences.
A.) The Sears Chelsea (1908-1922) was one of Sears’ most popular models. B.) Note the exposed rafters beneath the eaves; shows early Craftsman influences. C.) Note the finials (pointy bits on top of roof) = very Queen Anne. D.) A relatively style-neutral American Foursquare.
Earlier Colonial Revival
“Colonial” is one of those architectural terms that has been bastardized until the end of time. The style this is referring to here is the “Colonial Revival Style” which reached the apex of its popularity in the 1920s-50s, and is one of the longest-running popular architectural styles. These houses are modeled after early historical American and British homes.
Dutch Colonial Revival houses are the easiest to identify, thanks to their gambrel (”barn”) roof. These often intersect with Queen Anne, when they are front-gabled, but side gabled examples (see below) are almost always Colonial Revival.
Colonial Revival houses are almost always side-gabled like the ones above, and commonly feature side porches, porticos, and shutters. Early Colonial Revival houses from the 1910s are sometimes difficult to discern from the more simplistic Queen Anne styles seen earlier.
Technically, the construction term ‘bungalow’ refers to a 1 or 1.5 story house. However, when most people talk about bungalows, they are referring to those built in the Craftsman or Prairie traditions, which will be explained later. The Bungalow originated in California as affordable, charming working class housing.
Proto-Craftsman Bungalow from the 1911 Sears Catalog. The brackets (sometimes called bracing, though this is a construction term) beneath the eaves (overhanging roof) are simple. The roof pitch is not low, and the house is front-gabled with simple geometry. The porch columns are influenced by the Shingle Style.
Craftsman Bungalows (1910-1940s)
This was the age of the first generation Craftsman bungalows. The style, popularized by the Craftsman pioneers Greene & Greene, whose 1908 Gamble House was hugely influential in the homebuilding industry. The first Craftsman-influenced bungalow kit house was the 1910 Aladdin Oakland model, inspired by the work produced by the Greene Brothers and others in California.
Prairie-Style houses are characterized by their low-pitched hipped rooflines and wide, overhanging eaves. Unlike the Craftsman style, Prairie-style eaves are enclosed, with no ornamental brackets or rafters.
While Craftsman-style houses and bungalows remained popular until the late 30s, the 20s represented a more streamlined era of house design, with the Colonial Revival style becoming more and more popular.
English influences, such as the Tudor style were present in new Revivals, and a fascination with Spanish Colonial architecture resulted in some rather strange interjections.
English Arts & Crafts Revival (relatively uncommon)
The “Parkway” by Montgomery Ward (Wardway Homes) - a Mail-Order Tudor Revival design.
The Small 20s Cottage
These cottages are often a blend of Craftsman and Colonial Revival. The Sears Crescent (below, 1922) was one of the company’s most popular models.
Spanish Colonial Revival (relatively uncommon)
These styles were a short-lived phase during the 1920s and early 30s. They can be found all over the country, despite their idiosyncratic nature.
Though Colonial Revival houses had been established early in the kit house oeuvre, they were mostly overshadowed by the Craftsman-style houses which dominated the 1910s and early 20s. The Colonial Revival was in full swing in the 20s and 30s, where it often mingled with existing styles for some interesting combinations.
After the 1929 Stock Market Crash, home sizes shrunk dramatically. A new style emerged, called the Minimal Traditional, which became the predominant style for most new housing stock in the 1930s and early 40s. It would outlive the Sears Catalog, which ceased circulation in 1940.
Minimal Traditional houses were highly influenced by both Hollywood’s Storybook Houses, the Colonial Revival style, and the Tudor Revival Style from which it borrowed its steeply pitched front-facing gables. Often included in this style are the “English Cottage” and Cape Cod Styles.
The 1940s were the period during which most mail order home catalogs ceased circulation, (mostly because of the halt of home construction during WWII) though mail order homes continued past this point. The 1940s kit houses mostly kept in line with the Minimal Traditional style, as these plans were convenient as they often fit within the FHA’s square-footage limitations for new home purchases under the GI Bill after WWII.
Page from the last Sears Mail-Order Home Catalog, 1940
The truth is, finding exactly which kit house you’re looking at is insanely difficult, simply because there were so many companies operating simultaneously, copying one another, and working within the same stylistic framework. Luckily, there are many great resources available online just for this purpose.
Sears Homes.org - a seminal blog on tracking down mail-order houses from all manufacturers.
The Daily Bungalow - a Flickr collection of primary resources related to mail-order houses.
Many kit house manufacturers worked in regional areas. For example, Pacific Ready Cut Homes served the Pacific Northwest and California. First check to see if there are any regional kit home manufacturers in your area. For example, Southern Pine Co. served the Louisiana area. Some manufacturers, such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, served the entire US.
If you are near a factory or industrial area, check to see what resources you can find online about said industry and the way of life of those who worked there.
If you have a specific address, try searching Public Records for the original documents/owner history. Why? There is a list of mortgage co-signer names associated with Sears Roebuck & Co.as well as other companies for each certain location and a certain time period. A little digging can answer a lot!
Step 2: What Style is It?
You can tell a lot by a house’s shape and style, as per this guide. A quick search of any of these online databases can help a lot, especially in the case of later kit houses - as the years go on, the smaller the pool of examples you have to choose from becomes.
Step 3: The Devil is in the Details
Okay, you’re still stumped. Now it’s time to do the dirty work. Are there any idiosyncratic features that stick out to you? If it’s a foursquare, does it have Prairie windows? If it’s a 2-story craftsman bungalow, do the columns match the Sears Westly’s?
Step 4: Start with Sears
A fatal mistake of kit house detectives is to assume that all kit houses are Sears houses. However, many kit houses are Sears Houses. Picking up a guide such as “Houses by Mail” can help complete a quick search for a Sears house before broadening the escapade to include companies whose records are less extensive.
If it’s not a Sears house, another good idea is to start with Aladdin, whose entire circulation of catalogs is available in a database listed in the Reference section.
Step 5: Compile a List
Take a picture of the house you’re searching for, and put it in an online document with pictures of house models that look similar. If you know the date of the house, this becomes a lot easier. Use the process of elimination to whittle it down to a few choices.
Identifying Kit Houses: Easiest to Hardest
Easiest to Identify:
Houses built after 1940
Spanish Colonial Revival/Pueblo Style houses located outside the Southwest
Prairie Style houses (excluding Foursquares)
Non-Craftsman or proto-Craftsman Bungalows (built 1908-1915)
English Arts and Crafts Revival houses (note: most Tudor Revival houses were designed by architects; Tudor elements are common on Minimal Traditional houses, however.)
Front-Gabled Gambrel Roofed houses: these were popular only until around 1920, giving them a small time window.
American Foursquares. Seriously, don’t even attempt this without a build date. They all look the same.
Craftsman Bungalows. Seriously.
2-story Craftsman Bungalows
Dutch Colonials built after 1920.
Anyways, that’s it for kit houses. IT TOOK ME 3 DAYS TO WRITE THIS AND I AM VERY TIRED. Please feel free to send me an email if this guide helped you in any way. I hope you all enjoy it. Meanwhile, if you live in a state whose name starts with A, please email me neighborhood suggestions for Dank McMansions!