A Perfect “Reproduction” (Part 1)

3929 Macomb St NW, one of the oldest known kit houses in DC
2939 Macomb St NW, one of the oldest known kit houses in DC

It’s been a summer of fabulous new catalog house discoveries for us, although we have a lot of catching up to do to present here. Since my talk at the Cleveland Park Historic Society in May, we also came across what so far are the oldest authenticated catalog houses in DC–and they’re on Macomb Street, right in the Cleveland Park Historic District!

It’s a persistent myth that the historic kit houses (like those from Aladdin, Sears or Lewis) were all built by Harry Homeowners and their handy families. The testimonials in old Sears catalogs might make it sound that way, and it was certainly the case for many of them, especially for smaller models and perhaps more so in the later years. But in here in DC, a town full of government employees, lawyers and office workers, quite the opposite is true. Many of the catalog houses we have identified were erected by builders, often on spec.

That’s also what happened to 2937 to 2941 Macomb St NW — the lots were developed by some Harry A. Kite who built the first “four small detached houses” at “reasonable prices” from “perfect plans” in 1911. He did not mention that they were “Avondales” (at the time still known as “No.151”) and “Matokas” (a.k.a. “Modern Home No. 168”), offered by Sears, Roebuck and Co.

We almost didn’t recognize them, as each model had some modification to porch design and facade fenestration made–in the Avondale, the door moved to the middle and some smaller windows were combined in to one large one. This customization–common on developer’s orders–might have been done to make the look fit better into the neighborhood. More likely, though, it was intended to distinguish the home from catalog images, should any buyer ever come across them!

How do we know? When 2939 Macomb St NW recently came on the market, I got a peak and shared my thrilling discovery with Cleveland Park historian Carin Ruff. She didn’t know it was a kit house but knew about the developer and promised to search her permitting database (which will likely show Sears Roebuck as the “architect” of the house. The very same day, a kit house enthusiast from Oklahoma published a Sears’ iconic “Avondale” bungalow, which she says was the kit house model Sears built for the 1909 Springfield Illinois state fair.  She also was the one who found a December 1910 article from the Evening Star, in which developer  Kite described what he wanted to build on his Macomb St lots: “exact reproductions of the model bungalow dwelling on exhibition on the Illinois state fair grounds.”

You guessed it: Sears (or house catalogs) were not mentioned at all, only that the plans had been chosen from “among hundreds submitted.”

(Click here for part 2 with floor plans and more photos of the Macomb Street bungalows.)

To read more about what kind of people in DC would buy kit houses in the 1910s and 1920s, click here.


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