Since we talked about the earliest known kit houses in DC earlier this fall, we heard from two of the owners! If there had been any doubts left that developer Harry Kite actually purchased the spacious Cleveland Park bungalows as pre-packaged kits from Sears Roebuck rather than “replicating” the Sears model he had seen at the Illinois State Fair locally, we’re now certain that he purchased them from Sears.
The first of the owners who had come across our post wrote to the CP Historic Society and pointed out that the supposed “architect” named on the original building permits was a teenager:
” (…) I loved the post about the Macomb Street kit houses. I’m attaching the obituary of Albert E. Landvoight, who was the “architect” of our house, (…) Macomb St., a bungalow built in 1911 by Harry A. Kite. Landvoight was frequently listed as the architect for Kite. What really supports the theory of these bungalows being kit house[s] is the fact that Albert was the ripe old age of 19 when he was allegedly the architect of these homes! (…)”
Landvoight, who in later decades did become a successful architect, might have been some kind of apprentice or intern in Kite’s business at the time. (Really going out on a limb here, but perhaps he was entrusted with the filing of those permits in 1910.) In fact, according to the Capital Hill Restoration Society’s list of legacy architects and builders, “Albert E. Landvoight, architect (1892-1955) […] was born in Washington and attended McKinley High School. He began working for Harry Kite in 1913, served in World War I, and afterward continued to work as an architect. He designed residences and apartments for Kite and for Boss & Phelps.”
He certainly didn’t design the Sears kit house model of “Modern Home No. 151” which was first exhibited in 1908 or 1909 in Springfield, IL (brochure photo courtesy of Rachel Shoemaker). Kite himself had told the Evening Standard that the Sears model was the one he had chosen for his parcels on Macomb St. The houses all have the same modifications from the published plans (namely, fewer and larger windows in the front, a modified door placement as well as shorter porch overhangs–measures likely intended to make the interior brighter). It was not unusual for Sears to accommodate such special wishes. In fact, the company marketed heavily to builders with the idea that it would be most cost-effective to build whole batches of houses and that different exteriors could give houses with the same floor plan a less uniform look.
The pictures in this post are from 1910 and 1913 Sears catalogs along with yet another one of the Macomb St. “No. 151” houses, whose owners have lived in the house for a couple of decades. They were delighted to learn of their home’s interesting history and generously invited us in to document many of the well preserved original details. Such surviving details are important in their sum, as in the early years (between about 1908 and 1914) the packaged lumber for the kit wasn’t precut and stamped as in later years. This is what makes the older homes much harder to authenticate, especially in the absence of deed documentation and mortgage records which are more readily available for those homes built in the 1920s and ’30s.A slideshow of the (somewhat more remodeled) No.151 that was recently sold can be seen here.
If you think you live in a kit house and would like to share some details or pictures with us, or if you would like assistance in authenticating your historic mail-order home, feel free to get in touch with us via the form below or shoot us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org