The “Azalea Man’s” Modest Abode

Time set the record straight. After a WTOP story on “DC’s Million Dollar Kit Houses” ran earlier this year, and sometimes after we write about kit houses for sale that are priced even higher than that, we receive messages from unhappy readers reminding us that the majority of existing historic mail-order homes, even in our area, will not sell for a million dollars.

Of course, that’s true. We got emails from owners in Hyattsville and Anacostia, describing the pride they took in preserving their Sears homes. And perhaps we don’t venture off to other parts of town often enough. But the truth is, we’ve lately been focusing on the Chevy Chase kit houses for a reason, and ironically, it’s often easier to find well-preserved architectural features in historically higher priced neighborhoods.

So today, we’re taking you to DC’s Woodridge, where a sweet Sears “Windsor” from 1922 just hit the market for $399,000. The place could actually be a great deal for first-time buyers who want to stay close in. It’s about a mile from the Rhode Island (Red Line) Metro station, about 3 miles from downtown DC, close to parks, shopping and dining, and it has a WalkScore of 80 (“Very Walkable”). The price is 18% below the 3rd quarter median ($485,500) for the 20018 zip code, and the lot is large; it even has a well-groomed rose garden! [continued below the photos]

 

The Windsor was a popular bungalow-style house with Arts and Crafts elements, but it was one of the smaller of such models. How about the first owners? Were they end users who put the home together with friends and family in order to live in it like most of the purchasers of more modest kit houses? Or was it a developer who built the house on spec, according to what might have sold best in the neighborhood?

Turns out it was neither. The first owners were Benjamin Edwards, according to the 1930 census a Kentucky-born “Real Estate Operator,” and his wife Amanda. They owned and sold lots of properties in the 1920s. This particular home was built as an investment property, although it wasn’t rented out for too long. The Edwards financed the construction with an original 5-year mortgage from Sears of $3800, which wasn’t released until 1927 but which they simply passed on in the form of another mortgage to Evelyn and Joseph Gilmore, who bought the house in 1924. Yes, today, this would be considered fraudulent.

Joseph Gilmore, a young WW I vet, became the “Azalea Man,” a local celebrity who was widely credited with bringing the flowering bushes – which now color practically every corner of the city each April – to Washington. He cultivated Azaleas in his garden, and his customers won flower shows, but during the day he worked at the nearby railroad repair yard. In fact, his wife Evelyn, a clerk, made more money than he did. According to his Washington Post obituary, the couple lived in their “modest home” until Joseph died there of a heart attack in 1951.

We didn’t notice any azaleas, but there certainly are dozens of rose bushes lining the yard.

(For my collection of historic kit houses currently for sale in the DC area, click here.)

 

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