A Variety Of Vallonias

Sears house in Maryland
The Brookmont Sears & Roebuck “Vallonia” in 2012

Time to confess: we’re not always failproof when it comes to the authentication of historic kit houses. There’s the case of the “Vexing Vallonia” for instance, that Marcie called a possible “Sears knock-off.”  It wasn’t vexing for too long, though. A few years later, we found a Sears mortgage for the original purchase and construction of the mail-order home.

So this time around, as the house is on the market again, renovated five years ago and quite obviously cherished by the new owners since then, there’s no doubt the house is the real deal! And while the fake “brick” sheet asphalt siding might have been original, the vinyl siding that replaced it is actually a lot more becoming (hard to believe I just said that, isn’t it?). The kitchen has been opened up to include one of the first-floor bedrooms, there’s an airy “morning room” addition, and the house overall is bright and inviting. It just hit the market for $1,200,000, and the listing‘s 3-D tour (courtesy of Redfin) lets you take a closer look at a lot of the little details, old or new. (You can find a 1920s catalog image and floor plan for comparison here.)

 

The deceivingly spacious, 4-5-bedroom “Vallonia,” was one of the more popular models from the Sears catalog, at least in this area. As of today, there are six known Vallonias still standing in Washington, DC. Another seven, including the Ridge Drive one, are on our list for the DC suburbs. Incidentally, one of my weirdest real estate moments years back occurred when I was trying to show this Vallonia in College Park, MD.

Simon and Kathryn in front of their Langdon/Woodridge Vallonia

Of course, the puzzling Vallonia encounter also happened during the early years of this blog. The internet and lots of gadgets have brought researchers and resources much closer; we’ve learned so much more over the past five years. And the messages, emails, tips, and photos from our readers have educated us more, one house at a time. Just a couple of weeks ago, for instance, I got a message from a fellow Realtor, Simon Sarver, who told me he was the proud owner of a Vallonia in DC’s Langdon neighborhood. There was no mention of the home’s origins when he bought the house a couple of years ago. That it might be a kit house only dawned on him much later when he saw a similar house in a Pinterest post. There’s a lot of original detail in the house–hopefully, we’ll get to document it one day.

In the meantime, check out this  DC Vallonia which was listed for over $1M and just went under contract in the Foxhall neighborhood near Georgetown hospital. And here are a few more of our local Vallonias:

Sears house in Palisades DC
A Vallonia in DC’s Palisades
Vallonia in Bethesda
A Vallonia in East Bethesda

 

 

 

 

Vallonia in Takoma Park MD
A Vallonia in Takoma Park MD

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Are you Interested in Kit House History? We can help!

Cati and Marcie are Realtors by day and house history enthusiasts by night. We specialize in NW DC and close-in Montgomery County, MD, but cover the entire Washington metropolitan area. House History–the hidden stories behind the walls of the homes we sell or walk by every day–has long been a passion of ours (In fact, for Cati, a former journalist, it was what ultimately brought her to the world of DC real estate).

We have written about many house-stories in our individual blogs over the years, and we sometimes have surprised (and delighted!) clients with our research findings. When the time allows, we love digging in archives, city records and historic collections. What we find, is sometimes funny, sad or scary, but it’s always a part of the DC area’s story as well. And when it comes to history of any kind, there could not be a better place for that than the metropolitan area of the Nation’s Capital!

If you have followed us for even a short while, you probably know that one of our special interests are the mail-order homes of the early 20th century. In many Washington, DC, neighborhoods and in the city’s older suburbs, we can find an abundance of those historic kit houses. (More often than not, the owners have no idea that some 90 or 100 years ago, their house arrived neatly packaged on a railroad car, in thousands of numbered pieces.)

You can learn more about catalog homes here, “like” our Facebook page for updates or email or tweet us with questions or suggestions for houses to write about.

Join the Mailing List for our Annual Kit House Newsletter:

*Catalog images provided courtesy of Internet Archive.

A Favorite DC Kit House

Yes, it’s true — this Aladdin “Pomona” is still one of our favorites. It’s not too far from our office, and we’ve watched the current owners of 8 years renovate and expand it, in a beautiful and sensitive way. At least that’s what it looked like from the outside. We once knocked at the door and even left a note for the owner about the home’s history (built in 1921 by one Charlotte E. Haskell, it was another woman-owned DC kit house in its day), but we’d never seen the inside until now.

The “Pomona” hit the market for $1,399,000 yesterday, and it’s just as beautiful inside as out. The updates are sleek and have brought the home into the 21st century, but they don’t violate its core or completely sacrifice its architectural integrity, even though the floor plan and size have been significantly expanded. (Yes, some bungalow purists might disagree on this. But the reality is that in high price neighborhoods, the alternative might be a tear down. And we’d always take an awesome house over the destruction of history.)

You can find a listing summary here and the MLS photos here.

Catalog image courtesy of the Clarke Historic Library: Aladdin Pomona-1919_fall_annual_sales_catalog

How Not To Build Your Home

Something tells us this is not how it went with those Sears kit houses, at least not most of the time. Apart from the fact that the 1950s weren’t quite the right time for it either, we hope that most guys who asked their buddies or family for help with this were luckier (scene from Jean Shepherd’s 1976 movie “Phantom Of The Open Hearth“). Have fun!

A Kit House Tourist’s Dream Weekend in DC

This Aladdin catalog home, a 1922 “Pasadena” seen in an earlier photo, just hit the market. It can be found in the historic core of Takoma Park

Many thanks to all of you who emailed or called after last week’s WTOP segments! We got some exciting new kit house leads and will report about them in the near future. It seems like we have a bunch of new fans–motivation to keep up what many have been asking for: to alert them of new historic mail-order homes hitting the market. (And to those we haven’t responded to yet — we will do so very soon!)

As luck will have it, there are some great new kit house listings this week, from different catalog companies, in very different parts of town and in different price ranges.

Here we go:

A rare 1922 Aladdin “Pasadena” just hit the market in the Takoma Park, MD, Historic District. It’s rare because there are few Aladdin homes in the DC area, even though the Aladdin Company of Michigan was the original inventor of the mail-order home and is the only one of the kit house companies whose sales records are completely preserved. – This  “Pasadena” has 3 bedrooms and 2 full baths (the original foot print was expanded), is listed for $585,000 and will be open from 1-4 pm this Sunday. You can find lots of pictures here in the virtual tour.

1922 Sears “Roanoke” in the Palisades neighborhood of Washington DC

A 1922 Sears “Roanoke” was put up for sale today in the Palisades neighborhood of DC (at 5741 Sherier Pl NW) today for $1,325,000.  The 4-bedroom, 3.5 bath house retains a lot of original detail and is beautifully updated and expanded. It’s open on both Saturday and Sunday from 1-3 pm. Click here for the floor plan and interior pictures.

This Google Street View image shows the 1920 Sears “Marina” in DC’s Woodridge as it looked in 2014, before it’s renovation (and transformation). In the current shape, only the centered entrance and first floor outline hint at the origins.

Across town, in Woodridge, there’s a totally gutted and rebuilt Sears house on the market that you wouldn’t recognize unless you consulted some old images: a 1920 Sears “Marina” that now sports a brand-new second floor and looks more like a smaller foursquare. 2209 Franklin NE; listed at $799,000; no open houses announced thus far. Across the street from Langdon Park, close to new Rhode Island Ave development and an easy commute away from downtown offices, this is a convenient location. The price nevertheless seems a bit steep. The picture here is a Google shot from a couple of years ago, but a slideshow of the house as it looks now can be found here. Quite a contrast.

This 1925 bungalow by the Lewis Mfg Co. on Alabama Avenue was completely renovated but maintains the exterior architectural integrity

In Hill Crest, in the SE quadrant of Washington, another renovated kit house is offered for$549,000 — a 1925 “San Fernando” by the Lewis Manufacturing Company. (3008 Alabama Ave SE; 4 bedrooms, 3 full baths, a separate kitchenette on the lower level. No open house here, either.) The MLS virtual tour can be found here.

Lewis Mfg Co. “Cambridge” model on Western Ave – one of the statelier homes from Lewis’ Guy Zepp era in DC.

Back in the northwest, on the Maryland side of Western Avenue in Chevy Chase, another, more upscale, Lewis house is available for rent. It’s a 1923 Lewis “Cambridge” that has been expanded with a family room off the kitchen and a master suite above that. But it also retains some interesting original detail such as the unusual box casement windows in the living room. I remember the house well from when it was for sale nearly ten years ago, and a major draw was the property itself: in addition to a large pool, it has a huge, deep, park-like backyard. The MLS slide show contains floor plan drawings, so you can compare to the catalog original. You might notice that the double window in the “den or sewing room” above the entrance was replaced by a smaller single window–the room now contains a bath. The unusual, almost barrel-roofed portico is probably not original to the house, either.  6506 Western Ave Chevy Chase, MD; available for lease beginning June 15th, 2017 for $4,250.

All in all, it’s quite the lineup for mail-order house lovers right now! As always, let us know if you’re interested in seeing any of these.

 

On Maps And Numbers — A Word Of Clarification

Lewis kit houses in DC
Washington DC-area homes by the Lewis Manufacturing Co. from the 1910s and 1920s
Earlier this week, Rachel Nania from WTOP ran an awesome story about the historic DC kit houses and our research over the past few years. In the interview itself, we focused on a project for Historic Chevy Chase DC that we’ve been working on over the past few months, and that we hope to make publicly available very soon: cataloging the catalog homes in Chevy Chase. The neighborhood is a unique playground for exploration because many of the homes are particularly well preserved and protected, and because there is a large number of models that were considered more luxurious at the time. Many of them were built on spec by developers.

Since the story ran, we got about half a dozen emails from kit house owners in other parts of the city, a couple of whom felt left out or felt the numbers we were talking about were incorrect. So, perhaps it’s time for some  clarification.

  • The number of roughly a hundred kit houses mentioned referred to Chevy Chase DC alone. And even there, it’s only the number of homes that we actually have authenticated, either via historic building permits, mortgage data, or other certain proof such as specifically marked lumber, blue prints found in attics, etc.  More than half of those houses came from Sears. The second largest number–including many of the larger, more stately homes–came from the Lewis Manufacturing Co. in Bay City, Michigan.
  • All over DC, we had about 300 homes whose owners received original financing from Sears Roebuck. Michigan researcher Andrew Mutch mapped those homes (and we added a few from other sources). This great image shows how they were mostly located along train or street car lines:

The majority of the houses actually still exist, although many have been stripped of much of their original detail and do not retain a lot that anchors them to the time they were built. Of course, most of the homes are not selling for a million dollars!! We’re sorry if we created that impression. As mentioned before, neighborhoods like Chevy Chase, the Palisades, Cleveland Park or Observatory Circle are unique in that respect as well.

We will publish more specific numbers in the near future, but for now, may it be enough to point out that we are aware of at least a couple of hundred other kit homes in DC and the close-in suburbs, apart from those with Sears mortgages. There are other Sears houses that didn’t have mortgages, but also some from other kit houses companies such as Lewis, Aladdin, Gordon-Van Tine, or the Harris Bros.

Stay tuned for more.

The Starlight’s Siblings

Sears Starlight with slightly modified entry

Last week, we put a 1922 Sears “Starlight” catalog home on the market. It’s one of five known “Starlights” in DC (which have been authenticated mainly via the Sears Roebuck mortgages extended to the original owners). The Starlight was one of the simpler and less costly homes that the mail-order company offered in the 1920s, but this affordability was likely the reason for its success as well. The company branded it as one of their “top 20” bestselling models. At only 24 feet wide, it’s easy to see how the bungalow would have been a popular option for narrower city lots.

You can read about the home’s history here, but we thought it would be fun to show you the other ones, all in different parts of town, all near rail road tracks (where the “kit” with the house materials would be dropped off), and all in very different shape or state of updates.

This one was built in 1926 and is not too far away on 3rd St NW in Brightwood:

1926 Sears Starlight in Brightwood

Two more Starlights, in which later owners had made the front porch a part of the interior, can be found in nearby Takoma Park, Maryland:

Sears Starlight on Flower Ave
Sears Starlight on Cedar Ave in the Takoma Park Historic District

The other three DC Starlights can be found on Evarts St NE, and on 31st Place and Brothers Place in SE (images courtesy of Google Streetview and MRIS):

Sears offered an upgraded, more luxury version of the Starlight at the same time: the Hamilton, which featured nearly the same floor plan, but extended the living room into the porch, allowing it to have a fireplace. They also added a bay window to the dining room and a breakfast room to the back.

To show you what this looks like, here’s a pretty, night-blue Hamilton near the District line in Silver Spring MD:

Authenticated 1926 Sears “Hamilton” in Silver Spring

What We Are Grateful For

Sears Woodland Nevada Avenue
One of Chevy Chase DC’s stately 1920s “Woodlands” from the Sears mail-order catalog

Well, first off, there are so many things we are grateful for here at the DC HouseSmarts — our loved ones, our health, our diverse, interesting and energizing clientele, our supportive bunch of colleagues at Evers & Co., and to live in a place that has always valued social responsibility and freedom of speech and expression, and–of course–our homes.

But since a great part of our day (or let’s say, many of our days) is devoted to city history and historic  homes, we’re ever so grateful to live and work in a place where this history is valued and preserved.

Last week, we were lucky enough to give a talk about kit houses and the state of our research at the Chevy Chase Community center. It was not only well-attended, but we also counted a total of 10 actual Chevy Chase kit house owners on the guest sign-in! Several others called or emailed in advance of the event, telling us they were sorry they couldn’t attend but they would still be interested in participating in Historic Chevy Chase’s kit house project. In the latter, we will cooperate in documenting, authenticating and cataloging (!) Chevy Chase’s catalog homes.

(Built in 1925)
A 1925 Lewis “Marlboro” on Military Road

Chevy Chase, especially the part on the DC side, is unique in terms of its collection of well-preserved kit houses, most of which are from the government expansion years in the 1920s and many of which were larger, more stately models. To date, we have identified about 20 homes from the Lewis Manufacturing Co., nearly 50 from Sears Roebuck and four from Gordon-Van Tine. The majority of those have been authenticated either via mortgage records, original building permits or unmistakable brand identifiers. (We have to thank kit house historians from other parts of the US, such as Michigan researcher Andrew Mutch for much of this work.) We’re also sure there are a bunch we haven’t discovered yet.

Before the talk, we had sent out letters to almost all of those owners we could track down, and the response was amazing. Some had no idea their home once came in a box car by rail but were intrigued to find out more.  Others provided anecdotes, letters and pictures, all of which we will eventually scan and make available as part of the project. But almost everybody we heard from is interested in helping us assemble and preserve this amazing piece of DC and national history. It’s definitely something that goes on our list of things to be grateful for. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, and stay tuned for more!

(You can find many more posts about the area’s mail-order houses here and here.)

Shelbourne on Northampton

Kit House of the Week 10/18/2016

3518 northampton stFacts & Figures:

Manufacturer: Lewis Manufacturing Co.

Model Number or Name: The Shelbourne

Year Built: 1923/1924

Neighborhood: Chevy Chase, DC

Authenticated: Yes. Promissory note to local Lewis rep in the land records; Lewis-typical lumber markings in grease pencil; trim details, lewis catalog hardware consistent with year/model

To see the original Lewis Catalog Page, click here *. For a photo of another Chevy Chase “Shelbourne”, click here. (For more photos of the house, scroll down to the gallery)

House History

The first owners of 3518 Northampton were George and Anna Stephens, a government economist and his wife, who had married late and moved to DC from Kansas. They were in their 40s and had a toddler son and a baby daughter when they purchased the mail-order home in 1923. They took out three mortgages, one for $2750 from Lewis’ local representative Guy Zepp, another one for $5000 (presumably for the construction) and a third from Fulton R Gordon for the purchase of the land, lots 39 and 40.

Screenshot 2016-10-18 01.02.22It was the narrow but deep configuration of the lot that dictated a modification from the design: The side porch was eliminated and a fireplace was put in place of the french doors. We don’t know why the Stephens put the house up for sale less than a year later, and perhaps even before moving in. The add to the left is from the Washington Examiner. Another one, placed in the Washington Post, praises the house as “a home so well-situated at such a low price. (…) convenient to Chevy Chase public school, churches, stores, moving picture theater. Ideal home for a small family with children.” The latter sentence would constitute a fair housing violation in 2016 terms, but the rest is quite applicable almost 100 years later.

The Stephens must have changed their minds, however, because they ended up raising their own “small family” there and lived in the house until 1949. They might also have been the ones who build the addition, combined two bedrooms into one larger one and added another two to the back of the house.

 

The current owners, only the third in the home’s history, bought the “Shelbourne” in the late 1960s and added their own touches and updates, including a comfortable sauna in the basement. It is currently on the market for $1,100,000, listed by Compass. A fabulous 3-D tour enables you to compare the current expanded and somewhat modified footprint to the original floor plan and to observe many well-preserved Lewis details. And if you happen to own VR headgear, you’re also getting a virtual reality option. Enjoy. (Or if you’d like to have a look in person, just give us a call.)

More Photos (click thumbnails to enlarge)

_________________________________________

Are you Interested in Kit House History? We can help!

Cati and Marcie are Realtors by day and house history enthusiasts by night. We specialize in NW DC and close-in Montgomery County, MD, but cover the entire Washington metropolitan area. House History–the hidden stories behind the walls of the homes we sell or walk by every day–has long been a passion of ours (In fact, for Cati, a former journalist, it was what ultimately brought her to the world of DC real estate).

We have written about many house-stories in our individual blogs over the years, and we sometimes have surprised (and delighted!) clients with our research findings. When the time allows, we love digging in archives, city records and historic collections. What we find, is sometimes funny, sad or scary, but it’s always a part of the DC area’s story as well. And when it comes to history of any kind, there could not be a better place for that than the metropolitan area of the Nation’s Capital!

If you have followed us for even a short while, you probably know that one of our special interests are the mail-order homes of the early 20th century. In many Washington, DC, neighborhoods and in the city’s older suburbs, we can find an abundance of those historic kit houses. (More often than not, the owners have no idea that some 90 or 100 years ago, their house arrived neatly packaged on a railroad car, in thousands of numbered pieces.)

You can learn more about catalog homes here, “like” our Facebook page for updates or email or tweet us with questions or suggestions for houses to write about.

Join the Mailing List for our Annual Kit House Newsletter:

*Catalog images provided courtesy of Internet Archive.

Open Sunday: Renovated Cape Cod in Wyngate

New listing, 4 bedrooms, and 2 full baths, brand-new kitchen and bathrooms. Open Sunday 1-4 pm. (For more info, scroll down below the video.)

9216 Villa Drive, Bethesda, MD 20817

Offered at $719,000

Welcome to this beautifully renovated Cape Cod-style home on a tranquil, pretty block in one of DC’s premier suburbs. Listen to the birds in the backyard, while you’re just minutes away from the Beltway or bus lines. This move-in ready, 4-bedroom, 2-bath home has a new kitchen, two new baths and tons of unexpected storage space.

The bright, open living room features a wood-burning fireplace and leads through the formal dining room into a brand-new, crisp white kitchen with stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops and access to a grassy, fenced-in flat backyard.

A pantry and hall coat closet offer extra storage. Across the hall to the other side of the house, you will find two bedrooms with double exposures and a new full bath.

Upstairs, you will find two additional large bedrooms with multiple closets and built-ins as well as a tastefully remodeled second full bath.

The finished lower level features a bright, deep recreation room with big windows and built-in cabinets, an exit to the yard as well as the laundry, utilities and lots of storage.

Within walking distance:  Wyngate Elementary school, North Bethesda Middle School, several parks, Walter Johnson High, and Old Georgetown Road with bus stops to Metro and downtown Bethesda.

Within a mile: the Beltway and I-270; NIH and Suburban Hospitals; the Bethesda YMCA, Old Georgetown Square with Giant and DSW; Wildwood Shopping Center with Balducci’s, Starbucks, and specialty stores.

Within easy driving distance: Montgomery Mall, Strathmore Music Center, several country clubs, Wildwood Shopping Center, Cabin John Regional Park, and the numerous offerings of Rockville Pike.

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Main Level

– Living room with fireplace.

– Formal dining room with recessed  lighting and pantry, opening to…

– All-new kitchen with granite counters, new appliances, leading to…

– back entrance with stairs to a level backyard

– Hall with coat closet, separate linen closet and access to basement

– New first floor full bath with tub

– Two bright bedrooms

– Satin refinished oak wood floors throughout

Upper level

– Landing/hall with deep linen closet

– Two large sunny bedrooms, each with three exposures via dormers and gabled windows and with multiple closets, built-ins and under-eaves storage

      Newly Remodeled hall bath with walk-in shower-

– Attic access from hall

Lower Level

– Day-lit recreation room with large window overlooking the yard, built-ins, and new wall-to-wall carpet

– Generous laundry room with large capacity washer and dryer

– Additional storage in furnace room

– Staired Exit to back yard

Facts & Figures

– Built in 1955, renovated in 2016

– Lot size: 6,105 sq. ft.

– Total estimated tax bill for new owner (FY 2017): $7,352.85

– Private driveway

– Central A/C

  • – New kitchen and bathrooms 2016
  • – New ceiling and carpet in basement

– Newly landscaped yard 2014

– New insulation for attic 2012

– New roof with wide gutters 2012

– New window blinds  for entire house in 2012 and living room blinds 2015

– New fence 2015

– Closet shelving and expansion in upstairs bedrooms 2014