The “Elmhurst” was one of Sears Roebuck’s more unusual kit house models. For one thing, the Elmhurst’s asymmetrical and rather intricate floorplan and Tudor styling don’t give away its mail-order kit origins too easily. It’s also richer in detail than many other Sears homes of that size. And for the DC area, it has the amazing advantage that it truly fit in with the brick- and Tudor-loving taste of the 1930s here. You can see the historic ad copy below.
There are 3 known Elmhursts in the metro area: one in DC’s Forest Hills, one in Silver Spring, MD, and one in Alexandria, VA. The latter – a beautifully kept and renovated specimen – is on the market for $1,195,000 right now, and will have an open house from 2-4 pm this coming Sunday. It’s been on the market through the holidays, and we’re surprised it hasn’t sold yet. We thought it was really worth seeing–check out the photos!–, and was definitely adapted beautifully to a 21st-century lifestyle. Let us know if you need to get in on another day.
For extra fun, have a look at the Silver Spring and DC “Elmhursts” for comparison:
A Sears “Americus” that’s currently available for rent in DC’s Foxhall neighborhood reminded us how popular this particular model was in the 1920s. The mail-order company described it as a “fine home that any American can be proud of and be comfortable in.” If you chose this model, you were assured to buy a house that was “dignified, substantial” and would “never go ‘out of style’.”
This must have been a convincing pitch at the time, at least in the nation’s capital. The “Americus” was the one most popular kit house model built in town; there are nearly 20 surviving specimen known in DC, and several more in the close-in suburbs.
While its design is a basic square with a hipped roof and full-width front porch, the “Americus” also has the advantage of some characteristic elements that make it easy to spot. One of the bedrooms, for instance, extends into the porch roof — an unusual feature we’ve never seen in any other home. And there are those decorative triple brackets on all the corners of the roof and porch. The brackets have sometimes fallen victim to renovations, but you can usually see that top room jotting out.
The “Americus” was more of an end-user house even here in DC, documented by the fact that most of them were purchased by the people who would live in them (and many had original mortgages from Sears Roebuck). The Foxhall house, permitted in 1925, has seen numerous updates and expansions over time, but it still retains a bunch of original details that are fun to look at. Check out the gallery for some of those, and for more pictures of “Americus” kit houses in DC, Bethesda, Kensington and Takoma Park.
Before & After pictures can be exciting – there is something so positive and encouraging about the potential (or the decay, or even the misguidedness) they show. The B & A here (with MLS pictures from August and November of 2017) isn’t quite as interesting as the comparison of this one to another home. They were two incarnations of what started out as pretty much the same house. Earlier this month, we featured a sweet little time capsule in Woodridge – a more or less completely untouched Sears “Windsor.” Today, we’ll show you one that was just flipped. Note: the fun lies in the listing slide shows.
The “Windsor” was one of the more modest “Modern Homes” models from Sears Roebuck & Co. There are 6 known Windsors in DC, and only one of them can be found in the NW quadrant. The 1926 specimen in Chillum sold this summer pre-emptively for $315,000, and it has now reemerged fully renovated, available for a stately 649,990. The modest exterior only held on to a few of the original details, but it also belies an airy interior. Quite lovely, actually, and it definitely beats having the house torn down! Yes, we know–there’s not much left of the old little mail-order bungalow beyond its bones, but sometimes, we’ll take what we can get.
In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether the faith of the Woodridge Windsor will be any better, or perhaps worse. It went under contract after the first weekend. We’re not sure whether the buyer was an end user, a builder, or a flipper.
It was exactly a year ago, during a talk we gave at Historic Chevy Chase DC, that the idea was born to somehow make our research public, not only to the local kit house owners, but also many other people who were fascinated with the unique concentration of larger mail-order homes here. After (not kidding here!) thousands of hours, we can now present the first results — a color-coded interactive map and a corresponding database of homes/models and historical information. We’re working on integrating the material into the Historic Chevy Chase DC website and hope to interlink it with much more house history, artifacts and oral history in the future.
Chevy Chase, DC (zip code 20015), has a unique (both in quality as well as density) collection of historic catalog houses. Nearly 100 existing homes and 61 different models have so far been authenticated, and there are several more suspects. The homes are from four different manufacturers (Sears Roebuck & Co.; Lewis Manufacturing Co.; International Mill and Lumber a.k.a. Sterling; and Gordon-Van Tine) and were built between 1915 and 1932.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the most popular models here were the Lewis “Chevy Chase,” the Sears “Americus” and the Sears “Martha Washington!” The following catalog homes show up more than once in Chevy Chase/DC:
Lewis “Chevy Chase” (4 times)
Sears “Americus” (4 times)
Sears “Martha Washington” (4 times)
Sears “Rembrandt” (4 times)
Sears “Woodland” (4 times)
Lewis “Ardmore” (3 times)
Lewis “Cambridge” (3 times)
Lewis “Winthrop” (3 times)
Sears “Barrington” (3 times)
Sears “Kilbourne” (3 times)
Sears “Puritan” (3 times)
Sears “Walton” (3 times)
Lewis “Marengo” (2)
Sears “Alhambra” (2)
Sears “Lewiston” (2)
Sears “Priscilla” (2)
Sears “Rockford” (2)
Sears “Westly” (2)
The likely top runner, however, might be the Sears “Maywood” (5 times), although we don’t have full proof yet for the authenticity of those homes. (All 5 of them were built by a small builder who doesn’t name Sears Roebuck on the permits, but rather the original architect who published his rendition of the Maywood more than 10 years before Sears carried it in their catalogs!) We’re working on it, though, and will update you once we are a hundred percent sure.
In the meantime, we’d be happy for you to test-drive and explore our proud creation. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcome!
Washington DC’s streetcar expansion years in the early 20th century went hand in hand with a construction boom and the development of the city’s first suburbs. The Palisades, Chevy Chase, Shepherd Park and Takoma Park were some of the more prominent ones, and they all have one thing in common: an abundance of Sears catalog homes and other kit houses (namely from Aladdin and Lewis Manufacturing Co.). An abundance in relative terms, that is, because so many of them turn out to be copies or look-alikes.
Others are authentic but might have been modified so much over the years that they will be hard to spot and thus will go unrecognized and forgotten. As sponsors of the Takoma Park House & Garden tour, we have been working together with Lorraine Pearsall and Diana Kohn, president and VP of Historic Takoma Inc.. Over the past couple of years, Marcie and I have started to put together a catalog (no pun intended) of mail-order homes in the Takoma Park Historic District. What could be more fun, and what could be a worse thief of sleep than poring over pictures, old listing records and piles of 1920s catalogs?
While we now a list of about five dozen candidates in North Takoma alone, only a fraction of them has been identified and authenticated beyond a reasonable doubt. There are some mysteries we have discovered together, as well as some amazing historic finds.
Historic Takoma will feature our work in a special section on their website once we feel we have enough solid information assembled.
If you think you own (or live in ) a Sears house or other kit home and would like some assistance in authenticating it, I’ll be happy to help! Just fill out this form and I’ll be in touch shortly.