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.

Kit House Of The Week: A 1922 Gordon-Van Tine “No. 542” In Chevy Chase/DC

Gordon-Van Tine No. 542GVT No. 542-IMG_5819Every now and then, we still come across a kit house that really makes us happy. Because something about it is just perfect. Either perfectly preserved or perfectly balanced for the 21st century, perhaps in a great neighborhood or a in great setting, or several of the above. Such is the case for the Gordon-Van Tine No. 542 at 3714 Livingston Street NW in historic Chevy Chase, DC. After discovering the almost 100 year old original sales deeds for the house just a few weeks ago, we were thrilled to see it come on the market this month. (It’s listed with Long & Foster for $1,139,000, and you can see floor plans and lots of pictures in the virtual tour here.) For details relevant to the mail-order history, scroll down to the gallery below.

The home, once erected by local builder Ellsworth Tessier on spec and financed with a Gordon-Van Tine mortgage, has been expanded over the years, possibly in stages, but not in out-of-proportion ways. It’s neither pretentious nor super-sleek, but has a generous and warm feel-good appeal all over. (Hey, I’m not the listing agent here; I mean it!) What was once the living room now functions as a spacious entry hall with built-ins, the formerly pretty small kitchen has given way to a hall with powder room and closet. And the cedar deck we had already admired from afar in the spring looks just as comfy and inviting close-up.

There are many original GVT details, such as the strong and simple lines of the woodwork or an interesting inlay pattern of the oak floors that we don’t get to see very often in DC (there are, as of now, only 4 documented existing GVT houses here), and that’s always a reason to get excited. So, there you have it.

DC’s Valuable Veronas

Kit House of the Week 6/24/2016

Chevy Chase, DC
Front elevation (portico likely not original)

Manufacturer: Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Model Number or Name: The Verona

Year Built: 1923 /1920

Neighborhoods: Chevy Chase, DC; Falls Church, VA

Authenticated: Yes. 1923 Sears mortgage for the Western Ave house

“Another million-dollar Sears house?!” Kit house enthusiasts from other parts of the country are usually stunned when we present them with listings of mail-order homes in Chevy Chase or some of DC’s other tony suburbs. But it’s not the fact that the home was once ordered from a catalog that determines the price. In many cases, neither sellers nor buyers are even aware of it.  Rather, the factors are the same as for any other house: the neighborhood, the size and style of the home, the updates, the condition, the location and size of the lot, as reflected in the “comps.”

This week, we have a couple of lovely examples for you. Both are Sears “Veronas” with much original detail, although from different catalog years between which the model had evolved a little. The first one is a 1923 Verona at 6019 Western Avenue in Chevy Chase/DC, currently listed for $1,195,000. The gallery below (click images for larger version) emphasizes tell-tale identifiers, but a nifty 3-D tour of the entire house, including the addition, can be seen here.

Our second Verona can be found in a Virginia suburb of DC, Falls Church, at 2468 Buckelew Drive. It predates the Chevy Chase house by a few years, and some of the differences in interior detail (like the simpler style of the stair rail) as well as the differently configured bay windows attest to that. The house itself is sitting on a huge 2.3 acre lot (not easily found in close-in the more close-in areas) and is listed for $1,399,000. It features a somewhat unusual but pretty neat family room addition. You can find a virtual tour here.

So far, we haven’t dug into the history of either house, but will be back with an update when we do!

And again, it’s the “comps,” the most recent comparable resales in an area or neighborhood that guide the pricing–for kit houses just like for any other house.  Although one thing is true: the more expensive the neighborhood, the higher the chance that potential buyers appreciate the historic value of the house, and the less likely that it has been destroy-renovated.

_________________________________________

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 Picture History Of DC Housing Styles

We’re not entirely sure that all the build dates in this collection are perfectly correct, but that doesn’t diminish the charm and historical interest. Put together by RentCafe, apparently with images harvested from Google map’s street view, it gives quite a neat inside into the history of the rather traditional urban (and suburban) architecture we’re living with:

Perceptively Perfect: Aladdin Pomona Addition In AU Park

Kit House of the Week 3/11/2016

Aladdin kit house addition, awesome architect
Aladdin addition done right: Continuing the natural line of the roof, even the new garage, entry hall, expanded porch and second floor spaces look like they have always been there.

Facts & Figures:

Manufacturer: Aladdin Co. of Bay City, MI

Model Number or Name: The Pomona

Year Built: 1921

Neighborhood: AU Park, DC

Authenticated:  We’re working on it (as of 3/16) and are hoping to obtain the original purchase/shipping receipt soon. Aladdin sold only a handful of homes to DC developers and owners each year in the 1910s and early 1920s.

Scroll down or click for original catalog image or description and floor plan of the Aladdin “Pomona” (image scans courtesy of Aladdin archives/Clarke research library). Click here for interior pre-addition photos from 2009 (courtesy of MRIS).

House History

Picture book example: The AU Park Aladdin Pomona in 2009, before its expansion
Picture book example: The AU Park Aladdin Pomona in 2009, before its expansion (Photo: MRIS)

In both this blog and on DC house Cat, Marcie and I have frequently bemoaned the many destroy-renovations of historic kit houses we come across. We see them all the time, usually in quick flip listings or “re-muddeling” efforts that go back to the 1970s or 80s when charming was considered dated.

Today, rather than going into the deep history of this American University Park mail-order home, we want to show how the contemporary expansion of a hundred year old home can be done beautifully and with respect.  A lovely neighbor believes the name of the architect is Brady. (We have tried to get in touch with the owners and will update the post once we hear from them.) However, the pictures speak for themselves.

Artists rendition of the "Pomona" as pictured in the 1922 Aladdin catalog (image courtesy of Clarke research library)
Artists rendition of the “Pomona” as pictured in the 1922 Aladdin catalog (image courtesy of Clarke research library)
Aladdin kit house addition, awesome architect
Aladdin addition done right: Continuing the natural line of the roof, even the new garage, entry hall and expanded porch and second floor spaces look like they have always been there.
Aladdin mail-order home in AU Park, Washington DC
With shingled siding, characteristic eaves brackets and muntined casement windows, the addition picks up many of the original architectural details
Awesome addition on historic house in Washington DC
Even from the back, the 2-story addition is a masterly example for how it’s possible to blend in and maintain the integrity of the original architecture. Yet it’s clearly made for the 21st century. Note the solar panels on the roof.
Aladdin kit house in Washington DC
Barely a hint from the street: the addition maintains the visual appearance and is sensitive to the original dimension and character
Aladdin kit house in Washington DC
The “Pomona” was offered in two versions: either as a 2-bedroom model, or — at the cost of living room size — with 3 bedrooms. (Image courtesy of Aladdin archive/Clarke research library)


*Catalog images provided courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library.

___________________________________________________

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: