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.
It’s been one of my favorite streets in DC for a long time: Plymouth Street in the original part of Colonial Village, the section that gave the neighborhood its name. It’s a 1930s subdivision of about 90 homes that is surrounded by Rock Creek Park on three sides. The streets are unusually wide and have circles and park-like enclosures. All the original homes here were replicas of “Authentic Colonial Dwellings” of the period of the “Original Thirteen Colonies,” as a 1935 Washington Post advertisement explained. The insides of the homes, however, were state-of-the-art when they were built.
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!
This weekend, there’s a special treat available for fans of historic catalog homes in DC. A 1922 “Malvern” from the Lewis Manufacturing Co. just hit the market in DC’s AU Park neighborhood for $2,250,000. It’s listed by TTR Sotheby’s, and there will be an open house on Sunday from 1-3 pm.
Our kit house researcher friends in other parts of the U.S. will probably cringe a little. There’s the price point, of course, but some historic preservation purists will also dislike the fact that the home (a more stately model to begin with) was expanded by more than a hundred percent, and that the interior was pretty much completely gutted. (Although we were lucky enough to find a few marked original beams in the furnace room toward the original front of the house!)
Comparing the old with the new floor plan that is given in the brochures, there is little overlap. The living room (now staged as the dining room) fireplace is still in the same place, of course, and so is the kitchen. But the entry has been moved to the side street (the address changed from 4312 Fessenden St NW to 4926 43rd Pl NW); the former front porch is a private side “terrace,” and the original front hall is now a “mud room.” In place of the original staircase are now a powder room and a pantry.
But… as far as I’m concerned, it’s also a really lovely home with a nice yard and in a super walkable city location. A sensitive architect tried to recreate many of the exterior elements for the back of the house, and while the side (aka current front) doesn’t look quite as balanced, the whole house gives off a very welcoming vibe.
Many of the materials and styles used are reminiscent of what used to be there. The living floor inlays, for instance, are matching the original ones I’ve seen in other Lewis houses. The expansion overall was made very thought- and respectfully. (And I admit: the magnificent red velvet movie theater in the basement of the addition doesn’t hurt.)
It’s a shame the virtual tour from the old 2005 listing no longer works — technology has certainly changed as well since then — but at least we get a glimpse at the exterior. And that’s a great match to the catalog image.
And while you’re there, if you want to see another one, go no further than the other end of the block on Fessenden. That’s because the Mandler-Brodt family, who put the house together in 1922 built two of them at the same time, both on corner lots. (See a picture of the other home here.)
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!
Our special interest is in 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 us with questions or suggestions for houses to write about.
Join the Mailing List for our Annual Kit House Newsletter:
This time, it was our turn; we’ve moved! Not to a new house, however — that part we’ve reserved for our clients. Marcie and I joined Compass, an exciting, technology-driven firm that brings the best of all real estate worlds together.
Amazing support for us agents ultimately means we can create a great experience for our clients: better communication with our buyers, stunning marketing campaigns for our sellers’ properties, reliable transaction management. We’re looking forward to serving you!
Please stop by anytime (well, almost any time) to chat about your real estate goals and dreams. We’re looking forward to serving you!
Looking to move to Rock Creek Forest? Or you’re a neighbor whose friends are interested? Come see me at my open house at 2725 Washington Ave this Sunday, from 1-4 pm. It’s a beautifully and smartly expanded colonial from the original neighborhood stock. It has a renovated kitchen with table space, a lovely 2-story family room and master bathroom addition and a flat fenced-in backyard. Just a block to trail and stables! It’s larger than it looks from the outside, and a steal at $799,000.
Come by and receive a mini-poster showing off Marcie’s RCF map art with neighborhood resources on the back. It looks adorable. And larger versions of the poster are available for drop-off on request!
How has the 2015 real estate market been in comparison to the previous year? Should you consider moving next year? Is now the right time to downsize? Or to unload that investment property?
As the year nears its end, we’ve been running the first preliminary stats. And the findings are surprising.
So far this year, 29 single family homes have sold on the Chevy Chase side of Rock Creek Forest (up from 23 in 2014 and 19 in 2013). And the year isn’t even over yet: 4 houses are currently under contract, bringing the potential count up to 33. Another 6 houses are actively on the market, so we might very well beat the 2007 record of 33 this year!
The closed prices, however, in this year’s sales have so far ranged from $480,500 to $1,199,000, with an average of $734,810. That’s below last years average of $804,000 — although that average was skewed by an outlier (an unusual contemporary on Washington Avenue that sold for more than $1.5M).
Final judgment will be reserved until all the numbers are in, but suffice it to say that it has been a much more lively and balanced market in 2015 than what we’ve seen in the previous years. The median time on the market has been 27 Days, with only a handful of homes either getting snatched up in bidding wars or sitting for extended periods of time. On average, homes have sold at about 97% of the list price. That means sellers finally got it right!
We will look at nearby Colonial Village and Shepherd Park next.
Embrace nature in this surprising oasis! An unassuming exterior opens to beautifully renovated, open living spaces with stunning views of a landscaped 18,000 square foot lot. Backing to Rock Creek Park, the meticulously maintained home features 3 bedrooms and 3 full baths and a large walk-out lower level with in-law suite. Just a short stroll from trails, deli and shopping center. Tell your friends! You can find a Virtual Tour of the house here. For all other homes currently for sale in the Rock Creek Forest neighborhood, click here.