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.

 

1912 Brentwood Beauty Beckons

Such a cool shower!
Such a cool shower!

Cati is jealous. She’s been scoping out the only known Aladdin “Brentwood” in the District for about 4+ years now, and THE WEEKEND that it hits the market, yup, she’s out of town.  Poor thing.  Her trusty sidekick had to step in and take a peek.

And what a peek. This particular Brentwood was built in 1912 (according to the public records, that is). It’s one of the earliest kit homes here, and it hasn’t changed hands since 1923. Time capsule doesn’t begin to describe it.  Click on the link-  you’ll find pages from an Aladdin Brentwood- 1917– catalog – I don’t have access to the 1912 one just yet.  It’s pretty near perfect.  Certainly some modifications have been made over the last hundred years- though some of the alterations might be original? If you would like to learn more about kit houses (aka catalog houses), click here.

The pictures really do the talking.  If you get a chance to take a look, it’s open this Sunday, September 28 from 1-3 pm.  It’s listed with Long and Foster, though we would be happy to take you in for a look. Of course!

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A Regal Affair In Takoma Park, The “Americus” Way In Rockville

Historic mail-order home in Takoma Park

Lewis Regal in Takoma ParkAfter the recent long stretch without notable historic kit houses hitting our market area, there were a bunch in recent weeks that caught our eyes. The first one here was not a Sears product: It’s a 1925 “Regal” by the Lewis Manufacturing Company of Bay City, MI. (There’s only one other “Regal” we’re aware of, and that one can be found in Chevy Chase, DC.) Lewis had a large local sales office in DC in the early and mid-1920s and sold many of their kits to developers. The new owners would never know!Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 5.58.58 PM

This “Regal” is right in the Takoma Park MD “downtown” area and — after just a week — already under contract. It was completely renovated, and while not so much in reverence to every kit house detail (judging from old pictures, much of those might have been lost before the contractor took over), so still respectfully and beautifully. One of the upstairs bedrooms gave way to a second full bath.

You can see the 1922 catalog page here. (For the full pdf, click on the link on the page that opens.)

A couple of other kit houses are on the market in neighborhoods that are a little further from our base:

Sears Conway in CheverlyA 1925 Sears “Conway” is on the market in CheverlyAt $440,000 and less than 2 miles from the District line, this is another nice renovation, if not a restoration, that saves one of the historic kit houses. (Photos and virtual tour courtesy of MRIS.) In the front part of the house, it retains many of the original detail, while the moderate addition adds a bright family room and some space. A lovely contrast to the more soul-less Conway addition we recently saw in Glen Echo.

1924 Sears Americus in Rockville MDIn downtown Rockville, another, somewhat bigger Sears house came on the market a couple of weeks ago, a 1924 “Americus” in walking distance to the Town Center and Metro station. It’s also been expanded, though not recently, and has a fabulous backyard,. At $679,900, however, in need of some work all over and with only the one original bath, it seems priced more for the potential. You can see some pictures here. (Photos courtesy of MRIS.)

For those of you who are interested, I will post 1920s catalog images for these two houses in the next couple of days, but for now, just let us know if you want to find out more (or even see one of them).

 

 

 

 

Where The Phone Went

Mail-order home for sale in Chevy Chase
Mail-order home for sale in Chevy Chase
A 1930 Sears “Barrington” in Chevy Chase, Washington DC

The Sears “Barrington” was not a very rare or unusual model. In fact, the style was so popular in the late 1920s that several other companies, including Montgomery Wards, offered similar-looking mail-order houses.  This 1930 Sears “Barrington,” however, is just like we want to see them. We have so often complained about renovations that strip those dear old homes of their charm and character, add generic additions, or “modernize” in a way that violates the style of the house.

This house, however, which just hit the market (listed with our very own office for $1,049,000 ) is an absolutely beautiful example of how it can be done right. While there is a two-story addition in the back, it’s not out of proportion to the rest of the home. The whole design was inspired by the original part of the house, even the new window moldings are crafted to match the old ones in the front.

Just as nice is the fact that much of the historic Sears mail-order detail was preserved, even some quirky things that have long disappeared from our lifestyle. Take the built-in phone booth in the entry hall, for instance. According to the 1930 Sears catalog, it was supposed to “solve the problem” of “where will we place our phone?” That probably won’t be necessary for  2014 cordless handsets, but a great touch to respect it as part of the home’s integrity.

Phone booth in 1930 Sears catalog
Phone booth in 1930 Sears catalog

A similarly authentic piece is the corner cabinet in the dining room that came shipped with the houses neatly packed 1,000s of pieces as well. The catalog image (below) even shows the same lead glass panes.

Kitchen and baths are new, but they, too, work with the essence of the style. It certainly can be done, but it’s not usually what we get to see! And some changes to the layout might actually be practical improvements, like an arched break-through from the hall to the kitchen. Beats carrying groceries through the living room, at least in my book.

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The main stairs still sport the unique Sears-invented plinth blocks for the lay builder. There’s no doubt about the authenticity of this one!

You can see a Virtual Tour of the whole house here. And as always, if you’d like to see this historic kit house in person, just let us know and we’ll get you in!

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These plinth blocks were a unique feature only found in Sears homes. They made it easier for the amateur builder to join different kinds of molding.
These plinth blocks were a unique feature only found in Sears homes. They made it easier for the amateur builder to join different kinds of molding.

 

Do you think you live in a kit house? We’d love to hear about it:

The Fabulous Tale Of One Family’s Kit Home

History of a Sears Kit Home

History of a Sears Kit HomeAs Marcie and I have been chasing (and writing about) kit houses for a while, we’ve always been interested in their history, or better: their connection to history. sometimes, I have found an old ad in the Washington Post that advertised a house we identified, or that promoted the local mail-order offices from Sears and Lewis. Sometimes information about the people who lived there in the early years can be found, about their successes or their death.

Most of the time, however, there’s a blank. We can only speculate (and we often do!). More often than not, current kit house owners have no idea their home was built from a kit, and sometimes they have no idea what that even means. (We’ve been asked whether that meant it was “kind of manufactured” or “prefabricated.”) Other people, however, who have heard of kit homes and are excited about them, frequently have come to believe their house is a kit when in fact it’s not.

Rare House HistoryThat said, it’s always delightful to come across a real kit house history, like the one that’ so lovingly documented on this little website. The Troyers of Kansas are telling the almost 100-year old story of their Sears “Concord,” complete with lots of pictures. Gee, I love this. Really.

Romantic Rodessa in Northwest DC’s Kent

If Cati and I had our druthers, we would write about local kit houses on a weekly basis (this has  always been the goal).  Work, however, has a way of interfering with our plans.  I guess we shouldn’t complain!

So, about three weeks ago I headed out with my trusty tape measure to pay a visit to 5414 Hawthorne Place, NW in the District, right along MacArthur Blvd. Had I been a bit speedier with my posting, some of you might have chanced a visit.  As it stands now, the Sears Rodessa (see a pdf of the original catalog page here) bungalow is under contract.  Rats.

Built in 1925, this modified “Rodessa” (click here for MLS pictures) offers up 3 bedrooms and 2 full baths.  It would appear that it started off with a simple 2 bedrooms and 1 full bath (hey- count your blessings. Sears also offered a version without a privy).  Along the way, someone added some really unfortunate faux-stone siding, which remains to this day.  At the same time, they appear to have expanded the front porch to accommodate the massive FormStone® posts, so perhaps it was a good trade-off?  Naah.

Identifying this Sears Rodessa was pretty easy, given all of the clues (again, see pictures at the very bottom of this post):

  • Many exterior finishes survived the not-so-pretty faux stone dress: the exposed pegged rafters under the clipped gable roof and decorative blind boards for instance
  • The front door matches the exact classic bungalow-style door in the Sears catalog.  With 8-glass panels sitting atop a small “shelf”, this one is in the bag
  • The original Sears medicine cabinet with its plain bottom and three-member crown… a dead give-away
  • All the interior window and door trim and much of the hardware (such as the “Stratford” door plates–see pictures in the slideshow below) are preserved, and some are more unusual, for instance the “door butts” or closet hinges.  To be honest, these had us fooled, until Cati spied them in a long lost catalog
  • Many exterior finishes survived the not-so-pretty faux stone dress: the exposed pegged rafters under the clipped gable roof and decorative blind boards for instance
  • The measurements of all the (unaltered) rooms in the front of the house “check out,” meaning, a clone would not adhere to Sears specs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kent is a popular, if not sleepy little section of Washington, DC.  While it’s hard to know how the Hawthorne house came to the neighborhood, remnants of the old Capitol Transit #20 trolley line (Union Station to Cabin John) are to be found throughout the Palisades, the neighborhood next to Kent. The #20 was a popular route though the Palisades out to the Glen Echo Amusement Park. Chances are strong that the Sears kit house was transported on this very rail line.

 

 

 

 

 

If you think you’ve got a kit house, or if you are interested in living in a kit house- get in touch!  Fill out the form below, or give us a call (yup, we still answer our phones).

 

 

Sears From The Palisades To Silver Spring — A Couple Of Neat New Kit House Listings

Authentic Sears “Colchester” (a 1930s brick version of the popular “Lewiston”) kit house in Silver Spring, Maryland

No matter how busy we are, we always seem to make time to feed our kit house addiction. This week, the scouting produced  two fun early 20th century Sears mail-order houses that hit the market for sale. One of them is a 1925 “Rodessa” in the Kent neighborhood of upper Washington DC  priced at $759,000 which Marcie visited. The other — a listing from our own Evers & Co. office — is a fabulous, updated 1936s “Colchester”/”Lewiston” (pictured left) with 6 bedrooms and 3 full baths in Washington’s Silver Spring suburb, priced at $489,000.  We’ll post more pictures and some exciting details later. For now, you can get some info from the linked MLS fact sheets.

The “Rodessa,” located at 5414 Hawthorne Pl NW, has an Open House from 2 – 5 pm today — you might still make it! And if you’d like to see the “Lewiston,” just let us know!

For those of you who are celebrating the Jewish New Year tonight —  Shana Tovah!

Update on 9/21/2012: You can find the post on the Colchester/Lewiston here.

The Sears “Colchester” as seen in the company’s 1930 mail-order catalog

 

Mysterious Lights Of The North

push buttons on old light switch in washington DC

push buttons on old light switch in washington DCToday’s Photo Of The Week is a bit of a mystery, and we’re looking for help. Can you explain what this switch was designed to operate? Just the ceiling light (which would be, kind of, north of the person operating the switch)? Or does “N” stand for “no,” i.e., “off?” But if so, what’s with the NE?

Or was it part of the “heating plant?” Or perhaps it connected phone calls to different parts of the house? Or was it connected to a buzzer that summoned the maid?

We found the plate in the upper hall of a 1920s colonial in North Cleveland Park, and it appears to be original to the house that was built from plans by the DC-based Standard Homes Company. The writing that circles the “N” on the buttons on the left spells, “HART & HEGEMAN MFG CO.”

Any ideas?

The Garage In The Mail

1920s Mail-order Garage

1920s Mail-order GarageIf you ordered your house in the mail, some 90 or 100 years ago, and you had enough land (and money for a car) left, you might have wanted a garage as well.

So, not surprisingly, all the major kit house manufacturers–in the DC area mainly Sears and Lewis, but also Aladdin and Gordon-Van Tine–sold garage kits in their catalogs as well. The styles often neatly matched the homes with their exposed rafters, hipped roofs, pretty cedar siding or whatever features the house itself sported.

This blue garage here I spotted during the Takoma Park House & Garden Tour yesterday, in the backyard of a lovely Sears house. (Note that the former driveway had long been blocked by a deck; most modern cars no longer fit into these garages.)

1920s mail -order garage in catalogTrying to verify that it was indeed a kit garage, I went through stacks of 1920s catalogs last night–only to find out the model was actually sold not by Sears but by one of its biggest competitors.

“Ready-Cut Garage No. 102” was offered in the 1923 catalog of Gordon Van-Tine.

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If you own (or live in) a Sears house or other mail-order/ kit house, please click here