Kit House of the Week 3/4/2016
Facts & Figures:
Manufacturer: Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Model Number or Name: The Westly
Year Built: 1926
Neighborhood: Chevy Chase, DC
Authenticated: Yes. Sears mortgage for $6,000 recorded on 1/19/1926.
This Sears “Westly” right across the street from Lafayette Elementary is not technically on the market. But since it was last year (and has been vacant for years), it’s probably still for sale. Or not. But we’ll get to that.
The house was originally bought in 1926 by Elmer and Eula Sours. Elmer was a carpenter by trade, so we can assume that he was one of the few Chevy Chase kit house owners who actually put the house together by himself. This makes it even stranger that the mortgage was so high; the catalog price for the house was only $2,614 in 1926, and there was a second deed of trust over $3,600 for the land purchase at one of DC’s new prime suburban addresses on Broad Branch Road. The garage and plumbing or foundation cost could hardly make up the difference.
And the problems started soon: the Sours and their daughter, Margaret, only lived in the house for a year before an equity suit from a family member (more debt?! Perhaps there were gambling or other problems at play?) forced them to sell the property back to the land developer and pay off the Sears mortgage. They moved back to Virginia.
The house stayed on the books as a rental ($110 in 1930!) with Fulton Gordon.
It wasn’t until 1943 when a loving family of musical foreigners, Denise and Conrad Bernier, finally bought it and moved in with their two young sons, Claude and Jacques. The Berniers, “aliens” in the 1940 census would own the house for 66 long years. Conrad was a French Canadian organist, composer and music professor who played many concerts in DC and elsewhere. Denise was the daughter of a Spanish opera singer and a French woman. She taught both Spanish and French at Holton Arms for many years. Denise lived to be 107; she died in 2012, only a few years after selling the house to the current owner.
What happened after that, is a bit of a mystery. It seems the house was lived in from about 2009-2011, but for the past 5 years, the started renovation has come to a standstill. (I took some of the pictures here in 2012.) It is quite apparent, that the owner made great effort to preserve some of the details. According to neighbors, he did much of it by himself but must have run out of money and time. He never moved back into the house. Last year, it was on the market for a while, but at a price that didn’t reflect the current state. Local historians were concerned with the fact that the Realtor advertised the listing as a potential teardown. We suspect that, deep in his heart, the owner doesn’t really want to let go of his “Westly.”
A savior is needed here, and as we know, it probably all comes down to the price. Doesn’t it?
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 the Washington, DC 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.)
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*Catalog images provided courtesy of Internet Archive.