The All-American Americus

Foxhall kit house for rent
A 1925 “Americus” from Sears Roebuck currently for rent on Foxhall Rd in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Harding Polk and Jennifer Drews of Compass via MLS

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.

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As always, if you’d like to see the rentable Americus, or any other home on the market, just give us a shout! (For my collection of historic kit houses currently for sale in the DC area, click here.) Happy Holidays!

Please use the form to tell us about your discoveries, about any house history you can share, or let us know about any kit houses coming on the market:

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What The Windsor Went Through

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.

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As always, if you’d like to see the renovated Windsor, or any other home on the market, just give us a shout! (For my collection of historic kit houses currently for sale in the DC area, click here.)

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In the following form, please tell us about your discoveries, any house history you can share, and let us know about any kit houses coming on the market:

 

 

Relive “Early American Qualities” Today

Colonial Village Shepherd Park homes for sale
2007 Plymouth St NW in DC’s Colonial Village neighborhood

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.

The house at 2007 Plymouth St NW, currently offered at $1,075,000, was one of those homes. It’s been updated and expanded since but offers an abundance of neat original details such as a total of 5 (4 original) fireplaces and beautiful library built-ins that were featured in the Evening Star’s real estate section when the home was built.

We’re holding it open today from 2 – 4 pm, so please stop by. Who do you know who is looking for a great Colonial Village home? For a current 2017 collection of Colonial Village homes (on the market or under contract) please click here.

 

The “Azalea Man’s” Modest Abode

Time set the record straight. After a WTOP story on “DC’s Million Dollar Kit Houses” ran earlier this year, and sometimes after we write about kit houses for sale that are priced even higher than that, we receive messages from unhappy readers reminding us that the majority of existing historic mail-order homes, even in our area, will not sell for a million dollars.

Of course, that’s true. We got emails from owners in Hyattsville and Anacostia, describing the pride they took in preserving their Sears homes. And perhaps we don’t venture off to other parts of town often enough. But the truth is, we’ve lately been focusing on the Chevy Chase kit houses for a reason, and ironically, it’s often easier to find well-preserved architectural features in historically higher priced neighborhoods.

So today, we’re taking you to DC’s Woodridge, where a sweet Sears “Windsor” from 1922 just hit the market for $399,000. The place could actually be a great deal for first-time buyers who want to stay close in. It’s about a mile from the Rhode Island (Red Line) Metro station, about 3 miles from downtown DC, close to parks, shopping and dining, and it has a WalkScore of 80 (“Very Walkable”). The price is 18% below the 3rd quarter median ($485,500) for the 20018 zip code, and the lot is large; it even has a well-groomed rose garden! [continued below the photos]

 

The Windsor was a popular bungalow-style house with Arts and Crafts elements, but it was one of the smaller of such models. How about the first owners? Were they end users who put the home together with friends and family in order to live in it like most of the purchasers of more modest kit houses? Or was it a developer who built the house on spec, according to what might have sold best in the neighborhood?

Turns out it was neither. The first owners were Benjamin Edwards, according to the 1930 census a Kentucky-born “Real Estate Operator,” and his wife Amanda. They owned and sold lots of properties in the 1920s. This particular home was built as an investment property, although it wasn’t rented out for too long. The Edwards financed the construction with an original 5-year mortgage from Sears of $3800, which wasn’t released until 1927 but which they simply passed on in the form of another mortgage to Evelyn and Joseph Gilmore, who bought the house in 1924. Yes, today, this would be considered fraudulent.

Joseph Gilmore, a young WW I vet, became the “Azalea Man,” a local celebrity who was widely credited with bringing the flowering bushes – which now color practically every corner of the city each April – to Washington. He cultivated Azaleas in his garden, and his customers won flower shows, but during the day he worked at the nearby railroad repair yard. In fact, his wife Evelyn, a clerk, made more money than he did. According to his Washington Post obituary, the couple lived in their “modest home” until Joseph died there of a heart attack in 1951.

We didn’t notice any azaleas, but there certainly are dozens of rose bushes lining the yard.

(For my collection of historic kit houses currently for sale in the DC area, click here.)

 

Launching the Chevy Chase Kit House Database

chevy chase mail-order houses - map
Click on the image for our interactive kit house map with house photos and catalog pages

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:

One of Chevy Chase DC’s three picture-perfect Sears “Puritans,” decked out for Halloween

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!

Magnificent Malvern

1922 Lewis Mfg. Co. “Malvern” mail-order homes in DC’s AU Park neighborhood

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.

The same house in an MLS photo from 2005 before the renovation (photo courtesy of MRIS)

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.)

 

 

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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:

*Catalog images provided courtesy of Internet Archive.

We Made A Move

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!

A Variety Of Vallonias

Sears house in Maryland
The Brookmont Sears & Roebuck “Vallonia” in 2012

Time to confess: we’re not always failproof when it comes to the authentication of historic kit houses. There’s the case of the “Vexing Vallonia” for instance, that Marcie called a possible “Sears knock-off.”  It wasn’t vexing for too long, though. A few years later, we found a Sears mortgage for the original purchase and construction of the mail-order home.

So this time around, as the house is on the market again, renovated five years ago and quite obviously cherished by the new owners since then, there’s no doubt the house is the real deal! And while the fake “brick” sheet asphalt siding might have been original, the vinyl siding that replaced it is actually a lot more becoming (hard to believe I just said that, isn’t it?). The kitchen has been opened up to include one of the first-floor bedrooms, there’s an airy “morning room” addition, and the house overall is bright and inviting. It just hit the market for $1,200,000, and the listing‘s 3-D tour (courtesy of Redfin) lets you take a closer look at a lot of the little details, old or new. (You can find a 1920s catalog image and floor plan for comparison here.)

 

The deceivingly spacious, 4-5-bedroom “Vallonia,” was one of the more popular models from the Sears catalog, at least in this area. As of today, there are six known Vallonias still standing in Washington, DC. Another seven, including the Ridge Drive one, are on our list for the DC suburbs. Incidentally, one of my weirdest real estate moments years back occurred when I was trying to show this Vallonia in College Park, MD.

Simon and Kathryn in front of their Langdon/Woodridge Vallonia

Of course, the puzzling Vallonia encounter also happened during the early years of this blog. The internet and lots of gadgets have brought researchers and resources much closer; we’ve learned so much more over the past five years. And the messages, emails, tips, and photos from our readers have educated us more, one house at a time. Just a couple of weeks ago, for instance, I got a message from a fellow Realtor, Simon Sarver, who told me he was the proud owner of a Vallonia in DC’s Langdon neighborhood. There was no mention of the home’s origins when he bought the house a couple of years ago. That it might be a kit house only dawned on him much later when he saw a similar house in a Pinterest post. There’s a lot of original detail in the house–hopefully, we’ll get to document it one day.

In the meantime, check out this  DC Vallonia which was listed for over $1M and just went under contract in the Foxhall neighborhood near Georgetown hospital. And here are a few more of our local Vallonias:

Sears house in Palisades DC
A Vallonia in DC’s Palisades
Vallonia in Bethesda
A Vallonia in East Bethesda

 

 

 

 

Vallonia in Takoma Park MD
A Vallonia in Takoma Park MD

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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 Favorite DC Kit House

Yes, it’s true — this Aladdin “Pomona” is still one of our favorites. It’s not too far from our office, and we’ve watched the current owners of 8 years renovate and expand it, in a beautiful and sensitive way. At least that’s what it looked like from the outside. We once knocked at the door and even left a note for the owner about the home’s history (built in 1921 by one Charlotte E. Haskell, it was another woman-owned DC kit house in its day), but we’d never seen the inside until now.

The “Pomona” hit the market for $1,399,000 yesterday, and it’s just as beautiful inside as out. The updates are sleek and have brought the home into the 21st century, but they don’t violate its core or completely sacrifice its architectural integrity, even though the floor plan and size have been significantly expanded. (Yes, some bungalow purists might disagree on this. But the reality is that in high price neighborhoods, the alternative might be a tear down. And we’d always take an awesome house over the destruction of history.)

You can find a listing summary here and the MLS photos here.

Catalog image courtesy of the Clarke Historic Library: Aladdin Pomona-1919_fall_annual_sales_catalog

How Not To Build Your Home

Something tells us this is not how it went with those Sears kit houses, at least not most of the time. Apart from the fact that the 1950s weren’t quite the right time for it either, we hope that most guys who asked their buddies or family for help with this were luckier (scene from Jean Shepherd’s 1976 movie “Phantom Of The Open Hearth“). Have fun!