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.


A Once Beloved Westly Worth Saving

Westly catalog house

Kit House of the Week 3/4/2016

Sears Westly Kit house in chevy chase
A Sears “Westly” with a stormy history in Chevy Chase, DC

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.

To see the original Sears Catalog Page, click here. For photos of other DC area Westlys, click here. (For more photos of the house, scroll down to the gallery)

House History

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.

September 1930 ad from the Washington Evening Star
September 1930 ad from the Washington Evening Star

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.)

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.

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*Catalog images provided courtesy of Internet Archive.