Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sears Mortgages of Washington DC

Image courtesy of Wendy Harman
Washington DC, USA
(March from the Tidal Basin) [CC BY 2.0]
I recently shared a post about discovering and authenticating Sears houses by searching mortgage records for catalog houses that were financed through Sears. Normally that process is very time intensive, requiring quite a bit of research to match mortgages with homes. But recently, I had the good fortune to come across a database of mortgage records that made the process of researching go much more quickly. This database of mortgage records was for properties located in Washington DC. In about 2 weeks time, I was able to review around 300 mortgage and deed records. For comparison, it took me almost a year to research around 500 mortgages in Oakland County, Michigan.

The big difference in researching mortgages for the two locations is that Washington DC has digitized and indexed all of their property records going back to 1921. That fact enable me to quickly get a list of hundreds of Sears mortgages and view those original mortgages for names and property description from the comfort of home. With that information, in most cases, I was able to use other online resources from the city to quickly locate the current location of the home. While I don't have an exact number, a significant percentage of the Sears houses that had mortgages are still standing and are recognizable as specific Sears models.

Sears Americus
2425 Newton St NE - Washington DC
Image courtesy of Google Maps (2011)
Washington DC has an active group of kit house researchers who have identified and in some cases authenticated some of these and other Sears houses using methods like finding stamped lumber or locating building permits with Sears listed as the architect. Still, I believe that quite a few of these homes were not previously known to local researchers or had not been positively identified as Sears houses. I had help from Catarina Bannier, a real estate agent and a kit house researcher from the Washington DC area. Catarina shared the research she had already done on kit houses in Washington DC and helped me ID some of the houses through archived real estate photos. Without Catarina's help, I wouldn't have identified as many houses as I did.

Sears Barrington
2908 Rittenhouse St NW - Washington DC
Image courtesy of Catarina Bannier 
To date, the number of identified Sears houses with mortgages in Washington DC is 242. These 242 houses represent 78 different models. The oldest mortgage in the list dates back to 1919 and the most "recent" is from 1933. Unlike in Oakland County, where the mortgages included a few of the more rare Sears models, the 78 models listed here are models that have been located elsewhere in the county. Still, some of the models have only been located in a handful of communities, like the Honor (and there's another Honor in DC without a mortgage) and the Elmhurst. Also, unlike in Oakland County where modest houses tended to be the most popular, the most popular models in Washington DC were larger houses.

The most popular houses by model are:

1. Americus - 17
2. Gladstone - 14
3. Vallonia - 13
4. Rosita - 11
5. Conway - 9
6. Fullerton - 7
6. Westly - 7
6. Woodland - 7

Sears Martha Washington
3907 Huntington St NW - Washington DC
Image courtesy of Google Maps (2014)
The list displays a strong preference for the "American Foursquare" style house. Four of the top eight models are based on the traditional "foursquare" design. Another trend in the numbers was a preference for the "Dutch Colonial Revival" style models. A number of homes based on this style were built in Washington DC including five "Martha Washington"s and five "Rembrandt"s. One difference I noticed between the DC list and those in Oakland County was the dearth of some of the popular transitional period models (1926 - 1932) like the Dover and the Maplewood. Time will tell whether this reflected a regional preference or just the collective preference of buyers in Washington DC. Finally, in the noteworthy column are several Alhambras (also based on a foursquare design) and a Windermere, a large two-family model.

The following is a list of all of the identified Sears houses with mortgages in Washington DC by model and the number of each model identified.

#2024 - 1
Alhambra - 4
Americus - 17
Ardara - 1
Avondale - 1
Barrington - 5 + 2 with Brookwood-style front windows
Bedford - 5
Berwyn - 2
Brookwood - 1
Clyde - 2
Columbine - 1
Conway - 9
Cornell - 5
Crafton - 2
Crescent - 5
Crestwood - 1
Delmar - 1
Dundee - 1
Elmhurst - 1
Elsmore - 1
Flossmoor - 1
Fullerton - 7
Galewood - 2
Gateshead - 1
Gladstone - 14
Hamilton - 1
Hampton - 2
Hathaway - 1
Homestead - 1
Honor - 1
Josephine - 1
Kilbourne - 5
Langston - 1
Lewiston - 2
Lexington (3255) - 1
Lynnhaven - 1
Madelia - 1
Mansfield -1
Maplewood - 1
Marina - 2
Martha Washington - 4
Norwood - 1
Oak Park - 1
Oakdale - 4
Olivia - 3
Preston - 1
Priscilla - 2
Puritan - 6
Rembrandt - 5
Roanoke - 2
Rochelle - 1
Rockford - 2
Rodessa - 5
Rosita - 11
Sheridan - 1
Solace - 3
Somerset - 2
Starlight - 5
Sunlight - 4
Uriel - 6
Vallonia - 13
Van Jean - 2
Van Page - 1
Verona - 2
Walton - 4
Wellington - 2
Westly - 7
Westwood - 1 
Wexford - 4
Whitehall - 2
Willard - 1
Wilmore - 1
Windermere - 1
Windsor - 4
Winona - 1
Winthrop - 3
Woodland - 7
Worchester - 1

In future posts, I plan on looking in depth at a handful of these models. But my hope is that many of these homes will be featured on the blogs of DC-based kit house researchers, like Catarina, who can provide more insight into the places and people associated with these homes.

Updated on March 11, 2016 to reflect additional houses located in Washington DC
Updated on March 22, 2016 to update totals
Updated on September 10, 2016 to update totals
Updated on November 21, 2016 to update totals
Updated on November 25, 2016 to update totals


  1. Not that many Crescents... good work, Andrew! You are the man when it comes to mortgages.

  2. Thanks! It was surprising to see the mix of models in Washington DC. It's different than what we've seen elsewhere.

  3. This is, of course, absolutely fabulous research. I bow my head to thee :) So glad to have you in our group.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing those houses, especially that Elmhurst. The Americus you show here is gorgeous.

    1. It's a great group! The Elmhurst post should be up soon!

  4. Great research, Andrew. It's interesting to compare which models were popular in different areas of the country. Looking forward to seeing more about your finds in D.C.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Is there any of this houses open for a tour? I'd love a chance to see and learn more. Thanks.

    1. Emerson - I would reach out to Catarina Bannier at http://dchousecat.com/. She's in the DC area and she's familiar with these houses. She may be able to assist with finding opportunities to tour kit houses.