Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sears Elmhurst in Washington DC

Catalog image of Sears Elmhurst (1930)
Image courtesy of Judith Chabot
One of the highlights of the exploration of Sears mortgages in Washington DC was the discovery of a Sears Elmhurst! Finding an Elmhurst in Washington DC was pretty exciting because the Elmhurst is considered a rarity in the world of Sears houses. A couple of years ago, less than a handful of Elmhurst models had been identified. But the Elmhurst may not be as rare as previously thought. In recent weeks, I've been fortunate enough to be able authenticate a couple previously unknown Elmhursts and known one through mortgage records. The number of known Elmhursts is approaching double digits. While researching kit houses in the Detroit area, I came across some new information that indicates that Sears had plans to build the Elmhurst in a number of cities as a model house, a topic I'll cover in more detail in a future blog. It's possible that there's many more Sears Elmhursts still to be discovered!

The Elmhurst in Washington DC is located in northwest Washington DC roughly halfway between the National Zoo and Chevy Chase. Although quite a few Sears houses are located in and around Chevy Chase near the DC/Maryland border, this particular neighborhood has only a couple of authenticated Sears kit houses. As you can see from the photo, this Elmhurst is well-maintained and matches very well with the model as it was portrayed in the Sears Modern Homes catalog. The exterior of the house was finished with face brick, half timbers and stucco in a design that was described at the time as reflective of  "Elizabethan architecture". Many people would be surprised to learn that a house of this size and style is a Sears kit house.

 Sears Elmhurst - 2944 Brandywine
Washington DC (2015)
Photo courtesy of Catarina Bannier 
Catalog Image of Sears Elmhurst (1929)
Image courtesy of Antique Home
The Elmhurst has a number of distinctive architectural features that can assist in identifying the house, many which are visible on the front of the house. Although not visible in the catalog view, the house has a distinctive set of dormers on the side of the house where two of the bedrooms and a bathroom are located on the second floor. Look for the triple dormers as shown in the photo below.

Sears Elmhurst - 2944 Brandywine
Washington DC (2015)
Image Courtesy of Bing Maps
I discovered this Elmhurst while searching mortgage records for houses financed through Sears in Washington DC. This house was financed with a mortgage from Sears Roebuck in August 1930 for $8,500. This particular mortgage was for 15 years, which at the time represented a relatively new financial offering from Sears. Sears started offering prospective homeowners 15 year mortgages as a way to make houses more affordable during a time when the effects of the Great Depression were starting to affect home sales in the United States. Monthly payments were $72.76, slightly higher than advertised in the catalog.

The mortgage was between Joe and Ruth McCollum and one of the Sears Roebuck trustees, Edwards D. Ford. Ford worked out of Sears Roebuck's Modern Homes Division's Philadelphia office at 4640 Roosevelt Boulevard. His name appears on most of the mortgages financed through Sears in Washington DC between 1929 and 1932. Sears appears to have stopped financing homes in Washington DC near the end of 1932.

Excerpt of 1930s Sears mortgage
Image courtesy of  City of Washington DC
In 1934, the McCollums refinanced out of the Sears mortgage and they paid off their house in 1946. While I haven't researched the McCollum's history in Washington DC, Ruth McCollum was the owner of the Elmhurst 54 years later when the house was sold in 1984 for $187,000, over 20 times what it initially cost the McCollums to have their Sears kit house built. 

This is the only known Sears Elmhurst located in Washington DC. But as I noted earlier, the Elmhurst may be a more popular model than previously thought. Not all of the Sears houses in Washington DC were financed through Sears so it's possible there may be another Sears Elmhurst waiting to be discovered in the neighborhoods of Washington DC!

Update: In researching the Elmhurst model, I found that that the authors of an Images of America title on the Forest Hills section of Washington DC had identified this house as a Sears Elmhurst back in 2006. They also included some additional information about the McCollums. Glad to know that the house's history was already known to the people in Washington DC.

1 comment:

  1. I have two houses in St. Louis with Sears mortgages, that are unrecognizable models, that have that set of three pointy dormers on the side; one has other similar features to the Elmhurst (but clearly is not an Elmhurst), and the other looks like the enlarged version of a different model. I think that this model must have been popular with those who had some money, but didn't want a traditional center-hall two-story colonial, like the Lexington.
    Nice find, great research, great post :)