This is the story of an “average,” nearly 100 year old house in the Brightwood neighborhood of Washington, DC. (Note: I’m not going to opine, complain, berate or otherwise judge the financial developments or the “improvements” that have been made to the place over time.) To enlarge the pictures, click on the thumb nails.
The foursquare-style house was one of several on its one-block street that were built in the spring of 1924 by local developers George and Golda Warner. The Warners had picked out the design from a catalog provided by Guy Zepp, the DC representative of the Lewis Manufacturing Company of Bay City, MI. Zepp also helped to finance the purchase with an initial mortgage for $2,000.
The Warners then, after less than 4 months of planning and construction, sold the house to its first real owners, Milton and Edna Flanders, a couple in their thirties with two young boys, Richard and Robert. We don’t know what the sales price was, but the mortgage amounted to $4,500.
Milton and Edna ended up owning their house for 36 years. In 1930, according to census data, Milton was an instructor at the Bliss Electrical School in Takoma Park. The family owned a radio set, and the home’s value was now estimated at $8,500.
Richard completed his studies in military aviation mechanics in 1943. We assume that he was deployed to the front after that.
While the Flanders’ took only 3 years to pay off their house, they must have been dismayed by the identical home next door. Built at the same time, it had already been foreclosed upon in 1926 and had seen a steady stream of owners and renters. The series of newspaper ads allow a glimpse at social changes over time:
Back to our subject property, however: A certain Dolores Bowles finally bought the house in January of 1960 (mortgage amount: $8,500), only to sell it again within less than 3 months. Did she not like the house? Or the neighborhood? Did she lose her job? Renovating and flipping was less likely a scenario in those years.
Next owners Penny and Leslie Thigpen lived there for more than two decades, until 1983, when they conveyed the home to a couple and their “unmarried” adult daughter. No more names now, as a series of mortgage defaults, family bail-outs, a reverse mortgage and utility liens finally lead to foreclosure. Fannie Mae bought the house in 2000. The rehabilitation took almost a year, until owners #5 purchased the newly renovated home for $180,000. By now, the house was more than 75 years old. It looked almost like it did on day 1.
The first owners of the 21st century made all kinds of improvements that
got rid of modernized many of the original period details. They left the anatomy of the house itself intact, but at the end of their tour, the house looked crowded and mismatched. A dated look came mainly from the unbefitting “modern” elements. The hardwood floors were covered with red wall-to-wall carpets.
In 2012, another Renovation LLC (not the name) performed a contemporary flip of the kind that we frequently see in neighborhoods that are considered “transitional.” The result is a very pretty, utterly streamlined renovation that got rid of most of the first floor walls and made sure there was not the slightest hint left at the homes origins as a historic kit house. (Purchased for slightly above $300k, re-sold for nearly $500k.)
We’d bet that the current (and 7th) owner, a young government press spokeswoman, has likely never heard of the amazing mail-order homes from Aladdin, Lewis or Sears that were such a unique staple of the early 20th century development in many American cities. Or at least doesn’t know she lives in one.