Haus Schwatz: Cati's DC Real Estate


How Not to Renovate Your Historically Significant Home

Seeing the house in person was a bit like an encounter with a vampire: A once charming creature, full of life, adventures and stories, had turned into a bloodless, lifeless shell, generic, functional, and ... dead.

Not that I ever have encountered a vampire, but you will get my point here very soon.

For the past few weeks, I have been scrutinizing new listings in our area--in particular, houses built in the 1920s--for their kit home potential. Imagine my excitement last week when I came across a 1923 Sears "Fullerton" that's for sale right now--in a NE Washington D.C. neighborhood near Catholic University.

According to Mary Rowse, a much-quoted expert on mail-order homes in the DC area, there are only a couple of confirmed Fullertons left in the area. That was one of the reasons for the (unsuccessful) initiative to save the Palisade's Jesse Baltimore house from getting torn down. (This website explains in detail the significance of the Sears "Fullerton" model.) The multi-year fight was lost in 2007, and as of that date, four Fullertons remained. As it turned out, one of them happened to be the one at 2115 Monroe St NE that is now for sale.

The MLS listing promised a "totally renovated" house which even the "pickiest buyer' would love: "NEW NEW NEW!! Everything is brand new." Of course, this should have been a tip-off.

Yes, we were warned by murky pictures that raised the suspicion the narrow cypress siding might have been replaced by vinyl. Much of the wood trim and molding seemed to have been, ehm, modified. The fireplace looked like generic builder's issue, but perhaps that picture was taken in the basement? (The 'blue" picture, taken from an old listing,

shows the house in 1998--still with its original windows and and trim.)

In any case, nothing could curb our enthusiasm when we took off to look at one of DC's last Fullertons. And nothing prepared us for what we got to see. It was incredibly sad.

My Dover reprint of the 1926 Sears catalog depicts the Fullerton living room interior with crown molding, picture molding, Arts-and-Crafts door frames and stair posts, and a traditional wooden fireplace mantle.

What we got to see last week, on the other hand, was unadorned drywall and awkwardly crafted arches; a dining room chopped in half by the insertion of a powder room; purple builders' carpet in the bedrooms; a wrought iron railing that replaced the massive wooden one; hollow-core doors; pre-assembled wood floors in the living room, a cheap folding door next to the fireplace.

But why? Why tear it all out?

I emailed the photos to Mary Rowse. "Oh, no," she said. And then, with a glimpse of hope: "Maybe they just put that vinyl on top, and the old siding and window moldings are still in place?"

I wouldn't bet on it. This poor old house has not only lost its soul. It has lost its body as well.

(If "new, new, new" is your preference: 2115 Monroe St NE is on the market for $469,000. I'll be happy to show it to you.)

© 2012, Catarina Bannier


Comment balloon 9 commentsCatarina Bannier • December 20 2011 01:18AM
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