Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The "Wishmaker's House"

While doing some historical research a few weeks ago, I found this neat old ad for a home here in Four Corners.  On September 27th 1940, this advertisement for the "Wishmaker's House" appeared in The Washington Post.  The advertised home is located in Indian Spring Village, a new subdivision along Old Bladensburg Road in Four Corners, and the listed address is "1 Williambsurg Drive".  If the subdvsion name and address seem odd to some folks, that is because the name "Indian Spring Village has all but fallen out of use and the address "1 Willimabsurg Drive" no longer exists, but this home certainly does.    


Advertisement for the Wishmaker's House in Indian Spring Village.  Image from "Silver Spring, Maryland: residential development of a Washington suburb, 1920-1955", which is a research thesis dating to the 1990's by Stephanie Ann Sechrist. 



While Indian Spring Village is not a prominent name today, it comprises nearly half of the neighborhood now known as Woodmoor.

All homes between St Lawrence Drive and Whitestone Road are part of the subdivision of Indian Spring Village.  This subdivision was developed by a different development company than Woodmoor, and it was originally a unique neighborhood.  The Woodmoor subdivision was located located north and west of this development, with Hillmoor Drive forming its southern edge.  Today, that separation has been mostly forgotten, and few realize that the area know as Woodmoor today consists of at least 4 separately named subdivisions built by different developers at different times (in this case, Indian Spring Village was constructed by the aptly named "Indian Spring Village Inc.").  We'll have more on this interesting history of development in a later post.

Also noteworthy in this ad is the numbering system.  The home is listed as "1 Williamsburg Drive", but was renumbered at some point to "100 Williamsburg Drive".  In the 1940's and 50's, multiple streets in and around Four Corners were renamed or renumbered to conform with countywide and regional numbering systems.  This was largely done to eliminate confusion from duplicate street names, and to make mail delivery easier.  Also, as neighborhoods grew, it made more sense to adopt a hundred block numbering system instead of a consecutive system, hence why number 1 became number 100.  

Below is a zoomed in version of the text portion of the ad.  The quality of the scan isn't the best, so some of it is difficult to read, but there are still many interesting legible details.  The majority of the space is spent describing the features of the home and its location.

Description of the home from the advertisement.

A couple phrases that stood out to me are the following:
"...a restricted community of nearly 100 wooded acres facing Indian Spring Golf Club."
I assume this meant that no racial or ethnic minorities were permitted in Indian Spring Village at the time.  The Fair Housing Act was 28 years away when this home went up for sale in 1940, so its not surprising that the subdivision was far from inclusive given the era.  Given the Golf Club reference, it is pretty obvious who the target demographic were; upper and middle class white families looking to move out of the city and into the country.  Most housing subdivisions of this era had some form of restrictive covenants to prevent African Americans and other minorities from owning homes, and the Federal Housing Administration made it almost impossible for minorities to be approved for loans to buy new suburban homes.  It was a grim part of our history that is thankfully behind us, though its legacy remains in many ways.
"...combines the beauty of Colonial architecture with the modern appointments so necessary to today's standard of living"
In many ways, this sentiment was a precursor to the ideals of the post-war housing boom which would occur 5 years later.  Suburbs were still a fairly new concept in 1940.  There are example of traditional streetcar suburbs like Riverdale Park and Takoma Park that date to the late 1800's, but those were laid out as traditional mixed-use towns, with all the facets of life nearby.  This home was located in what would be known as a subdivision, a single-use area dedicated to housing alone, with commercial functions taking place on the periphery of the community.  These new suburbs often evoked traditional colonial style, as this home does, to give the impression that the owners had their own colonial mansion in the countryside while enjoying the nearby amenities of the city.  While this may sound silly today, this ideal was the impetus behind much of the colonial architecture found in early suburban neighborhoods like this.  Everyone could have their own little colonial estate with all the modern features available at the time.  It was a very appealing concept.          


The house as it appeared in 2012.  Image from Google Streetview.

The next sentence I found interesting contains the directions.   
"To Reach: At traffic light in Silver Spring, take Colesville Pike easterly past golf course to Four Corners, then right one-quarter mile to property entrance on left."
These directions would be very hard to follow nowadays, perhaps only intelligible to those who are well-versed in local history.  The "traffic light in Silver Spring" refers to the intersection of Colesville and Georgia in what is now called downtown Silver Spring.  The advertisement assumes the reader lives in the District, since that was by far the biggest municipality in the region at the time.  "Colesville Pike" is now Colesville Road, and few people would say it travels in an "easterly" direction, since it goes far more north than east, and is identified as a north-south route these days.

The next bit, "past golf course to Four Corners" would also be very confusing to today's reader, as the golf course hasn't existed on that spot since about 1960 when it relocated for Beltway construction.  Colesville Road used to form the western boundary of the course, whose main entrance was at the no longer existent intersection of Colesville Road and Forest Glen Road (the two roads met about where the north side of the Colesville Road Beltway bridge is today).  The "right one-quarter mile" would today be a right turn onto University Boulevard, an previously would have been a right turn onto Old Bladensburg Road at a much smaller Four Corners intersection (the current westbound lanes of University was were Old Bladensbuirg Road was located, the current eastbound lanes used to be part of the golf course).  


Wishmaker's House as seen in this 19577 aerial image of the area.  The Indian Spring Country Club was right across Old Bladensburg Road from the home.

The same view today.  The country club property has since been divided up, with much of it now comprising Blair, the Beltway, and Fire Station 16.  Image from Google Earth.

This advertisement is a great window into the history of our community and the neighborhood, as well as the era it was published in.  What do you notice about the ad?  



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