Historic House Is Yours Free, But There's A Catch In an effort to save a tiny 1920s Sears kit house from demolition, architects are offering it free to anyone who can move it to another property. Current owners of the Arlington, Va., plot want to build a bigger home where the kit house stands.

Historic House Is Yours Free, But There's A Catch

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People order shoes, laptops, all kinds of stuff over the Web these days. But in the early 1900s, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold kits to be made into homes. In Arlington, Va., one was set to be bulldozed. But an architectural firm is so determined to save it, the house is being given away for free. NPR's Allison Keyes explains.

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: Preservation buff Eric Dobson and architect Paola Lugli stood in the freezing cold on the lawn in front of the 960-square-foot house, flipping through a replica of a Sears catalog.

PAOLA LUGLI: You guys said it's a Wellington? I think it's...

KEYES: It is a Wellington, a style of homes sold by Sears in 1926 through its mail-order modern homes program. Dobson explains how it worked.

ERIC DOBSON: You'd order everything from your light fixtures to your lamp, the wall covering that would go on there, kitchen cabinets, the whole thing; whether you get a garage or not. And then it was just shipped to you.

KEYES: The house is small but cute; with a living room, dining room, two bedrooms and an unfinished basement. It's also got its original fireplace. Lugli's client bought the property for $750,000 but didn't want to live in the house. Architect Lugli and her business partner decided they wanted to preserve the bungalow rather than demolish it.

LUGLI: So we thought, why not move it? Let's move it.

KEYES: She says they were thinking of something more elastic then simply preserving it or demolishing it. Maybe someone could use it as a coffee shop or an art center.

LUGLI: We are from Italy, and we respect historic structure; and we want them to have continued life - new life, different life.

DOBSON: We have somewhere between 100 and 200 of these in Arlington County.

KEYES: Preservationist Dobson says the little houses date from a period when Arlington was a working-class community, but they're disappearing. What was then called Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold more than 70,000 of the mail-order homes between 1908 and 1940. Arlington County's historic preservation coordinator, Cynthia Liccese-Torres, explains that railroad lines are one reason the small bungalows were so popular in this area.

CYNTHIA LICCESE-TORRES: There was a train stop not too far from here. And so the materials would be delivered, and then whoever was purchasing the kit would have them shipped to the building lot.

KEYES: She thinks it's important to preserve the house because it's part of Arlington's character.

LICCESE-TORRES: This typifies the types of homes that were originally built here, and being able to reuse just shows how they're still viable even in the 21st century.

KEYES: But Lugli's partner, architect Paola Amodeo, says moving the house is a project.

PAOLA AMODEO: The house, as it is, gets lifted off. All the walls, the doors - everything comes with it. (Laughter) And you put it on a truck and move it.

KEYES: She says it won't be cheap, either.

AMODEO: Just to put it on a truck and move it locally, it's about $30,000.

LUGLI: It's 24 feet wide by 36 - about that - so it's feasible. Obviously, it's a little work involved.

KEYES: Just a tad.


LUGLI: Just a tad, but yeah.

KEYES: The architects say they've gotten nearly 150 emails, and they're scheduling meetings about the Sears house.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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