Dear PoPville – Advice on Restoring my Manor Park (built in 1927) home’s interior to its original style

Photo by PoPville flickr user Obvy09

“Dear PoPville,

I recently bought a home in Manor Park (built in 1927) and would like to restore the interior to its original style. I’ve tried googling “DC style homes 1927” and nothing relevant pops up. Do you know where I can go to get original photos of DC streets/homes “back in the day?”

I would start by going to the public library’s Washingtoniana Collection. You can also dig around Shorpy and the Library of Congress too. Where else should they look?

22 Comment

  • I’d start with the DC House History workshop:

    • The D.C. House History workshop is fantastic, but I’m not sure it’s likely to give the OP any insight as to what the _interior_ of his/her house would have looked like.
      I’d try asking the Washingtoniana librarian(s?) at the MLK library. Also, if you’ve had a chance to meet any of your neighbors, you might ask if they could give you a “house tour” sometime. Obviously most houses aren’t going to have interiors that look now like they did in 1927, but seeing similar houses may help you triangulate what the original layout would have been, what kind of woodwork there is/was, etc. And as Anon Reply pointed out, if there are any neighboring houses that are unrenovated (or minimally unrenovated), those will give you a good idea of what your house might’ve looked like.

      • You’re right about triangulation: I used to live in a row of 80 year old mass-built houses in another city, and thought that my bathroom had to have been updated. Then I got to know the neighbors and found that every house that didn’t have an obviously new bathroom had the same tile as mine… so very likely original. They knew how to build ’em to last back then!

      • Oops, that should have been “minimally renovated,” not “minimally UNrenovated.”

  • This is a long shot — but you might want to ask your neighbors. Some of them might remember details themselves, or might remember details that their relatives mentioned, and could possibly have pictures. For example, I remember visiting my grandmother’s house when I was little, and having my mother point out things like the cedar closet, the coal chute, the gas lamps, the gas logs in the fireplace, and the area where the “telephone table” was placed. I’m not sure what kinds of details you’re interested in , but as a kid, I was fascinated by the idea of “wallpaper” as opposed to paint, and having a “parlor” as opposed to a living room. If that’s the sort of thing you have in mind, it might be possible to talk to someone who remembers such details first-hand.

  • I’d consult with a professional. Google “architectural restorers” instead.

    You might also find some good reference books under the resource section at OldHouses dot com.

  • If you are on a corner or close to it, you might be able to get an outside shot via the John P. Wymer Photograph Collection at the DC Historical Society. It has photos taken of DC intersections from 1948 to 1952. I got lucky and my house was there and the photo solved a few questions. They might also be helpful with more photos of/information on interiors as well.

  • I used to live in an house like this one, built on Porter Street NW in 1925.
    It is a very standard model of house that you can find throughout the DC area, where they are called “Federal style row/attach houses”.

    The DC House History workshop should not have to much trouble finding infos about this model of house.

  • For DIY interior research go to the Washingtoniana Division at the MLK Library and peruse the period newspapers on microfilm. The Saturday editions covers real estate.

    • ^^ This guy knows his stuff and helped me in the past on a quirky issue with my house (finding permits when it had been physically relocated).
      A couple thoughts on your quest:
      -Check real estate listings for similar houses. Especially the pre-flipped ones may have original details. I have gone back to houses we looked at to steal pictures of vintage bathrooms, etc. Like pinterest for houses (and without the chocolate-dipped recipes!)
      -In the past, had items broken out by period. So I was able to look through lamps and whatnot and say “yes, this looks like other things in our house, but these do not”.

      Good luck!

  • Oh, too bad I didn’t see this a few years ago! Our previous owners did a big reno in the 80s that involved lots of mirrored walls. As we slowly removed all the mirrors in the house over past few years, we have found all sorts of amazing 1930s wallpaper–bright flowers, orange and black velvet, you name it. If you just look at some 1920s-30s era home decor in historic magazines you might get a sense of what the middle class family was going for back then.

    Or, I agree–ask neighbors. Or go to open houses of non-renovated places. We did that a few times and it was helpful.

  • Its a little weird that you would want to restore your house to look like something you’ve admittedly never seen. If you don’t know what a house of that era looked like, then why are you trying to restore it to that style?

    • Houses with interiors that been renovated in a particular style that’s neither today’s style nor the house’s original style don’t tend to look so good — think a 1910s-1920s house renovated in the late 1960s to cover the walls with the vertical wood (faux wood?) paneling that was popular at the time. Or a house of similar vintage where the wooden floors have been covered in 1970s harvest-gold carpet.

  • We are doing the same with our 1911 house. I agree with many of the other commenters. We attended the house history workshop and were even able to find the original drawings and plans of our exact house. We also looked at a neighbor’s unrenovated house and at real estate listings in our area to get a better idea.
    We ended up being very lucky that the idiots who redid our house just put new stuff on top of the old stuff so we uncovered original 1900s wallpaper when we tore down the drywall in our dining room. We also uncovered original tile floor in our bathroom under many layers (it was the awesome white penny tile).
    Community Forklift in Hyattsville is a great resource. There are many pieces of original woodwork/mantles/hardware. We got super lucky and found a set of 1900s newel posts in almost perfect condition (the fancy carved ones).
    Finally, we hired a contractor who is well versed in restoration work. He knew what all the woodwork would have looked like and was able to advise us what to get to make it as close as possible.

  • Dover Publications can be a good resource for period architectural details. Here’s this one:

  • I’d suggest searching the LOC’s Chronicling America historic newspaper database. It has digitized newspapers from 1836 to 1922. I’ve been able to find advertisements for the sale of many rowhomes, often the ads feature images of the interior. The pictures are tiny and not the highest resolution, but they’re an okay jumping off point. Although the database doesn’t include the year your house was built, you might be able to find ads for similar homes built around that time. Here are two sample ads showing the interior of homes in Petworth/Park View in 1911:

  • The DC historical society has a nice collection of photographs and street plats during this time . Searchable by neighborhood

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