Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ October 2009

Northwood Park’s ‘New York World’s Fair Home’

By David S. Rotenstein

For a few months in 1939, the North Four Corners neighborhood hosted throngs of tourists as they visited the only exact replica of one of the demonstration homes in the 1939 New York World’s Fair “Town of Tomorrow.”  House No. 15, dubbed the “Triple-Insulated Home” by manufacturer and sponsor Johns-Manville Corporation, was a one-and-a-half story Cape Cod cottage described by the Fair as a “Long Island Colonial Home.”  The New York World’s Fair remained open for two seasons in 1939 and 1940 and, despite global press coverage of its demonstration homes, only one replica licensed by the Fair was ever built.  Located at 10163 Sutherland Road (formerly 104 Maplewood Ave.), Washington’s World’s Fair Home may be one of the most significant twentieth century residences in Montgomery County.

This Library of Congress photo, dated 1939, shows the New York World’s Fair Demonstration Home Number 15.
The World’s Fair home was the brainchild of James and Nelle Wilson.  The Wilsons came to the Washington area in 1934 or 1935; James was a civil engineer who went into business with Washington real estate developer Waldo M. Ward and Nelle was the daughter of Chicago newspaperwoman Margaret Foley.  The path the Wilsons took to our area is unclear, but their impact survives in the subdivision they created in 1936.  Northwood Park, the heart of the North Four Corners neighborhood, was platted in early 1936 after Ward bought approximately 28 acres of forested farmland west of Colesville Pike.  The Wilsons then formed a company, Garden Homes, Inc., to sell Northwood Park’s homes and lots. By July of 1936, 20 homes were under construction.

The promotional brochure for Demonstration Home No. 15, the “Long Island Colonial Home,” for the New York World’s Fair “Town of Tomorrow.”
Northwood Park was an ordinary subdivision with modest brick Cape Cod cottages and larger stone Tudor Revival houses marketed to young professionals with new families.  Using common real estate trade tools, Garden Homes lured prospective buyers through creatively illustrated and worded display ads hawking Northwood Park’s rustic charm and affordability.  The firm used themed models like the Bride’s Home and the Anniversary Home equipped with the latest modern gas appliances; some came with a brand new car in the garage and a supply of groceries.  Garden Homes’ ads were packed with multiple meanings to bring middle class doctors, engineers, and government employees into their subdivision.  Their most successful marketing vehicle was the World’s Fair Home, which drew thousands of sightseers and many prospective buyers to Northwood Park in the spring of 1939 during a carefully crafted 120-day marketing campaign.

How the still-occupied home on Sutherland Road looks today.
The 1939 World’s Fair Town of Tomorrow was built along a cul-de-sac designed to evoke the popular Garden City single-family-home suburbs being built throughout the United States.  Demonstration Home No. 15 was designed to appeal to homebuyers driven by “tradition and sentiment,” looking for all of the “comfort and convenience” afforded by the modern building materials used to build the house and its state-of-the-art appliances.  The approximately 1,228-square-foot home included a fully finished basement; a first floor with kitchen, maid’s room, and workshop in addition to the living room and dining room; and an upper floor with three bedrooms.

Demonstration Home No. 15 was singled out by the media as one of the most desirable homes in the Town of Tomorrow.  The home was featured on the cover of the June 1939 issue of American Builder and Building Age and it was illustrated in McCall’s magazine as well as in The Washington Post and The New York Times.

The June 1939 issue of “American Builder and Building Age” with Demonstration Home No. 15 on its cover.
The contract between Garden Homes and the World’s Fair required Garden Homes to call the home “a New York World’s Fair House” and for “the plans and specifications used by the Fair Corporation in the construction of House No. 15 of the Town of Tomorrow” to be followed exactly.  Garden Homes was also required to retain the original architects, the New York firm of Godwin, Thompson, and Patterson, to provide the original plans.

The 16 July 1939 Washington Post ad for Northwood Park’s World’s Fair Home Tour.
Garden Homes staged a ceremonial groundbreaking on 7 April 1939.  Over the next three months, The Washington Post published articles documenting the progress on the house.  When the house was completed in July 1939, Garden Homes hosted another event that included a parade from downtown Silver Spring and up Colesville Road, ending at the World’s Fair Home.  The 14 July 1939 dedication included a speech by Maryland Secretary of State Francis Petrott, followed by a private cocktail party for local, state, and federal officials as well as the project’s various corporate sponsors.

The home remained open to the public throughout July and into August of 1939.  According to The Washington Post, about 4,500 people visited the first day of public viewing.  By the end of the publicity campaign, more than 27,000 people had visited the home and Northwood Park.  On 13 August 1939, Garden Homes held its last public event at the home when James Wilson gave the house’s key to new owners, Dr. Mario and Pauline Scandiffio.  Mario Scandiffio was a Washington pediatrician and his wife was a Bureau of Engraving employee who also sang blues music and hosted a radio show on station WOL.  The Scandiffios lived in the home until 1952 when he sold his practice and moved the family to Florida.  The Scandiffios sold the house to John and Irene Kirby; the home is still in the Kirby family.

The research into the World’s Fair Home is part of a larger project I am doing on the history of Northwood Park.  As part of this research, I am looking for photographs of the neighborhood taken between 1936 and c. 1960.  I am also interested in personal accounts from folks who lived here during that time.  Please email me at [email redacted] if you have any information or photographs.   ■

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