JE Martin in Cottage Park

Nelson Avenue Bungalows

The beautiful 212 East Nelson, with the shed-dormer 210 to the left.

In mid-1927 JE Martin moved his gaze further south from Potomac, to the Cottage Park development. Cottage Park had been laid out twenty years earlier by the MB Harlow Co centering itself on Linden (now East Nelson) street near Wayne Street as well as the south side of Monroe Avenue. Sales, however, had been spotty and Martin seems certain to have believed that this would be his big opportunity.

In September 1927 he purchased ten lots from broker John C Ellis, who had earlier that year purchased them from Harlow for about $350 each. A month later he purchased another lot from Ellis. A contiguous group of three of those lots he disposed of unimproved but this still left him the entire run of lots on the western half of north side of Nelson, comprising what are now 202, 204, 206, 208, 210, 212 and 214 E Nelson, along with one lot on the south side of Monroe.

On each of these, plus a row of three lots in the Del Ray development, he took out construction mortgages from BF Saul & Co of Washington, DC to put up his houses. Six of the seven houses he put up along Nelson were well-proportioned bungalows, externally identical except for the shape of the front dormer. Three (202, 206 and 212) had peaked gabled roofs on that dormer, two (204 and 208) had truncated gables, while number 210 near the middle of the rank had a shed roof dormer.

In each of these the house had a basic footprint 25 feet across and 30 feet deep, with bump-out on the right side (as seen from the street) 7 feet out and 10 feet long. The house sat on a full, but unfinished basement with concrete floor. The main floor contained a living/dining room, a kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms. The second floor could be left unfinished or turned into one or two bedrooms depending on customer preference and willingness to pay. Interior walls were plaster and floors were hardwood, except for the kitchen (vinyl) and bathroom (tile).

At the front was an almost full-width porch 7 feet deep and 21 feet wide. A 6x10-foot rear porch protected the back door.

The one outlier on East Nelson was the western-most, 214. It had the same footprint and internal arrangement as the others but featured a very distinctive gabled front porch roof with a small diagonal window.

These were beautiful houses. Unfortunately, his optimism led him astray.  The residential housing bubble in the US collapsed a full three years before the 1929 stock market crash.  He. like others, seems to have believed by early 1927 that the market had bottomed-out and that this was a good time to get land and labor cheap and make a killing when it rebounded.  Of course, it did not rebound for another ten years and JE was left paying on mortgages on houses that were now "under water" and thus unsalable.

In failure, he was adjudicated bankrupt by the US District Court for Eastern District Virginia in October 1928. Carl Budwesky, local lawyer and wheeler-dealer, was appointed trustee in bankruptcy with instructions to liquidate Martin's remaining real estate holdings to pay off his creditors. He made two large, multi-lot sales. One was to the partnership of George Herring & George Wohlfarth on 7 September 1929.

208 E Nelson - $2,675
210 E Nelson - $3,400
212 E Nelson - $3,400
214 E Nelson - $3,500
109 E Monroe - $1,450
307 E Windsor - $3,000
307A E Windsor - $3,000

The other, on the same date, was to the National Florence Crittenton Mission:

202 E Nelson - $2,250
204 E Nelson - $2,500
206 E Nelson - $2,675

The Mission had been established in 1890 to provide group homes for reformed prostitutes and by 1900 there were 76 such homes in five countries. Shortly thereafter it was taken over by Dr Kate Waller Barrett, who reoriented it to accommodate unwed mothers. Given that Dr. Waller's base was Alexandria it is not surprising that the Mission, even after her death, would buy three houses in the new area to the north of the city.

The Mission very quickly lost interest in their three houses, possibly as a result of the “crash” of 1929. In December 1929, only three months after buying them, they sold them to Herring and Wolhfarth, who showed a remarkable lack of business acumen by taking out mortgages of $3,000 each on the properties to pay for the deal, representing a tidy short-term profit for the Mission

Herring & Wolfarth were apparently determined to sell the properties at a profit, even in the face of the new depression, and refused to rent them out in the short term. The houses sat vacant for almost four years until they too defaulted on the mortgages that they had given to Francis Saul and they were sold at auction in February 1933. Three (210, 212 & 214 E Nelson) were resold to Margaret Polwarth for $2,500 each. The others (202, 204, 206 and 208) were bought up by a reformed partnership of Wallace and Herring, this being Herring now teamed up with GB Wallace.

Polwarth had little interest in playing the landlord and sold off her three houses in 1934-35. W&H, on the other hand, were either happy renting the houses out or were exceptionally determined to “wait out” the depression for better prices. They finally sold off one house (206) in 1938 and the other three in 1941.