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Where Some See Eyesore, Others Eye Bit of History

Baltimore was a self-made man who raised a family in the house during the 32 years after he ordered it from Sears. He was one of the founders of the community that emerged in the shadow of the trolley line, they said, and it doesn't matter that few current residents have heard of him.

"Jesse Baltimore is not George Washington, and that's the point," said Rachel Thompson, who has lived in the Palisades since 1997 and supports saving the house. "This house, this man, are absolutely representative of the context and spirit of how this neighborhood was built."

Laura Benintend, who lives in the Palisades neighborhood, checks out the 1925 Sears catalogue house on Sherier Place that some in the area want torn down. Others want the house preserved. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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And such links to the origins of the community are increasingly rare, say those who want to save the house. Touring the neighborhood, Rowse pointed to an address nearby on Potomac Avenue. The day before, a small bungalow sat on the lot; this day, it's a pile of rubble.

"What's going to go up there?" Rowse asked. "I'll tell you -- something much bigger."

Rowse and many in her corner say that developers are buying small properties -- many of them with kit houses -- and replacing them with large McMansions that they contend ruin the character of the neighborhood. Rowse said that such structurally sound houses as Baltimore's are vanishing at too rapid a pace throughout the city and that they have become somewhat like an endangered species. The history and charm of neighborhoods like the Palisades are vanishing with them, she said.

"Sears houses aren't as common as people think," Rowse said.

She said there are fewer than three dozen documented Sears houses in the Palisades and an estimated 300 or so throughout the city. Thornton said about 90 percent of the estimated 75,000 Sears houses sold across the country still stand.

Those numbers don't strike some Palisades residents as indicative of imminent extinction, just as Baltimore doesn't strike them as a particularly important figure in their neighborhood's history. Binsted, an architect, said that although his neighborhood has many desirable attributes, distinctive architecture isn't one of them. The history that Baltimore brought to the house, he said, could be equaled or eclipsed by the original owner of almost any house in the neighborhood.

"He lived there for 30 years, retired and moved away," Binsted said of Baltimore. "That's not a particularly strong neighborhood history. They try to play up the blue-collar nature of this, but you could point to about every house here and talk about that."

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