Where We Live

Do-It-Yourselfers Give Prefab Bungalows a Custom Touch

Many of the houses show an expanded footprint from their 1940s construction.
Many of the houses show an expanded footprint from their 1940s construction. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

By Janet Lubman Rathner
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, September 2, 2006

When Joseph Russek needed concrete poured for his driveway, in typical Viers Mill Village fashion he turned to a neighbor.

In this instance, it was Enrique Lopas, who has his own construction and home-remodeling business. "You can find people of every trade here," said Russek, 66, a retired electrical contractor and engineer.

In the 40 years that he has lived in Viers Mill Village, Russek has enlarged his bungalow from two to six bedrooms and from one to two bathrooms. He has reconfigured and extended the living room, dining room and kitchen. All of it has been done with minimal work from contractors.

"Here people do their own work. You don't find that in other neighborhoods," Russek said. "I had the block work and plumbing done, but everything else, I did myself."

Dorothy Pasqual, 74, who moved with her husband, Tony, a United Airlines maintenance worker, and their four children to Viers Mill Village in 1958, tells a similar story.

"We had our fifth baby and then [Tony] said, 'You know, you can start digging . . . and he went to work," Pasqual said.

So did she. Using a shovel and a wheelbarrow, she enlarged the basement.

"I'd dig in the morning and then the kids would get up. I'd come in and feed them breakfast, and then I'd dig till noon. Then it was get lunch, dig, nap and do laundry with a wringer washing machine. That was a picnic after digging," Pasqual said.

Over five years, the Pasqual house, another standard two-bedroom, one-bath Viers Mill bungalow, grew to six bedrooms, three bathrooms and living space to accommodate a growing horde of youngsters.

"I remember how disappointed I was when I moved here, but now I wouldn't change for any house," Pasqual said.

Houses in Viers Mill Village have lent themselves to a lot of expansion and improvement over the years. The neighborhood, in Silver Spring near the borders of Rockville and Wheaton, was laid out in 1947 as an affordable housing community for World War II veterans. That was when Brooklyn-based Harris Construction Co. secured a contract to build about 1,000 identical, 27-by-24-foot white-frame houses on a 330-acre tract of what had been a dairy farm.

To meet the demand and achieve the goal of completing Viers Mill Village in 18 months, Harris used new mass-production methods, setting up on-site concrete and prefab plants with crews working around the clock to make walls, stairs, dormers, porches and other wooden sections of the houses.

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