IN THE SPRING, the azaleas and the house-sale ads lure people to Takoma Park, Md. The streets are quiet. Dogs and their masters play outdoors. People walk home from the Metro, much as their predecessors came home from the B&O Railroad. Big Spring has been capped since World War II, but Sligo Creek still slips through the city and lures small boys with cans for tadpole hunts.
Once a year, the House and Garden Tour invites neighbors and strangers to see what the residents have been doing with all that lumber and paint.
Unlike the tours of fancier sections of town, this tour, which sets out at 1:30 today, shows what can be done with modest houses, for modest remodeling money. Many of the tour homes cost less than $50,000. Some are pristine in their scraped-down natural woodwork and their well-polished oak furniture.In most, the owners are working feverishly, right up to tour time, to put in that last nail, paint that frame. These are the sort of cottages where no one expects to hire a carpenter or demolition man.
The do-it-yourself mentality extends to civic problems as well. Sammie Abbott and his supporters stopped the freeway a few years ago. And the folks around Takoma Park learned how to protect themselves. Of course, just the other day, someone tore down a fine block of Victorian houses just over the line in the District. But the National Register status of the big old houses around the Metro terminal delays the execution of demolition permits for a time.
Everybody keeps a beady eye on Montgomery College, lest they try to tear something down to put up a new building. And there's much interest in turning boused, cut up into apartments during World War II, back into single family homes. Operation Tur around, a civic program headed by Alan Marsh, has bought up segmented houses and restored them with much success and profit.
The lure of the classified ads is as great as the azaleas. In most parts of the metropolitan area $100,000 is often considered a bargain. Takoma Park still has houses that go for $45,000 (two bdrs, needs wk). For $80,000-$90,000, you can buy a four-bedroom Victorian with perhaps a double lot.
Takoma Park prices have gone up, but compared to other neighborhoods, it's still a bargain.One couple who paid $59,000 a year ago, say they could get $82,000 for their house now.
All over the area, people have spring selling fever -- "Did you hear the Joneses were offered $100,000 for their house? They turned it down. That plot over there, two acres. Wonderful mansard roof house. Broken up into six apartments. Man holding it for an investment. Hopes to put a highrise there. Not if we have anything to say about it." "Pure Air... No Malaria"
The first two subdivisions in the area, called Old and New Takoma, were built by Benjamin F. Gilbert, the founding father of the town. Gilbert bought about 90 acres around the B&Q tracks at the District line in 1883. He developed the area as an early suburb. There's still some local snobbery -- the old Victorians around the Metro and the houses near Montgomery College sell for more money.
Gilbert lured people out, according to rfesearch by local historian Mary Anne Leary, with ads promising: "No malaria, no mosquitoes, pure air, delightful shade and an abundant supply of pure water." This year's tour brochure says the water was so good, "it was sold on draft in District drugstores and was heartily recommended by a surgeon general of the U.S. Army, who declared 'after trial in his family that Takoma water... is absolutely the purest water in America yet analyzed.'"
Even now that the spring water is no longer bottled, Takoma still has a certain lure. One of the pleasures is the mix of people the area is high is economic and racial integration. Construction workers, artists, writers, teachers, government workers and shop keepers all unite in firm opposition to crabgrass.
Three of the houses on the tour are typical of the modest bungalows built 60 to 70 years ago, many of them in the philosophy of the "Craftsman" design movement of the day. They often have good oak woodwork under all that paint. And thought the rooms are small, with low ceilings on the second floor, they have specious front porches and a cozy feeling. The Almost-Original Settlers
Liaine LaVaute, a Metro administrative assistant, moved to her house on Park Avenue in 1961. She paid $16,500. Her husband, Armand La Vaute, a District social worker, is a craftsman. He has just opened the ceiling of the breakfast room to the roof, and built in four sky-lights. An artist friend, Raymond Rinn, painted the tur-key buzzard, the alligator and friends around the room.
The dining room is authentic to the sort of turn-of-the-century house published in "The Craftsman," a design magazine of the period. There's a bench scat under thw window, oak framing panels on the wall and, sitting it very well, a Mexican wrought-iron chandelier and standing candelabra.
La Vaute, who apparently always has something under construction, has also: built a harpsichord, several pieces of Barclay Collection kit mahogany furniture, a fanciful enclosed bed, painted elephant foot-prints on the floor, refinished other floors, installed a solid oak mantlepiece, and fenced in the lot.
Elaine La Vaute has never dared to figure what it all cost. She estimates $6,000 for the kitchen, including the Reserve Jean-Air serve, $500 for new windows and $180 just for the framing around them. Beware: Dog Bearing Frisbee
As you walk up to Debbie and Donald Leichtling's house, the large black dog on the porch looks very much like the bound of the Baskeryilles. You're sure you're going to be eaten alive and your bones buried. Then suddenly, having taken a good smell of you, he goes to get his Frisbee, and offers it in friendship and the hope of a game.
Donald Leichtling, 34, is the lab technician at Mortgomery College. He and his wife, a nurse, bought their house about a year ago. They worked on it for months before they moved in -- the bank wouldn't give them a mortgage until they rehabilitated it. People thought they were crazy to pay $48,500 for the house.
"We thought: What it we put in all that work, and something goes wrong and we don't own it."
Something did go wrong after settlement. They'd lived in a two-room apartment for four years, trying to save up a downpayment. To celebrate their new status as home owners, they invited their parents to Thanksgiving dinner. Then, five days after they moved in, a jeep hit their jeep, hurting them both badly, and bouncing across the street to demolish their MG. They still managed Thanksgiving dinner -- but they had to do the dishes in the bathrub.
Since then, they have scraped the 15-odd layers of paint off the dining- and living-room chestnut woodwork. They paid $650 to have the floors, some oak, some soft pine, refinished. But Leichtling patched all the plaster himself, smoothing it down with a sander. The furnace was rebuilt for only $150. Plumbing and electricity added another $200 or so.
Probably the handsomest room is the kitchen. "We tore out all the old cabinets that seem to make the room narrow and put in these open shelves," he said. The glass jars hold seeds and herbs.
One room on the first floor is a crafts room for the family. Both Leichtlings are great kite makers. She made a remarkable fabric kite, which hangs on the wall. But they are still looking for a way to hang the most magnificent kite of all -- a sailing ship with multiple masts. Lofty Beds and Passive Solar
Across the street, on Susanne and John Fleming's porch, the dog takes a very suspicious view of strangers. Almost everyone in Takoma Park has a big old dog, suitable for scaring birds and strangers. Leichtling and his dog had been playing Frisbee in the middle of the street, but they came over to vouch for the visitors to the other dog.
Inside, John Fleming put down his hammer and said, "I just work here." And the Flemings gave a tour to prove it. They bought their 1907 house about 2 1/2 years ago.They paid $28,000 for the house and its 22 broken windows.Fleming started out with an advantage -- he runs a construction company. Susanne Fleming is a dental hygienist, who also has an antique dealer's license. Except for a stray friend, they did all the work themselves. They figure the materials cost $10,000, including the landscaping.
Sensibly, they started with the bathroom remodeling -- cutting through to a linen closet to give space for a dressing table. They redid all the electricity and plumbing and much of the plaster.
"Our favorite room," he said, "is the study." Here he cut through the roof on the south side to put in a sky-light. "It's the Cadillac of lights, it opens for ventilation." Some day, Fleming hopes to put some solar collectors on the roof. "But it isn't easy in Takoma Park to escape the tree shade."
He opened up the ceiling to the roof to put in a loft bed. And in what was a jerry-built sunporch, he's made a neat office. One of Susanne Fleming's finds, a Morris-type easy chair, sits here. Another bedroom is bright with quilts and an old truck.
There are nine other houses and/or gardens on the Takoma Park tour today, organized by Elien Marsh and Mary Ann McGulre. Included are the homes of: Jude Garrett and Jim Avery, Catherine and David Moses, Abigail Havens and Stephen Ramsey, Debbie and Bruce Hutton, Carroll and James Armstrong, Stephanie Solien and Frank Greer, Catherine and Clarence Casey, Karen and Bill Maury. Dave Ellis and Larry Backs will show their Designers Consortium remodeling.
The mini-bus tour is from 1:30 to 5 p.m. today. Tickets are $3.50 at the Municipal Building. 7500 Maple Ave. Tour profits will pay for historical markers. CAPTION: Picture 1, Elaine LaVaute's Takoma Park home has an oak dining room; Picture 2, Susanne and John Fleming's home; Picture 3, has a study with a loft bed; By Douglas Chevalier -- The Washington Post.; Picture 4, The breakfast room in the LaVaute's home; Picture 5, the shelves in the Leichtling house.; By Douglas Chevalier -- Washington Post.