"THEY CALL Somerset, Md., 'Freudian Village' because every other resident is a psychiatrist," said Robert J. Evers, who lives in one of the older Somerset houses.
Somerset, perhaps because of the preponderance of leather couches, for years was a laid-back community of quiet streets, old Victorian houses, with one of the highest (if not the highest) per family incomes in Maryland.
Today the streets are no longer as quiet -- every house seems to be under the hammer.
The town lies just west of Wisconsin Avenue at the District line, across from Kenwood. From a town of 35 families, it has grown to about 406. Turn-of-the-century houses alternate with modest brick '50s ramblers and one or two new houses. Houses go from $150,000 for a modest home to more than $300,000 for the big ones with lots of land.
Saturday, five houses with varying degrees of remodeling and addition and two totally new houses will be on tour as a visual arachitectural history of the town. Proceeds from the $5 tickets will go to restore the Red House, a small house being converted into the town hall and cultural center.
The town was built in 1890 on a tract called "Friendship," originally 3,124 acres patented by the fourth Lord Baltimore to Col. Thomas Addison and James Stottart, according to a history compiled in 1956 by the town council and the women's club. For 100 years, 211 acres, now the boundaries of Somerset, were owned and farmed by Richard Williams.
The farm was sold in 1818 for $9,000. In 1890, 50 acres were sold for $19,000 to Harvey Wiley, Charles Crampton, Daniel Salmon, Miles Fuller and Horace Horton, all of the District. They organized the Somerset Heights Colony Co. The company set lot sizes at one acre with no alleys and 30-foot street setbacks. The houses were to cost not less than $2,000 each.
The other afternoon, we had a preview tour of four of the houses.
The 1897 home of Robert and Donna Evers, one of the original houses, will be on the Saturday tour. She's a real estate agent with Begg. He is a management consultant, and was a presidential aide during the Ford administration.
"When we bought it, five years ago, it was not in the best of condition," Donna Evers said. "I had thought about buying the house across the way and thought, 'I wouldn't buy it if I had to look at that dilapidated thing across the street. But when this house came on the market, we decided we could fix it up and repair it to suit ourselves."
The house was a bargain at $60,000. The Evers designed (with the help of William H. Shoemaker) and contracted the work themselves for a total of another $60,000. "We weren't really worried," said Donna Evers."This is our eighth remodeling."
They almost doubled the size of the house by adding to the south of the house, behind the porch, a new dining room, 16-by-30-foot living room, master bedroom and bath. Mrs. Evers laid the rosy, rustic Mexican tile in the kitchen. The new gazebo covers a concrete patio which once served an outdoor fireplace, now crumbled to ruin.
Ralph and Lois Showalter own the new house on the Somerset tour. He is president of the nonprofit Social Development Corp.; she is a social worker. pJohn Wiebenson was the architect -- with alterations by Showalter.
The house is a cheerful all-cedar contemporary cottage on one floor. The great room is a tall living-room/kitchen. A tiled chimney and a wooden space frame -- posts and beams -- define the inglenook center of the room. The south wall is almost all glass, looking onto a pleasant deck framed with what could serve as a trellis. The kitchen is separated from the living and dining area only by a series of tiled counters and cabinets. The dining room and master bedroom jut out in triangles on either side of the deck.
Showalter has his offices in the other side of the house, and currently the town clerk uses one.
The house cost about $90,000 to build.
Mike and Etsu Masaoka brought their house, a typical '50s split level, new some 25 years ago. They have decorated it with Japanese furnishings, or, in some cases American furnishings deriving from Japanese traditions.
(Masaoka is a lobbyist for Japanese firms such as Panasonic. He was given a coral carving by the Bomin islanders after the islands were returned to Japan, in lieu of a fee for his lobbying efforts.)
"First we had Shohachi Sasaki, a Japanese craftsman, make a wisteria trellis along our living/dining room glass wall," explained Masaoka, "and a stone garden entry with the traditional large stone for the entry step."
The late Nokey Ishiyama did the garden with traditional Japanese touches, including a stone lantern at the doorway and a small "stream" of white and black rocks.
All of this is pictured in a series of woodblocks by the artist Un-ichi Hiratsuka, a well-known printmaker who shows with Franz Bader art gallery.
The glass wall is covered with a series of shoji screens, made in Japan to the order of Masaoka's brother, who installed them with a splendid grille which serves as a valance.
The art furniture of George Nakashima, recognized as one of the greatest wood artist/craftsmen in the country, makes up most of the furnishings of the room. The Masaokas have been investing in Nakashima pieces for years and years, and watching the prices go up accordingly. "I remember when I first bought a Nakashima side chair it was $125. Now they are $450," Etsu Masaoka said. "The sofa was $900, now its $1,100." The work is all beautifully made with dovetail joints and no nails. The cabinet especially made for their china is a marvel. (Nakashima will have a show of his work at the Full Circle Gallery's new showroom, 317 Cameron St., Alexandria, Nov. 16).
The Masaokas also have collections of scrimshaw, Oriental antiques, including ivory carvings and security systems.
Artist Pat Golden and her husband, attorney Barry Levine, have a house which has been in a perpetual state of renovation to designs by Milton Shinberg ever since the Levines moved in.
"We paid $51,500 for the house 10 years ago," said Golden, "when we had one son. Six years ago we added a daughter and a dining room [$13,000 for the dining room]. Four years ago we added a new entry and breakfast room, $4,000, but no new child. This year, we've added a second girl, a big studio for me and a master bedroom and bath [about $50,000]." They have done much work themselves.
The house at this point looks nothing like the split level it started out as. "We looked around at other houses before we decided on this last project, but we couldn't find anything under $350,000."
The dining room and living room have three fine examples of Golden's intricate stained glass. "I do commissions occasionally," said Golden, "but it's very expensive -- $200 a square foot, depending on the complexity of the design, and I only like to do complex pieces. The glass itself is all imported and costs so much money, I figure I make less than the minimum wage." Golden's woodblock prints are widely sold.
The dining room is in two parts, withthe southern half floored with tile for plants. When we were there a hammock was strung across the room. But for parties it all works together to seat 20 with help from the pleasant slab wood table by Richard Rothbard (once a student of Nakashima).
Her pottery, with designs carved into the sides with woodworking tools, is displayed across the tops of her kitchen cabinets. The kitchen is considerably brightened by the huge skylight over the breakfast table.
The new addition at the other end of the house has a big studio room for pottery, woodblocking and glass just off the family room. Upstairs, the master bedroom "will make it possible for us to sleep in our own room by ourselves for the first time in a year," said Golden. The luxurious bath has a steamer. A circle in the wall over the tub brings in light.
Don Mettino of the Renovation Corp. was the contractor.
Tickets for the tour and a tea are on sale on Saturday, only at Dr. Bernard and Helen Yanowitz's house, 5807 Surrey St. Mrs. Yanowitz, tour chairperson, will give advance ticket information at 362-9300 or 654-1571. t