Photo credit: Jennifer Falkinburg , 08/23/2003

Property Name: Polychrome Historic District
Date Listed: 8/29/1996
Inventory No.: M: 32-5
Location: 9900 & 9904 Colesville Road; 9919, 9923, & 9925 Sutherland Road, Woodmoor, Montgomery County

Description: The five Art Deco-style single-family detached Polychrome houses are located on contiguous lots with adjoining back yards in a middle class suburban residential neighborhood characterized by mature trees and plantings. They were built in 1934 and 1935 by John Joseph Earley, a master craftsman, on lots ranging in size from 7,360 to 10,150 square feet. Each of the houses is clad with two-inch-thick pre-cast mosaic concrete panels assembled on site and anchored to a wood frame. Polychrome I, the prototype, was designed in collaboration with J. R. Kennedy, a Washington, D.C. architect. It is a one-story house with a detached one-car garage of similar design and materials. Polychrome II adjoins Polychrome I to the north. It is one story with a loft room over a one-car attached garage. Both of these houses face east and front on Colesville Road, a major thoroughfare. The three remaining Polychrome houses face west and front on Sutherland Road, an interior subdivision street paralleling Colesville Road one block to the west. Each is two stories in height with an attached carport. The three two-story houses are identical in design and floor plan and differ only in exterior color. All five houses are in very good to excellent condition, with no discernable diminishing of the brilliant exterior polychrome walls. The houses have been in continuous use as single family residences on their original sites since construction and have undergone minimal alteration.

Significance: The five single-family dwellings that comprise the Polychrome Historic District are outstanding examples of the Art Deco style and reflect John Joseph Earley's artistry and craftsmanship. Conventional wood frames were clad with prefabricated "mosaic concrete" panels utilizing a process Earley developed and patented in which the concrete was stripped to expose the brilliantly colored aggregate particles, creating an effect similar to impressionist or pointillist painting. In addition to their striking, richly ornamented appearance, these houses represent a relatively rare example of pre-cast concrete panel construction in single-family housing for the time period. Earley's patented structural system led to the widespread use of pre-cast architectural concrete as a major exterior cladding material. The legacy of the Polychrome houses can be seen in thousands of curtain-wall buildings nationwide. Earley was a master builder who culminated nearly three decades of engineering and architectural experience in the design and construction of the Polychrome houses. Famous for his work on a number of early-20th century projects, Earley wrote eloquently about the social changes taking place in the United States during the 1930s and the demand for what he termed "social justice." The Polychrome house represent his attempt to solve the "small house problem" by providing innovative housing at modest cost during the economic and social upheaval of the Great Depression.


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