How to date a deck in DC?
July 20, 2011 10:51 AM   Subscribe

How do I find out when the deck on my old home in Washington DC was built?

We're looking to do some construction to our house and need to prove that our deck pre-dates May, 1958. We went to the DC Surveyor's office and the only other land survey we found is from the initial building of the house in the 1920s. Did research in the records department and no building permits were taken out for the building of the deck, the enclosed porch or the standalone garage - all of which seem very old.

Satellite images are more recent than that date (Google Earth goes back to 1988), so how else can we prove that the deck was built before May, 1958 (other than dendrochronology!)?
posted by steve.wdc to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Is there an Abstract Office there? They would have records going way back.
posted by ducktape at 11:00 AM on July 20, 2011

HistoricAerials may be able to help a bit.
posted by schmod at 11:14 AM on July 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

HistoricAerials may be able to help a bit.

Holy damn, that's my house in 1938!!!
posted by goethean at 11:21 AM on July 20, 2011

Have you visited or called the DC Assessors Office to ask them how far back they have records? Improvements like a deck are often valued as part of the assessment process.
posted by Glomar response at 11:21 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do the tax records from 1957 and earlier mention these additions? Can you contact previous owners using names on your deed? Are there any elderly neighbors who have been there a very long time?

Yeah there wouldn't be any 1958 or earlier satellite images, Sputnik went up in 1957.

Do you know any architectural historians?
posted by mareli at 11:23 AM on July 20, 2011 looks like a good resource to start with. (Incidentally, there are plenty of aerial images out there dated prior to 1958. They were taken from planes, initially as part of a USDA program in the wake of the Dust Bowl.)

If that doesn't help:

-Have you checked all possible sources for building permits (in person as well as online)?

-Try calling the tax assessor to see if they have a written card. If they've hung on to them, sometimes the physical card contains notes or information that go much further back than an online assessment card does.

-Usually Sanborn maps do not show ancillary structures (like decks), but if you're getting to long-shot status, that might be worthwhile. They should be available from your local library.
posted by pie ninja at 11:27 AM on July 20, 2011

Some Municipal Zoning offices archive old aerial images to prove or disprove the existence of "non-conforming" (grandfathered) uses. You may want to check with your local office.
posted by incandissonance at 11:28 AM on July 20, 2011

I don't know what your in-person experience with them was like but the @DCRA twitter account is very responsive.
posted by phearlez at 11:52 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You may also want to link pictures to it - there are a few of us who can tell you the age by the materials and techniques used - e.g. if the walls are covered in Beaverboard it was most likely built before 1928. Or asphalt siding, or asbestos shingles, &c.

It could give you some leads to follow.

City directories? You may be able to find out who lived there in the 50s and ask them outright - it may have been done by Uncle so-and-so the Summer he wasn't working or it may be that they remember it being there when they moved in.

Not sure if they can testify to it, but it may just give you the information you need to get the real paperwork in hand.
posted by Tchad at 12:01 PM on July 20, 2011

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