‘50s flashback: Kemp Mill houses have artifacts within their walls

Many homes in Kemp Mill still have vintage features (Photo by Lexi Gopin).

Kemp Mill was a quiet neighborhood when Judah Milgram was growing up in the 1960s. There weren’t as many cars or people as there are now, he said.

“We used to play football and softball in the streets or throw the Frisbee around,” he said. “Nobody thought twice about it back then.”

Someone would stand at the end of the street and yell “car!” if there was a car coming, otherwise they continued their game.

Milgram’s childhood home on Monticello Ave. featured the latest in communications technology — a 1959 Stratford Interadiocom. Mounted in the kitchen wall, the Stratford Interadiocom was an AM radio with a talk-back function. The intercom was connected to four speakers in the bedrooms of Milgram’s house. Someone in the kitchen could push a button, speak into the device and be heard by family members unseen.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, the Interadiocom was the latest in smart home technology. (Photo courtesy of Judah Milgram)

“It was a novelty,” said Milgram.

The family got more use out of the radio function than the intercom. Milgram said they often listened to WTOP on the radio while doing dishes or cooking. He also listened to “The Joy Boys,” a local comedy radio show featuring Ed Walker and Willard Scott.

“It was very, very funny,” he said, recalling their weekly show.

Kemp Mill, a mostly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Wheaton, was developed in the 1950s. Many homes still have vintage features of the era such as outdoor water meters, laundry chutes and, of course, interadiocom systems.

Those single-family homes make up the majority of Kemp Mill residences, according to realtor Adam Bashein. Newer homes built in the ‘80s and ‘90s are near Yeatman, Bromley and Kersey roads.

Alan Zimmerman’s house near Lamberton Drive was built in 1958. He said it has a laundry chute that runs from the bedrooms down to what used to be a laundry room.

If laundry were thrown down the chute now, it would hit the air conditioning system.

Zimmerman’s house also has baseboard heating. A boiler in the basement pumps hot water to pipes along the base of the walls in the house.

“It’s not the world’s most efficient heating system,” said Zimmerman. “If the temperature gets down around zero for a number of days, as it has done in a few recent winters, it’s really hard to keep the house above 60 degrees.”

Enclosed water meters are another feature of these ‘50s houses.

Bashein said the meters are typically small metal structures on the driveway that have to be opened by WSSC Water, a local water utility.

“The houses built in the ‘80s and ‘90s, they have the water meter in the basement. So it’s more accessible now than it used to be,” he said.

When Bashein completed a sale on an older home, he wrote “per WSSC” in place of the water meter reading on his final settlement. He believed the water meter was not accessible to him. But the settlement company said the water meter was in the house.

Bashein went on a scavenger hunt to find the meter.

“I was moving everything that was in the house. I was moving a table around or shifting the washer and dryer and then I finally found it,” he said. “It was so unusual, because it was an old house.”

Milgram was cleaning out the basement of his childhood home on Monticello when he discovered the remains of the 1959 Stratford Interadiocom. He was hit by a feeling of nostalgia.

“I was wondering if I could possibly find the rest of the parts to it, to somehow revive it and bring it back to its original glory,” he said.

However, radio parts for an older device are hard to find now.

“Those days are gone,” said Milgram.

It’s not like the Stratford Interadiocom changed the family’s life. Milgram said they used it for a while, but they quickly went back to the “old way” of getting the attention of someone in another part of the house.

“If you wanted to talk to somebody, you go upstairs and talk to them or you go downstairs and talk to them,” he said. “I don’t think it was ever really all that useful.”

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here