In Praise of the Humble Bungalow

BY JACK C. LANE

Winter Park is justly celebrated for its over one hundred years of eclectic architectural styles, ranging from Queen Anne to Spanish-Revival to Modern. One of the city’s most interesting and charmingly designed styles is the Bungalow, an architectural form that dominated American housing in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Thousands of bungalows, constructed mostly between 1900 and 1930, can be found throughout American cities in historic districts designated as Bungalow Villages. Although no such designation exists in Winter Park, a large collection of bungalows, built between 1920 and 1926, have been preserved in three neighborhoods southeast of city center. In this brief essay, I want to identify a select few that I consider some of the most architecturally attractive.

The convergence of three historic trends in the 1920s made the concentration of the Bungalow style in southeast Winter Park no coincidence. For several decades after 1900 American cities and towns had been expanding haphazardly from the town center, causing serious service problems for city governments. Many saw the need for a more comprehensive, orderly approach to this expansion. Responding to these national concerns, the Calvin Coolidge administration issued a Standard State Zoning and Planning publication in the early 1920s which led city and town governments to pass ordinances regulating what were now called “subdivisions.” The publication defined this new approach to land development as “the division of a parcel of land into lots for the purpose of sale.” Subdivision developers were required to apply to the city for a permit, to conform to certain regulations and to provide a name for each subdivision.

This new national land development practice coincided with the real estate boom that engulfed Florida in the period between 1920 and 1926. Although much of the boom resulted from greedy, unscrupulous speculators (creating illusionary housing developments that were nothing more than elaborate gates), many of the subdivisions were designed to meet genuine housing needs and became permanent communities within the cities and towns.  In the early 1920s, developers platted three Winter Park “subdivisions” within walking distance of city center. They named them College Quarter, Virginia Heights and Ellno Willo.

The Bungalow style arrived in the United States at the turn of the century from India via Great Britain. American architects then made alterations that included many regional variations. By the time the bungalow appeared in Winter Park, several well-defined characteristics of the America-style bungalow had been established: low sloping roofs either gabled (front or side) or hipped, often with side overhangs; exposed roof beams and rafters; exterior proportions both balanced and asymmetrical; large front porches; open, informal floor plans; prominent hearths; built-ins, and interior wood details.

The bungalows discussed in this essay are perhaps best described as “California Bungalows,” but this classification is somewhat arbitrary because identifying the various bungalow styles is a mystifying endeavor. This style originated in California (hence its designation) in the first decade of the 20th century and spread rapidly to the Midwest, particularly Chicago, and then to the South and the East. The distinguishing exterior characteristics of the California bungalow include one,one-and-one half or two stories, and a low-pitched roof with deep over-hanging eaves, supported by substantial brackets. They include dormers and a wide front porch anchored by slender or solidly placed pillars. Buyers were drawn to the California style because even the two story design had the low appearance of one story and therefore appeared to settle pleasingly into the landscape. The first floor interior of the California style differed little from the open access and convenience of other bungalow designs. Three of this design are located in the College Quarter, two in Virginia Heights and two in Ellno Willo. Although only a few were built in Winter Park, by 1920 this California design was nationally the most popular of all bungalow styles.

1565 Forest Avenue

1565 Forest Avenue

Two “classic” California styles sit side by side on Forest Ave. in the Ellno Willo subdivision. Except for the dormer roofs, the houses have been similarly designed. D.A. Algrim, who operated the Durant automobile dealership in Winter Park, built these homes in 1925, the one at 1565 for himself and the other at 1567 (pictured in heading) built for sale. All the characteristics of the classic California style are here: sloping gable roof, with a beautifully formed gable or shed dormer; wide over hanging eaves, and an open or screened large front porch, supported by four large columns.  Janice and Stuart Omans, who purchased the home at 1565 Forest in 1974, have preserved the original exterior appearance of the house.  A typical California bungalow interior arrangement, such as the Omans living room, is pictured below.  The entrance into the open living room reveals beautiful wooden floors and an artistically wood-carved banister. The Omans have removed the original dividing walls separating the living room and kitchen from the dining room, but otherwise they have made few changes in the original interior design. The preservation of these two adjacent bungalows allows us to imagine a whole village of  this style  and how it would appear.

Omans living room

Omans living room

843 Pennsylvania Avenue

843 Pennsylvania Avenue

The beautifully preserved, basic bungalow at 843 Pennsylvania is a fine example of a roof and dormer side gable, clapboard style. The open porch with its slender dual pillars was a common feature in most Florida bungalows. The well maintained house sits among a wonderful collection of electically designed bungalows on Pennsylvania.

731 French Avenue

731 French Avenue

The house at 731 French is a bungalow one-and one half story style with a low gabled dormer and lateral gabled roof. Built by D.C. Diterly in 1926, the house has two very large side columns supporting the screened porch. The wooden side exterior was the typical building material in the state, but the brick porch, common throughout the Midwest, was a rare feature of Florida bungalows.

511 Melrose

511 Melrose

The Bungalow located at 511 Melrose has clapboard siding similar to the house on Pennsylvania, and is the lone local California bungalow with a hip roof and hip dormer. The open porch, supported by five slender columns with small Greek capitals (a familiar bungalow motif) covers a symmetrical fenestration. With minimal decoration, the house is perhaps the most basic of all California designs in Winter Park.

1167 Lakeview

1167 Lakeview

The bungalow at 1167 Lakeview (1927) was the most popular early bungalow design in Florida. Its gambrel roof variation gives the bungalow its most distinctive and attractive quality. The symmetrical two-sided roof, with two slopes on each side, was popular not only for its artistic qualities but also for the additional head room it provided on the second floor.  The dormer, double the size of traditional California bungalows, gives the house its other distinctive quality. The large glassed porch, supported by four substantial rock pillars, was originally screened or open.

1035 Lakeview

1035 Lakeview

The Bungalow at 1035 Lakeview Dr. contains all the basic characteristics of a California bungalow but the builder made extensive modifications. Among other variations, the ten window dormer serves essentially full second floor, and rooms with gable roofs have been added on each side. A Winter Park dentist, John Verigan, constructed the home in 1926 and lived there until 1978.

These are just a few of the more than 30 historic bungalows that have been preserved in southeast Winter Park. They represent some our most valuable artistic architectural treasures but, as with so many of our historic houses, without protection they are always vulnerable to destruction. Many have already been demolished. An article in the July 18, 1986 edition of the Orlando Sentinel is an early indication of the uncertain future of these houses. It read in part:

“The gray [bungalow] overlooking Lake Virginia at 1055 Lakeview Drive [constructed by Ray Trovillion in 1924] was the first home built more than 60 years ago in the Virginia Heights neighborhood. The current owner has plans to do extensive work on the house. City planner Jeff Briggs says the house is historically significant and would like to see it retain its historic flavor. However, he said, because Winter Park does not have a historical preservation regulation, the city has no say about how the house is renovated.”

1055 Lakeview in 1986

1055 Lakeview in 1986

As events transpired, the bungalow was not renovated; it was demolished and then replaced by a pseudo-european style house. We lost, thereby, the oldest house in Virginia Heights and the home of one of Winter Park’s most prominent families, the Trovillions. Bungalows in the College Quarter, and along two streets in Virginia Heights, are partially protected by a historical district designation, but those in other parts of Virginia Heights and and those in Ellno Willo are not.  Thus, their future remains uncertain. I hope this brief article will help open our eyes to the significance of these and other historic bungalows and to the realization of what would be lost if we fail to preserve these artistic gems from our past.

Dr. Jack C. Lane moved to Winter Park in 1963 to join the history faculty at Rollins College.  He has authored several books, including The Florida Reader: Visions of Paradise, which he wrote with Rollins English Professor Maurice O’Sullivan. Now retired, Lane lives on Lake Virginia in Winter Park and serves on the board of the Friends of Casa Feliz.

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Golden Eggs in an Unguarded Nest: Vulnerable Downtown Winter Park

Historic preservation made the news again recently in Winter Park, when the board charged with overseeing the city’s historic architectural assets voted 5-2 to deny the Grant Chapel’s application for “Historic Resource” status.

The arguments for and against the application presented an interesting case study in historic preservation theory—what is the tipping point when a building’s character becomes so compromised that it ceases to be historic? But the discussion failed to acknowledge the bigger issue for Winter Park, which is how very vulnerable the majority of our iconic historic buildings are to demolition or architecturally ill-conceived alterations.

Heaven on Wheels:

Grant Chapel was built on Winter Park’s West Side in 1935, and served as a house of worship for the predominantly African American population there for almost 70 years.  When the congregation outgrew its location, it was purchased by developer Dan Bellows, who saw the development potential of its prime Hannibal Square location.  For the past few years, Bellows has rented the property to Suzanne and Steve Graffham, who operate it as the “Winter Park Wedding Chapel,” primarily for destination weddings.

In October of last year, Bellows struck a deal with the City of Winter Park, and made plans to move the chapel to its current location, at the Corner of Lyman and New England, across from the Winter Park Farmer’s Market.  Many citizens expressed gratitude that Bellows was moving the chapel rather than demolishing it, although traditionalists complained that yet another of Winter Park’s historic structures was having to move to escape the wrecking ball. The City’s preservation strategy sometimes appears to be ‘Move it or lose it.’

The deal specified that the new location for the Chapel would be re-zoned commercial if Bellows agreed to list the Chapel on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, ostensibly protecting the structure from future hi-jinx.

After its December move (eclipsed somewhat by the dramatic maritime Capen House move), the chapel was remodeled to include the addition of a basement, with two staircases descending from the front façade.  The new location features fairly elaborate hardscaping, in contrast to the humble, leafy lot where the chapel once resided.  Here are the before-and-afters:

Before the move, New England Avenue

Before the move, New England Avenue

 

After the move, Lyman and New York

After the move, Lyman and New York

At the August meeting, it was apparent that these changes did not sit well with the HPB. The members who voted against designating the chapel as an historic resource argued that the front façade had been too dramatically altered with the addition of the basement, and that the building’s repositioning as a ‘faux gateway’ to the West Side took it out of its historical neighborhood context.

The staff report (see pgs. 6 and following of : http://cityofwinterpark.org/docs/government/boards/agendas/HPB_agd_2014-08-13.pdf) acknowledged these changes, but recommended that the chapel be designated nonetheless, given that its significance primarily derives from the building’s historic use and not its architectural integrity.  Several HPB members also expressed annoyance that the board had not been consulted before the structural changes were approved by city planning, and that it was a foregone conclusion that the building would be designated despite such extensive alterations.

“I was shocked to see all the changes,” remarked board chairman Randall Glidden, who voted against designation.

“I resent being put between a rock and a hard place,” complained board member Candace Chemtob, who also voted to deny historic status. “I’m kind of shocked this is coming to us after such huge alternations have been made.”

Board member Genean McKinnon expressed dismay that the planning department was aware of the changes that were being made, but didn’t inform the HPB until they were faits accompli, although she ultimately voted in favor of the designation. McKinnon agreed with staff that the building, even in its altered state, is better off protected than not.

Board members are justified in their frustration with the dramatic changes made to a historic structure, and that there were loopholes in the agreement Bellows struck with the city wide enough to drive a bulldozer through.  The agreement stated:

The owner agrees that on completion of the move, the Property and Grant Chapel Church Building shall be listed as a historic landmark property, and governed by Chapter 58, Land Development Code and the Winter Park Historic Preservation Commission. As such, the owner will not demolish or alter the Grant Chapel Church building structure in architectural style or integrity without the consent of the City.

But here are the ambiguities: should the City have had the right to put the kibosh on the basement addition, or was it OK for Bellows to add it since the chapel wasn’t yet officially on the Register? And does “consent of the City” mean the HPB or just the city planning department?  Because we all know that in Winter Park, until a structure has been voluntarily listed by its owner on the historic register (and apparently, the ink is dry), the HPB and city are legally powerless to protect a historic building from incompatible remodeling or demolition.

The Bigger Picture:

The Grant Chapel case shines a bright light on other historic treasures in Winter Park, indeed buildings on which the city’s reputation as “charming, historic Winter Park” rests, that are completely vulnerable to the whim of the property owner.

Did you know that while downtown Winter Park is a National Register Historic District, there are zero—count ‘em, ZERO—buildings in the ‘shopping district’ of Park Avenue that are on the Local Winter Park Register?   And though it seems counterintuitive, it’s the LOCAL register, not the National, that provides a building protection from alteration or demolition.

Greeneda Court

Greeneda Court

Consider Gamble Rogers’ celebrated Greeneda Court.  It’s not unfathomable that a developer might one day conclude that an open courtyard on Park Avenue doesn’t generate any cash flow and fill it in.  The 1882 Ergood Building (now Penzey’s), the Union State Bank Building (now Peterbrooke), the Pioneer Store (now Be on Park) and the Hamilton Hotel (now the Park Plaza) are protected from ruin only by the goodwill of their owners.  Which is to say, they’re one bad sale away from serious peril.

There’s not a single structure on the Rollins campus on the Winter Park Register. Are the Knowles Chapel and Annie Russell Theater on the Rollins campus safe?  One would think so.  Yet the college’s decision to raze gracious Strong Hall, designed by the celebrated architectural firm of Kiehnel and Elliott in 1939, to build a new, larger dormitory in 2013 does not bespeak a sensitivity to history, even though the Rollins website claims that the replacement dorm “has been designed in the Edison (sic) Misener (sic) tradition.”  See this interesting report of the original building’s dedication in 1939 by then-President Hamilton Holt: http://archives.rollins.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/archland/id/643/rec/9.

Strong Hall how it was

Strong Hall how it was

Strong Hall today

Strong Hall today

The equally beautiful Corrin Hall suffered a similar fate.  So, while buildings like the Knowles and the Annie might be considered sacrosanct, if I were Mills Memorial Library or the College Arms, I’d make sure my affairs were in order.

Not to spread hysteria, but Central Park is equally unprotected.  Is it ludicrous that the City would allow something to threaten what is by any objective measure, the most valuable historic resource in the city?  Any skeptics should see:  Hotels, Carlisle.

Yet any of these eventualities could be avoided if the City had the foresight to do what scores of other cities in Florida have done: to designate the contributing structures in the downtown central business district, and even on the Rollins campus, as historic on the local register, with or without the permission of the property owner.  Is this heresy?  A violation of our inalienable freedoms?  If so, then Palm Beach, Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, Tampa, and Coral Gables, just to name a few, are under the rule of totalitarian regimes.

Winter Park – both the politicians and property owners—may not have the stomach for designating an historic commercial district if the property owners don’t desire it. But if this is the case, we can’t be ‘shocked’ when a property owner compromises a treasured building’s historic design to increase profitability.  What’s more, we better have the stomach to tell our grandchildren that downtown Winter Park used to be a place with a lot of historic charm.

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Finding the “Real” in Winter Park Real Estate

One of my favorite features in the magazine “The Week” is a roundup of what houses are selling for around the country.  It’s amazing what $400,000 will buy in Knoxville, Tennessee—and what it won’t buy in San Francisco.

For this summer installment of our blog, we present our own real estate roundup,  Preservation Winter Park-style.   Even in 32789, one of Central Florida’s most expensive zip codes, there’s something for just about every price range in the historic home market.  Here’s what we found when looking for historic authenticity and quality in our fair city:

Price Range: <$200K

park aire front

Did you know you could afford a Park Avenue condo for under $200K?  Not only that, but one in a totally hip Art Moderne building that will make you want to mix up a Manhattan and put Dean Martin on the Hi-Fi.  The Park Aire, the nifty pink building next door to Casa Feliz, was built in 1956 as Winter Park’s first co-op.  “Completely air conditioned!” crowed the ad in the Winter Park Herald. Flash forward to 2014, this $188,500 condo is perfect for the empty nester who wants to downsize and simplify, or the snowbird looking for a stylish pied-a-terre.   Yeah, at only 539 sq. feet, it’s tiny, but the time you’ll save cleaning house you can spend shopping or dining on Park Avenue, or playing golf on the Winter Park municipal course, right outside your doorstep.

park aire living

http://www.century21.com/property/640-n-park-ave-29-winter-park-fl-32789-C2121979902

Price Range: <$500K

holtfront

You’ve probably driven past this cute bungalow on Holt Avenue in the College Quarter, and not paid that much attention.  I almost didn’t include it here because I think the price is high ($469,000) for a small house on a busy street.  And although the real estate listing says the house is 1,600 sq. ft., it seems smaller in person.  All that said, though, this house exudes historic charm from every pore, and it’s right smack dab in the middle of the action in downtown Winter Park.   Yes, it’s been updated, but impeccably, and very much in keeping with the era of the house;  the kitchen is gorgeous, and the master bath put my charm-meter on the fritz. The wood floors and plaster walls are original and pristine.  After all, with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, and real estate’s 3 Ls in spades, how much more could you want for under $500K?

holtkitchen holtlivingroomholtbath

http://search.fanniehillman.com/index.cfm?action=listing_detail&property_id=O5181147&searchkey=83467c35-e3b2-9e4c-0754-45fc838d7da1

Price Range: <$700K

 

DSC_0325

A few years back, our Colloquium featured the design/build team of Sorenson & Fletcher, who provided high-quality, affordable housing for Winter Park’s expanding baby boomer population.  And while this $629,000 S & F house in Winter Park’s “tree streets” isn’t cheap, it’s in one of 32789’s top school districts and you can bike to Park Avenue.  What’s more, the house has been tastefully updated through the years to meet today’s lifestyle needs while retaining its Bauhaus flavor.  Too many of these gems have been bulldozed to make way for McMansions with zero design integrity.  If you think midcentury architecture should look like it was built in the 60s, with its original Terrazzo kitchen floors and mosaic tile fireplace, this house is the real McCoy.  Come look inside—

DSC_0229DSC_0093

chestnut pool

http://www.mlsfinder.com/fl_mfrmls/kw_294/index.cfm?action=listing_detail&property_id=O5306717&searchkey=bb99c643-98d8-4e16-a768-420de5ac2e53

Are you drooling?  Me too! Meetcha down at the Beef & Bottle for some Chateaubriand!

Price Range:  Cha-ching

osceola frontBut wait—historic home lovers, you have not yet begun to salivate.  Come with me a few decades further back, to 1930, when this house was built for the Sinclair Oil Family.  It then passed to the Showalter family in the mid 50s.  Additions have been made  through the years (including, Bob Showalter remembers, a bomb shelter his dad built after the Cuban Missile Crisis), but the new blends effortlessly with the old.  Indeed, from its Mexican tile floors to its pecky cypress ceilings, everything about this 5 bedroom, 3.5 bath Spanish style house screams “¡Autenticidad!”   (Okay, smart aleck, except for the ginormous master bath with a sinkhole-size soaking tub, but we’ll overlook that concession to modernity).  Seriously, you couldn’t build a house with this quality design and craftsmanship, on Lake Osceola no less, for $2.9 million.  By that standard, this house is a steal.osceola door

osceola living osceola family osceola entry

http://www.berkshirehathawayhs.com/Florida-Realty-FL301/homes-for-sale/FL/Winter-Park/32789/699-Osceola-Avenue-127859122

We  hope you enjoyed our midsummer dream house-hunting.  And remember, next time you’re really in the market for a house, type in “1965” in the “Built Before” search box.  That’s where you’ll find the good stuff.

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No Lie: Hinge Vintage Hardware is Unbelievable

by Betsy Owens

Do you remember the 1970s TV game show called “The Liars’ Club”? The show, hosted by Allen Ludden, involved a panel of celebrity judges examining unusual-looking objects and offering humorous theories on their possible usage.

Unfortunately for the game show producers, Hinge, the Orlando vintage hardware store that opened last month, didn’t exist back then.  Because, in addition to stocking the most comprehensive supply of antique door hardware, bath fixtures, lighting and vintage accents of possibly any other retail store in the history of the universe, Hinge also stocks fanciful items like this:

1510485_1512241068999343_7152052803278591804_n

And this:

10432486_1513338798889570_5836486018235021127_n

What are those, you ask?  Why, an antique curling iron and a pastry monogram imprint, of course!

If, somehow, you can find a more exhaustive collection of antique fixtures and furnishings somewhere, I will guarantee you that the merchandise isn’t as artfully displayed. If the Disney Imagineers were to design a vintage hardware store, they couldn’t do better than Hinge.

During my visit, I was led on a tour of the showrooms and stockroom by owners Rick and Nancy Bosserman.  For this historic preservationist, it was like a trip to the candy store.  Literally, in fact, since interspersed between the gorgeous vignettes of antique furnishings and fixtures, are tubs containing old-fashioned candy and boxes of Cracker Jack, in case you get peckish.  And you probably will.  I defy you to get in and out of Hinge in less than an hour.  I could easily lose myself for days in the stockroom alone.

If some of the merchandise looks familiar, you may remember George Baker, aka The Hardware Man, who operated a store at Renniger’s Antique Mall in Mount Dora.  When the Bossermans, who visited the store often to find hardware for their 1941 James Gamble Rogers-designed home in Orlando, learned that the Hardware Man was closing his doors, they bought him out, antique padlock, stockroom, and vintage barrel.

For Rick, a man of faith who worked in his family’s real estate brokerage firm, First Realty Advisors, for 40 years, this segue into the hardware business was a calling.  “It was obvious to me that the store needed to be purchased, and this great collection needed to remain intact.”  So, he’s passed the real estate business to the next generation of Bossermans, while he and Nancy devote themselves full-time to getting Hinge up and running.

HEAD HINGENEERS: RICK AND NANCY BOSSERMAN

HEAD HINGENEERS: RICK AND NANCY BOSSERMAN

The purchase of the business was a leap of faith in more ways than one.  Rick had no experience in retail sales, but set about converting an 8,700 square foot building located at 1506 N. Orange Blossom Trail, to a showroom and warehouse.

Then, they had to tackle the inventory. Most of the hardware was housed in a showroom, 5 large storage sheds and 2 45-ft. semi trailers in Mount Dora.  “The areas were so crammed full, there was no way to really tell what we were purchasing until we got it to Orlando and started going through the items piece by piece,” said Rick. Rick assembled a team of “Hingeneers,” including the Hardware Man’s daughter Kathy, to pack, move, unpack, clean, sort, and stock more than 3 million pieces of inventory, a process that took about 3 months, and 6 more months to create the showroom.  When they opened their doors to the public, they took a conscious break from the unpacking. In fact, when I visited their stocked-to-the gills warehouse and display rooms, I noticed the two semi trailers on the lot out back.  “What’s in those?” I asked Rick.  “I have no idea,” he laughed.  “We have to sell some of our existing inventory before we even open them.”

So, what will you find at Hinge?  Come, take a look inside:

HINGE IS ONE PART RETAIL STORE, ONE PART MUSUEM

HINGE IS ONE PART RETAIL STORE, ONE PART MUSEUM

VINTAGE LIGHTING: CUSTOMERS CAN MIX AND MATCH GLOBES, BOWLS, CHAINS AND BASES.

VINTAGE LIGHTING: CUSTOMERS CAN MIX AND MATCH GLOBES, BOWLS, CHAINS AND BASES.

GET A HANDLE ON THE SELECTION!

GET A HANDLE ON THE SELECTION!

 

THE ARTFUL DISPLAYS ARE A JOY TO BEHOLD

THE ARTFUL DISPLAYS ARE A JOY TO BEHOLD

 

LOSE THE KEY TO YOUR ANTIQUE HUTCH? YOU’RE IN LUCK.

LOSE THE KEY TO YOUR ANTIQUE HUTCH? YOU’RE IN LUCK.

They say it’s easy to sell a product you believe in.  If this is the case, Hinge will be wildly successful.  The Bossermans and their team love vintage hardware.

“They truly don’t make ‘em like they used to,” says Nancy, who has a doctorate in home economics and formerly wrote textbooks.  “These products have endured for generations, and most are no longer being made today.”

Rick adds, “our hardware comes from a time when if something was broken, you repaired it, you didn’t throw it away.”  He shows me a carpet binder from 1902 that still cranks perfectly. “Runs like a charm,” he smiles.

“Plus,” says Nancy, “not only is this hardware functional, it’s beautiful.”

Indeed, try finding door hardware this beautiful at Home Depot:

door hardware

Or a bread server with this kind of patina at Williams-Sonoma:

F:SKUs2-28-20145_MG_9832.JPG

Next up, Rick is working on the company website, www.hingevintagehardware.com, to broaden Hinge’s market to cyberspace.

Lucky for us, we Central Floridians can visit Hinge in person.

Hinge is located at 1506 North Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando.  Store hours are Monday through Friday, 10 to 6, and Saturday from 10 to 4.  

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Rehab Addict Hooks Winter Park Audience

By Richard T. Reep, AIA, LEED-AP

 

REHAB ADDICT NICOLE CURTIS

REHAB ADDICT NICOLE CURTIS

On May 17, Winter Park preservationists’ spirits were lifted, partly by the bright sunlight and partly by six gorgeous historic homes open for touring and study.  What lifted spirits even more was the infectious enthusiasm of Nicole Curtis, HGTV’s “Rehab Addict,” who addressed an audience of 350 at Tiedtke Auditorium in Rollins College.  This, the eighth annual James Gamble Rogers II Colloquium on Historic Preservation, brought some much-needed frank talk to the issue of preservation.  The Friends of Casa Feliz, sponsors of the Colloquium, saw a room energized by Curtis’ street savvy and humor.  Her message of pride in preservation launched enthusiastic people onto the home tour this year.

Historic homes in the Virginia Heights neighborhood were settings for interesting conversations about quality, craftsmanship, and authenticity inspired by Curtis’ talk.  “These homes were made in America,” she pointed out about older homes, in contrast to newer homes full of materials that come from overseas.  Craftsmanship, like hand-built windows and doors, seemed to stand out more in the homes from the 1920s.

VIRGINIA HEIGHTS BUNGALOW

VIRGINIA HEIGHTS BUNGALOW

If your environment is full of more recent construction, the ubiquitous machine-made parts dull the senses, and so small details like crystal doorknobs seem sharper in contrast.  Views through divided-lite windows seem more precious somehow.  Overheard during the home tour was an expression of delight that Curtis actually said things that people had only been feeling, hidden away, while Winter Park grants demolition permits and showy big homes take the place of the older dwellings so quickly removed.

“The building you have is always the most sustainable one,” she also stated flatly, rejecting the argument that a newer home has less impact on the environment.  In fact, she pointed out, an older, locally-built structure embodies a fraction of the material and energy than structures that come about in our contemporary global economy.  Keeping an old home out of a landfill is more sustainable as well, reducing the waste stream in our cities.

Restoring homes in Tampa, Detroit, and Minneapolis, Curtis emphasized how old buildings tell powerful stories.  Winter Park, like many historic places, has a magical attraction for many seeking an authentic place to dwell, and this attraction comes partly from the stories and culture that bring it alive.

Some choice Nicoleisms from the morning lecture:

  • On Demolition of Historic Homes:  “It’s just plain wrong,” she said, “and here’s why.  These houses are beautifully built, with incredible quality and craftsmanship, and the generations that lived in these houses helped make America great.  Each house had Christmas presents under a tree somewhere.  Buyers who tear a house down, in order to maximize their own return, steal not just from this past, but from the future as well.”
  • On Sustainability:  “The average Styrofoam container weighs 4.4 grams.  Let’s say you have a 200 ton house.  It takes saving about 37 million Styrofoam containers from a landfill to make up the damage from putting a 200 ton house in a landfill.”
  • On Heritage Tourism:  “Winter Park. No one’s coming here to see a 2014 build. They come here to see the quaintness, and the old houses. And once that’s gone, it’s gone. Number one reason?  We don’t have the tradespeople anymore to build these houses.”
COLLOQUIUM HOUSE TOUR

COLLOQUIUM HOUSE TOUR

  • On quality craftsmanship: “I have yet to meet a tradesman who could recreate something from 1904 without (power tools).  Even adults don’t consider when they look at these homes they were all hand-crafted… and we certainly don’t have the building materials any more.  My favorite line is that vinyl replacement windows are called replacement windows because they always have to be replaced.”
  • It’s OK to be the best house on the street: “In Detroit, I bought a house on a street where the rest of the homes had burned down.  No one wanted to rebuild.  After I restored a house, suddenly there was a comp, and the rest of the owners could benchmark against my home.  In this way, the community gets strengthened.”

You can watch the whole hour-long lecture by clicking HERE.

Curtis’ ultimate message, that it is OK to be a preservationist, echoed throughout the room, and an excited audience spilled onto Park Avenue for lunch, followed by a tour six authentic old homes.     On the tour were three homes from 1925, a bungalow from 1926, one from 1928, and finally a 1949 home across the street from Lake Sue.  Each one echoed what Curtis talked about:  a sense of place, a storied past, and a beauty that arises from the human-sized scale, the idiosyncratic details, and the response that the home made to its climate, its owners, and its time.

While Curtis’ talk was inspiring, it was also street-smart.  No doctorate degree or academic language was needed to convey her simple message, that, like oatmeal, loving our older homes is “the right thing to do.” Her show embodies the principle that the original design should be honored and respected, and worked around to move a home into the twenty-first century.  For a multigenerational audience, this much-needed push should galvanize many whose preservation instincts are good, and bring more converts to the cause.

Richard Reep is a board member of the Friends of Casa Feliz, the President of the Orlando Foundation for Architecture, and an Adjunct Professor, Growth Studies Department, Rollins College.

 

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West Side Story: Winter Park Turns a Deaf Ear to the Wrecking Ball

Have you ever read Winter Park’s Comprehensive Plan?  It’s the document, codified in 2009, which is intended to govern all growth management and land use planning for the city.  Goal 1-1, in ALL CAPS AND BOLD states that the city shall “MAINTAIN INDIVIDUAL IDENTITY, CHARACTER, NATURAL ENVIRONMENT, AND SOCIOECONOMIC AND ETHNIC DIVERSITY.”  See for yourself: http://cityofwinterpark.org/Docs/Departments/comp_plans/CompPlan_FLU_GOP.pdf.  I combed the document carefully, and couldn’t find any caveats to Goal 1-1 like “unless we’re talking about Winter Park’s West Side,” or “unless this plan interferes with a developer’s ability to make a profit.”

To the contrary, the first goal of the section pertaining to the West Side is “The City shall discourage non-residential and high-density residential encroachments into low density residential areas of this neighborhood planning area.” Yet given what’s been going on in the city’s historic African American neighborhood in recent years, West Siders and other fair-minded citizens might regard the Comprehensive Plan as a fanciful work of fiction.

Currently, our Planning and Zoning Board  is considering recommending changes to our Comprehensive Plan—requested by developer Dan Bellows and David Weekley Homes—to increase the allowed density in a one-block area between Denning and Capen Avenues on the West Side.  They want to build townhouses that will cost between $400,000 and $600,000 in the shadows of a parking garage that Bellows built on Canton in 2007. Viewed in isolation, this doesn’t seem like cause for alarm.  What’s the big deal about taking a relatively small plat of land and changing the zoning to allow 20-32 families to reside there rather than the current 8? And true enough, on land that abuts a parking garage, perhaps 3-story townhouses are more in scale than tiny, single-family dwellings.

But in fact, it is a big deal.  Because even if Bellows’ request is denied at the next Planning and Zoning meeting, it will be one miniscule victory for authenticity in a decades-long war being waged against the West Side—a war that the residents are losing.  Keep in mind, the West Side residents didn’t want the hulking parking garage to begin with.  Bellows’ argument to increase density in the neighborhood is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent.

The reality is that over the last 20 years, our P&Z board and City Commission have been caving in to this kind of skewed logic, and Winter Park has witnessed a slow creep of development that is decimating the historic value and residential scale of the West Side. A Winter Park Voice report, published earlier this week, offers an excellent synopsis of the issue at hand: http://www.winterparkvoice.com/  At best, the city’s policy—hovering between inaction and complicity—has been neglectful.  At worst, it’s been heartless.

The modus operandi of the West Side developers is deliberate and methodical: If we do this slowly enough, block by block, nibbling around the edges, maybe people won’t really notice that we’re systematically squeezing out the lower income residents and lining our pockets in the process.  Like the frog who doesn’t realize he’s being cooked because of the gradual increase in the water temperature, Winter Parkers may not realize what’s happening to the historic West Side until all traces of authenticity have been expunged.

Some will argue that the shops and restaurants along New England Avenue are an improvement to what was there before.  We may enjoy dining alfresco at a Hannibal Square restaurant or shopping in a tony dress shop. But we’re fooling ourselves if we think that we’re not sacrificing the city’s diversity and historic authenticity for more upscale retail and condos.

Indeed, the story of what’s happening on Winter Park’s West Side almost reads like a parody of gentrification from the satirical publication The Onion.  It would be humorous if it weren’t so very sad.  On Lyman Avenue, the residents of houses like this:

Lyman Avenue home

and this:   photo 7 now look across the street to see this:photo   and this: “Villa Lucca” is one of a row of 8 similarly-named townhouses, like “Villa Trieste” and “Villa Vicenza.”  Thank you, David Weekley, for giving us a taste of olde Italia right here in West Winter Park!

On Hannibal Square, where there were once historic homes belonging to  the original West Side settlers,  we now have upscale spas offering $75 infrared facials and a shopping arcade called “The Plaza at Hannibal Square.”  One wonders how much the easy availability of a $50 mani-pedi and an $18 bowl of bouillabaisse has improved the life of the average West Sider.

Who does this kind of gentrification serve? Well, clearly the developers stand to gain—folks like Dan Bellows and David Weekley Homes.  And of course, the anti-regulatory crowd will argue that we all benefit from an increased tax base—the greater the value of the improved property, the more tax revenue it produces for the city.  But this argument is short-sighted, and it’s wrong.

Who loses when we allow the West Side to be paved over and ‘redeveloped,’ block by block? For starters, the residents whose small houses are now in the shadows of 4-story condo buildings and parking garages; who have to put up with increased traffic and noise; who rue the erosion of the neighborhood they call home—where they and their parents and their grandparents and their great-grandparents grew up, socialized, went to church, did business.  Citizens of the West Side rightly do not see their land as a “product,” like the developers who want to upzone the neighborhood.   Instead they see their neighborhood as a community.

From a historical perspective, we all lose when an authentic neighborhood is ‘upzoned.’ The original residents of West Winter Park truly helped build the city, although their names aren’t on street signs like Charles H. Morse’s and Francis Knowles’.  A future blog post will feature the historic West Side homes that have been lost, and the people who built them.  For those who don’t know the history of the West Side, visit the Hannibal Square Heritage Center (http://www.hannibalsquareheritagecenter.org/aboutus.html), which tells the stories of the men and women who helped build Winter Park.

Unfortunately, when the last traces of history are ultimately erased from the West Side, we won’t be able to plead ignorance.  In 2001, the city commissioned GAI Consultants to conduct a comprehensive historic resources survey of Winter Park (http://cityofwinterpark.org/Docs/Departments/Planning/HistoricPreservation/ArchitecturalHistoricResourcesSurvey_2001.pdf) See pp. 43 and following.  The survey identified 70 houses on Winter Park’s West Side as historic resources, and noted that “unlike such purely residential subdivisions as Virginia Heights or College Place, Hannibal Square also contained churches, schools, a library, and several businesses.”  It further recommended that “the area forms the basis for a potential Hannibal Square/Westside Historic District, significant for its association with the African-American population in Winter Park during most of the town’s history.”

Yet since the 2001 survey, more than 1/3 of the identified historic resources—or 24 homes–have been razed. About 100 less notable homes, yet components of the West Side community nonetheless, have been demolished. Winter Park has turned a deaf ear to the crack of the wrecking ball.  In our city, does a home have to be designed by James Gamble Rogers for a scion of industry in order to be significant, and warrant protection?

From a socioeconomic standpoint, all residents of Winter Park—even those on the East Side of the railroad tracks—lose if our population is homogenized.  City Planning 101 tells us that socioeconomic diversity is vital to a city’s health and prosperity.  A 2010 report commissioned by the City of Toronto summarized well the importance of diversity:

 there is a growing body of literature which argues that population diversity, in and of itself and as a proxy for tolerance, contributes immensely to the ability of cities to attract, retain and harness the skills and creativity of talented individuals (see, for example, Florida 2002, Ottaviano and Peri 2005; 2006). Cities that promote diversity and tolerance also tend to become places that are open to new ideas and different perspectives, promoting creativity. This in turn builds cities that are attractive to individuals and businesses involved in the creation of new ideas, products and services. (http://martinprosperity.org/media/pdfs/Toronto_election_series-Importance_of_Diversity_to_Economic_and_Social_Prosperity.pdf)

Translation: even folks who value things like ‘economic vitality’ and a ‘robust business community’ over historic preservation and cultural diversity have reason to abhor what’s been happening West of New York Avenue.

Indeed, the gradual erosion of the character of any of Winter Park’s distinct neighborhoods should be anathema not only to the citizens who developed the comprehensive plan, but to all the city’s residents.  West Siders have voiced their opposition to the proposed change to the comprehensive plan to rezone and consolidate.  To ignore their opposition is nothing short of arrogance.  It’s time that all Winter Park residents–not just people of color–join in solidarity to challenge the systematic demolition and redevelopment of the city’s historic West Side.

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Happy to Be Home

A few weeks back, we asked our readers to tell us about their favorite house in Winter Park.  While there were some predictable (and excellent) choices—The Palms, Casa Feliz, that-amazing-red-brick-house-on-Seminole-that-everyone-drools-over—it was a pleasant surprise that a number of respondents said that they were LIVING in their favorite Winter Park house.  This was a good excuse to visit, and profile, two of them:

“This house IS Winter Park.”

Lots of houses look wonderfully old on the outside.  They have gorgeous historic wrought-iron, hand-hewn balconies, and charming architectural features that please the eye and the soul.  Then you go inside, and you might as well be in a five-year-old Isleworth mansion.  All signs of yesteryear have been eradicated to ‘meet the needs of today’s homeowner.’

Sally's Dream House

Sally’s Dream House

Authenticity Defined

Authenticity Defined

Delightfully, this is not the case with Sally Flynn’s 1929 Virginia Heights home. Precious little has changed since the day she laid eyes on it in 1966, save a few cosmetic touches and the expansion of the family room, and today the house is even more soulful inside than it is outside.  The Spanish style house sits on just over an acre on the west shore of Lake Virginia, and Sally has an unobstructed view from her porch of the only large plat of undeveloped land on the lake—the Windsong Preserve.  “Every time I pull into my driveway,” Sally says, “I feel I’m the luckiest person in the world.”

The lot overlooking the Windsong Preserve

The lot overlooking the Windsong Preserve

If Hollywood were to design a set for an idyllic childhood home, it couldn’t come closer than this one. Sally raised her five (now adult) children in the house. She reflects, “this house IS Winter Park to my children,” only one of whom still lives in Florida.  Although the rooms are very large, with original plaster, antique decorative light fixtures, gorgeous magnolia ceiling beams, and crown molding, there isn’t a piece of furniture that couldn’t withstand a sick child reclining on it, or a dog’s muddy paws.  The huge dining room is populated by family antiques—none of them overly fancy or off-putting, the kind of furnishings that root you to a simpler past. None of the upholstery really matches, yet it is the most unintentionally elegant home I have ever been inside. “I’ve never had a decorator,” says Sally. “Never had much interest in that.”

Living Room

Living Room

Dining Room

Dining Room

The house boasts a large, farmhouse kitchen with lots of original cabinets, homey wallpaper, formica countertops and a kitchen table that says, ‘come sit down.’  There’s a sweeping expanse of lawn between the house and the lake, whose rose garden was removed so it didn’t interfere with her three sons’ backyard baseball games. If you listen carefully, you can almost still hear the squeals of children running the bases, chasing each other up and down what has to be the most inviting staircase in Winter Park, or running laps around the downstairs.  Perhaps, though, this is because a bevy of Sally’s 12 grandchildren have just recently departed from spending a week spring break at Camp Grammy.

No Sub-Zero Here

No Sub-Zero Here

How many kids have slid down this banister?

How many kids have slid down this banister?

And while, let’s be honest, you cannot own a grand house full of lovely antiques on an acre of land on Lake Virginia without being a person of some means, Sally’s humble, New England pragmatism pervades every part of her person.  For instance, the 3 ½ bathroom house initially had no shower.  She eventually added one in the kids’ half of the upstairs to satisy her brood of athlete teenagers, but the master ‘suite,’ if you could call it that, still has only the original tub, sink and toilet. “For heaven’s sakes, what more do I need?” says Sally, whose drip-dry grey bob hairstyle is about as unfussy as they come.

Sally in a rare pose--sitting down

Sally in a rare pose–sitting down

And, sitting on Sally’s sun porch overlooking a still Lake Virginia on a bright, breezy spring day, I’d be hard put to think of any need this house wouldn’t satisfy.

 Marjorie’s Happy Place

Bet you didn’t know that, on the south shore of Lake Osceola, there’s a 99-year-old house that sits on 4 (count ‘em) otherwise undeveloped acres.  And if walls could speak, Bryan and Marjorie Bekaert Thomas’ house could almost dictate a history of Winter Park. The 1915 English arts and crafts style house, once called “Pine Needles,” was built on the former site of the famed Seminole Hotel, which burned in 1902.

Accented by trellises bearing fuchsia bougainvillea, the 4700 square foot woodframe house has always been home to prominent Winter Park families.  Built for Mr. and Mrs. Harley Gibbs, old “Winter Park Forum” articles tell stories of the gracious society entertaining that took place there. The subsequent owners, the Freemans, also fêted Winter Park’s gentry.  Their daughter Billie Freeman Greene, who would raise her family there, was a well-known botanist, watercolor artist and published author.  Billie’s husband Ray was a top administrator at Rollins, developed Greeneda Court on Park Avenue, and served as Winter Park mayor in the 1950s.

thomas front wideWhen the Thomases moved to Winter Park in 1982, Marjorie had her sights set on another house across the lake, but wondered whether the house was priced fairly.  For comparison purposes, her real estate agent took her to Pine Needles, which was a much bigger house on much more land than the couple had considered purchasing. Marjorie fell madly in love.  “I knew the instant I crossed the threshold,” she remembers. Bryan needed convincing—they lived in the house five years before he would admit he had grown to love it as much as she did from the start.

Sun porch and trellis

Sun porch and trellis

Yet the house is not what you would expect from the founder and owner of a multi-million dollar news production company, Ivanhoe Broadcast News, and someone who spends her spare time playing polo.  Marjorie is a steel magnolia—a shrewd businesswoman with the easy laugh, warm smile and gentile accent of a North Carolina belle.

Marjorie and friend

Marjorie and friend

Master fireplace“I hate McMansions,” says Marjorie.  Indeed, her house, grounds and furnishings bespeak a lack of pretension wholly absent in squeaky-new homes dripping in travertine.  Like Sally Flynn’s, Marjorie’s kitchen is somewhat cluttered with projects and looks as if someone actually prepares food there.  There are four fireplaces with well-worn hearths.  The huge yard is wild, with mown turf mixed with sand where you might expect manicured boxwood.  It’s perfectly suited to long games of fetch with her beloved dogs–an Australian shepherd and a Border collie.

Casual elegance

Casual elegance

And while it’s a large house for two people, Marjorie and Bryan use most of the rooms.   They recently moved all the furniture out of the grand living room, with the wall of windows overlooking Lake Osceola, so that they could practice yoga there. Bryan works from home in the remodeled servant’s quarters, and they frequently host out-of-town guests.  Marjorie’s favorite room in the house?  One of two sun porches. “I love nothing more than to sit here on Sunday and read the New York Times.”

The yoga studio...

The yoga studio…

As much as she cherishes the house, Marjorie loves the property even more, and has resisted numerous tempting offers to sell off portions of it.  She told one suitor, who kept upping the ante, “Do NOT call me again. I do not want to have to say ‘yes’” she laughs. Her long-range plan is to move into the 1600 sq. foot guest house, designed by James Gamble Rogers and recently updated, and to rent or sell the house and grounds.  This pattern was established by Billie Greene, who continued to live in the guest house for years after Marjorie and Bryan occupied the main house.  Marjorie happily yielded to Billie’s tending flower beds around the property, and harvesting bouquets for the Winter Park Library next door.

It’s only appropriate, on one of Winter Park’s most storied properties, that history will repeat itself.

 

 

 

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Addressing Windows

“The eyes are the window to the soul” — old English proverb

by Richard T. Reep, AIA, LEED-AP

Winding down the bumpety brick streets of old Winter Park is a voyage through time, where historic brick and wood frame homes from the city’s early days coexist with opulent mansions built more recently.  And while it’s not unusual to see two homes, side by side, built in the same architectural style but 80 years apart, it’s usually easy to tell the old from the new–but why?  What makes a new home look new, and an old home look old, is a fascinating journey through lifestyle changes and construction techniques, and once you begin on this journey, you start to appreciate and love the older homes more and more, and crave their simplicity of taste.  One of the easiest ways to see the story of a house is in its windows, and after looking closely at older homes’ windows, you will never see a new home in the same light again.

As stated in a previous essay, the difference between newer structures and older ones is the way the home expresses the act of dwelling. It is a home’s myriad little details–its accretions and additions over time, its way of settling into its landscape—that show us how humans come together and dwell.  Particularly expressive are a house’s windows and doors, which define the special relationship between the interior of the house and what lies outside.  Windows personalize a home, give it character, and act as the unofficial “eyes” of the owner.windows4

In Winter Park’s earliest days, the 1880s, windows were often milled on site using wood available from upriver in Georgia or other places easily accessible by train or by boat.  Windows were frequently custom-sized, many of them odd dimensions with trim or detailing that reflected the habits and skills of the craftsmen who made them.  As such, windows became little showpieces, where joinery and tight-fitting material were key aspects; they were sized in proportion to their walls.

windows5The windows were carefully fitted together and operated by crank handles (casement) or, if they were wood, were double-hung. These were early machines put in houses. The tops slid down on pulleys, with ropes tied to counterweights in the window jambs, letting the rising hot air out of the room.  Or, the bottoms slide open, so a pie could cool on the window sill or a breeze could blow through.

In older masonry homes, like Casa Feliz, the window is set back from the face of the wall.  You see the ends of the bricks lined up at the window jamb; the brick arches over the top carrying the weight of the wall over the opening.  These are craftsman details, and were done with great care, because the window’s job – to let sunlight in, and to provide a view out – competed with the wall’s job, which was to hold the house up and to keep water out.  The window is where all this comes together.

In a wood home, like many old bungalows around town, the wall isn’t as thick as in a masonry home, but the windows are similarly set back.  The shadow line was just enough to help cut the heat from the house, and windows also had many accoutrements – awnings, shutters, and other shade devices to keep the sun out.  Today’s homes have few, if any of these accoutrements, and the windows seem to be stretched tightly across the skin of the house.  They are not set back at all, even a little bit!  You can easily tell a newer home by this detail.

Older windows had much smaller panes of glass, while newer windows – mass produced, shrinkwrapped, and shipped – have much larger panes of glass.  And the whole idea of an operable window seems to have vanished, with many new homes having windows that don’t open at all.  Gone with the casements and sliding mechanisms are the trim pieces that framed the window, giving it importance and place.  If a stucco crew has the time, they may add a thickened band around the window, as a nod to the craftsmen of old.  This just makes a window look cheap, and it looks even cheaper when tiny, thin strips of metal are glued onto the glass.  These faux window muntins read as ‘cartoonish,’ not ‘historic.windows2

Windows flush with the skin of the wall, huge panes of glass that are never opened, unshaded and unprotected from the elements, mere voids…any or all of these characteristics are clues to the age of a home, and the more of this, the less the house says “dwelling”.  If you have an eye for historical architecture, these are painful to see, even if they serve their function.  While old windows universally express view through their details, these new windows can express a certain blindness to craftsmanship and quality.

Building techniques have changed, forcing windows into modular dimensions and having simpler mechanisms.  Often the frames themselves are now made out of vinyl, a triumph of petrochemical engineering.  And they are forced out to the very outside face of the house, so they can be put on in a certain sequence with waterproofing.

Most of all, windows have been freed from their ventilatory functions by air conditioning; so in the eyes of the modern builder, the simpler to operate, and the cheaper to install, the better.  The sum of all this is a fundamental change in our lifestyle; we live in tight, climate-controlled boxes, demanding million-dollar views, but not participating in the civic realm that allows these great views to occur.

This would all be fine, if windows were truly liberated from the drudgery of counterweights, the small glassmakers’ furnaces, rust and rot and all their old ills.  If, once freed from these constraints, windows became more beautiful, and more integrated into their homes, then all of these changes would be blessings.  But, alas, they too often fail to provide any sense of dwelling at all, and instead they bring a new home down.  On big homes, windows are too often a place to save money; and they diminish a structure’s design and its taste.

windows3So, if you are cruising Winter Park and looking at newer homes, learn from the old homes what a window really is.  If you are a homeowner contemplating windows, insist upon windows that are sized in proportion to the overall design of the house, not just the view that you might want to show off.  Insist upon windows that are manufactured with some quality to them, that fit into the wall, not just mount on the face like a band-aid.  Insist that the craftsmen who finish the wall around the window do so with thought about how to protect the opening – shutters, a lintel, or trim that has meaning and design to it, not just another empty stucco band.  And let your window itself join the respectable collection of many windows here in historic Winter Park, where you have chosen to dwell.

Richard Reep is a board member of the Friends of Casa Feliz, the President of the Orlando Foundation for Architecture, and an Adjunct Professor, Growth Studies Department, Rollins College.

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OK: I’ve got One Paladian window, Four Corinthian columns; Do you want a hot apple pie with that?

mount vernon1By Richard T. Reep, AIA, LEED-AP

In America, a house has always spoken volumes about its inhabitant.  Home as status symbol is a time-honored tradition: when George Washington remodeled Mount Vernon over 225 years ago, he carefully chose a neoclassical design style that expressed his growing status as a military and political leader amongst his people.  Unfortunately, today’s houses are built in an era that values skin-deep appearances; features such as stone veneer and fiberglass columns are added as if selected from a fast-food menu, but lack the design depth or quality construction to stand the test of time.

Increasingly in Winter Park, these veneer and fiberglass mansions are eclipsing authentic historic homes, and the community suffers as a result.  There are plenty of places in Central Florida that welcome fast-food box houses, flashy on the outside but not designed to last, which is fine for neighborhoods outside of Winter Park’s historical areas. Indeed, houses fitting into historic communities should be lasting and complimentary to their surroundings; in the meantime, houses that are already here and contribute to the character of the town should be honored for the whole public good.

George Washington’s case is an interesting one.  Like many of today’s homebuilders, Washington, lacking formal architectural training, used plan books, patterns and styles that were trendy among his peers, and he relied heavily on his contractor for the design details.    Yet he also used the traditional house that his father built as the basis for design, carefully integrating the old with the new.  And unlike the disposable homes of today, Mount Vernon has passed the test of time for function, endurance, and beauty.  This is the first in an occasional series of essays that are meant to examine these qualities and how they are expressed in a home, and to share some of the reasons that older homes should be respected and integrated into our lives, rather than be discarded like fast food wrappers.

Supersize me

Supersize me

McMansions, those huge homes built upon small lots out in the exurbs, began springing up in the older urban cores of our cities in the 1980s.  People who wanted big homes fast also wanted to see their property appreciate, and could see that this was happening faster in town than it was on the periphery.  Small lots were purchased and combined into one so a home could be fit onto them…and when this didn’t work, a home was squeezed onto a narrow lot anyway!

The delight of living in a place like Winter Park is to see its history through its architecture.  The materials available in the early days either came in by train, or were made out of lumber nearby.  The earliest settlers dealt with the hot, humid climate by building wood houses, open and airy, allowing natural ventilation to do its job, with deep, wrap-around porches to shade the windows.  Thick-walled Spanish style homes, favored by affluent newcomers, are more suited to an arid climate like Spain, soaking up the sun during the day and giving off heat at night, when the air cools down.

These two styles used local materials but always kept their windows to a minimum – just enough to let in the bright sunlight, not enough to let in the rain.  Plenty of land between homes assured a breeze coming through, and kept neighbors – remember, without air conditioning, the windows were open much of the year – from overhearing too much.  Overall, the homes were hand-built by craftsmen who milled much of the lumber on site, and who situated the home to take advantage of the breezes, the shade, and the view.

These older homes, after several generations develop a patina and are imbued with what many call a “sense of place.”  This can only be achieved over time, and goes beyond character to what the Germans call “stimmung”, meaning a certain atmosphere around a house.  A house’s stimmung comes from its orientation, the shape of the spaces around it, the home’s materials and colors and how it fits into the land.  All of this requires space and time and patience to come into existence.

Stimmung to spare

Stimmung to spare

To achieve this sense of character or atmosphere, a house must be well-built to begin with, and be continuously occupied, with each generation loving the house enough to respect its quirks and idiosyncracies and foibles, molding it and shaping it to fit evolving lifestyles without losing the original character.  In this way, people come to gather at a house, and turn it into a home; this is what is meant by the verb “to dwell”, and this almost magical transformation is evident in a number of older Winter Park homes.  The fact that it has happened in so many parts of Winter Park makes this place special, and it lifts all of our spirits to live here and partake of this stimmung.  This is why, in this town, historic preservation is critical, so that we maintain our ability to dwell between the pretty lakes and under the grand trees that brought our ancestors here in the beginning.

And into this sense of place comes new people, continuously, who are attracted by the beautiful aspects of the town, but who have yet to discover this magical sense of dwelling.  It takes time to discover, just as it took time to create; and in our contemporary, high-speed lifestyle, time is a highly precious commodity.  If newcomers do give themselves the time, they almost always learn to love the nuances and oddities as well as the grand parts of the town, and they learn to slow down – and get to the essence of the place, its stimmung.

parker houseWhere people have lost this sense of dwelling, you can almost always find a rapidly-developed subdivision filled with McMansions.  These tend to be large on their lots, and to have showy front facades that feature details and materials that have nothing to do with Winter Park, its history, character, climate, or anything but a builder’s plan book. In older homes, windows were placed on facades with care, and when you have viewed many old homes, a rhythm and sense of proportion arises from the window patterns, their sizes and placement on the walls.  Older homes were built by practical craftsmen, so materials like stone – weighty, massive, and good in compression – were used to hold things up, like the white masonry base on the Virginia Heights house to the left.  Homebuilders were often good carpenters, so the roofline and rafters were exquisitely carved, expressing lightness and beauty.  Thus the early bungalows and lap-siding homes had a grace and elegance about them, and a street with several of these exudes a very strong stimmung.

All of this is very, very far from the hamburger box that we started with…and for darn good reason.  These houses aren’t throwaway structures–they come from an era when architecture mattered.  And people have come to love Winter Park precisely because of this fact.  They don’t come here because we have less traffic, or lower taxes, or cheaper lots, or faster food.

People who buy houses and lots here do so because, even though they might not initially realize it, they are attracted by the sense of place that has been created here over the last century and a half.  It might take a while for that deeper understanding to be revealed.  And that’s OK, we have patience…as long as the newcomers also have patience with Winter Park, as well.  That way, we all benefit, and preserve this special sense of place for the public good, as well as for future generations.

Richard Reep is a board member of the Friends of Casa Feliz, the President of the Orlando Foundation for Architecture, and an Adjunct Professor, Growth Studies Department, Rollins College.

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Winter Park Women’s Club Hits 100

The stately Winter Park Women's Club on Interlachen Avenue

The stately Winter Park Women’s Club on Interlachen Avenue

By Karen James

There are few places in Winter Park where you will be so warmly welcomed as the Winter Park Woman’s Club. Gracious ladies stand the entrance with genuine smiles and introductions. Last month on a chilly Thursday evening, the club held its Centennial Celebration dinner at its historic clubhouse on Interlachen Avenue. The program for the evening included the history of the club, the kick-off of its Founder’s Day Centennial Campaign, and music videos from the early 1900s.

The organization that has so faithfully served generations of Winter Parkers is now hoping citizens will return the favor.  The Centennial Campaign will help fund much-needed repairs to the stately historic clubhouse.  More on this below.

At the celebration, Club President, Sandra Blossey, a lifelong educator, presented the history of the organization. In 1915, the club was founded by Mrs. Charles H. Morse, wife of one of the city’s founders, and 16 of her friends. They met at her home, “Osceola Lodge,” on Interlachen Avenue. As clubs and associations grow over the years, mission statements often change. This is not true for the Woman’s Club. The mission has remained the same as it was in 1915:

  • To associate its members and the public in efforts to advance the civic and educational welfare of Winter Park and surrounding areas.
  • To aid worthy students entering or attending institutions of higher learning.
  • To preserve the history and the premises of the Woman’s Club of Winter Park for future generations of members and the community.

The club grew as the city and country grew. Volunteerism and activism focused on local concerns and the prominent issues of many generations.  Early community service efforts were related to World War I. In 1919, members petitioned the Florida state legislature for municipal suffrage for women. Other endeavors included sponsoring the first community Christmas tree, petitioning for garbage service, sponsoring the first state flower show, starting the Garden Club, and hosting art shows, a library, and church services. Longtime Winter Park resident Ann Saurman shared fond memories of the club:

 “My parents were married in the Winter Park Methodist Church in 1930, and their wedding reception was held in the Woman’s Club.  From 1944-46 my mother, Kathryn Morgan, was president of the Woman’s Club. My sister, Jane and I attended the Winter Park Elementary School adjacent to the Woman’s Club, and we would walk over to meet her after school and after her meeting so that we could all go home together. I have happy memories of the many dances we all went to at the Woman’s Club as we were growing up.  I am so thankful that through the years the membership has made the effort to maintain and preserve this beautiful, graceful building. It never goes out of style.”

Currently the club provides fiscal and physical support to community agencies such as the Salvation Army, Orlando Rescue Mission, families from Winter Park Housing Authority, the Adult Literacy League and many others.

The emphasis on scholarship is a history unto itself. In 1937, Robert D. Van Tassell, Judge of the Orlando County Juvenile Court, spoke to the club about the plight of needy and deserving children. A Committee was formed, an appeal for funds was made in 1938, and by New Year’s Day 1939, the first two scholarship awards were announced. Early fundraising events included bake sales and flea markets. Fortunately, generous bequests initiated an Endowment Fund that continues to this day. “Using only proceeds from the principle of the Endowment Fund, the club has been able to provide many students with substantial grants. Last year we awarded $31,000 to twelve students,”   said Blossey.

The clubhouse itself is of great interest to the Friends of Casa Feliz and many others who value good architecture and preservation. A lovely example of the Neoclassical Revival style, the building was designed by New York architect L. Percival Hutton and built by L.C. Townsend, an important local contractor at the time. Completed in 1921, the clubhouse sits on land donated by Mr. Charles H. Morse from the original 18-hole golf course. Rectangular, symmetrical buildings of this style with low roofs, columns, and finely scaled windows and doors were very popular in the country in the early twentieth century, especially in the South. The use of the small pavilions on either side of the main block may be been inspired by Mount Vernon’s famous façade. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and the local Winter Park Register.

The Women’s Club members have preserved and maintained the house over the years. Substantial renovations to the house were undertaken in 1960, 1980 and 1992. And while the house has never been threatened by intentional demolition, with old buildings ‘demolition by neglect’ is always a concern.  So, in its 100th year, the Women’s Club is undertaking the Centennial Campaign to raise $300,000 to cover the renovations and start an endowment for house maintenance. The work needed on this lovely building—used by hundreds of people each week for meetings and celebrations—includes kitchen renovations, roof replacement, terrace replacement, landscaping and redecorating.

The Woman’s Club has given so much to the city and the country for almost one hundred years. If you are able, please consider making a donation to the club so the organization can continue to meet the needs of the community for the next one hundred years.

Donations to the Centennial Campaign can be sent to The Winter Park Woman’s Club, P.O. Box 1433, Winter Park, FL 32790. Donations of any amount are gladly accepted and anyone who makes a contribution will receive a certificate as a member of the Centennial Society of the Woman’s Club of Winter Park, Inc.

Karen James is the Vice Chairman and the Advocacy Committee Chairman of the Friends of Casa Feliz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Rehab Addict

Nicole Curtis, Rehab Addict

Nicole Curtis, Rehab Addict

Nicole Curtis, host of the hit HGTV show “Rehab Addict,” is a study in contrasts.  Glancing at the glossy in her press kit, one might confuse Curtis for a Lexus-driving ‘yummy mummy,’ who spends her spare time getting manicures and playing doubles at the Club.  One would be terribly mistaken.  Look more closely at Curtis’ blond locks and you’ll see streaks of paint primer. Peer at her calloused hands to see the tile grout beneath her fingernails.  The holes in her blue jeans?  From days spent on her knees refinishing floors, not strategically distressed by a fashion designer.

Curtis will bring her brand of “do it yourself restoration” to Central Florida, when she headlines the Eighth Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  Scheduled for Saturday, May 17, Curtis will kick off the day’s program with her keynote lecture, “Restore, Repurpose, Reuse!”  The morning session will begin with registration at 9:30 a.m. at the Tiedtke Audiorium at Rollins College.

“We are beyond excited to have Nicole Curtis speaking at this year’s Colloquium,” said Margie Bridges, chair of the event.  “Nicole represents that next generation of preservationists, shaped by leaner economic times, who value the old, make do with less, and celebrate the recycled.”

“Rehab Addict” features Curtis tackling condemned houses in midwestern cities, restoring them to their former historic glory.  Minnesota Monthly describes Curtis thusly: “With spitfire intensity and a wolf-mother protectiveness toward ugly, abandoned houses, the DIY Network’s Nicole Curtis is a fresh firecracker in the banal world of TV home improvement.”

Here’s a peak at Curtis’ take-no-prisoners approach to home improvement:

Though the single mom is a Detroit native who lives with her teenage son in Minneapolis, Curtis earned her rehab chops in the Sunshine State. “My first home purchase was a heap bought via land contract in Tampa–I couldn’t afford a “pretty home” so I bought the ugliest 1945 Ranch for $52,000. My house payment was $596.42 a month and I waitressed and sold cell phone contracts while going to school to afford it. I had to learn how to paint, plumb, tile from the ground up.”   That was almost two decades, dozens of fixer-uppers (both investment properties and personal homes) and a hit TV show ago, but Curtis still loves to roll up her sleeves and pry up bad linoleum.

She’s also a preservation proselytizer.  Through her television show, blog and Facebook page (38,000 fans!), Curtis doesn’t hesitate to preach the gospel.  “My goal is to strengthen the preservation movement –but I can’t do it alone,” she says. “My favorite people are those that know they have a civic duty and act on it to get involved in their communities. Don’t say ‘Nicole, save this house.’  Say, ‘Nicole-I’m following your lead and am saving this house.’

Colloquium House Tour

barnes house

prather houseward home

After the morning session and a break for lunch, Colloquium attendees will see theory in practice as they tour some of Winter Park’s finest rehabilitated historic homes. Primarily located in the Forrest Hills and Virginia Heights neighborhoods, the tour will feature homes that have been lovingly restored rather than remodeled.  “These are houses that, by and large, still have their original ‘bones,’” said Julie Lamar, chair of the Friends of Casa Feliz. “The homeowners have not come in and said, ‘I like the envelope of the house, but let’s rip out the innards and have some fun with travertine.’  No, they appreciate their homes for their historic patina, inside and out.”

In other words, Nicole Curtis will find some kindred spirits when she comes to Winter Park.

Full details about registering for this year’s Colloquium will be available on the Casa Feliz website, www.casafeliz.us, beginning April 1.

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Debunking the Myths of Historic Preservation & Baking Brownies

developerbulldozerhippieOn controversial issues, it’s not unusual—particularly in this internet age of unsigned comments by aliases–to find the public discourse fraught with misinformation and deliberate deception.  Discussions of historic preservation are particularly plagued by hyperbole and scare tactics.  Preservationists are wild eyed sentimentalists who want to rob Americans of their inalienable property rights.  Conversely, developers just want to steamroll everything in the name of the almighty dollar, without regard for history or beauty. In an effort to bring transparency and honesty to the discussion, Preservation Winter Park hereby sets out to debunk the following Top Seven Myths About Historic Preservation (in Winter Park):

“Myth: Winter Park isn’t really that old, so historic preservation is kind of irrelevant.”

Reality check:  Of course, everything is relative, and it would be disingenuous to ascribe to the Winter Park City Hall building the same historic significance as the Pantheon.  Still, by Florida standards, Winter Park is very historic—incorporated in 1887, it’s the 54th oldest of the 410 municipalities in Florida.  In fact, it’s older than other Sunshine State cities known for their historic cache’, such as Palm Beach (est. 1911) and Coral Gables (est. 1925).  It’s Winter Park’s historic sense of place that makes it such an attractive place to live and to visit.  As residents, we benefit not only aesthetically from our historic surroundings, but economically in terms of tourist dollars and property values.  Too, it’s important to note that today’s older house can be tomorrow’s historic treasure.  Mount Vernon wasn’t yet 100 years old when preservationists insisted on saving it in 1858.

“Myth: If I put my home on the Winter Park Register, I’m going to have to ask permission every time I want to move an electrical outlet or change the wallpaper”

Reality check:  This common misconception confuses the interior of a registered structure with the exterior, and overstates the oversight powers of the city’s Historic Preservation Board (HPB).  Only changes that would affect the exterior envelope of a registered structure require approval by the HPB.  Whereas the current ordinance states that “character-defining features should not be changed, destroyed, or obscured,” the HPB works with homeowners who wish to expand or remodel to find workable solutions.  According to Lindsey Hayes, the city’s Historic Preservation Officer, “the board understands that people live differently today than they did in the 1920s.  We will work with folks to accomplish their goals for their homes.”

“Myth: If a house isn’t architecturally exceptional, then it really shouldn’t be protected.”

Reality check:  Certainly design integrity is one factor in determining whether a property is historically significant, but the Winter Park Park Register–taking its cues from the National Register–also aims to protect buildings that are associated with an important figure in city history, that represent a significant pattern or style in our city’s development,  or that are likely to yield important information about city history.  From an historic standpoint, it’s important to preserve homes popular in the various stages of the city’s development (e.g., bungalows in the College Quarter, or Folk Victorian homes along the south shore of Lake Osceola) as well as the homes of important city figures like James Seymour Capen or Charles Hosmer Morse.

“Myth: That building is on the National Register, so it’s already protected from demolition.”

Reality check:  Contrary to popular belief, the National Register offers listed properties no protection from alteration or destruction. It’s counterintuitive, but depending on the ordinance, a property typically enjoys much stronger protection from a local register than from the National Register. The signature barrel tile roof of Casa Feliz, listed on both the National Register and the Winter Park Register, could be topped with Islamic spires and the National Register’s only recourse would be to remove it from its roster.  The Winter Park HPB, however, wouldn’t sanction something so architecturally and historically ill-advised.

Residence by Steve Feller

Residence by Steve Feller

“Myth:  All old construction is good; all new construction is bad.”

Residence by Phil Kean

Residence by Phil Kean

Reality check: Yes, a common argument for preservation is that the new building that replaces the historic building is often of inferior design and quality.  And while an entire blogsite could be filled with pictorial proof of this maxim, there is plenty of really wonderful new construction going on – both residential and commercial.  Preservationists do the movement a disservice by blindly eschewing anything built past 1940. In Winter Park, for example, the architect Steve Feller is known for building beautifully designed, traditional homes of quality craftsmanship and materials.  Some of the contemporary homes built by architect Phil Kean also demonstrate mastery of scale and detail. Many communities, resigned to the ebb and flow of new replacing old have established Architectural Review Boards that enforce design standards for new construction.  Winter Park would be well-served by the creation of such a board.

“Myth: Preservationists in Winter Park want to make it impossible to demolish any structure over 50 years old.”

Reality check:  It’s true that policies under consideration would apply a greater level of scrutiny to demolition permits for buildings over 50 years old, to bring the city’s practice in line with those of Certified Local Governments around the state.  The Friends of Casa Feliz Advocacy Committee Report recommends that the city’s Historic Preservation officer personally review any demolition application for a house that is more than 50 years old or one that is listed on the Florida Master Site File. The HP officer would judge the house for its historic significance according to the standards  in the city’s ordinance, and make a determination of whether to immediately sign off on the permit or to refer it to the HPB for further review.  In cities that use this system, most demo requests for buildings that are not historically or architecturally significant (e.g., a 1950s cinderblock rancher or a 1960s split-level, which are plentiful in number and not particularly unique) are granted without delay .  Clifford Smith, Sarasota’s HP Officer, states that the “large majority of demo permits are approved without ever going before the (HP) board.” Smith also asserts that knowing the review process exists discourages developers and spec house builders from pursuing truly historic homes as tear-downs.

“Myth: Houses on the historic register are worth less because they can’t be sold as tear-downs.”

This common misconception persists despite considerable empirical evidence to the contrary. Multiple studies have shown that houses located within protected historic districts increase in value at a faster rate (or in an economic downtown, lose value at a slower rate) than their non-protected counterparts. A 2005 study on property values in Philadelphia concluded “Strong and clear increases in property values after designation were documented in all five of the neighborhoods studied”  (see: http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=hp_theses).  A 2007 study found that “Home values rose 5% to 35% per decade in more than 20 historic districts nationwide, compared with home values in undesignated neighborhoods in the same communities.” (see: http://www.preservationnj.org/site/ExpEng/images/images/pdfs/Historic%20District%20benefits_Mabry_%206-7-07.pdf).  This all makes perfect sense, according to Ken Bernstein, manager of the Office of Historic Resources for Los Angeles.  Bernstein writes “Historic district designation gives potential homebuyers two rare and economically valuable assurances: that the very qualities that attracted them to their neighborhood will actually endure over time, and that they can safely reinvest in sensitive improvements to their home without fear that their neighbor will undermine this investment with a new ‘monster home’ or inappropriate new development.”

Let’s make one of our New Year’s Resolutions to elevate discussions of historic preservation above the level of name-calling and hyperbole.  We can agree to disagree, but Winter Park should make intellectual honesty one of our guiding principles.

Story Update:

This weekend, I made good on a promise by delivering a batch of fresh-baked brownies to the couple who just closed on the 1935 house featured in our October 18 blog post (see: http://friendsofcasafeliz.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/wont-you-be-our-neighbor/).  The house’s previous owner, an elderly widow living out of state, was weighing offers from developers who planned to raze the house and subdivide the lot.  Enter John and Rachel Grogan, who gravitated to Winter Park because of its “New England charm.” The Grogans, who spend their summers in New Hampshire, have their work cut out for them to bring the 1935 plumbing and wiring up to 2014 standards, and have a couple additions planned.  Still, as Rachel walks through her new home, she overlooks the grime-coated wood floors (which will be stripped and refinished this week) to effuse about the built-in niches, fabulous heart pine ceilings and custom ironwork.   Having seen what the Grogans accomplished in the home they left behind in Orlando, I know we all have a before-and-after blog to look forward to before 2015.

Is there an historic house in your neighborhood that’s for sale and vulnerable to the wrecking ball?  Maybe Preservation Winter Park can help!  In the meantime, I’m happy to share my recipe for what I’m calling

“Preservation Brownies”

1  pkg.  (4 oz.) unsweetened Chocolate
3/4  cup  butter
2  cups  sugar
3  eggs
1  tsp.  vanilla extract
1  cup  flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

HEAT oven to 350°F.

GREASE WELL, THEN FLOUR 13×9-inch pan.

MICROWAVE chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour then chocolate chips; mix well. Pour into prepared pan.

BAKE 30 to 35 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. (Do not overbake.) Cool completely.

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CAPEN CELEBRATION!

If ever I start to forget why I love my hometown of Winter Park, I need only return to the memories of yesterday, December 10, 2013, when the community came together to move a precious historic house across a lake.  Yesterday was a triumph shared by  many people:

  • By Debbie Komanski, executive director of the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, who has been the definition of indefatigable throughout this six-month journey.  When she first agreed to take on this project, she was told “all you really need to do is provide the land.  We’ll take care of the rest.” That she is not only still speaking to the starry-eyed preservationist/blogger who made this promise–perhaps the most outrageous understatement in city history–but at every turn deflects credit from herself onto others, is incredible. She is grace personified.
  • By the Preservation Capen team, a cross-organizational cadre of community leaders and technical experts who have met week after week, month after month, to strategize, publicize, raise money, make phone calls, speak to civic groups, and cheer-lead at the Farmer’s Market, at rallies, and parades.  This group has provided the spiritual fuel, sweat, and goodwill that has propelled the Capen House project forward.
  • By Christine Madrid French, a nationally renowned preservationist who by our good fortune found herself living in preservation-challenged (but improving!) Central Florida. As project director, she has capably steered the project to fruition, with a huge smile on her face and sparkles in her hair.
  • By Pat and Randy Robertson, whose early donation to the project got us off the ground.
  • By the boards, staff and members of the Albin Polasek Museum, Winter Park Historical Association and the Friends of Casa Feliz, who locked arms to devote their organizational resources to helping make history in Winter Park. I’ve never seen a stronger testament to teamwork.
  • By the local press, who have belied the common complaint that the media only report bad news.  The Orlando Sentinel’s David Breen and I LUV Winter Park’s Clyde Moore, and a whole bevy of print, TV, web and radio reporters have pursued this story with persistence, fairness and accuracy.
  • By hundreds of financial supporters, whose contributions have made the dream of floating a house across a lake a reality.
  • By property owners John and Betsy Pokorny, who have bent over backwards to cooperate with the community’s plans to move the Capen House.  In a city that told them, “go ahead, you can knock it down,” they put their dream house on hold for many months so the preservation community could satisfy their dream of moving the house.
  • By Thaddeus Seymour, an 85-year-old retired college president who by all rights should be sipping martinis on a golf course in Palm Springs, but instead has spent his retirement serving his adopted community of Winter Park.  No task is too daunting or too picayune for Thad, who will spend a morning asking a community leader for a landmark donation and an afternoon printing out Capen House postcards on his Mac.
  • By Frank Roark, the general contractor overseeing the project, who has juggled the often competing needs of the Polasek, the moving company, the city, the homeowners, the lawyers, the fundraisers, and the media, and has subjugated his own personal needs to all of the above. He loves Winter Park, and Winter Park loves him.

If you weren’t among the throngs of folks who witnessed this miracle first-hand, we hope you’ll enjoy some of these photos and videos from this jubilant day:

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The descent to the Lake

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Final boarding call

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Cat’s out of the bag

Video of the Move–Click Here

Anchors aweigh!

Anchors aweigh!

Sailing, sailing!

Sailing, sailing!

Thad Seymour documents history

Thad Seymour documents history

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A flotilla of well-wishers

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First Night in her new home

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A final plea…

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/videogallery/78500977/Time-lapse-of-moving-the-Capen-House

http://findingjoyinflorida.com/2013/12/11/moving-victory-in-winter-park/

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HP TAKES CENTER STAGE AT CITY HALL

Artist’s rendering of what’s to come!

Historic Preservation became front page news a few months back when the 1885 Capen House, one of Winter Park’s oldest, was threatened with demolition.  The good news is that, as it did 12 years ago with Casa Feliz, the local community has risen to the challenge of raising the money to relocate the historic home.  Before the end of the year, one of the city’s oldest homes will be floated across Lake Osceola by barge, from its location on Interlachen Avenue to its new home on the grounds of the Albin Polasek Museum, where it will provide a much-needed expansion to museum operations.  Funds are still needed for renovations, but the house has been saved. Hallelujah!

Yet amidst all the high-fiving—and indeed, this is occasion for enthusiastic celebration—let’s not neglect to keep our eye on the bigger issue:  fixing the system that imperiled the Capen House to begin with.  Behind the scenes, the city’s Historic Preservation Board (HPB), made up of 7 citizen members and staffed by city planner Lindsey Hayes, is working on a proposal to revise the City’s historic preservation ordinance.  The HPB will bring their recommendations to the City Commission, who will make the final call on changing the ordinance.  If all goes well, we’ll no longer have to move our historic buildings around to avoid the wrecking ball, like the world’s most expensive chess game.  No one wants to change our motto from the City of Homes to the City of Mobile Homes.

Annie Russell House 1926-2005

Annie Russell House 1926-2005

To this end, the City hired the consulting firm Bland and Associates to produce a study to benchmark Winter Park against other cities, and recommend how we can incorporate best practices into our historic preservation policy. Miles Bland presented his recommendations to the HPB on November 14; an audience of about 50 Winter Park residents attended the public meeting.  If people came to the meeting thinking that the city’s hired consultant would soft pedal and mollify, then they were surprised by what they heard.  Bland was as subtle as a bulldozer—according to the consultant, the City’s ordinance must undergo extensive surgery to ensure the survival of its historic assets and reputation.  He urged the board in the strongest possible terms to make changes now to the ordinance, or else get used to seeing a wrecking ball in the City of Culture and Heritage. Click here for a synopsis of the report: http://cityofwinterpark.org/Docs/Government/Boards/Other_Info/BlandAssociatesPowerpoint_2013-11-14.pdf

A second study, this one by the Casa Feliz Preservation Advocacy Committee (CFPAC), rose out of an examination of the ordinances which govern historic preservation in 38 Certified Local Government cities (CLGs) around Florida.  The CFPAC report can be seen here:  https://casafeliz.squarespace.com/advocacy-report/

Here’s how the two reports compare on three critical HP issues:quote2

 DISTRICT FORMATION:

  • CFPAC REPORT: Instead of the current requirement that 2/3 of property owners approve the formation of a historic district (the highest such threshold in the state), lower the requirement to a 50% “no” vote by property owners.  This would bring the city’s ordinance in line with others around the state, and will facilitate the creation of historic districts, which not only protect the character of the neighborhood, but increase the property values.
  • BLAND REPORT:  Remove any requirement that residents in a proposed district vote to approve the district.  Decisions on the formation of historic districts should be recommended by the HPB and approved by the City Commission—resident input should be sought and considered, but in the end the authority to form a district should rest with the Commission. According to Bland, “(property owner) voting is not the norm, quite odd, and certainly counterproductive to historic preservation; it is analogous to allowing public determination of residential speed limits. This voting element of the code is the crux of WP’s historic preservation problem.”

logo-city-of-wp DEMOLITION PERMITS:

  • CFPAC REPORT: A permit to demolish all or part of a 50+ year-old or FMSF-listed home would only be issued after a thorough review by the city’s Historic Preservation Officer.  After reviewing the application, the HP Officer could sign off on the permit (if it was determined that the building was not historically significant by stated standards), or refer the case to the HPB.  The HPB could approve the demolition, or require that the applicant make efforts to sell or otherwise preserve on site or move the historic structure.  A delay of demolition could also be ordered, which would allow time for mitigation. Only after the HPB is satisfied that reasonable efforts have been made to preserve a historically significant property would a demolition permit be issued.
  • BLAND REPORT:  Similar to the CFPAC opinion, Bland recommends a much more stringent process for demolitions of buildings more than 50 years old.  He warns in his report that “historic structures were sparse to begin with in WP, and are being lost at a staggering rate; about 1.2% of the NET, known historic structures are leveled each year, and this rate is accelerating. If the historic structure density drops too low, then historic districts can never be formed due to loss of spatial continuity.”

 APPOINTMENT TO HISTORIC PRESERVATION BOARD

  • CFPAC REPORT: Institute more stringent qualifications for appointment to the city’s Historic Preservation Board.  Winter Park’s ordinance is the only one of the 38 ordinances studied by the committee that does not require board members to have knowledge of or experience in architecture or other related disciplines.
  • BLAND REPORT:  Like the CFPAC report, Bland advocates for specific professional and educational qualifications for service on the HPB.   Without such language, Winter Park is unable to qualify for Certified Local Government status, which would provide the city with educational and grant opportunities for historic preservation projects.

It’s expected that the HPB will make its recommendations for strengthening the ordinance early next year. It will then be in the decision of the five City Commissioners how to proceed—whether to put teeth in our historic preservation policy, or to remain laissez faire.  Without a doubt, any meaningful changes to our ordinance will be met with outrage by property rights advocates, who want us to believe that the city’s intervention in HP is tantamount to government “taking” of private property.  They neglect the inconvenient truth that virtually every other Florida city blessed with historic structures manages to strike a reasonable balance between private property rights and preservation.  Good public policy requires operating in the ‘grey’ area between seemingly conflicting goals.  Let’s hope Winter Park is up to the challenge.

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Won’t you be our neighbor?

It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood, but a cloud is looming.  I hope the sun will break through.

This morning, I received an email from Stephen Pategas, a Casa Feliz board member, a neighbor of mine in Orwin Manor (although I live on the OR side, he lives on the WIN), and landscape architect par excellence.  Stephen had been contacted by Susan Childers, the listing agent on an historic house that sits on a half acre (!) corner lot in the neighborhood. The house is priced at $350,000, although all offers are being considered. Susan thought Stephen, the head of the Orwin Manor Homeowners’ Association, might know of an interested buyer.

Because the 1935, 2400 sq. ft. cottage is in need of a hefty dose of TLC, it will likely meet one of two fates. Either someone will buy the 78-year-old eclectic Mediterranean charmer and restore it to its former glory, or it will be purchased by a developer, razed, and then subdivided into two lots.  Needless to say, we Orwin Manorites are hoping for the former.

Because I live just down the street from the house, located at 1541 Westchester Avenue, Winter Park, I hopped on my bike and pedaled through the morning fog to snap some photos, to add to the ones posted online by Susan.

See what you think:

1541 Westchester Avenue, Winter Park

1541 Westchester Avenue, Winter Park

Welcome in.

Won’t you come in?

Hansel-and-Gretel detailing

Farmhouse detailingIronwork over windows

Ironwork over windows
Not Provence--Winter Park.

Rustic shutters

Nooks and crannies

Nooks and crannies, including a walled courtyard!

The backyard of this house is big enough to add a tennis court AND swimming pool, and still have room for an addition.

backyard

Here are some shots of the inside.  Picture it with some fresh paint and refinished floors:

Living room.  The woodwork!

Living room. The woodwork!

Be still my heart.

Be still my heart.

Arched doorways

Arched doorways

Original plaster walls

Original plaster walls

Great bathroom tile!

Great bathroom tile!

You can find the full listing here: http://susanchilders.com/featured-home.html

While it’s hard for the preservation-minded to fathom knocking down a house with this much innate charm, the real estate market is cruel. It values maximum allowable square footage, marble countertops and  jacuzzi tubs over original iron grating and heart pine ceilings.   And this house needs work–its electric and plumbing are outdated, the yard is overgrown and in need of landscaping, and the floors need refinishing.  The kitchen, though a good size, needs updating.  But a look at some of the other old houses on the street points to some promising possibilities:

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My guess is, if you buy the house and choose to restore it, your new neighbor Stephen Pategas might even throw in a little free landscaping advice.  And I would happily bake you brownies.  Maybe even weekly.

Another neighbor tells me that a developer has already made one run at redeveloping the property, but when he learned that the lot could only be divided in two, and not three, the deal fell through.  Still, there are lots half the size of this one in Winter Park that are selling for north of $300K. 

Looking around the neighborhood gives us a glimpse of what we might expect if this house is demolished replaced with a larger one:

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No comment.

These are houses that were built before the real estate market in Florida crashed.  Now that we’re on the upswing, it’s likely developers will be trolling Orwin Manor for good land deals again.

A few years back, Stephen, his wife Kristin and a group of their neighbors attempted to have Orwin Manor designated on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.  Unfortunately, they were unable to reach the two-thirds property owner approval requirement, the most onerous threshold of any historic preservation ordinance in the state of Florida, and so the neighborhood remains unprotected (although 15 individual homes are designated).  If they had succeeded, the house wouldn’t be approved for demolition.

If you’re interested in becoming our newest Orwin Manor neighbor, and living in a unique piece of Winter Park history, contact Susan at Exit Realty Central:   407-970-2900, childers@iag.net, http://susanchilders.com/

By Betsy Owens, Executive Director, Friends of Casa Feliz

Story Update, 1/7/2014:

This weekend, I made good on a promise by delivering a batch of fresh-baked brownies to the couple who just closed on the 1935 house featured in our October 18 blog post (see: http://friendsofcasafeliz.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/wont-you-be-our-neighbor/).  The house’s previous owner, an elderly widow living out of state, was weighing offers from developers who planned to raze the house and subdivide the lot.  Enter John and Rachel Grogan, who gravitated to Winter Park because of its “New England charm.” The Grogans, who spend their summers in New Hampshire, have their work cut out for them to bring the 1935 plumbing and wiring up to 2014 standards, and have a couple additions planned.  Still, as Rachel walks through her new home, she overlooks the grime-coated wood floors (which will be stripped and refinished this week) to effuse about the built-in niches, fabulous heart pine ceilings and custom ironwork.   Having seen what the Grogans accomplished in the home they left behind in Orlando, I know we all have a before-and-after blog to look forward to before 2015.

Is there an historic house in your neighborhood that’s for sale and vulnerable to the wrecking ball?  Maybe Preservation Winter Park can help!  In the meantime, I’m happy to share my recipe for what I’m calling

“Preservation Brownies”

1  pkg.  (4 oz.) unsweetened Chocolate
3/4  cup  butter
2  cups  sugar
3  eggs
1  tsp.  vanilla extract
1  cup  flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

HEAT oven to 350°F.

GREASE WELL, THEN FLOUR 13×9-inch pan.

MICROWAVE chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour then chocolate chips; mix well. Pour into prepared pan.

BAKE 30 to 35 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. (Do not overbake.) Cool completely.

 

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PRESERVATIONIST PROFILE: PAT ROBERTSON

Channeling Despair into Activism

Pat Robertson vividly remembers the year 1969, when she was 14 and her parents wrestled with buying their stately home at 950 Palmer Avenue, then known as the Joshua Chase House.  She says her parents couldn’t really afford the house—it was $89,000, which was a huge stretch for the couple raising four children.  Pat recalls, “After church one day, my dad tried to interest my mom in another, less expensive house that was for sale on Georgia Avenue.  My brother and sisters and I got out of the car, and ran all around that house and through the backyard. We thought it was great.”  Her mother refused to get out of the car.  She had fallen in love with the 1926 Mediterranean on Palmer, and if they couldn’t afford it, she’d just as soon stay in Maitland.

As is often the case when it comes to real estate transactions, the wife prevailed. Page Schenck convinced Jay, who with his brother Virgil ran the Schenck Company beer distributorship, that she would be willing to sacrifice other budget items in order to move into the Chase House. And Jay held her to it.  Pat remembers that they lived in the house without living room or dining room furniture for more than a year.  But Page was content because she loved every inch of the house, even unfurnished. “Mom and Dad could make do with less, and wanted their kids to do the same. They didn’t believe in buying things on credit.  My sisters and I had a meager clothing allowance.  We made our own clothes.”  One year, when Pat and her younger sister were teenagers, they both asked for 10-speed bikes for Christmas.  “We came down Christmas morning, and they had gotten us one 10-speed bike, and it was a tandem,” laughs Pat.

The Schenck Family, 1971

The Schenck Family, 1971

Page instilled in Pat her love for the craftsmanship of an old home.  “Every detail of that house – the windows, the door hardware, the light fixtures, the slate floors—was a work of art,” remembers Pat.

In fact, they studied together the original letters that citrus magnate Joshua Chase had written to the contractor while his house was being built, and the original plans, which were lovingly stored in a brown suede bag.  In a stroke of kismet, they discovered that the plans were dated April 1, Pat’s and Page’s shared birthday.

The house exuded history.  Pat said that each of the beautiful mahogany bedroom doors had door knockers; evidently the house received overflow guests from the nearby Alabama Hotel in the 1930s and 40s.  The original floor tiles had been used as ballast on a ship that came over from Europe in 1925. Over the garage, there were two servants’ rooms that had dial recievers on the wall; each bedroom in the main house had a buzzer that communicated with the receiver to summon the servants to the appropriate room. The Schencks didn’t have live-in help, but the kids had a grand time playing with the buzzers from a bygone era. The house also had its own incinerator and chimney for disposing of trash, common in the 1920s but a curiosity in the 1970s.

In the late 1980s, a friend created this video of the picturesque home: 

“The thing that I most loved about the house was the textures,” says Pat.  She waxes poetic about the nooks and crannies that adorned each room, the rough plaster walls, the curved ironwork railings, the cold slate floors that brought relief even in the hottest months.  Pat says spending time in their grandparents’ house engendered a love for historic homes in her own children.  “My son has bought a 100-year-old house in Asheville that he’s having to put a lot of work into, but he loves it, and it’s worth it.”

After Jay Schenck died in 2004, his heirs put the 5,264 square foot historic home on the market.  These photos were taken to market the home:

The Chase-Schenck Home, 2004

The Chase-Schenck Home, 2004

Schenck living room, 2004

Schenck living room, 2004

Schenck Dining Room, 2004

Schenck Dining Room, 2004

Unfortunately, the siblings couldn’t reach consensus on whether to list it on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, which would have protected the house from demolition, but had the potential for reducing the selling price.  Pat prayed that someone would buy it who would cherish the house, its history and its eccentricities, and not just want the prestigious lakefront lot.  But this was not to be.

The new owner immediately began demolition on the house he purchased for $3.3 million. A wrecking crew arrived on property, and demolished all but the pergola, two fireplaces and the wall between the garage and kitchen.  Pat went to the property and walked among the rubble.  “It’s good I went alone, because I wailed like a hyena,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe it.”  She harvested a piece of green tile from her girlhood bathroom that she cherished, and a tiny scrap of curtain.  “It was all that was left.”

In place of the 1926 Chase-Schenck House, an 11,800 square foot mansion, complete with his-and-her dressing rooms, travertine floors and a “grand staircase” rose up to take its place.  In 2010, the owner stopped making payments and the bank foreclosed on the double-wide hacienda, pictured below:

950 Palmer Avenue, 2010

950 Palmer Avenue, 2010

950 Palmer Avenue, living room

950 Palmer Avenue, living room, 2010

.

950 Palmer Avenue, home theater

950 Palmer Avenue, home theater, 2010

In 2011, Fifth Third Bank sold the house to the current owner for $2.65 million.

As a result of what happened with her parents’ house, Pat got active in historic preservation.  “You have to take the poison in your life and make something good come from it,” she says. She credits serving on the Casa Feliz board as part of her healing.  “If I can help save other significant Winter Park homes from ending up like my parents’ did, I want to help do it.”  Currently, Pat serves on the steering committee of Preservation Capen, which will oversee the move of the 1885 Capen House this December.  She’s convinced some of her siblings, who were chagrined at the demolition of their parents’ home, to contribute financially to saving the Capen House.

She has a reputation in the community as being a diplomatic and effective advocate for keeping Winter Park true to its roots. “If I had to name the five people who have given the most to preservation in this community, Pat’s name would be among them,” says Jack Rogers, who served with Pat on the Friends board.  “She has made Casa Feliz a better organization, and Winter Park a better city. Her energy is a force of nature.”

Pat and Randy Robertson

Pat and Randy Robertson

One house that will never meet with the wrecking ball is Pat’s own lakefront home on College Point, an eclectic Italianate house with craftsman-style features, where she lives with her husband Randy. They purchased the home from Thad and Polly Seymour in 2007, and like her mother before her, Pat knew instantly when she crossed the threshold that she was meant to live there.  “I’ve never been in a house with such clean, good energy. I told Randy, don’t tell me what the taxes are, because then I won’t want to buy it, and I’m going to buy this house.”  The 1933 house is listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.

Robertson Residence on College Point

Robertson Residence on College Point

Looking ahead, Pat hopes that Winter Park will heed the wakeup call to prevent future demolitions of the homes that add so much to the community. “These special homes truly define Winter Park, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. I’m optimistic that Winter Park’s preservation ordinance will be strengthened to safeguard our architectural history.”

If that happens, it means that Winter Parkers would find it a lot more difficult to demolish a 1926 landmark home to build an oversized faux chateau with an in-home theater.  But then again, maybe we could all learn to make do with a little less.

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Why Historic Preservation Needs Government: the free market can’t do it all

In discussions on historic preservation, it’s common to hear someone say, “I love architecture and history, and think it should be preserved. But it’s not the role of government.  Historic preservation is best left to the private sector.”   Some take it a step further.  Recently, the Orlando Sentinel published an editorial by Dan Peterson, executive director of the Coalition for Property Rights.  In his editorial Peterson states, “A municipal government telling an owner he has no right to demolish a standing structure in order to build a new one is dictatorial and, in fact, unlawful.”

Indeed, there have been fine examples both locally and internationally of the private sector’s providing solutions for threatened historic properties.   Did you know that Mount Vernon isn’t owned by the federal government?

Mount Vernon: pre-restoration

Mount Vernon: pre-restoration

In 1853, Ann Pamela Cunningham formed the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association to purchase George Washington’s family homestead and rescue it from decrepitude, thus launching the first major historic preservation project in the United States.  The Association operates the home museum to this day.  Closer to home, the Friends of Casa Feliz formed in 2000 to save Gamble Rogers’ masterwork, when consensus couldn’t be reached for the city to own the project.  The Morse Foundation has painstakingly preserved Osceola Lodge, the 1883 Craftsman style home of city pioneer Charles Hosmer Morse, without city assistance.

There have been more situations, however, where the private sector was unable or unwilling to intervene, resulting in serious threats to architectural heritage.  In some cases, government has stepped into the breach.  A classic example is Stonehenge—in the 1870s, the monument’s private owner, arguing that “it’s not the slightest use to anyone now,” attempted to sell it to a railway company, when the British government intervened by passing the Ancient Monuments Protection Act.

Penn Station 2

Penn Station: RIP

When government doesn’t come to the rescue of a threatened architectural treasure, people almost invariably wish it had.  Following the 1963 demolition of New York’s Penn Station by the private Pennsylvania Railroad Company, public outcry was such that Congress would ultimately pass the National Historic Preservation Act, which empowered States and municipalities to develop plans to legally protect their historic inventory.  Since the passage of the act in October 1966, cities that value their history have established strong historic preservation ordinances.

While we have a preservation ordinance in Winter Park (enacted in 2003), one need only look at the thin roster of designated homes, coupled with demolition records of the past ten years, to conclude that it doesn’t go far enough to protect the city’s historic assets.  The shortcomings of the ordinance include:

  • An unrealistic threshold for district designation:  In order for a historic district to be formed in the city, the ordinance requires that at least two-thirds of the homeowners in the proposed district vote in favor of its formation.  Two districts have managed to get the votes to form districts—the College Quarter and Virginia Heights East.  Others, though, have fallen short because of this threshold, which far exceeds the requirements of other Florida cities.  West Palm Beach, for example, requires no threshold whatsoever for a neighborhood to be designated, nor should it, according to Friederike Mittner, the city’s historic preservation officer.  “We don’t ask the homeowners’ permission for other zoning ordinances,” she said.  “Historic preservation is just another form of zoning.”  That city has 16 districts designated to date, protecting over 3,500 historic homes from demolition.quote for blog 2
  • Insufficient protection from demolition: If a historic home or building is voluntarily listed by its owner on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, it’s difficult, though not impossible, for a future owner to receive permission to demolish it.   It’s a different story, however, for historic homes or buildings not lucky enough to be owned, or previously owned, by a preservation-minded person.  Specifically, there are  about 700 Winter Park residential and commercial structures on the Florida Master Site File (the state’s official record of historic buildings), yet only about 25% of them are on the Winter Park Register or in a historic district, and thus shielded from demolition.   Thus, if someone were to purchase Gamble Rogers’ Macalaster House,arguably one of the architect’s most acclaimed structures, and raze it, there would be absolutely nothing in the city code to impede the process.  Other precious structures with no protection? The Alabama Hotel.   Rogers’  iconic arte moderne Jewett House.  Sandscove on Via Tuscany. The 1902 George Wright House, the oldest house in the historic Hannibal Square neighborhood, currently being marketed as a tear-down.  The list goes on and on.  

    Macalaster House on Alexander Place

    Macalaster House on Alexander Place

In Sarasota and many other cities that value preservation, it’s not so easy to demolish a historic home, even one not listed on the local register.  Sarasota’s Senior Planner, Dr. Clifford Smith helped draft his city’s ordinance which he says “makes it very difficult to demolish a house on the State Master Site File.”  To knock down a historic home, the owner must demonstrate to the city that he or she has explored every potential option for saving the home, including selling to another buyer, remodeling, and relocation.  If the board is satisfied that these options have been exhausted, they may grant a demolition permit after a waiting period of 120 days.  According to Smith, these regulations make it so difficult to raze a historic home, that in the five years since the policy was written, only a handful of historically significant residences of the 3,500 listed on the Florida Master Site File have been lost.

  • Serious Qualifications for Historic Preservation Board:  If a city takes preservation seriously, its ordinance should outline meaningful qualifications for service on the board that administers its ordinance.  Presumably,  the majority, if not all, of its members should have professional experience in architecture, construction, or history, or have a demonstrated passion for preservation.  In West Palm, for example, the HP ordinance specifies the following about selection of its nine-member board:  “Two members of the full board shall have professional degrees in architecture, at least one of whom shall be a regular member. A minimum of two members shall be chosen from among the disciplines of architecture, history, architectural history, archaeology, landscape architecture or planning. A minimum of two additional members of  the board shall be experienced in the areas of commercial development or real estate, banking or law. Three other members, including the two alternate members, shall be from any of the foregoing professions. Two members shall be citizen members at large. All members shall have demonstrated a special interest, experience or knowledge in historic preservation or related disciplines.”  By contrast, here’s what Winter Park’s ordinance specifies about board members’ qualifications: “Must be a City of Winter Park resident, one of which is an architect.”

There is a role for private citizens and organizations in historic preservation.  But arguing that there’s little place for government in historic preservation is akin to saying that government shouldn’t engage in zoning, or road-building, or park maintenance—that if the private sector values these things, they’ll happen.  We know this not to be the case.  Cities around the country that have been successful in preserving their sense of place have one thing in common:  a strong preservation ordinance enforced by a city government that values its historic resources.  Right now, Winter Park’s Historic Preservation Board has been charged by the City Commission with reviewing the city’s ordinance, and making recommendations to strengthen it.  Let’s hope that ambitious enough changes are proposed by the board—and accepted by the commission—to endow the city with the clout necessary to save our architectural heritage.  Because assuming the free market and a weak ordinance will adequately protect a city’s character and sense of place will, well…you know what they say about assuming.

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Phoenix on Orange Avenue

In recent years, anyone driving down Orange Avenue from Winter Park to Orlando passed by this eyesore:

before front

Of course, the house at 1509 North Orange Avenue hadn’t always looked this way.  When it was constructed in 1926 for the Babcock Family, the house was a gleaming example of the Spanish eclectic architecture that would become so popular in Central Florida in the years that followed.  The stucco, barrel-tile roofed structure attracted buyers to the new neighborhood by Walter Rose’s Central Florida Development Company.  Orwin Manor—so named because it straddled the border of ORlando and WINter Park–was the first neighborhood in the area built with streetlamps, sidewalks, and a sewer system.  The deed to the land specified that the buyer  “shall at no time erect any dwelling on the above described premises costing any less than $7,500.00,” a princely sum at the time. The Babcocks’ home did not disappoint—its striking façade was detailed with arched French doors leading to shallow ironwork balconies, rounded arch vents, an asymmetrical recessed entry with decoratively sculpted plasterwork, and a beautiful side Florida room with arched windows. Clearly, this house was built to stop traffic on what was then called “Dixie Highway,” the only two-lane road between the two cities.

Through the years, the house was occupied by a series of prominent families, including citrus magnate JM McCord. Yet in recent decades, disrepair overtook the house’s original glory.  Sheets of paint peeled from the façade. Overgrown shrubbery and ‘trash trees’ obscured the house’s architectural detailing.  Six rusted vehicles cluttered the yard.

It would be reasonable for a passerby to assume that the house, which occupied this valuable piece of real estate a five-minute drive from both downtown Winter Park and Orlando, was not long for this world. Over the past 20 years, houses in better condition than this have been demolished on a weekly basis in Winter Park.  Surely, even preservation pioneers would consider this dilapidated doozy “too far gone.”

Enter Aimee and Michael Spencer.  Newly relocated to Winter Park, the Spencers had a penchant for old houses. They had restored a 1924 house in Colonialtown in the City of Orlando and painstakingly built another in Historic Flamingo Park in the City of West Palm Beach to “look like it was built in the 1920s”.  Their work was so convincing that they frequently got questions from people wondering about “the restoration.”

Still, when they crossed the threshold with their real estate agent, the house was a full-on assault on their senses.  See for yourself:

Kitchen: before

Kitchen: before

Master bedroom: before

Master bedroom: before

Twin bedroom: before

Twin bedroom: before

Sheets of paint hung from ceilings, rust-stained from years of roof and plumbing leakage. Floors and windows hadn’t been maintained for decades. The piles of clutter and boxes created a labyrinthine effect, stacked in nearly every room.  The kitchen was squalid, with rusted cabinets hanging from their hinges. During their visit, the couple counted six cats and four dogs.

But the Spencers liked a challenge.  They saw beneath the clutter and grime the bones of a structure that would be extremely costly if impossible to rebuild.  Plus, Michael, a general contractor and construction manager for SeaWorld, had a lot more know-how than your average homebuyer.  They rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

The first step was to discern what jobs they should farm out and what they could realistically tackle themselves with their three-year-old daughter, Ava Grace, nipping at their heels.   In the former category they put the roof, which was painstakingly repaired—section by section, tiles were removed, subroof replaced, and then tiles reinstalled. The electric and plumbing systems were completely replaced. The exterior of the house required extensive scraping and repainting.  Interior plaster ceilings and walls had to be replaced because of water damage.

A lot of the work involved a complete restoration of the original doors and windows.  The Spencers teamed with CCS Restorations of Sanford for the work.  While it might have been easier to replace rather than restore, the quality of the original woodwork was apparent.  Though shabby in appearance, the heart cypress sashes had no rot, despite at least 30 years of neglect. Plus, according to Aimee, “new doors and windows rob a historic house of its soul.”   The Spencers removed the windows a few at a time, drove them to Sanford, and restored the jambs themselves while CCS tackled the sashes. Seeing the beautifully restored and reinstalled windows and doors, it would be difficult to argue that their labor was unjustified.  The soul of the house flourishes.

The backyard required a full-scale excavation. When all was said and done, they had hauled 4 dumpsters full of trash from the property. When they thought they were done, they uncovered a Suzuki Samurai hidden in the back yard’s overgrown vegetation.

The interior of the house is an anomaly–it retains its historic character while gleaming with newness.  The special Benjamin Moore metallic blue paint shimmers as sun streams in through the French doors.  Although many of the fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen are new, the Spencers took care to choose things that were period-appropriate.  They were also able to reuse the ‘subway’ tile from the original bathrooms for the butler’s pantry and backsplashes.

By May 2012, the home was ready to occupy, although the couple continues to chip away at painting and yardwork.  Ava Grace now occupies a pink-painted room with dark brown stuffed monkeys and polka dots frolicking on the linens. The Spencers have received broad recognition for the project.  In 2012, the house was named to the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.  Earlier this year, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation presented the Spencers with an Outstanding Achievement award. The website of “This Old House” features the house’s restoration.  It’s easy to see why:

The Spencer Home - 2013

The Spencer Home – 2013

Here are some after shots provided by the Spencers.  Preservation Winter Park has verified with our own eyes that in fact, these ARE the same house:

Rear after

Rear: after

Living room after

Living room: after

Sun porch: after

Sun porch: after

Kitchen: after

Kitchen: after

Kitchen: after

Kitchen: after

Master bedroom: after

Master bedroom: after

Twin bedroom - after

Twin bedroom: after

And although the Spencers “intend to be repainting this house when (they’re) 80,” the rehab has made financial sense as well.  Purchased for $275,000, after complete renovations the couple will have invested less than $200 per square foot for a house with all new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, insulation, waterproof membrane and original tile roof, and refinished or new finished in place hardwoods.  The estimate even includes the cost of a future swimming pool and fenced backyard.

Still, Aimee says the greatest rewards for their labor are intangible.  “People have gotten so far away from caring for their own homes.  The further away you get, the less appreciation you have for the richness of the materials, which combine function and beauty. With this home, we’ve gotten to witness a Phoenix rising from the ashes.”  She also hopes that their persistence will teach Ava Grace that “anything worth having is worth the work.”

Looking ahead, Aimee plans to become more active in historic preservation in Winter Park.  “I hope the city will start to put a higher priority on protecting historic houses. We need a stronger ordinance, and better incentives for people to have their houses listed.” She serves on the Friends of Casa Feliz’s advocacy committee, and is eager to share with Winter Park some of the preservation successes she witnessed during her years in Orlando and West Palm Beach.

Meanwhile, there’s more crown molding that needs to be painted, and some screens to repair. The Phoenix has risen, but he needs to be fed.

 

 

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PRESERVATION CAPEN NEWS!

The Friends of Casa Feliz are delighted to announce that the Preservation Capen Movement is off and running!  The last two weeks have brought some terrific developments in the project to save the Capen-Showalter House by moving the 1885 structure from its current location, by barge, to the beautiful grounds of the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens.

Community Leadership Joins Crusade:  Leading the charge is an All-Star Team of community leaders, including Lawson Lamar, Thaddeus Seymour, Jack Miles, Barbara DeVane, Ann Hicks Murrah, Chip Weston, Pat Robertson, Stephen Pategas, and 50 years of Winter Park Mayors:  David Strong, Kip Marchman, Gary Brewer, Dan Hunter, David Johnston, Allen Trovillion, Terry Hotard and Joe Terranova.

Noted Preservationist To Lead Project:  Christine Madrid French has signed on as project director for Preservation Capen.  An architectural historian, Chris brings a wealth of experience to the project. Her professional experience includes directing the Modernism + Recent Past program for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and directing projects for the National Park Service, the City of Philadelphia and the University of Virginia. She can be reached at preservationcapen@polasek.org.

Elizabeth & Polasek

File under ‘S’ for ‘Serendipity': Museum offi­cials recently dis­cov­ered that the Capen-Showalter House and the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculp­ture Gar­dens are linked by friend­ship and fam­ily ties!   Albin Polasek’s closest friends were Percy and Charlotte Capen Eckhart, whose children he immortalized in his art.

The museum’s beloved “Elizabeth” sculpture features the Eckharts’ daughter, who is James Seymour Capen’s niece!  The sculptor and his subject are shown at right.  Next week, the museum will host Capen descendents Melissa Capen Rolston of Kansas City, Missouri, and Ann Capen Hunt of Eads, Tennessee, for the grand kickoff of Preservation Capen. What a thrill it will be to reunite the Capen and Polasek families!

Join the Team!  You can help!  Please join us for:

Preservation Capen

Project Kickoff and Press Event

Thursday, August 8; 12:00 noon

Albin Polasek Museum

633 Osceola Avenue, Winter Park

In the meantime, please consider making a donation to this important community-wide effort to preserve one of Winter Park’s most historic homes.   Make your contribution here:  http://www.polasek.org/donate-to-keep-the-capen/.

capen house 1920s

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Capen House to Join With Polasek Museum!

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July 13, 2013 · 6:15 pm