2017 Winter Park Historic Preservation Awards

CWP_4626On May 10, the City of Winter Park recognized individuals and community cornerstones that have greatly contributed to the state of Historic Preservation in the city. Genean McKinnon, Winter Park Historic Preservation board member, was the master of ceremonies. Her opening remarks included a statement that reminded attendees that,  “Historic homes and buildings are more than vintage architecture and building materials. They are reminders of the people who have lived and labored in them, and their contributions to the community.” Her aim, a belief strongly held by the staff and board of Casa Feliz, was to remind attendees of the human connections throughout the places and institutions discussed. Five awards were handed out during the course of the afternoon, highlighting homes, civic buildings, private clubs, and individuals.

Exceptional Individual: Frank Roark
Although last to be recognized in the ceremony, Frank Roark is first and foremost in the hearts of the Friends of Casa Feliz. He continues to put forth an invaluable amount of time and work towards preserving and maintaining Casa Feliz. Frank specializes in historic restoration and complex preservation projects. His understanding and technical ability have benefitted the community beyond the restoration of Casa Feliz. He helped orchestrate the move of the Showalter-Capen house across lake Osceola to the Albin Polasek Museum property, completed the recent renovation of the Winter Park Woman’s Club, oversaw the restoration of the Barbour Apartments, and directed the placement of the cupola at the First Congregational Church of Winter Park, just to name a few.



Excellence in Residential Renovation: The Geer-Van den Berg House, 138 Detmar Drive
Former Casa Feliz board member Stacey and her husband Rob Panepinto received this award for the renovations to their residence. The home, the Geer-Van den Berg house, is considered the second oldest home in Winter Park. It was built in built in the early 1880s by Dr. Geer, one of the area’s first physicians. The site was purchased in 1876 from Wilson Phelps, and thus, the charming Victorian cottage overlooking Lake Mizell was created. Today, the house’s Victorian charm has not been lost and the house remains one of the finest examples of this style in Winter Park.

The unique historic home has undergone several additions and modifications by the Van den Berg family in the 1970s and the Capper family in the early 2000s. It was the Capper family who added the major additions now seen from Detmar Drive. In 2011 the Panepintos purchased the property and have been active in its preservation ever since. They opened up the house to the public in 2016 for the James Gamble Rogers Colloquium historic home tour.

Excellence in Residential Renovation: The Maher House, 616 Seminole Drive
Two awards for Excellence in Residential Renovation were awarded, and the second recipients were Michael and Diane Maher. The original brick home was built in 1925 on a large double lot on Seminole Drive in a Tudor Revival style that was a copy of the owner’s Michigan home. In 1980 James Gamble Rogers II constructed an additional Great Room. In order to preserve the character of the home, each subsequent addition and renovations have been made in proportion and scale to the original. During the ceremony, Ms. McKinnon relayed an anecdote in which former homeowner Fred Rogers had been spotted from the driveway and invited into the home for a tour by Ms. Maher.

Excellence in Commercial Renovation: Woman’s Club of Winter Park
The next award was granted to the Woman’s Club of Winter Park and accepted by club President, Ms. Cynthia Gerken. The club was founded in 1915 and two years later they received a land donation from Charles Hosmer Morse. In 1921 the club built a Neoclassical Revival Style building designed by L. Percival Hutton. It was the first clubhouse built by any local organization; and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Recently, the Woman’s Club refurbished interior spaces including the main meeting room, stage, office, restrooms, bride’s room, and support spaces. Frank Roark was the general contractor. The craftsmanship and care put into the renovations are the reasons this building and the organization that supports it received the award.

Excellence in Adaptive Reuse: OCPS Winter Park Ninth Grade Center
The award for Adaptive Reuse was given to Orange County Public School’s Winter Park Ninth Grade Center and accepted by Ms. Joie Cadle. Originally built as Winter Park High School’s administrative offices in 1923, the space now houses classrooms. The adjacent gymnasium was designed by Casa Feliz’s architect, James Gamble Rogers II. The Mediterranean Revival style buildings underwent restorations in 2014. This structure was chosen because the manner in which it was renovated helped to maintain the history of Huntington Avenue and the far edge of College Quarter Historic District. The decision to maintain the small decorative details and historic elements on the exterior will provide the next generations with an invaluable sense of history.

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Honoring Historic Homeowners

Thanks to the generosity of a Winter Park resident that supports historic preservation, the Friends of Casa Feliz held a Celebration on May 11th to honor the owners of historic homes that are listed on the City’s Historic Home Registry. About seventy-five people attended the event. They were welcomed by Board Chair Drew Krecicki, who recognized three people for their contributions to historic preservation: well known and respected contractors Frank Roark and Lyn Gilbert who have worked on many historic homes in Winter Park, and Terry Lelonde, owner of Decorative Home Interiors and a new sponsor for Casa Feliz. Drew acknowledged the outstanding job done by Arthur’s Catering and also introduced City Architect Brooks Weiss, who explained the process of registering homes on the Historic Home Registry.


Friends of Casa Feliz Board Chair Drew Krecicki


Winter Park City Architect Brooks Weiss

In addition to honoring residents who made the commitment to preserve Winter Park’s architectural treasures one house at a time, the celebration raised awareness of the positive aspects of the Registry. One of the most pervasive myths The Friends of Casa Feliz hoped to dispel through the Celebration is that houses on the registry cannot undergo any changes without approval from the City’s Historic Preservation Board (HPB). While significant changes to a historic home’s exterior need to be reviewed by the HPB to ensure that the historic integrity of the home is preserved, there are flexible parameters guiding HPB’s decisions regarding acceptable changes to a home’s exterior. The board does not review changes that are made to a home’s interior space.

The event highlighted a number of homes on the Registry that underwent extensive renovation by showcasing the types of transformation that still adhere to the guidelines. Posters featuring photographs of homes on the Registry were created including several with before and after images that showed the range of acceptable modifications to historic homes. These posters will be on display in the 2nd floor gallery at Casa Feliz throughout the month of May, Historic Preservation Month.

Attendees of the Celebration included longtime resident Ann Saurman who lives in her childhood home that is now also on the National Register of Historic Places, Wade and Hannah Miller, a third generation Winter Parker, who recently renovated an historic home, Michael Spencer whose restored home won a 2013 award from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and new residents, Michael and Peta Murphy, who relocated from London and recently purchased a home that was already listed on the Registry. To create more awareness of homes on the Winter Park Registry, yard signs were distributed for homeowners to proudly display in their front yards.

214219226230Thank you to all of the residents who made made the commitment to register their homes. Preserving rich architectural gems like the Comstock-Harris House, which is on the Local and National Registers, ensures that the legacy of our city founders is not forgotten. Nothing makes history come alive like seeing a historic home up close or visiting neighborhood that has changed little from its inception.


Comstock-Harris House

239240If you think your home is eligible to be on the Registry, and you would like to learn more about adding your house to the list, please contact Brook Weiss, Winter Park City Architect. You can reach him at:

bweiss@cityofwinterpark.org or 407.599.3323.

The city’s Historic Preservation website is:


Historic home photos by Rick Kilby

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Exploring Winter Garden: Land of Citrus and Railroads

On February 15, the Annual Casa Feliz Field Trip ventured to the western edge of Orange County to explore downtown Winter Garden and neighboring communities. Led by our guide, Jim Crescitelli of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, our group learned about the community’s past through its historic architecture and enjoyed insider looks into historic commercial and residential properties.

As with many Orange County communities, the citrus industry played a large role in the development of Winter Garden, which at one time shipped more fruit than any other spot in the nation. The two railroad lines that passed through the city furthered its growth and led to the creation of a commercial district. For many years, Winter Garden also enjoyed a thriving tourist industry that was based on its proximity to Lake Apopka, once an international capital of bass fishing.

The Winter Garden Heritage Museum, located in the 1918 Atlantic Coast Line railroad depot, features a large collection of local citrus crate labels.

Today, the city boasts a bustling commercial district, well-preserved homes, and a sense of pride connected to a fascinating history.

We started our tour at the Winter Garden Heritage Museum, located in the historic Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot in the heart of downtown. The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation’s adjacent visitor center was built in 2014 to complement the depot’s architecture.

Led by Jim, we headed west to explore Winter Garden’s commercial district, which has undergone an incredible renaissance since the 1994 opening of the West Orange Trail, built on the former Atlantic Coast Line rail bed. The trail runs right through the center of Plant Street, Winter Garden’s main thoroughfare.

The tour outside Tony’s Liquors, which was constructed in 1913 as the Shelby Hotel, Winter Garden’s first downtown brick hotel.

Our first stop was the Edgewater Hotel, developed in the 1920s as a state-of-the art accommodation for the anglers who visited Winter Garden to fish for largemouth bass in Lake Apopka. Opening in 1927, the hotel remained in operation until 1969. The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation saved it from demolition, and it reopened in 1999 as a bed-and-breakfast inn. Our tour group was invited upstairs to see some of the historic rooms, lovingly restored with period furnishings.

While offering modern conveniences, the hotels strives to recreate an experience for guests of an authentic Florida hotel in the late 1920s.

Other stops on our downtown walking tour included Garden Theatre, which opened in 1935 as a charming motion-picture palace and was restored in 2008 to become a performing-arts venue, and the Central Florida Railroad Museum, housed in Winter Garden’s second historic train depot. Built by the Tavares and Gulf Railway in 1913, the depot today is packed with memorabilia and artifacts that document the region’s rich railroad history, from the Dinky Line to the Orange Blossom Special.

Originally built in 1935 as a single-screen cinema, the Garden Theatre was said to have been the first in Central Florida built for “talkies.”

Details of just a portion of the extension collection of railroad memorabilia at the Central Florida Railroad Museum.

After a delicious catered lunch and an informative presentation on the history of Lake Apopka, we visited the Britt Mansion at Winter Garden’s eastern edge. Built in 1929 by prominent vegetable grower Morgan Britt, the home is a magnificent example of Colonial Revival architecture. The Britt family lived there until 1967. Today, the building houses the Ort Law Firm, whose members were kind enough to welcome us into the interior.

During the 1930’s vegetable fields, managed by the Britt family, lined Plant Street, giving the home the aura of a sophisticated farmhouse.

We then traveled west and explored Tildenville and Oakland from the comfort of our motor coach as we learned more about west Orange County’s rich history. Tildenville, located in unincorporated Orange County, was settled by pioneering citrus growers and grove workers. Luther Tilden owned a 561-acre parcel of land that gave the settlement its name.

In 1910, Tilden’s son Charles built the grand home that was our last tour stop: Oakland Arms, nestled in a shady stretch of road draped by majestic live oaks. The current owners welcomed graciously welcomed us inside and showed us unique details that included dining-room paneling made from the same pine used for citrus crates and several elaborate terra cotta fireplaces.

Charles Tilden, who built Oakland Arms, was one of the largest landowners and citrus growers in the area.

Winter Garden is a wonderful destination for a day trip, just a short 30-minute drive from Park Avenue. The city’s cozy commercial core has retained its small-town character throughout its recent development boom, in part through smart architecture that strives to maintain the look of the early-20th-century buildings that line Plant Street.

Craft brewery at Plant Street Market.

A great example is the Plant Street Market, a new facility that looks and feels a lot like Winter Park’s venerable Farmer’s Market. On the outside, the 12,000-square-foot brick building looks like a survivor from the earlier century, but inside it’s all 21st-century modern, with a craft brewery and market-to-table cuisine.

Thanks to following for helping to make our excursion so memorable:

• Cynthia Cardona and Jim Crescitelli and others at the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation

Historic Edgewater Hotel Bed & Breakfast

Mears Transportation

Tabletop Catering and Events

Text by Casa Feliz Board Member Rick Kilby
Photos by Casa Feliz Board Member Stephen Pategas

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Time to Seek Common Ground

An ironic turn of events took place in Winter Park late last month.

On Saturday, May 21, renowned economist Donovan Rypkema spoke to an audience of more than 200 at Rollins College, keynoting the 10th Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  Rypkema put forth with sound logic and indisputable data the case for historic districts.  He highlighted numerous academic studies from cities around the country that prove historic districts bring about increased property values, reduced foreclosures, higher tax revenues, more heritage tourism, and positive demographic shifts toward the “creative class” that cities want to attract.

Two days later, a quarter mile away at City Hall, the majority of Winter Park’s City Commission voted to overturn a key provision of the city’s historic preservation ordinance, making it harder to form a historic district in Winter Park than in any other city in Florida, and greatly reducing the likelihood that any additional districts might be formed in the city.

Regrettably, none of the city commissioners who voted to turn back the clock on districts were able to attend Mr. Rypkema’s presentation.  We’re certain they would have been troubled to hear the leading expert on the economics of historic preservation warn “I don’t know of another city in the United States the size of Winter Park that has the high quality of architectural and urban character, balanced with as little protection of that character for the future.  That I do know.”

The highly informative and entertaining speech can be viewed in its entirety here:

Yet there are reasons to remain optimistic. Looking ahead, there are ways to protect our “high quality architectural and urban character” without the formation of local historic districts, and we hope the city will set its sights on these:

  •  Individual homeowners may choose to designate their homes.  We are hopeful that the Historic Preservation Board and Winter Park’s City Commission, in the coming months, will offer benefits to homeowners who make this lasting gift to the community.
  • While National Register Districts lack the statutory protection and proven economic benefits of local districts, they still bring increased appreciation for a region’s history, and should be encouraged.
  • Celebrating exemplary preservation efforts—as is the goal of the Winter Park Historic Preservation Board Awards that were given at the May Colloquium (see sidebar)—also increase the likelihood that people will choose to preserve rather than demolish.

The Historic Preservation Board, under the leadership of Chairman Bill Segal, is increasing its profile in the community and studying ways to reward preservation, and deserves our support.  Under Segal’s leadership the board is functioning methodically and professionally, and for the first time in years, several board members attended the Colloquium. We are grateful for their cooperation and leadership.

Individually, all five commissioners have publicly voiced their commitment to celebrating and protecting the historic resources that grace our city.  We trust that while the majority finds historic districts unpalatable, all five commissioners will work together to explore and adopt other innovative approaches to preserve Winter Park’s historic assets for future generations.



Excellence in Residential Renovation – The Grover House, 567 Osceola Avenue

Recipients:  Owners William and Joanne Stange

567 osceola567 Osceola Avenue is significant as an example of the Free Classic type of Queen Anne style house and for its association with the early period of development in Winter Park. Built around 1912 by L. W. Spangler, it was sold to F. L. Hall in 1925 who subdivided the surrounding property and also was the developer of nearby Osceola Court in the late 1920s.  At different times, the house became the home of Dr. and Mrs. Edwin Grover and his sisters Eulalie and Anne, and the retirement home of Sidney and Louise Homer.  Dr. Grover was the Professor of Books at Rollins College beginning in 1926. In his early career, he was an editor and publisher.  He also wrote several books and mentored many students who were published.  Dr. Grover was among the active group of residents who helped create Mead Garden.  Eulalie Grover wrote the Sunbonnet Babies series of children’s’ book. Sidney Homer was a noted composer and Louise Homer was a classically trained opera singer.   Listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places in 2005, The Grover House at 567 Osceola Avenue had been a student rental for many years and while little altered, it was also not in good condition.  Richard Booth of Boowell Properties purchased the house and set about rehabilitating it and preparing it for modern living.  The original windows, wood siding and porch columns were painstakingly restored.  The tangle of electrical and plumbing lines replaced with code compliant systems and plan approved for a rear addition to permit an updated kitchen and bathrooms. Owners William and Joanne Stange completed the beautiful rehabilitation of the house.   The accurate restoration makes the Grover House an elegant nod to Winter Park’s early days.

 Excellence in Adaptive Reuse– Osceola Lodge and Knowles Cottage

Recipient: Facilities Manager Bob Jones on behalf of the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation


Osceola Lodge is home of the Winter Park Institute and the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park


Knowles Cottage is home to the Winter Park History Museum offices

Osceola Lodge, named after the Seminole Indian chief, was built on speculation in 1886 by Winter Park pioneer Francis B. Knowles who also built the “winter cottage” at 232 North Knowles Avenue.  Charles Hosmer Morse (1833-1921) bought Osceola Lodge and the Knowles Cottage in 1904 and he expanded and remodeled it in the Arts and Crafts style.  Granddaughter Jeannette Genius moved into the house in 1937, and she and her husband Hugh McKean lived in the house for a few years beginning in 1947.  A private residence for most of its life, Osceola Lodge is now home to the Rollins College Winter Park Institute; a visiting scholars program launched in 2008.  Supervised by John Parks of the preservation firm Renker Eich Parks Architects of St. Petersburg, the Morse Foundation completed roof to foundation rehabilitations of Osceola Lodge and the adjacent Knowles Cottage.  Historical photographs and Jeannette Genius McKean’s records provided the basis for an accurate restoration.  The original pale yellow exterior color was restored and the asbestos roof shingle replaced with cedar of the type used in the early 19th century.  Osceola Lodge and Knowles Cottage stand as representatives of Charles Hosmer Morse’s legacy and as excellent examples of Winter Park’s early history.

Excellence in Commercial Renovation –The Capen-Showalter House

Recipient: Executive Director Debbie Komanski on behalf of The Albin Polasek Foundation

Capen House-0003The Capen-Showalter House is associated with the pioneer development of Winter Park and families significant in city history.  It was built in 1885 for James S. Capen, one of the City’s early settlers.  The house was originally a Folk Victorian style wood frame building located at 520 North Interlachen on Lake Osceola.  It was remodeled in 1923 in the Tudor Revival style fashionable during the Florida Land Boom period.   It is significant for its association with James Capen and early development of Winter Park, and its altered original architecture has achieved its own significance over time due to its association with the Showalter family.  The Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, Winter Park History Museum, the Friends of Casa Feliz and hundreds of community supporters rescued the home by raising funds to relocate the 200-ton building across Lake Osceola to a new lakefront site on the Polasek Museum grounds.  Split into two halves nicknamed Fred and Ginger for the move, the house was floated across the lake in an event that attracted national media attention.  The Capen-Showalter House is now beautifully restored and tailored for its new life as museum offices, history and art exhibits, and gracious space for workshops, meetings and special events.





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Have You Hugged Your P&Z Member Today?


by Betsy Owens

On Sunday, Mayor Steve Leary declared May 1 “Thaddeus Seymour Day” in honor of everyone’s favorite Rollins president emeritus (Hear, hear!)  May 2, you may not realize, is “National Truffle Day” (in my house, every day is Truffle Day).  But May 3?  This sad little date has the ignoble distinction of being “National Lumpy Rug Day” (really and truly) and “National Two Different Colored Shoes Day” (look it up).  To correct this injustice, and based on the actions of Winter Park’s Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night, I hereby declare May 3 to be “National Hug a P&Z Board Member Day.”   Because Tuesday night in Winter Park, democracy functioned as it should, and our P&Z Board listened to what the West Side residents want, and don’t want, built in their neighborhood.

Under consideration was a proposal by Owens Realty Services (irony noted) to construct 6 3-story duplexes (for a total of 12 units) on 5 lots that the company owns at the corner of West Lyman Avenue and Hannibal Square.  The project would require rezoning of two of the lots from the current R-1A (Single Family) to R-3 (or, according to the developer’s attorney, “R-3 light,” as the project would be slightly smaller than R-3 zoning would allow).

lyman project

Proposed Duplexes at Lyman and Hannibal

In some neighborhoods, the project would have been acceptable—maybe even desirable.   The developer’s lawyer argued that the property would certainly look better with the townhouses than it does in its current barren state. In addition, she argued that 3-story townhouses would present a more gradual transition between the 5-story garage to the west and the small, single-family homes to the east of the property.

This rezoning request wasn’t nearly as ambitious as many of the requests over the years that have preceded it.  But Tuesday evening something remarkable happened.  People from both sides of the tracks (I stopped counting at 25) rose up with one voice and said, “Enough.”

Enough turning a blind eye to the unchecked gentrification of the historic West Side.

Enough buying into the impoverished mythology that the “highest and best use” for land brings about social and economic well-being.

Enough siding with developers over residents.

Indeed, the Owens project was voted down not because it was more lacking in merit than any other West Side development.  It was voted down because Winter Park has finally reached the tipping point where we can no longer ignore the systematic erasure of a community that has contributed to Winter Park’s history in equal measure to the folks on the white side of the tracks.

Winter Park citizens, Tuesday evening, your Planning and Zoning Commission listened.  They listened to city planner Jeff Briggs, who warned that the proposal was in direct opposition to the city’s comprehensive plan, which states that any upzoning from R-1A on the West Side is to be “strongly discouraged.”

They listened to Gerald Girand, who, as the owner of one of the new David Weekley villas just west of the railroad tracks, acknowledged that folks might have expected him to be for the project. Instead, he and his neighbors urged the commission to follow the comp plan and to not “subject Lyman Avenue to the slippery slope” of density.

Open window

This is what a slippery slope looks like: from the City’s Comprehensive Plan

They heard Glenn Franklin, whose home of 40 years would directly abut the proposed townhouses, question “why can’t they build lovely single family homes on Lyman Avenue like they do in the rest of Winter Park?”  Resident Barry Greenstein, who once worked for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Washington and Maryland, agreed. Referring to townhouse clusters and apartment buildings, he said, the developers “don’t offer the same ‘products’ on the Isle of Sicily or in the Vias,” and warned that Winter Park’s zoning practices of the last 30 years could be considered discriminatory.

Longtime West Side residents Mary Daniels, Martha Bryant-Hall and Linda Walker-Chapell decried the gradual chipping away of the historic fabric of their neighborhood with incompatible structures and displaced residents.  Of the 5-story parking garage that was to be ‘softened’ by the 3-story townhouses, Lurlene Fletcher complained “we didn’t want that thing to begin with!”


The city changed the Comp Plan in 2004 to allow this behemoth on the West Side.

The developer’s logic in that case was particularly rich.  “Since your neighborhood has already been marred with a 5-story parking garage, we’re going to lessen the blow with some 3-story townhouses.”

Laurel Habgood, a white woman who lives at 411 West Comstock, said that she and her husband relocated from out of town to the West Side in 2014 because of its diversity and history. “We don’t want to see that change,” she said.

new david weekly

One modest home finds itself caught in the undertow of David Weekley’s “Park West.”

You would have been proud of your P&Z board.  After public comment, Pete Gottfried immediately moved to reject the proposal.  Ross Johnston seconded, saying “calling this R-3 light is a smokescreen.”  P&Z Chairman James Johnston spoke in favor of the project, but the other members weren’t having it.  Tom Sacha said “when you buy property you should plan to build to the zoning you bought into.”  Bob Hahn said that although the architectural renderings were good, the decision was a “social justice issue.” In the end, the vote was unanimous against the proposal.

What does the future hold for West Winter Park?  With the profits to be made through developing what is analogous to the fertile banks of the Nile, we have certainly not heard the last of zoning change requests for that neighborhood.  Like a giant Whack-A-Mole game, citizens will need to be vigilant in bird-dogging where the next ill-advised rezoning request pops up.  But if Tuesday night was any indication, perhaps we’ve reached a new level of awareness in the City of Culture and Heritage.  Let’s hope so, anyway.


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Bringing This Old House Into This Century

This is the third installment in our three-part series profiling residents of Winter Park Historic Districts.  Opponents of a strenghtened preservation ordinance have kicked into high gear to try to convince residents that if they find themselves in a historic district, they will be subject to an arbitrary review board that will severely limit what they can and cannot do.  A resident of the College Quarter since 1993, Pam Coutant isn’t buying it.

by Betsy Owens

Pam Coutant oversees the current renovations

Pam Coutant oversees the current renovations

Pam Coutant may have been born 75 years too late. She has the style and energy of a marathon-running supermom, but the gentility and wisdom that conjures my grove-walking southern grandmother—a steel magnolia with a goodly dash of Yankee pragmatism thrown in. Talking to her you get the sense of someone from a different time, when people were more sensible and lacked pretense. She’s a Winter Parker by choice, and is very clear about why she loves it here.

Pam and her engineer husband Steve have been temporarily displaced from their College Quarter home, which is undergoing a major remodeling project. She teaches at the Methodist Preschool a few blocks from her home, while deftly managing the activities of two busy daughters, Lucia (14) and Sophie (12).

Preservation Winter Park: You grew up in Windermere, attended boarding school in the Northeast, and then returned to go to Rollins, and have been in Winter Park since. What is it that has enticed you to stay in Winter Park?

Sadly, it feels like much of what I love about Winter Park is in peril. I like the village scale. I liked the scale and understatedness of the homes. I just love cottagey, older homes—some of them are quirky how they’re set on the land, or embraced by the landscape. I love the downtown, and the culture, and have since I went to Rollins. When I was a student at Rollins, I would sometimes just get in my car, drive around and look at the houses. I loved the whole area.Capture

Most people don’t come to that appreciation for architecture until they’re a little bit older, but you were just a college student.

I think going to school in New England, I was just intrigued by the older buildings. I loved the stone row houses, the richness and character and history. Who lived there? What was life like when they had staff who lived on the top floor? I loved to romanticize.

Are there any other neighborhoods or areas of Central Florida where you would consider living?

No. I mean, sometimes the hustle-bustle is a little much for me here. I liked how Windermere, when I was growing up, was such a sleepy, small Florida town, but it’s not really like that anymore. I love Mount Dora, but it doesn’t have the same amenities we have here.

Do you think it’s possible to preserve an idealized, small-town way of life, or do you think it’s just inevitable that if an area is nice, it’s going to grow and change?

That’s a tough question. I think when you have a nice place, people want to come. But sometimes they don’t realize what it is that attracts them to the place, and they begin to make changes that detract. I think preservation is possible, given the right leadership, but I’m afraid we’re past that point in Winter Park, and we’re backpeddling.

Coutant Home on Lakeview Drive, College Quarter

Coutant Home on Lakeview Drive, College Quarter

Tell me about your house. What particularly attracted you to it?

I was at Rollins at the time. I loved the arched windows and the green roof, and the Mediterranean look. We bought it in 1993.

It was started in 1925 and finished in 1926. Not much has been done to it since then, except for the addition of air conditioning and enclosing the porch. The records of the house were in the basement of City Hall, which flooded, so a lot of our information is hearsay and what we can dig up. Our house and the one immediately south were built at the same time by the Rollins family (no relation to the college). Our house was built as a wedding gift for the daughter. A Dean Enyart from Rollins College later lived in the house. I believe Rollins actually owned the houses for a while.

I was on the committee that helped form the design guidelines for the College Quarter. Going through that process, I’d call our house a mission revival, but it’s not super typical of any one style. The cool thing about it is that it has an interior courtyard, which is typical of mission. It’s very open inside. The living room and dining room are very open, and have long views. It’s a very small house for a family of 4. It’s only about 2000 square feet.

How big will the house be when you’re done?

It’ll be about 3100 square feet. We’re basically just pushing out the exterior walls of the house. But because they’re on different sides of the house, it’s a bigger job than you would think. We’re reconfiguring inside. I’m sure it would have been easier to knock it down and start over.

You’re going to heroic lengths to save the house but to make it suitable for your family.

The Coutant Family

The Coutant Family

Yes. But the good thing is that our architect, Randall Slocum, loves the house and agreed with our vision of adding to the house without compromising its integrity. People encouraged us to fill in the courtyard, or to go up a story, but we wanted to stay true to the Mission Revival style of the house. So we knew we had the right architect.

How has your interaction been with the historic preservation board, in getting approval for the changes you’re making?

It’s been a non-issue. You hear people moaning, “Oh you have to go through the historic preservation people…good luck with that!” but it’s been so easy. What we’re doing is sensitively planned. And here’s the big thing. We’re moving the front façade of the house. But we’re reconstructing it exactly how it looks, 8 feet closer to the road. We assured them that we’re going to have the same stucco, keep the green tile roof, the same style of windows, and they said “fine” and sent us on our merry way.

Did you think it was too easy? Do you wish they’d use more scrutiny?

I don’t, but the reason I don’t is because I am fully confident that what we’re doing is appropriate and acceptable. My philosophy from the beginning has been “Let’s take this old house, and bring it into this century.” We’re not just building it for us, but for whomever comes along later. We’re bringing it to current day living standards so that it will stay there. I love the house so much, and I really don’t want to change it. I drive by right now and shield my eyes—it’s painful to look because, in this messy construction phase, it looks like the house is being compromised. But when we’re done I know it will be right.

Do you think it’s fair that other people in the neighborhood have to abide by a separate set of design rules – that some residents had no hand in determining – that govern what they can do on their private property?

It’s unrealistic to think that all people are going to value history. So I can understand that it makes people mad, that you can’t do certain things.

You can tell people, if you don’t like an old house, don’t buy it. But they want to walk to Park Avenue, and there’s an old house on that lot, and it’s for sale. But I feel that someone has to stand up and say “we’ve got to keep these things if we want them to be around.” Yes, I can see why that irritates people. But on the other hand, these are not big lots. They’re not acre lots. We are living in close proximity to our neighbors, so I feel more strongly about not allowing someone to build a two-story structure that’s smack dab up against someone else’s property line looking down into their yard. That’s what makes me mad. Let’s be considerate of our neighbors.

How would you characterize Winter Park’s sense of place?

I feel, honestly, like we’re holding on for dear life, trying to keep something of the soul and history of Winter Park alive. Winter Park’s heritage is what makes this place feel real to me, in contrast to so much of Central Florida. It’s the land around us, the people who were here before us. They’re the ones whose good stewardship made it such a special place. We’ve been given a gift—at the very least, we just have to try to not mess it up.

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This post is the second in our series on living in historic districts in Winter Park. Two weeks ago, we profiled Elizabeth and Jim Faiella, who live in a Victorian cottage in the College Quarter. Here, we talk with Hannah Miller, who recently purchased a 1930 wood-frame modified bungalow in the Virginia Heights East Historic District with her husband Wade. The Millers have two children, Sabine (5) and Ethan (1).


After 16 years as a displaced Floridian, Hannah Robertson Miller has found her way home to Winter Park. A third-generation Winter Parker, Hannah was anxious to try something different after she graduated from Trinity Prep in 1998. Her interests in art and architecture, culture and and social activism, led her to attend college in Vermont, law school in Austin, and to live and work in Boston, Santa Fe, and Macon, Georgia. However, after she and her architect husband Wade had their two children, they began to think about moving back to Winter Park to be closer to her parents Pat and Randy Robertson. On the verge of moving into her dream house in the Virginia Heights East Historic District, Hannah is discovering that the sense of place she found so attractive in other cities is right here in her own backyard. And she wants to keep it that way.

Preservation Winter Park: You’ve lived lots of places with well-preserved historic districts.

I have always sought out those particular areas. In Santa Fe, I lived on a street that had the only mud plaster adobe house left, with the traditional interior courtyard. In Macon, I lived in a precious historic neighborhood, right across the street from the oldest Catholic church in Georgia.

PWP: In terms of economic development, you and Wade are the very kind of people that communities are interested in attracting—young, creative, educated, and community-minded. If there had not been historic neighborhoods in Winter Park, would you have been interested in moving back?

I felt very strongly that I would only move back to Winter Park if I could find a house in a neighborhood that had a higher concentration of historic homes. One of the reasons that I love Winter Park and our neighborhood is that it has this texture, this connection to the past, so that when I’m on a walk I can feel a connection to all the people who lived here before. I’m a third generation Winter Park resident, and I feel connections to my parents and my grandparents.miller quote

I think about how this city started. Because it has its roots from New England, and I have spent time in that part of the world, so I feel a connection to that also. It has a real sense of place. Obviously, between the lakes and plant life it’s a place of great natural beauty. But growing up here, with grandparents who lived in a historic home (see blog post at Schecnk House), I had a real sense of the preciousness of the architecture, even as a young child. As a family we lived one year in Palm Beach, when I was 14, and I remember that I’d get on my bike after school, and I’d ride down the Lake Trail, and for my own pleasure I would go architectural touring. I’d look at all the houses that I thought were the most unique and beautiful. So I’ve always had an appreciation for that.

PWP: What do you love about Winter Park?

In addition to the architecture, I love the village quality. The houses are connected to one another, and they have a relationship with one another, and to me that’s one of the most important aspects of preserving the integrity of a neighborhood. It doesn’t put one house above the others; it considers the whole as a community. And when you have these huge houses that are out of scale, dwarfing the homes next door, it changes the feeling of the neighborhood. Architecture is obviously a way of making place but it’s also something that makes community. I appreciate in neighborhoods like the College Quarter and Virginia Heights that there is this feeling of the homes being in relation to one another. And I love that.

millersPWP: Are you concerned, living in a historic district, about being restrained if you want to make changes to your house somewhere down the road?

Well, we are in the middle of a 9 month interior renovation of our house. So I’m not concerned at all. I need to mention this because it was so disturbing to me when we bought our house. I had been eyeing this house from afar for 2 years. I even had a folder on my computer with photos of this house. When we did ultimately buy the house, the previous owners gave us their plans to remodel that they had already had approved through the historic preservation board. To me, the changes that they had proposed would have made the house unrecognizable. So, if anything, I think the rules are too lax. If changes that extensive got through, it’s disingenuous to argue that the current design guidelines are too restrictive.

But, even when the rules are being properly enforced, all it takes is a little creativity to really make something work for your family. We are in the process of making changes on the interior so that there are no closed-off rooms, more long vantage points so that I can see the kids from where I am, and to make it easier for entertaining, more conducive to a modern way of living. And we didn’t change a single exterior wall. The home looks as it did on the outside for many decades.

PWP: Aren’t you afraid of foregoing the opportunity of selling the house as a tear-down for a huge financial windfall? What if someday you really need the money? And do you think it’s fair that others couldn’t avail themselves of such an opportunity as well?

It’s the very hypothetical you’ve given that convinces me how important these kinds of protections are. There are all sorts of ways to justify short-sighted financial decisions, when the reality is that there’s something greater that we’re working towards, in terms of preserving what’s really special about our community. I wouldn’t be seeking out a historic home if I didn’t have those values. I feel very strongly about this issue.

There are plenty of other homes in this community that don’t have historical value. There’s no lack of a variety of housing across this market. There are plenty of Magic Players’ dream homes out there. It’s not the city’s responsibility to guarantee its citizens’ rights to make an obscene profit, at the expense of the community. A home to me is not a profit center. It’s a place of enjoyment. A place to value while you’re there.

PWP: That’s your opinion. But is it fair to force that on others?

Community is important. I don’t care just about myself. I care about my neighbors, and building community for my family. I want my children to know what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than themselves. This is just how I live in all areas of my life. I don’t just think about what I want for myself, but about the people around me, and the impact that my actions have on them.

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In recent months, as a revised historic preservation ordinance makes its way toward the Winter Park City Commission, there’s been a lot of buzz about historic districts, and whether they constitute an all-out assault on property rights. Common charges against districts include that they’re overly restrictive; that you must consult a governing authority before making even minor changes to your home; that they decrease property values; and that homes in historic districts rot in disrepair while new development buoys surrounding neighborhoods.

In the spirit of getting it straight from the horse’s mouth, Preservation Winter Park sat down with four residents of three different homes in designated historic districts. Were these homeowners happy living in historic districts or did they feel overly regulated? What had happened to their property values since the district was formed? If anyone had thought about the benefits and perils of living in a historic district, it would be these folks. Over the next few weeks, the blog will be featuring our discussions with them. First up:


faiella3Jim and Elizabeth Faiella live in a charming 1925 Victorian-style cottage on Lakeview Drive in the College Quarter, right across the street from Lake Virginia. Elizabeth, an attorney, bought the house in 1988, about 15 years before the neighborhood was designated a historic district.  She raised two sons in the 3/3 house which, at less than 2000 square feet, seems surprisingly spacious. She and Jim, a retired construction estimator, married in 1992. They savor time spent with their large blended family, whom they entertain in their cozy home many Sunday afternoons. “There’s no getting away from one another, and we love it,” he smiles.

Preservation Winter Park: What do you like most about Winter Park? What do you think makes it so special?

Jim: I think the older homes, the tree canopy, and you feel safe here. Growing up in the era that I did, everybody sat on their front porch; people walked by and chatted. And it’s the same thing here—people walk by, and you know everybody, and if you don’t, you introduce yourself. It’s a living neighborhood, as opposed to other places, where there are all these big, huge homes but there’s nobody around. Those neighborhoods look vacant to me—like a façade or a movie set almost. I just love this area. I hope that the City will preserve the older homes and not let people come in, buy an old house, tear it down, and then build something so out of character that it damages the neighborhood.

I think when people come from out of town, and they walk down Park Avenue, visit the park and drive through the neighborhoods, they see houses like the old houses on this street and they fall in love with it. I don’t think they fall in love with the big shoebox homes.

Elizabeth: I was thinking about this yesterday, when I went to get a dress hemmed at Yuki’s, and had my nails done next door, and I FAIELLAQUOTEwalked there. And I thought about Rome, which has a rule—their rule is you can’t build any building taller than the Vatican. And what’s happened is that this has helped make Rome one of the most beautiful cities in the world. They had a rule, and they’ve stuck to it. Paris had an amazing planner under Napoleon, Baron Haussman. They have these wide boulevards, and keep building heights low, and it’s still one of the most beautiful cities in the world, because they’ve stuck with the plan. And in Winter Park, we have this, in a way, and we cannot screw this up. When this gets encroached on, it makes us nervous, because you’re giving up that village feel. I have a quality of life that is amazing. I literally live like a European, where I can walk to my office, walk to the farmer’s market, wherever I want to go with the exception of grocery shopping. All this, and I’m right across the street from the lake, where I watch the sunrise every morning, see an otter on the lawn, and an owl in my backyard. It is a real privilege to be able to live like this.

PWP: What do you say to people who say, I should be able to build whatever I want to on my property?

Elizabeth: To me, that’s like saying I should be able to smoke in a restaurant if I want. At a certain point, you exercising your rights infringes on mine to such an extent that the law says “No you can’t.” You can go build a brand spanking new community somewhere else. If you want a community that doesn’t have any traces of the past, nothing from the men and women who lived there many years before you, there are options for you. But what attracts people to a community like Winter Park are the visible reminders of the past, where they can feel their place in the continuity of life, the flow of history. You can’t recreate that when it’s gone. You can’t build history from scratch—even though they try to in places like Celebration. You have a commodity here that is irreplaceable. That’s why we can’t just say, “That’s OK. We can just tear it up piece by piece.”

PWP: Do you have any sense of what’s happened to property values in this neighborhood, as a designated historic district?

Elizabeth: Yes, I have a good indicator. Through my life, there are times when I need to take out a home equity loan. It depends on how my business is going. Some years are good, and some are not so good. So they reappraise your house when you have a home equity loan. This house has steadily increased in value over 25 years. And around me, I darn well know what it’s done. The house next to me has sold about every five years. And I’ve watched the value increase by leaps and bounds each time. The house on the other side of me just sold for a million—when I first moved here it was $195,000. Neither one of them has been touched much.

PWP: You have an amazing (lakefront) lot here, and you’re just around the corner from Park Avenue. Aren’t you afraid that someday, when you might need some money, that a former Backstreet Boy or Orlando Magic Player might come along and say “I need this lot for my dream house. I’ll pay you double the market value.” And you’ll have to explain to him that it will be difficult if not impossible to get permission to knock it down because it’s in a historic district?

Elizabeth: I’m not afraid of that. That is not my thinking. The idea that it would be difficult to do that is reassuring for me. The people that come after us, if we don’t protect it, will have no concept of where we came from. And this matters.

We have a home in Italy in the little village where Jim’s grandparents came from. It was a fixer-upper of major proportions. A tree was growing in the middle of it—we’re talking, bats living inside, practically ruins. We reconstructed it from the inside out. We could not add a window or door or anything on the exterior because the historic preservation law.

Jim: All the homes in that area are the way it was 900 years ago. Prior to that there were wars, et cetera, but all of the architecture appears as it did 900 years ago.

PWP: Was that a major pain in the neck? Did you resent that intrusion?

Jim: It was exciting and it was wonderful. The reason we bought a home that was 900 years old was because you could live in a place where 35 earlier generations had lived.

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

PWP: What would you say to someone who said, “Well, I can see how that’s historic—900 years old, but in Winter Park we’re talking about buildings that at the oldest are 120 years old.”

Elizabeth: Well, where do you start? When do you start preserving history? We’re a younger civilized country. The idea that we wouldn’t start because we got started late? That makes no sense. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

PWP: I know you owned a house over on Antonette that you needed to make some structural changes to. How was going before the Historic Preservation Board? Was it difficult? Did they give you a hard time?

Jim: No. The bottom line was, they said, “don’t change the exterior from the street.” The back we could do some things, and structurally we did some things under the house. We added a few walls, and added on in the back, to make the house more livable. But we didn’t change the façade or the look of it at all.

Elizabeth: Look. Living in a historic district is not for everybody. If you don’t like the feeling of it, playing by the rules, there are ample places you can live, where you can isolate yourself and do what you like on your property. But if you want this, the places you can live in Central Florida are very few. Why would we want to allow that to be changed? The property values in Winter Park are maintained because of this, not in spite of it. If you’re not swayed by preserving the soul of the place, the comfort, the quality of life, then at least pay attention to the economics.

Lots of times in our society, a law might crimp the style of an individual, but for the greater good, we make rules. Historic preservation is done for the greater good.


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Preservation Challenges in Winter Park: What Would Tocqueville Think?

By Jack C. Lane, Emeritus Professor of American History


There are several ways of comprehending the reasons why it has been difficult to preserve Winter Park’s built heritage. One way is to see Winter Park as presenting unique challenges. The city is a preferred destination for newcomers and in many cases itinerants. When they think about the past (which, as we shall see, is not often) their memories are of their “home,” of some other place or places where they have roots. Their attachment to Winter Park’s over one hundred and twenty-five year old past is at best tenuous and very possibly non-existent. As Central Florida has grown, it has gotten increasingly difficult for people of ordinary means to afford to live in Winter Park. And while the wealthy are attracted to Winter Park for its charm and historic ambiance, they typically aren’t willing to put up with the small bathrooms and closets and other design challenges of say, historic Virginia Heights’ little nineteen-twenties bungalows. This is to say, they like living in a historic community, but don’t really see a role for themselves in preserving it.

This historic bungalow was demolished to make way for...

This old Winter Park bungalow was demolished to make way for…

...a larger house with more updated features.

…a larger home with more modern features.

Then, there is the matter (not unique to Winter Park) of multiple competing interests who are affected by historic preservation: real estate developers, commercial investors, neighborhood residents, certain politicians and others who believe preservation threatens their interests. Not surprisingly, preservationists find it difficult sledding in the face of these contending, often contentious, influential groups.

But there are two other considerations that reach far beyond the local struggle in Winter Park. Very often controversies in a small community in this country reveal deep-seated American social pathologies. In the effort to save historic buildings and neigh-borhoods in Winter Park preservationists have come face to face with two embedded American characteristics that add additional burdens to their efforts.

tocquevilleThe first is the age-old American conflict between individualism and public good. As early as the 1830s, the famed political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville astutely commented on the dynamic, but potentially destructive, individualistic behavior of most Americans. Tocqueville is careful to distinguish between individualism and “egoism,” or in today’s parlance, self-centeredness. Egoism, Tocqueville argued, is instinctive, an innate human characteristic. On the other hand, individualism is a learned trait that sees public world and the private world as two separate spheres. The average American, Tocqueville observed, is “disposed to withdraw himself into a circle of family and friends and with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look out for itself.” When interest in the public world (which the Founders called “public virtue”) wanes, self-centeredness becomes the dominant preoccupation. If and when that public world impinges on private interests, (as with the attempt to create historic districts) then individualists are aroused in opposition, often raising the cry of “violation of property rights.” Such claims, however, frequently mask the deeper sentiment of individualism, that is, the belief that the right of individuals to do as they wish with their property is more important than the public good of preserving historic landmarks and neighborhoods.

The second factor militating against historic preservation (and closely tied to the first) is the American disinterest in the past. From the beginning, this continent was settled by people who fled their past, by those determined to remove history from their lives. Subsequently, settlers moved west with the same intentions: to excise the past and to turn their eyes to the future. In an 1839 article one writer saw the United States as “The Great Nation of Futurity,” “with no connection to the past.” Today we are the heirs of this ubiquitous indifference toward history. It is no accident that, compared to Europe (the Old World), America (the New World) is a country with few monuments or ruins—that is, without visual evidences of the world of our ancestors. In Europe (for that matter most other societies), historic monuments daily remind even the simplest farmer or worker of the spirit and accomplishments of their ancestors. In America, those built evi-dences of the past are often demolished to make way for new structures. As a result, visual memory of our forebears’ legacies fade and then vanish. Our ties to the past are thereby diminished.

In a culture whose predominant concerns are individual rights and whose eyes are fixed primarily on the present and future, arguments that historic preservation protects Winter Park’s tradition, heritage, and legacy seem weak and abstract, and those advocating historic preservation are viewed as blocking progress, and even un-American.*


Often historic preservation becomes vitally personal and to see or not be able to see a landscape of past experiences can have enduring consequences. Here are two stores to illustrate the point:

woman in gold

“Woman in Gold” by Gustav Klimt

At the end of the movie, “Woman in Gold,” Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren), pauses for a moment after the recovery of a painting stolen by the Nazis and at the time housed in the Austrian national museum. Instead of celebrating her victory, she leaves her lawyer and visits the spacious Vienna apartment where she and her family had lived before expulsion by the Nazis. Scenes from her joyful family life come flashing into her mind (and on the screen) as she moves from room to room, emotionally recalling some of the most memorable moments of her childhood life. The recovery of the painting was not enough to excise the anger that had been festering since she had been forced to leave her anguished parents in one of those very rooms. To replace those harrowing memories with the carefree ones of her childhood years, Altmann sensed that it was necessary to experience personally her former home. As she moved from room to room she finally came to terms with her Vienna past, and could now move forward without anger.

The second story is a personal one and has a less gratifying conclusion. During World War II my father, who was too old for the draft, secured a job in a defense factory on the Gulf coast of Texas. The family moved there in February 1942. After a period of homesickness, I adjusted to my new community of Brazoria, made many close friends, and thus spent three very pleasant years there. At the end of the war, my family moved back to our original home. In the subsequent years I retained vivid memories of the little town (population about 2,000), the houses on our street, the church around the corner, the dairy at the end of our long block and the fields where we played football and baseball. In 1985 my sister and I drove from her home in Houston to revisit our ex-periences in Brazoria. After forty years I expected to see some changes in the little town. What I did not anticipate was the absence of any recognizable evidence of our past. Every feature of the natural and built landscape that I had known and remembered had vanished. No original buildings had been left standing. I had wanted to walk down the streets, to reminisce with my sister about our experiences, but there was nothing left to remember. A part of my past had disappeared along with that entire original landscape. I still had visual memories in my mind but the longing to attach those memories to something concrete remained unfulfilled. I left with an unexpected empty feeling as if a part of my being had been violated. I still have not come to terms with my disappointment.

"Old" Winter Park represented by 161 Cortland, now demolished

“Old” Winter Park represented by 161 Cortland, now demolished

What connects these two stories and the embedded American traditions hindering historic preservation is how critical a sense of place is to both our public and personal identity. No pictures in our minds can replace the way familiar landscapes and well-known buildings are capable of awakening the memories, good and bad, of our past experiences. Thus when we demolish the

New Winter Park: replacement home at 161 Cortland
“New” Winter Park: replacement home at 161 Cortland

historic natural and built landscapes of Winter Park, we are robbing ourselves and future generations of the innate hunger to have tangible, visual encounters with the past. Moreover, if, as everyone seems to agree, historic landmarks in Winter Park are the city’s most attractive (and lucrative) feature, demolishing these historic treasures is the equivalent to using seed corn make soup. In time the very factors that make the city attractive will have vanished. Perhaps the only way to persuade those who oppose historic preservation for ideological reasons and those developers who oppose it for material gain is to convince them that historic preservation is even in their self-interest. But don’t hold your breath waiting for conversion. The best way to secure our historic landscape is (in the Lord’s words to Job) “gird your loins” for the work ahead and elect friends of preservation to public office.

(MEMO TO PRESERVATIONISTS: Please interpret the foregoing essay as a historian’s effort to make sense of the unyielding opposition to historic preservation. As a committed preservationist I would like to have written a more encouraging essay. Historians, you know, have the luxury of interpretation without responsibility and without obligation to offer solutions, or so we tell ourselves.)

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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The Long, Strange Journey to CLG Status for Winter Park

For at least 14 years, it has been the stated goal of the City of Winter Park to become a Certified Local Government. The city’s historic preservation ordinance, adopted in 2001, states “The HPC shall apply to participate in the certified local government program through the Florida Division of Historical Resources.”  The city’s comprehensive plan similarly states “The City shall participate in the Certified Local Government (CLG) program administered by the State of Florida by maintaining a preservation ordinance complying with state and federal requirements, filing required reports, participating in training workshops for staff and preservation boards, and applying for CLG grants to fund qualifying historic preservation projects.”

Tallahassee used a CLG grant to create a Myers Park walking tour

Tallahassee used a CLG grant to create a Myers Park walking tour

Now, you might be asking, “What exactly IS a certified local government, and why should Winter Park wish to become one?”  And there would be no shame in admitting your CLG illiteracy, given that when the Friends of Casa Feliz Advocacy Committee met individually with each city commissioner in 2013, four of the five had no idea what a CLG was, or that both our preservation ordinance and comprehensive plan had stated that we should become one.

Yet, it’s an important program for a number of reasons, and there’s reason to feel chagrined that the city of Winter Park STILL isn’t a CLG, despite everything short of an 11th Commandment instructing us to become one.

According to the State of Florida website, the CLG program exists to “link three levels of government-federal, state and local- into a preservation partnership for the identification, evaluation and protection of historic properties.”  The website describes the following benefits:

  • CLGs are eligible to receive training, both on-site and at regional meetings, for local historic preservation boards and city staff;
  • CLGs are eligible for special grants for historic resource surveys, National Register application preparation, and community education programs;
  • CLGs are connected with one another through a network to share information, ideas and best practices between their respective communities.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Apparently, just about every other Florida city thinks so.  Here’s a roster of state CLGs, which includes 68 Florida municipalities: http://dos.myflorida.com/media/693655/clg-list-2-23-15.pdf.  Name a Florida city of any size that is known to have some historic resources.  Then check the list.  Tampa? Check.  Miami? Check.  Orlando? Check? Jacksonville, Gainesville, St. Pete, Sarasota, Coral Gables, West Palm? CLGs, every one.  We’re hard put to think of any Florida city, other than Winter Park, that hasn’t seen the wisdom in becoming a CLG.

This begs the question, “Well, why haven’t we, then?”  The primary reason appears to be foot-dragging–it just hasn’t been a priority for anyone at the city, which makes one wonder how the language ended up in the comp plan and the HP ordinance to begin with.  In addition, when the Citywide Board Ordinance was passed in 2011, all language pertaining to board member qualifications was stricken from the HP ordinance.  While such language – which would give preference to a preservation architect applying to serve on the HPB over, say, a shoe salesman – isn’t required, it certainly sends the message that the city is serious about preservation, which is a requirement.  For a board that grapples with issues of historic design and scale and the technicalities of planning and zoning, it is only reasonable that members should have the technical expertise to perform their duties.

Fast forward to 2015, when the City appears to be on the verge of updating our historic preservation ordinance.  The amended

CLG Miami Beach created a brochure and website with its grant

CLG Miami Beach created a brochure and website with its grant

ordinance drafted by City Planning, and released in May, reinserted language back into the ordinance on the skill sets that should be sought for HPB membership.  It required that at least two members be architects, one be a lawyer, one be in building construction, and the remainder have demonstrated expertise in other relevant disciplines. The amended ordinance also specifically stated that the city will finally apply for CLG certification.

While supporters of the ordinance expected some consternation and conversation on the issue of district formation – the draft ordinance recommended lowering the threshold for forming a historic district from the current 2/3 property owner approval to a simple majority—they were surprised when at least one Winter Park resident – Peter Weldon – mounted an attack on the stated intent to become a CLG.

Weldon has exhorted the City Commission and the HPB to abandon the CLG process. He accurately points out that the grant funds available only to CLGs is a small fraction of the state historic preservation grants that even non-CLG governments and nonprofits can apply for.   He also suggests that the requirements of the CLG program would be an undue burden for city staff.

His arguments appear to have gotten some traction among HPB members.  At its June 17 workshop, two of the members who had received Weldon’s email, expressed doubt about whether the city should become a CLG, postulating that it might insert yet another level of bureaucracy into the process and burn up a lot of staff time with minimal benefit. These concerns would be valid if they were true.  Then, at the June 22 City Commission meeting, Mayor Leary similarly expressed doubt over whether the city should pursue designation.

Fernandina Beach used a CLG grant to create downtown design guidelines

Fernandina Beach used a CLG grant to create downtown design guidelines

So, Preservation Winter Park turned to people who should know—the planning staffs of current CLG governments in other cities—to get to the bottom of whether there is indeed an advantage to being a CLG, and whether the advantages outweighed any potential disadvantages.  We emailed Friederike Mittner, City Historic Preservation Planner for West Palm Beach; Emily Foster, Senior Planner for the City of Lakeland; Kathleen Slesnick Kauffman, Historic Preservation Chief of Miami-Dade County; and Richard Forbes, Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Orlando.  Here are their unedited answers to our questions:

PWP:  How, if at all, has being a CLG benefitted your city?

Mittner: We’re now eligible for additional funds set aside for just CLG’s with no match required!  That’s a big deal.  It’s a great networking opportunity too.

Foster: Lakeland has benefited from the CLG program by being eligible for and awarded several CLG grants. These grants have helped us to preserve local historic resources and develop historic district design guidelines. Technical assistance provided by the DHR’s office to staff on an ongoing basis has been beneficial as well. We are also able to provide input on National Register designations, which proved helpful in getting all seven of our local historic districts and several individual landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pass-a-Grille Beach received a $41,000 grant for a historic district survey

Pass-a-Grille Beach received a $41,000 grant for a historic district survey

Kauffman:  While it’s true that any non-profit can pursue a Division of Historical Resources grant, but only CLG eligible governments can go after the special pot of money that is specifically set aside for CLGs. In addition, there is now a new benefit to being a CLG in that CLG applications do not have to provide a match for the small matching grants.

Another really big benefit is the CLG Network, where all of us are instantly connected through a shared email group, and the questions and comments that we ask each other are so useful and pertinent. Why reinvent the wheel when another community may have already created design guidelines, or worked through a vinyl window issue, or figured out how to save a lighthouse from sinking into the water?

Forbes: One of the best things is the listserve where all of the CLG’s can ask questions of other CLG communities to help solve problems and find out what others have done and are doing.  Also get to review National Register nominations first before they go to the state for review.  The match is no longer required for CLG’s for the grants.

PWP: How, if at all, has being a CLG burdened your city?

Boynton Beach created a heritage trail with a $28,000 CLG grant

Boynton Beach created a heritage trail with a $28,000 CLG grant

Mittner: In no way has it been a burden.

Foster:  To my knowledge, Lakeland has not been burdened by our CLG status whatsoever.

Kauffman: It’s never been a burden to be a CLG.

Forbes: Small amount of staff time for reporting to state and National Park Service.

PWP:  How would you describe the requirements of maintaining your CLG status in terms of effort and staff time?

Mittner: One hour per year of completing a report and e-mailing minutes

Foster:  It takes very little effort and staff time to maintain CLG certification. The annual report required by the National Park Service and Florida DHR takes approximately 2-3 hours of staff time PER YEAR.

Kauffman:  Minimal.

Forbes: Reporting takes a few minutes a month and the annual report submission takes at most an hour to complete.

PWP:  If you had to do it over again, would you become a CLG? 

Mittner: Absolutely!

Foster: Absolutely. There is no downside to the CLG program, in my opinion.

Kauffman: Yes, of course I would become a CLG if we were not one already.

Forbes:  Yes.

In the coming months, the Historic Preservation Board, and ultimately the City Commission, will need to decide whether the benefits to becoming a CLG outweigh the detriments.   We hope their decision will be informed by the experiences of cities that have actually participated in the program, and not anti-government ideology.

In her email to us, Kauffman put it this way: “It is not a difficult or lengthy process to become a CLG, but the whole point of the program is to provide a benefit to cities or counties that have an expressed interest in saving their heritage, and have made it a priority to do so by having a strong preservation ordinance. Is this how you would describe Winter Park?”

It’s time that our city joins the legion of other Florida cities that proudly declare through their CLG status, “This place matters.”


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MidCentury Modern: Winter Park’s Hidden Heritage


Nils Schweizer's downtown Winter Park office

Nils Schweizer’s downtown Winter Park office; photo by Rick Kilby

by Christine Madrid French

On the surface, the wildly popular television show “Mad Men,”set in the 1960s, chronicled the life of high-flying advertising executive Donald Draper and his stylish coworkers.  On a broader, cultural level, however, the show can be credited with a bringing about a national resurgence of mid-century mania.  Increasingly, well-heeled homebuilders are favoring the modern designs that Winter Parkers are seeing pop up all over town.   And, advised by publications like “Atomic Ranch,” some homeowners are doing the previously unthinkable—ripping out replacement wood flooring to reveal the sparkling terrazzo underneath.  Can harvest gold appliances at Southeast Steel be far behind?

While you may have been following this trend, were you also aware that Winter Park boasts an extensive inventory of midcentury gems?  Indeed, Winter Park’s renowned architectural heritage isn’t just about turn-of-the-century Victorians, 1920s bungalows and 1940s Mediterranean revival, but also includes important but lesser known structures from the middle-twentieth century, often referred to as Mid-Century Modern.

Terrazzo > Hardwood?

Terrazzo > Hardwood?

A subset of the modernism, Mid-Century Modern (MCM) is a more specific term used to differentiate buildings created between the years of World War II (early 1940s), and the Moon landing in 1969. Not coincidently, this was also a remarkable period of growth in Central Florida. Thousands of buildings were constructed to satisfy growing demand and an expanding population.

Modernism is a critical part of Winter Park’s historic context, representing an entire generation of residents, builders, and architects.  Indeed, MCM buildings embody the current “people’s memory” of Winter Park, including shops, schools, houses, and government buildings that we fondly remember and care for today. MCM buildings are included in the Downtown Winter Park Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which outlines 36 contributing buildings, including the 1965 Post Office.  Formally, these buildings “contribute to downtown Winter Park’s sense of time, place, and historical development…and provide an important architectural link to the heritage of Winter Park.” The entire 63-page document can be downloaded here: https://cityofwinterpark.org/docs/departments/planning-community-development/historic-preservation/NRHP_Nomination.pdf

Modernist architects in mid-century Winter Park incorporated dramatic design features such as slanted roofs, expansive windows, and shiny terrazzo floors. In modern buildings of that era, the architect created a design in which the materials and composition speaks for itself, with no additional décor, such as curlicues, Greek columns, or gargoyles. But, exotic motifs and modern artwork distinguish a number of examples, with Asian-inspired screens or tiled murals. Many of these buildings rely on a blurring of the boundary between inside and outside, including sliding glass doors to open up interior spaces, garden boxes in the living areas, or integral water features.

Winter Park’s collection of notable modern buildings is sprinkled all over town, right beneath your eyes. If you are on your own treasure hunt for Modernism in our midst, here are a few key buildings and features to look for:

Royal House, 1295 N. Park Avenue (corner of New York and Park avenues), 1961.

Royal House living room; photo by Ruben Madrid

Royal House living room; photo by Ruben Madrid

The residential designs from this era do not typically receive as much recognition, primarily because the properties are not visible from the street or the buildings are obscured behind concrete screens or heavy vegetation. One house that you can see—and buy—is located at 1295 N. Park Avenue. The house was built in 1961 by Robert M. Howard of Orlando, but the architect is unknown. This elegant MCM home was once owned by William and Edith Royal, owners and operators of three Royal Dance Schools in Orlando and Winter Park (for 38 years) and directors of the Ballet Royal (for 32 years) which brought the Nutcracker to Orlando. She established her first Central Florida dance school in Winter Park in 1949 and is often referred to as the “Mother of Dance in Florida.”[i] She retired in 1985 after training thousands of students in dance and is remembered fondly by generations of Floridians.


Royal House entry; photo by Ruben Madrid

Recently, Thor Falk, the owner, invited me and a few architecture enthusiasts to tour the home.
Falk has made a few changes to the building for today’s comfort, but the essential character-defining features of this modernist house remain intact. The house incorporates many Asian-inspired elements, a popular motif of the 1960s generated in part from the addition of Hawaii as a state in 1959. The sharply-gabled roof soars right past the walls of the house to create a porte-cochere at the corner of the ½ acre lot, supported by a massive stone wall. The front door is encircled by two lunette windows protected by Asian-inspired metal screens. Similar metal screens on the New York Avenue façade were once room dividers between the living room and dining room, now repurposed and expanded for the side entry. The house also features a classic concrete-block screen to keep the western side of the house cool. The original terrazzo floors run through the central living areas, all illuminated by a dramatic window wall facing Park Avenue and the historic Jewett House, designed by James Gamble Rogers II in 1937. Architect Richard Reep configured a few ways to expand the home while maintaining the original form, so the house could be modified without tearing it down.IMG_1168

Interested? The house is currently for sale with Anne Rogers Realty Group:  Royal House listing

The Winter Park Post Office

photo credit: Rick Kilby

photo credit: Rick Kilby

Built in 1965, the Winter Park Post Office is listed as a significant contributor to the Downtown Winter Park Historic District.  Architect Joseph Shifalo worked with contractors Cason & Moore to create this perfectly proportioned modernist “pavilion,” similar to the work of Mies van der Rohe at the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1945-1951, now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation). Indeed, a similarly-styled 1961 building—a bank–was recently saved and reused as the Architecture and Design Center for the Palm Springs Art Museum in California (http://www.psmuseum.org/architecture-design-center/). Shifalo taught at Rollins in the late 1950s and maintained a firm in Winter Park.

post office mural detail; photo Ruben Madrid

post office mural detail

"beer can" detail

“beer can” detail

The Winter Park Post Office was completed at a cost of $400,000 (about $2.5 million in today’s dollars) and features original artworks on three sides of the exterior. Two sides are decorated with an original painted-stone mural by artist Joe Testa-Secca; a completely unique metal screen composed of smashed Busch Beer cans, painted black, is installed along the east façade in an artistic take on a functional brise-soliel or sun screen. Testa-Secca, a professor emeritus at the University of Tampa, is a significant Florida artist that has exhibited worldwide with current works selling for upwards of $30,000. One of his large murals, “Symbols of Mankind,” installed on the Saunders Public Library in Tampa, was recently moved and preserved as part of a new structure.

More importantly, Testa-Secca provides a critical link between architecture and art in Winter Park. He won the Best of Show award at the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Show in 1965 and was subsequently awarded the commission to design murals for the new post office. According to the National Register listing for Downtown Winter Park, the post office “contains the only documented art work of Testa-Secca’s as part of a building in Winter Park and the only mural from the historic period in the historic district,” and was considered a critical element in continuing the “art” of Park Avenue and the WPSA show across Central Park.

Anything by Nils Schweizer

Schweizer and Wright

Schweizer and Wright

Nils Schweizer (1925-1988), is one of the most significant architects in our area’s history. He worked with Frank Lloyd Wright as on-site architect during the construction of Florida Southern College, and designed a number of important structures in our area including the Winter Park City Hall (1964; the Winter Park Architects Collaborative), Church of the Good Shepherd in Maitland (1967), and the Orlando Public Library addition in downtown (1985). His office on Park Avenue (within sight of the post office) is now a bridal shop. But, if you stop and look up at the building, you will discover a set of beautifully articulated wood eaves and sunscreens. His modernist home in Maitland is preserved by the family. Sons Kevin and Garth are active members in the Nils M. Schweizer Fellows, also known as the Central Florida Modernists group. Monthly meetings are held at significant buildings and members advocate for preservation of Modernism throughout Florida. The Fellows also maintain a web-catalog of both MCM and New Modern buildings in the Winter Park/Maitland/Orlando area. Check it out at: http://www.centralfloridamodern.com.

The catalog of buildings is available at the following links:

For more information on preserving modern buildings, visit the Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative, an international project of the Getty Conservation Institute in California. The CMAI includes technical materials, expert testimony, public programs, and conservation projects that you can use to preserve American Modern architecture in your area.  http://www.getty.edu/conservation/our_projects/field_projects/cmai/

About Christine Madrid French:

chrisChristine Madrid French, architectural historian, was born and raised in Los Angeles. She graduated from the University of Utah in Architectural Studies in 1992 and worked for the National Park Service as an historian in Washington, D.C. Ms. French earned a master’s degree in Architectural History from the University of Virginia in 1998. She worked as the Director of the Modernism + Recent Past Program for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in San Francisco, a two-year project funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, through 2011. She taught architectural history at the University of Central Florida and is an Expert Member on the 20th-Century Heritage Committee for the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). Chris currently works as Project Director for Preservation Capen at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, the landmark effort to save an 1885 house by cutting it in two and floating it across a lake to the grounds of the museum in 2013. The house is now being restored on its new site.



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Let’s Go Historic House Hunting!

by Betsy Owens

Even if you’re not in the market for a home, it sure is fun to window shop.  And if you’re like me, you regularly go to realtor.com, punch in home age “over 51 years” and a zip code in the search terms, and salivate like a Pavlovian dog as you wait to see what the search yields.  Come with me as we explore a Winter Park historic home for every pocketbook–from a Birkin bag to a Canal Street knockoff:

1700 Alabama Drive, Unit 3 ∼ 3579 sq. ft.∼ $1.2 MillionIS999q42c1ypya0000000000

At the pricier end of the spectrum, we have the dreamy Packwood-Temple House, on the grounds of the Alabama Hotel condominiums. If walls could talk, this house could tell you quite a bit about Winter Park history—when the list of the former owners reads like a Winter Park/Maitland street map, you know the house is historic. In addition to Central Florida pioneer George Packwood and former Mayor William Temple, the house was owned by Edward Palmer (as in the Avenue) and Joseph Kroenenberger (who platted the subdivision on which the house now sits).  And here’s the amazing thing: the HOA stipulates that maintenance of the entire exterior of the house and grounds are covered by the condo association—so you’ve got a fabulous, 3500 sq. ft. 4/4 single family home with all the benefits of living in a condo.  Nice!   Yes, you pay a monthly $750 condo fee, but try living in a house this size in the Vias and taking care of your landscaping and home maintenance for less than this. Most of the original 1878 Victorian charm of the home is intact…the woodwork! The leaded glass windows! The wraparound porch with Victorian detailing! In addition to retaining so much authenticity, the house has been updated with a truly lovely gourmet kitchen—and can’t you just see yourself having your morning coffee in the window-walled turreted breakfast room?  Plus, you’re across the street from Lake Maitland, a stone’s throw from Kraft Azalea Gardens, and can rent a boat slip for $750 per year.  Strange as it sounds, at $1.2 million, this almost seems too good to be true.


Shall we have a spot of lemonade before croquet?



Shall we have our morning coffee here?

Shall we have our morning coffee here?

Or here?

Or here?

I know it sounds crazy, but just $1.2?

I know it sounds crazy, but just $1.2?

Click here for full Alabama Drive listing

735 McIntyre Avenue∼2340 sq. ft. ∼ $675,000

Talk about curb appeal

Talk about curb appeal

This house was on Casa Feliz’s 2015 Colloquium Tour, and it’s impeccable.  Located in the College Quarter neighborhood, the 1940s traditional looks like it’s straight out of Central Casting for “charming American home.”  It’s been pretty thoroughly updated on the inside, but not so much that you feel like a time traveler when you cross the threshold. The rooms are smallish, but the house has a charming back patio with pool which expands the living space.  Plus, it’s got a large rental unit over the garage that could easily rent for $1,000/mo.   Lots of homes advertise “Walk to Park Avenue,” but for this one, it’s true: who wouldn’t love living just 5 short blocks from the Winter Park Farmer’s Market in one of Winter Park’s most picturesque neighborhoods? Check it out.

living room

living room

cozy sunroom

cozy sunroom

Click here for McIntyre listing

1355 Devon Road ∼ 1817 sq. ft. ∼ $439,900:


For years, I have walked by and drooled over this Orwin Manor Tudor Revival home, listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.  Someone needs to buy this house to keep me from buying it.  I actually toured it a couple months ago and may just have made an offer if I thought it could accommodate my husband’s grandmother’s baby grand piano, and my grandparents’ dining room furniture, neither of which we’re emotionally ready to part with.  That said, the  3-bedroom house seems plenty spacious, and in the tradition of Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big” philosophy, the house lives large.  It’s sensitively updated—to me, there’s nothing worse than walking into a house that’s 90 years old on the outside, to find it’s been scrubbed of all its original charm on the inside.  Gorgeous French doors separating rooms, lovely woodwork, window seats, hardwood floors, glass door knobs—they’re all still here, while the bathrooms and kitchen have been appropriately updated. Plus, at less than $450K, I think it’s a steal. Seriously. Someone buy this house.


Scrumptious, right?

Open floor plan AND historic bones? Pinch me!

Open floor plan AND historic bones? Pinch me!

Did I mention the woodwork?

Did I mention the woodwork?

Click here for Devon listing

2600 Old Winter Park Road  ∼ 1525 sq. ft. ∼ $349,900


This house is not only precious, it’s a great investment.  With the burgeoning Audubon Park/Corrine Drive neighborhood within walking distance, Park Avenue within easy biking distance, and downtown Orlando a 10-minute drive away, this 1925 Mediterranean supports the maxim, “the smaller your house, the larger your world.” Also on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, the 3/2 has a stunning living room with Cathedral ceiling accented by heart pine cross-beams, many original windows, a wonderful woodburning fireplace, hardwood floors, and plaster walls accented with built-in nooks and crannies. A free-standing two-car garage is connected to the house by a breezeway.  While I wish that the kitchen and bathrooms had been updated in a more period-appropriate style, most folks aren’t as obnoxiously priggish about such things as I. This is the perfect house for young professionals or couples looking to downsize.

Authenticity in spades

Authenticity in spades

This house built when people cared about detail - on all four sides.

This house built when people cared about detail – on all four sides.

Click Here for Winter Park Road listing

1675 North Orange Avenue ∼ 1177 sq. ft. ∼ $295,000

Seriously cool plaster

So this one is a fixer-upper, but it’s priced accordingly.  Built in 1922, this  2/1 Mediterranean is a 5 minute drive from both downtown Winter Park and downtown Orlando (well, on Sunday morning, anyway).  The house has good bones and nifty architectural features—check out the living room fireplace and the dining room ceiling. You’ll have to spend another $100K to get this house ship-shape (for starters, the living room floorboards are buckling and the roof tiles have been painted an unfortunate white), or $200K to make it into a 3/2, but when you’re done you’ll have a unique gem of a cottage on .42 acre of land.  If this seems daunting, have a look at the before-and-afters of the house just a few doors down: Phoenix on Orange Avenue. Compared to what the Spencers undertook with this house’s larger cousin, this reno is practically a weekend project.

Look up!

Look up!

Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.

Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.

Click Here for Orange Avenue listing

So, fellow house hunters, is this blog post just a summer beach read, or is there a moral? As usual, I can’t avoid a little bit of sermonizing, so here goes:  Winter Park is blessed to still have a certain inventory of historic homes.  I know I’m not alone in this: when we’ve moved in the past, we’ve avoided entire neighborhoods and even cities that weren’t developed until 1950, knowing we wouldn’t find homes that spoke to us therein.  I’ve spoken to many people in town—educated, creative, artistic citizens who volunteer and contribute to our community in invaluable ways–who agreed to relocate to Central Florida only after they learned of Winter Park’s existence.  Yes, there are those who want newer homes, and that’s fine.  But I know that there are other unabashed old house addicts who’ll chose solid oak closet doors over granite countertops any day of the week.   I hope Winter Park will always have something to offer these folks, because they, like older homes, make the city a much more interesting place to live.

For those who are really in the spirit,  check out these nifty historic listings as well:

211 Overlook Road

807 Golfview Terrace

1264 Richmond Road

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Sarah Susanka: The “Not-So-Big” Author Has Not-So-Small Ideas on Preservation

Susanka addresses the Colloquium audience

Susanka addresses the Colloquium audience

Sarah Susanka may have written the “Not So Big” series of architecture books, but she’s a woman of big, bold ideas.  On May 16, the architect and author shared her wisdom with a Winter Park audience of 250 at Casa Feliz’s 9th Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  Susanka’s nine books, which revolve around the theme of quality over quantity in home design, have sold well over a million copies.  Her ideas have the potential to change not only how we design our homes, but how we plan our cities, and even prioritize our lives.

Susanka squeezed an amazing amount of wisdom into her 90 minute lecture, but we’ve excerpted some particularly memorable gems here:

Lakeview Avenue home on Colloquium House Tour

Lakeview Avenue home on Colloquium House Tour

On Winter Park’s College Quarter and historic neighborhoods: 

“It’s the quality of the scale of each of these (houses) in relation to each other is what gives these places their charm…the older houses have a ‘come and meet me at my porch’ feeling that is largely absent in new houses today.”

On Historic Preservation:

“Preservation is about allowing your community to have a sense of history that you can feel palpably every day…We all know the cities that we love the most and it’s because of that.  And your community has that.”

On a (formerly) historic neighborhood in Illinois, and tear-downs:

“This is what happens when people don’t understand about the proportions and the character of the neighborhood being the point. What’s sad is that people moved there because they loved it.  But then they didn’t understand what it was that they were loving…the property value was very high, so every professional said to the homeowner ‘you need to build at least this much square footage…because of the land value’…What happened?  The very fabric of the community, which is why people wanted to live there, disappeared. This is my fear in communities around the country, and I know this is something that (Winter Park) is grappling with.”

On New Home Design:

“You can’t always say ‘no tear downs.’  So when there is a tear-down, (it’s important to focus on) how to make that new house fit into the neighborhood.”

“We are building our living rooms for people we’d rather not have in our houses.  We are told by all the professionals who are supposed to be guiding us that we have to have these big rooms that we really don’t use anymore.”

“A ‘Not So Big’ house is 1/3 smaller than the house you thought you needed, with the dollars reapportioned to quality over size.”

 “The core values of what people are hunting for – beauty and balance, harmony, home as sanctuary, sustainability and well-being—are totally absent in most of the new houses being built today.”

On the importance of architects:

“We are very attuned to space but we have no language for it.  So just like having a musical ear,  we can all appreciate music to one degree or another, but most of us don’t know how to write a piece of music.  Architects are like musicians of space.  We use the space to create particular qualities, and that’s what people fall in love with.  All these beautiful old bungalows were designed originally by architects…what you’re loving is actually good design.  That’s why they work and why they have worked for such a long time.”

Antonette Avenue bungalow on Colloquium House Tour

Antonette Avenue bungalow on Colloquium House Tour

On the “trap” of being taken in by a floor plan:

“A floor plan tells you zero about how a house will feel. For the feeling, you need information about the 3rd dimension, the heights of everything, and that’s where the feeling starts to come in.  No wonder people are building house after house and are frustrated.”

 “Ceiling height and the shift in ceiling height makes all the difference in the world. And I’m not talking about ‘tall, taller and tallest.’  I’m talking about a shift in articulation from 7 feet to 8 feet.”

On “too big” spaces and building to a human scale:

“The other piece of this that is so critical is that we have to build to our human scale…you can look at a photograph of a massive space and it can look pretty..but if you were trying to live in that room, you’d be in an echo chamber.”

“One of the challenges with these big houses is that we don’t have any of that feeling (of occupying the space).  We feel tiny…An 18 foot ceiling is wonderful for a state capitol but not for your family room. Because you can’t feel like you occupy that space.  You can be in awe, but do you want to be in awe in your family room?”

“People want a house that fits them more like a suit than a sack.”

On the importance of beauty in architecture:

“Beauty matters! We can build the greenest house there is, but I can tell you right now that if it’s not beautiful, it’s not sustainable, because we won’t want to look after it.  Never underestimate the value of making something beautiful.”

On Infill Design in Neighborhoods


Susanka shares her big ideas

“There are going to be situations where someone’s living in a beautiful neighborhood like Winter Park and they want double the space.  There is still a way to do it so it fits with the existing neighborhood…this is what I call being a good neighbor, where you’re recognizing what is needed to fit in.  It’s letting people know that you’re aware of the beauty of the neighborhood and you want to fit in.  It doesn’t have to look identical but the proportioning, being in scale with your neighbors, is so, so important.”

On why many planned communities fail:

“Doing it from scratch is a real challenge. It needs to have a flavor of organic growth.  That’s what makes it come alive. There are many new urban communities that do that, often by having saved particular trees or a particular anomaly in the landscape that then becomes the focal point and allows other organic idiosyncrasies to happen all around it.”

On Life:

“Life is much simpler than we think. Life is just the experience of what’s happening right now…we don’t have to argue with it, we can just be here.  And that’s where the joy is.  Ask yourself, “what inspires me?” And it doesn’t have to be something enormous—it can be gardening…and give yourself permission to do just that.  Believe it or not, that is the bridge to a sustainable future. Extraordinary things happen by paying attention to what your heart loves to do.”

You can watch Susanka’s entire Colloquium lecture by clicking here:  https://vimeo.com/129314854

PLUS! Winter Park Awards First Ever Historic Preservation Awards

At the 2015 Colloquium, four property owners were honored with the city’s first annual Historic Preservation Awards.  Genean McKinnon, a member of the Winter Park Historic Preservation Board, presented awards to the following:

Excellence in Residential Renovation – The Annie B.  Johnston, 834 Antonette Avenue

Recipients:  current owners Rick and Wendy Hosto

Johnston House - before

Johnston House – before

The house was built in 1926 for Annie B. Johnston. The bungalow is a historic

Johnston House - after

Johnston House – after

resource in the College Quarter Historic District.   Over almost 80 years of occupancy, the bungalow suffered from an application of inappropriate siding and a poorly built addition.  Suzanne Fisher acquired the house in 2005. She removed the siding and improved the front porch access, restored the interior of the house   and replaced the failing add-on in keeping with the historic Craftsman architecture. The historic house was fully renovated in character and prepared for decades of enjoyment.  Ms. Fisher opened the house for the 2014 Colloquium tour which focused on restored homes.  The current owners, Rick and Wendy Hosto, recently purchased the house from Ms. Fisher.

The Coop - before

The Coop – before

Excellence in Commercial Renovation – The COOP by John Rivers, 610 Morse Boulevard

The Coop - after

The Coop – after

Brad Watson, 4Rivers Director of Real Estate & Construction, received the award on behalf of John Rivers

“It’s never too late to mend” (mural on The COOP’s patio wall) expresses the philosophy that guided the sensitive renovation of 610 West Morse Boulevard.  The building had been Mike Hage’s Market in the middle of the last century.  First renovated by John Spang for the East India Market after standing empty for a time, it would later be occupied by a series of tenants who were not always so considerate of the vernacular commercial building.  John River had the foresight to reimagine the building as the perfect place for his new southern style restaurant, The COOP.  He brought the building up to current code standards added a lively vintage inspired sign.  The COOP’s adaptive reuse and renovation preserve the building’s unpretentious character and honors Hannibal Square history.

Kummer-Kilbourne House

Kummer-Kilbourne House

Excellence in Adaptive Reuse –Kummer- Kilbourne House by Allen Keen, Keewin Properties, 121 Garfield Avenue

Parkland International Realty President Hal George, contractor, received the award on behalf of Allen Keen

In the early 1900s, Kummer Lumber was located behind the 1916 house which faces Central Park.  It served as the home of owner Gotthilf “George”  Kummer and his descendants for almost 100 years.  Kummer’s grandchildren spurned many offers to sell the only house in the upscale Park Avenue Corridor after their mother’s passing until they found a buyer they trusted in Allan Keen.  A space in a big glass box office in the suburbs isn’t for everyone.  The house and the detached garage were meticulously restored for Keewin Properties’ business offices.  The house was placed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places in 2004 and is included in the Downtown Winter Park National Register Historic District.

John Spang & grandson

John Spang & grandson

Lifetime Achievement –In Remembrance of John Spang

Mrs. John “Cissy” Spang, owner operator of the Park Plaza Hotel, received the award given in remembrance of her husband John Spang.

A dynamic visionary and Winter Park advocate, John Spang contributed to the revitalization of downtown and Hannibal Square at a time when businesses were moving to new suburbs and shopping malls.   John Spang had a different vision.  He and his wife Cissy arrived in Winter Park in the 1970s.    Recognizing the intrinsic charm of historic but faded downtown, he opened the East India Clothing Store on Park Avenue followed by the East India Ice Cream Parlor. He acquired the former Hamilton Hotel and Grill and revitalized it as the stylish Park Plaza Hotel and Park Plaza Gardens restaurant.  When the 1920s Alabama Hotel closed, John Spang had the vision to reimagine the once grand winter escape as condominiums.  He pioneered revitalization in Hannibal Square by opening the East India Market and Coffee Emporium in the former Mike Hage’s Market building where he became a master coffee roaster before coffee shops were “cool”.  John Spang will be remembered for infusing new life into Winter Park’s historic buildings so residents and visitors can enjoy them today.

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Ordinance Changes Deserve Our Support

Dear Citizens of Winter Park,

Over the past year, the City’s Historic Preservation Board and an ad hoc committee of citizens have been working to strengthen our historic preservation ordinance.  The proposed changes to the ordinance will be discussed at two public meetings this Thursday, May 7, at 9 am and 7 pm, at the Winter Park Welcome Center.

A comprehensive revision to the city’s ordinance has been long overdue.  First written in 2001 as a response to the near demolition of Casa Feliz, the ordinance is intended to promote and protect the historic sites that serve as visible reminders of the history and cultural heritage of the city.

Since the ordinance was adopted, the city has designated 82 historic buildings and 2 historic districts–the College Quarter and Virginia Heights East. While every designation should be celebrated, the fact remains that only 14% of the city’s structures eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are protected from demolition by the city register, and an additional 7 potential historic districts remain undesignated. These shortcomings, coupled with the demolition or near demolition of numerous notable historic structures, underscore the need for a strengthening of the ordinance.

college quarter1The Historic Preservation Board (HPB), working with the consultant Bland and Associates, drafted a revised ordinance in early 2014 and brought it to a public forum for discussion.  It was clear from the tenor of that meeting that various constituencies in Winter Park who would be affected by the new ordinance felt left out of the process.

Consequently, an ‘offline’ group made up of people representing the diverse viewpoints expressed in the forum was formed to see if consensus was possible.  Convened by Winter Park attorney Frank Hamner, the group included: Jeffrey Blydenburgh, an architect and Board President of Mead Botanical Garden; Dykes Everett, attorney and land developer; real estate broker Scott Hillman, President/Owner of Fannie Hillman + Associates;  landscape architect Stephen Pategas, President of Hortus Oasis; and myself, representing the Friends of Casa Feliz.  Four of the six group members live in homes over 50 years old that could potentially qualify for historic status in Winter Park. Two live in potential historic districts.

Over the next year, we met monthly to educate ourselves on Winter Park’s ordinance and housing inventory in comparison to other Florida cities’, and to suggest what we think are fair and reasonable amendments to the city’s ordinance.  The suggested changes effectively balance the rights of the individual property owner with the rights of the community at large to preserve Winter Park’s historic assets.  This amended ordinance was approved by the HPB at its February 2015 meeting, and is scheduled to be considered by the Winter Park City Commission in July.

Two of the three primary changes to the ordinance appear to be undisputed.  The prior ordinance lacked language about the college quarter 3constitution of the HPB.  The revised ordinance would give preference for HPB membership to certain related professions (e.g., architecture, real estate, construction) and people who live in historic homes. Additionally, language was added to the ordinance that would allow for ad valorem tax relief for homes on the historic register that undergo substantial restorations/ improvements.

The third significant change to the ordinance, which has attracted more attention, involves decreasing the percentage of homeowner votes required to form a historic district from 67% to a simple majority.  This change is warranted for the following reasons:

Historic districts are good for individual property values, and therefore should be easier to form.  A multitude of studies of real estate values across the country all point to the same conclusion: Historic districts positively impact property values.  (See: University of Florida Study; Connecticut Study;  Philadelphia study;    National Study).  The reason is that historic district designations give potential homebuyers the assurance that the neighborhood’s appearance will endure over time, and that they can reinvest in sensitive improvements to their own home without the fear that neighbors will undermine this investment.  Evidence shows that historically designated houses that are not located in historic districts do not enjoy the same increase in value.

Historic districts provide derivative benefits to the city economy, and thus should be easier to form. Home buyers are attracted to Winter Park for its magnificent tree canopy, chain of lakes, and historic architecture.  Houses are marketed as being located in “Olde Winter Park,” or in a “Charming historic neighborhood,” even if the houses themselves are of more recent construction.  In addition, countless studies confirm the economic benefits of heritage tourism.  Each year, tens of thousands of visitors are attracted to Winter Park because of its historic reputation. This is an asset that must be carefully guarded, and historic districts can provide such a safeguard.

glencoe1Despite these documented benefits, it is more difficult to form a historic district in Winter Park than in any other Florida city.  Other Florida cities–including Sarasota, Jacksonville, and Ft. Myers–that have a voter threshold that must be reached to form a historic district set that threshold at a simple majority of votes received, or require that 50% of property owners in a proposed district return a “no” vote to defeat designation. In other cities, such as Orlando, Coral Gables, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, historic districts are formed by the City Commission, not by homeowner vote. Lowering the threshold to a simple majority homeowner vote not only will bring Winter Park in line with other cities that value their history, but with all other Winter Park policies that just require a majority vote.

I hope you’ll read these well-considered amendments to the Winter Park Historic Preservation Ordinance (view here: Draft Ordinance). You may voice your opinion by contacting the Mayor and Commissioners directly (mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org) or by attending one of the public information sessions (scheduled for Thursday, May 7, at 9 am and 7 pm at the Winter Park Welcome Center).

 Betsy Owens,  Executive Director, Friends of Casa Feliz

Note:  If you are interested in touring homes in the College Quarter Historic District, and in speaking to homeowners who live in this district, you are invited to register for the 9th Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  More information, including registration, is available here: http://www.casafeliz.us.

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Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

I told a few friends I was writing a blog post on Ann Saurman’s beloved home, the Gary-Morgan House, which was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places.  Two of them described Ann thusly, word for word:  “Ann is the epitome of a Southern lady.”  “Charming,” “quiet strength” and “regal but modest” were also descriptors. And although my intent is to write a column on the house, not its owner, I came to realize that in a sense, it’s hard to know where one ends the other begins.  The Gary-Morgan House is Ann Saurman’s architectural doppelganger.  Like the mistress of the manor, the house exudes charm, grace, and a certain noblesse oblige. Both are Winter Park treasures.

A Defining Home

The house at 1041 Osceola Avenue was built in 1927 for Claude Gary, who operated a pharmacy on Park Avenue, and his wife Celia.   Harold Hair, a very fine architect and contemporary of Gamble Rogers, designed the house.  In addition to many prominent homes in Winter Park and Orlando, Hair designed the Shell Museum on the Rollins campus and the Hall Block on South Park Avenue.

Constructed in the Classical Revival style popularized by the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the house is situated on an expansive 1 ¾ acre lot at the corner of Cortland and Osceola Avenues, with a sweeping view of Lake Mizell. It is defined by its gracious façade with a two-story entry porch supported by Corinthian columns, and topped by a low balustrade. Scarlett O’Hara and Ashley Wilkes would not look out of place sipping mint juleps on the front lawn.

Kathryn's prized grape cluster chandelier adds a touch of whimsy to the butler's pantry

Kathryn’s prized grape cluster chandelier adds a touch of whimsy to the butler’s pantry

The site of countless civic meetings through Winter Park history

The site of countless civic meetings through Winter Park history

The Gary House became the Gary-Morgan House in 1942, when it was purchased by Alex and Kathryn Morgan, Ann’s parents.  While Alex built a formidable business growing celery and citrus in Oviedo, Kathryn raised their daughters, Jane and Ann, and made lasting contributions to the Winter Park community, particularly to the Woman’s Club and the Methodist Church.   Like Casa Feliz in the 30s, the Gary-Morgan House became a kind of ‘town hall,’ as Kathryn frequently opened her doors to civic groups in which she was involved, a tradition that Ann continues to this day.

Home is Where the Heart is

Ann barely remembers a time when she didn’t call the house ‘home.’ She was just 6 when her parents bought the house, and moved the family across Cortland Avenue from another, smaller but charming, historic home. Ann laughs at the early memory of her mother unfurling the rug from her old home in her grand new living room—“it looked like a postage stamp.”  Yet, other than purchasing some new furniture, the Morgans made precious few changes to the house.  To this day, the tall ceilings, graciously proportioned rooms, original windows, plaster walls, wide crown molding, doors and hardware are as they were in 1927.


The childhood bedroom of Ann and her sister, Jane

The childhood bedroom of Ann and her sister, Jane

The Winter Park of Ann’s youth was the stuff of storybooks. There wasn’t much to do in terms of shopping or entertainment, so Ann and Jane made their own fun, swimming in Lake Mizell, which then had a white sandy bottom, clear water, and a variety of fish. They’d pluck hibiscus blossoms from the bushes lining the shores, float them on the surface of the water, and then backstroke through, a la Esther Williams. One Christmas, their parents presented them with a red Old Town canoe, christened the “Jane Ann,” which they would paddle all the way to Lake Maitland.  “There was so much undeveloped land where we could play jungle games,” Ann recalls.  “We’d be gone all day long and no one really got concerned.”  The girls crossed a brick, two-lane road, then known as Osceola Avenue and now known as State Road 426 (Aloma Avenue) to attend Winter Park Elementary on Park Avenue.  Big social events were attending concerts and lectures at the Library and plays at Rollins.

One of the many places to pause in Ann's garden

One of the many places to pause in Ann’s garden

Ann would go away to college, get married, and move to Chicago, but she continued to carry 1041 Osceola Avenue in her heart.  Thus, she and husband Jim embarked on a gradual homecoming, moving back to the area in 1959, then across the street in 1966, and eventually purchasing the home from her mother in 1975, after her father died.   Counting the years she spent there as a child, Ann has lived in the house for half a century.

Who wouldn't love to curl up here with a good book?

Who wouldn’t love to curl up here with a good book?

“This house brings me such pleasure,” she says.  And while it’s not inexpensive to maintain, Ann says she enjoys her time at home as much as she would traveling to exotic locales. She spends hours cultivating her garden, and enjoys reading her newspaper in the sunroom, once the porte-cochere—the single exterior structural change that’s been made to the house since 1927.  Like her mother, Ann is generous in sharing her home with friends and civic organizations.  “Ann’s home reminds us of the joys that can be experienced and shared when we hold onto our past,” says her friend Ann Hicks Murrah.  “A favorite party in 2001 celebrated her sister’s 40th wedding anniversary, and the wedding dress and bridesmaid’s dress were on display! ”

It’s not a fancy house by any means.  With just over 3,200 square feet of living space, the house doesn’t boast a home theater, large bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs or even a Sub-Zero refrigerator.  These things matter little to Ann.  Her favorite feature of the house? “The way it looks from the lake.”

Can you blame her?


A Secure Future

Ann realizes that she won’t be around forever to care for the Gary-Morgan House, so she has taken steps to ensure that this precious community asset outlives her, and the rest of us, too.  After the Winter Park Register of Historic Places was created in 2001, Ann submitted a successful application to have her home listed.  This act, more than anything, will ensure the longevity of the home, as a future owner would be required to present a compelling case to the city’s Historic Preservation Board before the home could be altered or demolished.

Mint julep, anyone?

All one lot: Spec house builders can move right along.

But Ann didn’t stop there.  Several months ago, she legally 10432996_10206430273660167_7853996785762327343_ncombined the lot where her house sits and the neighboring lot, both of which she owns, into a single lot, so that it can’t be subdivided.  “Otherwise I think this property would just look like a big piece of land to put two houses on.”  Judging from what’s happening all around Winter Park, this was a prescient move.

And on March 17, Ann received the good news that the Gary-Morgan House was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the culmination of a year of hard work by Ann and preservation consultant Sidney Johnston.  The detailed application documents the house’s historic significance to Winter Park, as an outstanding local example of Classical Revival architecture, as a signature illustration of architect Harold Hair’s work, and as the home of a series of prominent Winter Park families who have made enduring contributions to the community.  “I think the National Register is an additional way to bring attention to its value,” Ann says.


Ann Morgan Saurman

But isn’t she afraid that these honors might inadvertently limit the house’s resale value?  Because even though the house is in a neighborhood of lovely historic homes, the subdivision Cortland Park is not a designated historic district.  Homes in historic districts tend to increase in value after designation, but historic homes that are ‘islands’ surrounded by new development don’t fare as well, according to statistics.

“I am more interested in finding someone who appreciates the beautiful proportions of the house and its history…someone who recognizes its true value as I do. My son and sister are just as enthusiastic about saving it as I am.”

Her devotion to the house is our good fortune. The current and future generations of Winter Parkers owe a debt of gratitude to Ann and others who work to safeguard these ‘anchor’ homes, on whose foundations rest the city’s property values, sense of place, and historic reputation.


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Dear Next Mayor of Winter Park,

Let us be the first to congratulate you on your victory, even before you’ve won!  We at Preservation Winter Park and the Friends of Casa Feliz look forward to working with you on matters of import to our city.  Before you get too giddy over your hard-won $3,000 annual salary, realize that there’s hard work ahead.  As you approach your inauguration, we hope you will consider the following:

  • Your job is to manage growth, not create it. If you asked 100 residents of Winter Park what they love about their city, we doubt one would answer “its growth potential.”   This is because people are attracted to Winter Park for what it is—an oasis of calm and traditional community in the midst of an area defined by urban sprawl, traffic, and strip malls.  People move to Winter Park because they love what it is, not what they hope it will become.  The Pacific Northwest adopted this mindset decades ago, and it hasn’t hurt them one bit.goose
  • Protect Downtown Winter Park: There are certainly areas of Winter Park that could benefit from redevelopment.  But the downtown business district is not one of them. It’s our soul, and it’s our cash cow.  In other words, don’t allow anyone to kill, maim, or expose to avian flu the goose that laid the golden egg. This may seem like it goes without saying, but we know from past experience that the prospect of a big short-term gain can cause the advancement of some astoundingly bad ideas.  See: Hotels, Carlisle. See also: West Meadow, Paving.
  • Know whom you serve: Approach potential developments with the question of “Will this project improve the quality of life for our residents?” and not, “How can we make this work for the developer?”  The posture of our planning department too often seems to be to work with the developer to manipulate and bend the code so that it allows him to do what he wishes with his property.  The buck stops with you.  Consider that the developer may just be operating to maximize profit, not in the best interests of the residents you were elected to represent.extraordinary care
  • Please build with extraordinary care: Regarding growth, it will come, whether we like it or not, given the bustling economy of Central Florida. However, we are in the enviable position as a city to be very particular about how that growth and development will occur.  We have a very scarce commodity in Winter Park: developable land.  This means that we call the shots, not the developers.  It’s time Winter Park had an Architectural Review Board.  This isn’t snobbery, or a restraint of trade.  It’s just good sense.  Many of the places known for their attractiveness—Charleston, Old Town Alexandria, Coral Gables, Santa Barbara, Santa Fe—have them.   Winter Park has a terrific crop of architects that would be delighted to serve.  There should be no commercial building erected in Winter Park that isn’t extraordinary.boiled frog
  • A frog on the stovetop boils one degree at a time: Relaxing zoning for one small lot can seem like not such a big deal.  But when viewed in totality with all of the other zoning variances granted over time in a neighborhood, it can tip the scale.  What’s the harm of increasing the allowed density on a lot when it’s already R-4 directly across the street?  And then next week, we might as well rezone the lots next door, too.  A couple months later, let’s go ahead and take the block.  You get the picture—before too long, you’ve got a boiled frog.lawsuite fear
  • Good policy decisions aren’t made with the guiding principal of lawsuit avoidance. Yet if an outsider were to observe the planning and zoning process in Winter Park in recent years, he might conclude that our city motto was Parco cause procul totus sumptus (Latin for “Avoid lawsuits at all costs”) rather than “The City of Culture and Heritage.”  The city opened itself up to a lawsuit when it stayed the demolition of Casa Feliz, then a private residence—but it was the right thing to do.  The city DID get sued when it denied the final permit for the construction of the Carlisle Hotel.  Would we be better off now if we had taken the path of least resistance? It’s hard to find folks who say, “You know, this park sure would be nicer if it had a 4-story condo complex looming at the edge.”
  • Incentivize Historic Preservation: For a city with the historic assets that Winter Park has, you’d think we might have a historic preservation code that encourages rather than discourages preservation.  The existing ordinance does allow historically-designated properties to have garage apartments and some relaxation of setbacks on additions.  But this hasn’t been enough to incentivize large numbers of historic homeowners to register their properties.  There are lots of ways to sweeten the pot: how about a reduction in utility fees for registered homes? Eliminating permitting fees for remodeling projects or tree removal?  Rebates for making a historic home more energy-efficient?  Low-interest loans for commercial rehabilitations?  The Getty Foundation produced a wonderful resource on historic preservation incentives for the City of Los Angeles: http://www.preservation.lacity.org/files/GCI%20-%20Incentives%20for%20the%20Preservation%20and%20Rehabilitation%20of%20Historic%20Homes.pdf.  It’s time to adopt some of these ideas in Winter Park, and reward the folks who are working hard to preserve the architecture that benefits all of us.

Celebrated author Bill Bryson describes the wisdom of preservation thusly:central park 2

“ [Traveling] makes you realize what an immeasurably nice place much of America could be if only people possessed the same instinct for preservation as they do in Europe. You would think the millions of people who come to Williamsburg every year would say to each other, “Gosh, Bobbi, this place is beautiful. Let’s go home to Smellville and plant lots of trees and preserve all the fine old buildings.” But in fact that never occurs to them. They just go back and build more parking lots and Pizza Huts.”

In sum, may your next three years be more about planting trees and preserving fine old buildings than Pizza Huts.

Yours Truly,

Preservation Winter Park


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In politics, it’s rare to find a candidate who claims to be against historic preservation.  You’d get just about as far running on a platform condemning motherhood and apple pie. Similarly, it’d be pretty dumb to announce that you don’t value private property rights—unless, perhaps you were running for something in North Korea.

But what about when historic preservation appears to be in conflict with an individual’s right to dispose of his private property as he chooses?  For instance, are you still a preservationist if you think the government has no right to delay the demolition of a National Register-worthy private home? How much do you value your community’s roots if you think that historic preservation should be 100% voluntary?  It’s not unlike saying you want a balanced federal budget, but they better not touch your entitlements.  Historic preservation, like fiscal responsibility, can require difficult choices.

With these nuanced questions in mind, Preservation Winter Park set out to gauge the level of commitment that the candidates running for elected office in Winter Park have to historic preservation.  As the ultimate decision-making authority on city ordinances and contentious planning and zoning issues, our city commission wields significant power in determining whether our historic assets are valued and preserved, or are afforded no more protection than any other city real estate.

On January 14, we contacted the four candidates currently running for elected office in Winter Park–Steve Leary and Cynthia Mackinnon, candidates for Mayor; and Gary Brewer and Greg Seidel, candidates for City Commissioner.  We asked them to submit their answers to a questionnaire developed by our advocacy committee, and promised to print their responses in our blog.



Leary, the only candidate who is a sitting Commissioner, declined to answer the survey on the advice of city attorney Larry Brown.  In reference to the fact that Casa Feliz is in its 10th year of a 99-year lease with the city, Brown advised Leary thusly: “Although you may comment on these issues in your campaign as you determine appropriate, you should make your statements in forums that are not provided by entities that are parties to a long term lease with the City. This is because a third party may contend that the extent of leverage or coercive power is sufficient that you have wrongly misused your position for a private political advantage.   I don’t know if the Chamber or other non-profits that have long term leases have also proposed questions, but if they have done that, my advice is the same.”   According to the Leary Campaign Facebook page, there are “confirmed debates” at both the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and the Winter Park Public Library, both entities in contracts with the City of Winter Park.

We share the responses of the other three candidates, below.



 YES/NO QUESTIONS: Please simply answer “yes” or “no” or “no opinion” to the following questions.

Do you believe that our current historic preservation ordinance adequately protects the city’s historic assets? YES or NO or NO OPINION

Mackinnon: Clearly, given recent controversies regarding some treasured historic homes, our present Ordinance is not designed to balance competing interests and provide a fair method  for safeguarding private property rights while providing an effective means for preserving community assets.

Brewer: YES

Seidel: NO


Currently Winter Park has the highest threshold for the formation of historic districts in Florida (2/3 of all property owners must return a ballot in favor of the district). Do you believe this threshold should be lowered to a simple majority? YES or NO or NO OPINION

Mackinnon: Ultimately, citizens must have the right to determine the level of protection appropriate to their neighborhood or district. Achieving the right balance in terms of the approval thresholds is an issue on which we should seek community consensus.

Brewer: NO

Seidel: NO OPINION (Since in some communities, there isn’t a vote required at all, I am not sure 2/3 or simple majority is necessarily the right question.)


Currently an application seeking to demolish a historically significant building that has not been voluntarily listed by its owner on the Winter Park Register receives no extra scrutiny than one for a nonhistoric building. Many Florida cities empower their Historic Preservation Boards to lengthen the waiting period for historically significant buildings so that an alternative to demolition might be sought.  Should Winter Park empower its HPB to delay demolitions for buildings eligible for the National Register?  YES or NO or NO OPINION

Mackinnon: My understanding is that there is a task force or work group currently working on this issue. I would like to see the results of that citizen effort and not preempt it.

Brewer: YES

Seidel: YES

SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS (Please limit your answer to each question to no more than 175 words):

Historic Preservation is more than just saving individual buildings. It is about preserving authentic places, including entire neighborhoods and commercial districts. Many cities use historic preservation as an economic development tool – to create a unique sense of place which is marketable and can attract people to invest, live and work in a place with character and a past. If elected mayor or commissioner, how would you integrate historic preservation into your economic development strategy for the city?



Mackinnon: I would look at what other cities have done and apply best practices from communities around the country. There will be broader public support for historic preservation if citizens understand that historic structures and districts add value to a community. I would also engage the public and conduct educational forums on the issues. The question has been framed too narrowly at this point (as “property rights” versus “historic preservation”) to attract wide support.

Brewer:  The historic character of Winter Park is an important element of what attracts people who wish to make this community their home. I believe the City can provide incentives through ad valorem tax credits and develop design guidelines to encourage property owners to preserve important structures and neighborhoods. It has to start with clearly articulating what and why a structure or neighborhood deserves preservation.

Seidel: Historical preservation can be an effective economic development tool, if highlighted in city general promotional (and tourism) material, or via celebrations (eg historical homes days, walking tours with educational brochures, etc), signage (via public works or a CRA). The recent designation of the Maitland Art Center as the only National Historic Landmark in the metro area is likely to attract more out-of-area visitors, and collaboration with Maitland should be a priority, as the Museum is investing heavily to attract new visitors that are specifically interested in historical sites.


A 2001 survey identified 145 structures in Winter Park as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Since that time, 13 of these structures have been demolished by their owners.  Of the 132 remaining historic resources eligible for National Register status, only 18, or fewer than 14%, are protected from demolition by the Winter Park Register.   As mayor or commissioner, what would you do to help prevent demolition of historically and architecturally significant buildings?

Mackinnon: I would not “prevent” a private owner from demolishing a building if he/she chose to, and would rather encourage a process that is proactive rather than reactive.

Brewer:  Although I appreciate the historic nature of a structure or place and encourage its preservation, the determination to preserve a historic structure must be initiated and sustained by the property owner. I don’t believe the city, state or federal government can or should prevent demolition of any structure unless the government chooses to purchase it.

Seidel: With the caveat that I would need input from the City Attorney as to how much leeway the Mayor or Commission have, as elected officials, we have the ability to educate property owners and their neighbors about the values of historic preservation in terms of community sense of place, civic pride, and increased property values.  As well, educating the public to correct misinformation that many have with regards to restrictions on private property rights under a preservation scenario needs to accompany an effort to increase consideration of historic preservation.  City staff may have already, but if not, could determine if there are other districts that qualify; as with any action perceived to affect private property rights, it may be better to approach en masse, than as individual properties. The Visioning process currently underway by the City is likely to enlighten the Commission on how Winter Parkers feel about historic preservation.

What should the city do to incentivize owners of historic structures to list their properties on the Winter Park Register? What, if any, incentives would you push for as mayor or commissioner?



Mackinnon: Currently, a group is examining a wide range of possible incentives, and I will support looking around the country for best practices that have produced meaningful preservation efforts.

Brewer: I stated earlier, I would certainly consider an incentive of ad valorem tax credit while the structure is preserved.

Seidel:  With the caveat, again, that I am not expert on what may have already been investigated in this area, there are a multitude of incentives that could be considered.  A question I would have is what steps have been taken to consider any of the approaches that the Bland & Associates report identified in comparison cities.  I was particularly intrigued by the Coral Gables approach of using Transferable Development Rights (TDR) in exchange for historic preservation of rehabilitation. Imagine the tradeoffs of increasing development potential at an underutilized site like the K-mart Plaza and at the same time gaining a restored historical home.  I would need to be better educated on this topic before outlining specific incentives I could push for, but I am aware of many options. Property tax incentives,  increased utility rebates, technical and capital assistance for exterior work, improved or prioritized landscaping on city ROW adjoining historic districts,  and quasi-independent historic trusts are all options, but I am not well-versed enough in this topic to know if any of these are optimal for Winter Park.  I recognize the value of incentives in achieving City goals, and I recognize the value in preserving historical structures. 

 What are your thoughts on the increasing density of Winter Park’s historic West Side and the erosion of single-family neighborhoods there? Do you believe the City Commission and/or the P&Z board should act to curb this trend? If so, how?



 Mackinnon: I am firmly opposed to increasing density and further eroding the residential nature of the West Side. That neighborhood was platted in the 1880s. I recognize the West Side as historically significant and a community asset. A developer should not be permitted to buy up several single family homes, combine the lots and build a mega-structure with increased density. We do not permit that in other parts of the City. Why would we permit that on the West Side?

Brewer: I believe in an economically diverse community with a focus on neighborhoods with housing options at all income strata. In the 1980’s the CRA addressed many issues improving the quality of life and enhancing property values within the CRA. Before this time zoning in this neighborhood was nearly non-existent. The comprehensive plan and zoning will protect the residential character of this neighborhood.

SeidelI believe we need to protect the community that exists in West Winter Park.  My family personally knows West Winter Park families that are multi-generational in their Winter Park lineage, but lack the fiscal resources to compete with market forces.  I would hope their kids that are growing up with our kids have the opportunity to raise the next generation in their neighborhood if they wish. At the same time, there is a fair amount of what would be considered inferior housing there, and as the properties redevelop, investors obviously want to optimize their return.  I am confident that as a City we can identify ways to preserve this neighborhood without repelling investment.  Assistance with exterior renovations through tax credits may address one half of this equation, while more serious consideration of TDR’s may help address the investor side. Investors will develop where they perceive the maximum return is possible, and this activity can be directed toward areas where the City would like to encourage density with proper incentives.   Overall, I think the City needs a plan, if we expect the West Winter Park neighborhood to survive and thrive. 



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995 Lincoln: A Christmas Gift for Winter Park

By: Betsy Owens

I have a confession to make:  Last week I promised a blog on the expert rehabilitation of a wonderful, Spanish-style James Gamble Rogers home on Palmer Avenue.  This is a column on the expert rehabilitation of a wonderful, Spanish-style home on Palmer Avenue that is most likely not a James Gamble Rogers house.  At least Bill and Beth Neidlinger, the owners, don’t think it is.

But in my own defense, the house just feels like a Gamble Rogers house.  The way it nestles into the lot, its sense of human scale, the fact that it’s a 3,400 square foot house that reads like 2,400, the way that the house envelops you when you walk inside.

In fact, it was these hallmarks of good design that the Neidlingers were able to discern, back in early 2013, even though prior owners had made choices that masqueraded its beauty.  “Let’s just say it needed a lot of work,” said Bill.

And how.  While the original, 1949 house had been a simple ranch built of half block, red oak floors, and high-grade dimensional lumber, subsequent owners had added their own ill-conceived design touches with questionable tile, plaster, ceiling, window and fixture choices. Strange architectural features had been added, such as a half-window abutment covered by a pitched eave and a massive, 6-foot retaining wall that obscured the house from the road.  Because the house had been in foreclosure, the bank had Scotch-taped in the bottom-of-the-line Home Depot cabinets and plumbing fixtures, in order to unload it. The backyard pool had become a breeding ground for tree frogs, whose population had reached plague-proportions.  Think I’m exaggerating? See for yourself:

Window seat?

A very strage window seat & vinyl windows.

The wall

The wall

Those yellow things? Frogs.

Those yellow things? Frogs.

Someone with less vision (or, Beth would argue, more sanity) would’ve torn it down.  Not so the Neidlingers.  “We wouldn’t have considered demolition,” said Bill.  “Oh, it was too good to knock down.  The house had great bones. Plus, the historic homes, the arts and culture—this is why we moved to Winter Park.”  They chose the city over Charleston, Savannah, Sarasota, and Fairhope (AL) when they retired here from Atlanta 7 years ago.

Their first step was to hire architect Steve Feller, contractor Rich Searl, and landscape architect  Bob Heath to oversee a 10-month rehab that included every room and every corner of the yard.  “These guys understood that in rehabbing a single-floor home on a large, lovely lot, we were doing the antithesis of what everyone else is doing these days.”   Indeed, defying the trend to ‘build as large a house as you can possibly afford,’ the Neidlingers chose quality over quantity.

While they essentially stripped the house to the studs, they did nothing to change the envelope of the house, save enclosing one patio.  These photos show just how extensive the renovation was:


Anyone know a good electrician?

Lots of work to be done

Stripping away the not-so-great


Fireplace: before



Pre-plaster & millwork

Starting to see progress!

Starting to see progress!

The new porte-cochere

The new porte-cochere

Authenticity and craftsmanship were the watchwords of the renovation.  The genuine barrel tile roof was applied the old-fashioned way, with mortar seeping out between the tiles.  “We stole that from Casa Feliz,” chuckles Bill.  The woodwork is magnificent in its beauty and simplicity. And who knew plaster could be this stunning? The stippled plaster walls are a work of art.  Beth repurposed what she could—removing the front wrought-iron gate, refurbishing it, and hanging it as a trellis in the back yard. “I save everything old I can save,” says Beth. “I have a hard time spending money on new anything.”

As you can see, the finished product is a dream of a house, and the perfect backdrop to their antique furniture.   And, amazingly, though the house is essentially brand new inside, it feels like you’re stepping back in time when you cross the threshold. During my visit, I didn’t spot a single big screen TV or Jacuzzi tub to remind me that I wasn’t in a home from the 1940s.




Hard to believe the entryway isn’t original.

Porte-cochere complete

Porte-cochere complete

Look closely: can you see the seeping mortar?

Refurbished lap pool

Refurbished lap pool & repurposed garden gate

Living room

Living room

Dining room

Dining room

Gorgeous plaster & millwork

Gorgeous plaster & millwork



Beth & Bill Neidlinger

Beth & Bill Neidlinger

The Neidlingers credit the team of professionals with how the house turned out, but it is their nature to deflect credit.  In truth, Feller, Searl and Heath brilliantly translated the Neidlingers’ vision.  It’s hard to imagine more genuine, humble folks.  Retired from their jobs in retail and education, they are thrilled to finally be in their new home, particularly because it boasts not one but two gorgeous guest rooms.  About the closest Bill gets to bragging is to proclaim “we are rich in relationships!”  He’s not kidding.  They’ve been in the house 9 weeks and are about to host their 8th visitors.

What’s the moral of this story?

Like the Neidlingers, homebuyers should have some imagination before deciding to raze an old ranch house, which are plentiful in Winter Park.  Environmental implications aside, chances are that whatever new house is built to replace the old one will be of lower quality, be too large for the lot, and won’t blend well with the neighborhood.  In other words, consult with a good architect before calling the demolition company.

In this season of giving, Bill and Beth Neidlinger have presented a gift to Winter Park.  If, as Thomas Jefferson said, architecture is the most public form of art, then the Neidlingers have restored a Rembrandt to the gallery of Palmer Avenue. Let’s hope others follow their example.


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Same Old Story: Say Goodbye to Another Winter Park Favorite

1590 Glencoe Road

1590 Glencoe Road

It’s understandable that the house located at 1590 Glencoe Road has long been mistaken for a Gamble Rogers design.  The two-bedroom, 1 bath French Provincial cottage is nestled into a large corner lot, and has the detail, scale and massing of a Rogers house.  Plus, it was constructed in 1945, the heyday of Rogers’ residential work in Winter Park.   As these photos indicate, the house has charm in spades, regardless of the architect.

Back patio

Back patio

Side view

Side view

Living room: best I could do through the window.

Living room: best I could do through the window.

Farmhouse detailing

Farmhouse detailing

Wide view

Wide view

And while a number of its neighbors have fallen to the wrecking ball over the years, to be replaced with larger houses of dubious design integrity, the house has stood as a reminder of a time when people valued quality over quantity, charm over pomposity.

Apparently, that time has past in Winter Park.  On October 2, the City of Winter Park approved a demolition permit for the house.  The applicant?  Rex Tibbs Construction, who purchased the house from Dawn Hall the same week for $435,000, clearly with the intent of replacing it with a spec house.

So long, old pal.

So long, old pal.

It’s sad that this could have been prevented.  In 2010, when the Virginia Heights East historic district was formed, lawyers for Ms. Hall petitioned the city, claiming that the house’s inclusion in the district would present a financial hardship for the homeowner, limiting her ability to realize the property’s market worth. The minutes from the Historic Preservation Board meeting on January 10, 2010, state “Dawn Hall, 1590 Glencoe Road, explained that she purchased the home with the intention to tear it down.”  Indeed, if the house had been included as a contributing resource in the historic district, it would have been very difficult to obtain a demolition permit, thanks to the city’s historic preservation ordinance.Scan_Pic0001

As a result of Ms. Hall’s legal saber rattling, the Virginia Heights East district was gerrymandered to exclude her home.  To her credit, the city’s historic preservation officer, Lindsey Hayes, recommended against the drawing of this artificial boundary, but her advice was ignored by the HPB and subsequently by the City Commission.  Lesson:  if you want to get your way at Winter Park City Hall, just threaten to sue.

In the end, it’s unclear that Ms. Hall gained that much from having the house excluded from the district.  The $435,000 selling price seems high for a 1,400 square foot house, but not necessarily one in that neighborhood.  With a little creativity, there would have been ample room on the lot to add on to the house in back, without affecting the façade of the house from the street.   It’s hard to imagine that if the house had been designated historic, it would have sold for less than $350,000.

The big winners will likely be Rex Tibbs, who, if history is any indication, will construct a 3,500+ sq. ft. poured-concrete faux Colonial or Mediterranean, which will add zero to the character or uniqueness of the Virginia Heights neighborhood, and sell it for a half million profit.  They’ve also recently razed a cottage at the bottom of the hill on College Point; stay tuned for more homogeneity.   If you search Google Images for “Rex Tibbs,” here are the first two photos that pop up.


rextibbs1 rextibbs2








The fact that the house is being razed for a spec house adds insult to injury. When a homeowner demolishes a historic home to build a new one, it looks like lack of sophistication, or at worst, selfishness. When a developer does it even before he has a buyer, it just looks like greed. Sorry.

What, if anything, can be done about this practice?  Is Winter Park helpless to slow or stop the steady march of architectural sameness?

People in Los Angeles are attacking the mansionization problem from an interesting angle.   Recently, at the citizens’ urging, the City Council passed an ordinance which will curb the supersizing of houses in 14 neighborhoods, by banning demolitions in some areas and enacting size restrictions in others. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-mansionization-demolition-20141104-story.html.  Perhaps this is something Winter Park should consider.  Note the words ‘historic preservation’ don’t appear in the story. While it’s probably too late for certain neighborhoods (the ‘tree streets’ and Vias come to mind),  there are others that still retain their residential density and leafy charm, such as Timberlane Shores or Orwin Manor, that could benefit from such an ordinance.

Gertrude Stein famously said of her hometown of Oakland, California, “There’s no there there,” meaning, of course, that there was little of interest in the burg – architecturally or culturally – to differentiate it from other American cities.

Let’s not let this apply to Winter Park.


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A Gamble Rogers House Moves…to Ocoee

 by Betsy Owens

Think you know the story of the stately James Gamble Rogers house that moved to escape the wrecking ball? Betcha don’t know this story.  Because this house move took place without fanfare, without a massive fundraising effort, without widespread media coverage.  Unlike the Capen House, or the Barbour House before it, the Lomax Gwathmey House move took place in Ocoee (you heard right—Ocoee), enabled by one man’s appreciation for architectural history, quality construction, and just wanting to do the right thing.

The story begins in 2001, when David and Michelle Leon went out for a Saturday drive, in search of a house off Ocoee-Apopka Road that they had seen advertised.   They never made it to their destination—instead, they got lost, and stumbled upon the Gwathmey House on Medicine Lake in Apopka.   Not knowing it was a Gamble Rogers home, they were attracted to the large Georgian Colonial for its traditional design and its private location.

Gwathmey House on Medicine Lake, c. 2002

Gwathmey House on Medicine Lake, c. 2002

Michelle told David, “It’s probably a dump inside.”  But they summoned the listing agent to show them the house, and were delighted to find it in pristine condition.  David recalls that they entered the house for the first time through the kitchen, and “we spent an hour in the room opening all the knotty pine cabinets and excitedly talking with the agent before we even made it to the dining room.”

It was then they learned that the house was likely a Rogers design, and that it had been altered very little in its then 63-year history.  The house had been built in 1938 for Lomax Gwathmey, an eye doctor and citrus grower.   His brother George, also a physician, lived around the cove on Medicine Lake, hence its name.  While the actual house drawings have yet to be unearthed from the Rogers archives, The Architecture of James Gamble Rogers II in Winter Park, Florida, the definitive book on Rogers’ work, lists a home built for Lomax Gwathmey in 1938 in unincorporated Orange County, and author Patrick McClane recalls seeing the plans when researching the book. After the Gwathmeys, the home had been owned by only one other family, the Coulantes, before the Leons entered the picture.

David and Michelle loved every inch of the house, which had been vacant for two years.   They were told that the homey country kitchen had been featured in a “Better Homes and Gardens” spread in the 1970s.  And while the 5 bedrooms and 4 full/2 half baths seemed large for 2 people, the couple were planning a family, and they liked the humble “farmhouse feel” of the place.  Besides, it was an amazing deal—a beautiful 1930s farmhouse in excellent shape, on 18 acres, just a 25 minute drive from David’s downtown Orlando office, for $325,000.  After touring the house the first time, David recalls “I just said, ‘where do I sign?’”

After they moved in, the young couple felt that they had landed in clover.   And while they had only been vaguely familiar with Rogers’ work and reputation at closing, over time, they became increasingly enamored with the architect’s handiwork.  David ticks off several Rogers trademarks borne by the house:  cross-trusses in the attic for extra storm protection, symmetrical door placement, highest quality construction materials, a characteristic curvature in the custom banister, and a masterful attention to detail.  Case in point: the side porch, which is open now, was initially screened.  Rogers had built in a 2” hinged lip where the screen met the floor, for easy sweeping.

The house’s light-flooded interiors boast a large traditional living room with fireplace and built-in bookcases, gorgeous original wood floors throughout, a sunny breakfast room, an oak-paneled office and airy upstairs landing, nooks and crannies galore, and original bathroom tile and tubs which traditionalists find charming—and they’re correct. It features the kind of foyer Robert Young would have come home to, with Princess, Bud and Kitten tumbling down the stairs to greet him.

Welcome in!

Welcome in!

Living Room

Living Room

Country Kitchen

Country Kitchen

Original bathroom tile

Original bathroom tile

And the Leons loved all these things—but after their first daughter was born in 2003, Michelle began to feel isolated.  As an aspiring law partner, David worked many late evenings downtown, and Michelle felt vulnerable at home with a young infant in the middle of an 18 acre spread.

Thus, it seemed written in the stars when a deal came about in 2005 that would enable them to keep the house they loved, but move closer to civilization. Envisioning – what else?—multi-family housing, a developer offered David and his neighbor a tidy sum for their combined 40 acres of Medicine Lake property, and agreed that David could keep the house if he moved it off the land.  Soon thereafter, the Leons found the house’s current lot—just over an acre on the shores of Lake Apopka, about 2 miles away as the crow flies.   The Leons began planning for the big move.

First, the family of 3 found a house in Winter Garden, to bide their time while the Gwathmey house was prepared for the move, relocated, and then outfitted with a new foundation, a process David estimated would take a few months.

Next, they hired Mike Hodge, the contractor who had provided the labor for the Casa Feliz move in 2001. They came up with what David calls the “parade route,” a 7-mile itinerary that involved the dismantling of phone and electric lines, cooperation from the City of Ocoee, Orange County Sherriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol, and special permission from the Expressway Authority to close down Route 429, the “Western Beltway,” in Apopka.  This was the most dramatic part of the August 13, 2006 move—rolling the Gwathmey House onto the expressway in the middle of the night and hauling it several hundred yards before rolling it down the exit ramp.

David recalls a couple onlookers—one young woman who jumped aboard one of the pickup trucks before being ejected, and a drunken motorist who complained to the moving crew about the disruption, but for obvious reasons had no interest in escalating his gripe to the sheriff’s deputy. “It’s interesting who you meet when you’re moving a house in the middle of the night,” he laughs.

The move received surprisingly little media coverage–perhaps because it occurred at night, or perhaps because no one was trying to raise funds for it, or perhaps because of the relatively remote location of the move. No matter—David and Michelle witnessed the whole journey, walking behind the behemoth house while pushing a stroller containing their two-year-old, who slept most of the way.  The cavalcade also included the sheriff’s deputy and Ocoee police cars, phone/cable trucks, Florida Power vehicles, the semi and two front-loaders propelling the house, and the moving crew’s pickup trucks. David describes the nighttime adventure as “surreal.” The pneumatic lifts supporting the house could raise and lower the house to keep it level with variations in the road, and to navigate over about 50 mailboxes, which otherwise would have had to be relocated.

Waiting to Cross 429

Waiting to Cross 429


Vehicle Makes Wide Turns

Vehicle Makes Wide Turns

We Got a Great Big Convoy

We Got a Great Big Convoy

Neighborhood Welcome

Daybreak finds a new neighbor has arrived

Final Approach to Lake Apopka

Final Approach to Lake Apopka

But you know what they say about the best-laid plans.  By the time the prep work was ready to begin at the Lake Apopka lot, a neighbor had sited his new home in an unexpected location, causing David to have to go back to the drawing board.  They brought in 100 loads of dirt to re-terrace the site, and then it took a perfectionist bricklayer he hired over a year to build a stem wall.  Then there were further complications, involving the construction of a second stem wall, and by the time all was said and done, the Leons had been out of the house for 3 years.

In the meantime, the land deal which necessitated the moving of the house to begin with “fell apart when 2008 happened,” according to David.  The Leons had spent more than $150,000 and years of their life relocating a house that didn’t need to move.

Same House, New Neighborhood

Same House, New Neighborhood

And here, dear readers, is the silver lining of the story, for one lucky buyer:  the house is now for sale. David in particular has mixed emotions about parting with the house he moved hearth and earth to save; but the family of four is now rooted in the Winter Garden community—the girls like their schools, take ballet lessons closeby, and have bonded with their neighbors.  Plus, they’ve moved on to a new project—restoring a beach house in Siesta Key, near Sarasota.

Their sacrifice will be someone else’s gain.  The bucolic lot offers a sweeping view of Lake Apopka—one of four houses on the eastern shore that have access to the lake.  There was a time when this might not have been much of a selling point.  In 1980 the state’s third largest lake was declared a Superfund cleanup site by the EPA, due to the decimation of its ecosystem caused by chemical pesticides. Fortunately, now more than 25 years into a massive reclamation effort, the lake has seen dramatic improvements in water quality.  These days, it’s not unusual to see people jet-skiing and fishing in Lake Apopka, which would have been unthinkable two decades ago.  Scientists project continued recovery, which will surely buoy land prices of lakeside property.

A good place to watch the sunset

A good place to watch the sunset

In addition to the 3,200 sq. ft. main house, there’s a huge garage, suitable for a fleet of 8 (!) vehicles or a home gym/work space, plus a separate utility shed.



You can see a marketing video of the house here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYs3xaoB7wI.

As for the Leons, a more cynical person might feel frustrated by what from the outside looks like a good deal of wheel-spinning and cash-spending.  But David is undaunted.  A glass-half-full kinda guy, he relishes his role in saving local history. “The whole experience was phenomenal,” he said.  “We saved a wonderful house, it’s on a beautiful piece of lakefront property, and will be a fantastic home for the right family. I have no regrets.”


The asking price for the Gwathmey House is $624,900. Contact Glenn and Donna Cox, realtors, if you’re interested in seeing the property in person: 407-694-8685; glennanddonnacox@gmail.com. 


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In Praise of the Humble Bungalow


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


Price Range: <$500K


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


Price Range: <$700K



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—


chestnut pool


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


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:


And this:


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.



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:













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:


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




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.



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.”


  • 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: https://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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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:


The descent to the Lake


Final boarding call


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


A flotilla of well-wishers


First Night in her new home


A final plea…



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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


  • 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.”


  • 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.


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:





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:


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: https://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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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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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


strong1It is obvious to anyone walking, cycling, or driving on Palmer Avenue that something is missing. One of the most beautiful views on Lake Osceola is unobstructed now for all to see. Missing is an historic family home that was demolished late last year. Its name was “Carlova.”

Long before the house was built, the property was associated with the development of Winter Park and Rollins College. The first owner of the property was pioneer Thomas J. Mathers who purchased it from the General Land Office of the United States in 1876. He owned the only vegetable and meat market in town. Mr. Mathers sold the property to the Palmer family from Columbia, South Carolina. General John B. Palmer, his wife, and son were very prominent people in Winter Park. They built a home on the property.

strong2cIn 1894, General Palmer died and the property was sold to the Temple family. William O. Temple’s contributions to Winter Park, the state of Florida, and the country were numerous. He served as mayor of Winter Park for three terms, president of the Board of Trade, Trustee of Rollins College, general manager of the Florida Citrus Exchange, first president of the South Florida Chamber of Commerce, part owner of the Pittsburgh National League baseball club, and introduced the idea of a World Series. The Temple orange was named after him. His wife, Carrie Wood Temple, was vice-president of the Woman’s Club and contributed $10,000 to build its clubhouse. She was a board member of Orange General Hospital. The Temples platted the subdivision and began selling lots.

strong2bIn 1914, lots 14-32 were sold to Halsted W. Caldwell and his wife Margaret Caldwell. He immediately began construction of a home in an English Tudor style. Mr. Caldwell was from Ohio. He named his home, Carolova, for the three states he had lived in: Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia.

Like previous owners of the property, the Caldwells were prominent citizens and philanthropists. A mining engineer, Mr. Caldwell became a civic, religious, and educational leader in Winter Park. He served on the Rollins Board of Trustees for twenty- eight years and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. Mrs. Caldwell was elected to the Orange County School Board.

The Caldwells sold Carlova in 1936 to Woodbury T. Morris and his wife Florence Malott Morris. At that time extensive remolding was done to transform the home from an English home into a French style. James Gamble Rogers worked on the plans. Subsequently, additional remodeling was done to the home by another owner, the prominent Winter Park dentist, Dr. James W. Hickman.

In 1974, the home was acquired by Winter Park natives, Captain Hope Strong and his wife, Margaret Caldwell Strong. “Peggy” finally returned to her childhood home. Captain Strong graduated from Winter Park High School, the United States Naval Academy, and served as commander of the USS Shangri-La at Mayport, Florida. Captain Strong and Peggy were also prominent citizens and philanthropists. He served as Winter Park mayor from 1981-1987 and came up with the legendary signs, “Please Drive With Extraordinary Care.” Peggy was a docent at the Historical Association and the Morse Museum. She was a founding member of the Friends of Casa Feliz and was passionate about saving “old” Winter Park. Their son, David C. Strong, also served as Winter Park mayor from 2006 – 2009.

Peggy Strong was born and died in Carlova, her beloved family home. For years, residents would often see her walking her dog on Palmer Avenue. The view of the lake on Palmer Avenue is open for all to see until a new home is built, but missing is a kind and gracious lady and a large piece of Winter Park history.

Special thanks to the Winter Park History & Archives Collection for content; the Strong family for photos, and Phil Eschbach for digital enhancement of photographs.


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Come, Lovely Spring

DSC_1965 (1)-M

In this season of renewal and rebirth, we’re delighted to share with you our own story of a second life.

As a home museum open to the public, Casa Feliz celebrated its 10th anniversary last year.  To commemorate the occasion, we commissioned a short documentary to tell the story of the beloved Andalusian farmhouse, and its architect James Gamble Rogers II.   Soon, we’ll be installing a new A/V system in our garden room, and the film will play on a continuous loop during our Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday open houses.

Filmmaker Bob Perry did a masterful job capturing the splendor of Casa Feliz, and of the special people who contributed to its rebirth as Winter Park’s Parlor.   Most of all, the film shows how important it is to cherish, not demolish, our historic treasures.

Longtime Winter Parkers and fans of folk music will recognize the film’s soundtrack as celebrated folk musician Gamble Rogers, the architect’s son.  The junior Rogers’ career was tragically cut short in 1991, when he died attempting to rescue a drowning swimmer off Flagler Beach. Fortunately for us, his music, like the architecture of his father, lives on.

We hope this finds you celebrating the promise of Springtime.  Enjoy.

Click here for video






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Preserving a Place, Conserving the Light


The Lacambra Home

At the corner of Oxford Road and Lakeview Drive in Virginia Heights stands a gracious home of eclectic design, a combination of Colonial Revival and Spanish Mediterranean with a dash of Beaux Arts thrown in for good measure.  It comes together in the most delightful fashion, and in a way represents the unique cultural merging of its longtime owners, Ann and Jose Lacambra.


Ann and Jose Lacambra

The couple moved to Central Florida in 1966 with their three young children. Jose, a native of the Basque region of Spain, but raised in the Philippines and Spain, and Ann, from a deeply-rooted family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, discovered Winter Park and knew they wanted a permanent home there. In 1968, after two years of house hunting, they found their dream house. Their oldest child, age 6, had some misgivings on first inspection of the house. After considering the living room fireplace he blurted, “The chimney is too small for the Easter Bunny.” It took some time, Ann said, to convince him that an oversized bunny was resourceful enough to find other entryways. As a result they reached unanimity that this house was perfect for them and their large extended families on both sides of the Atlantic. “We had come home,” says Ann.


Rollins College

Frank Heigel, a prominent Winter Park contractor, built the house in 1938 for himself and his family to live in, and the house benefits from his obvious attention to detail. It sits on a large lot with an unobstructed view of Rollins College across Lake Virginia.  From there, the Lacambras have had front-row seats to much of Winter Park’s natural charm and history.  Ann reminisces that for a couple years after they moved to the house, the Dinky Train ran through their side yard, crossed Lakeview and circled Lake Virginia. “Every afternoon the children would rush out to wave to the engineer.”   And at night, with the windows open “the sounds of owls and other Florida wildlife and the lonesome sound of the train that ran through the center of Winter Park lulled us to sleep.”

p1000940_0023In fact, the house provides a view of the lake from every bedroom, and  abundant natural light streams through every window, still the original casements.  It’s the light that initially attracted Ann to the house, and that she still savors 48 years later. She has an artist’s eye, and has assembled gracious vignettes of objets d’art in the deep windowsills. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree—her daughter, Laura Lacambra Shubert, is a prominent artist who renders still lifes and portraits praised by critics for their ‘dappled and shimmering light.’

The house is rich in architectural detail.  Extra touches include the masonry frieze around the front door frame, original white hand plastered walls, built in bookshelves in almost every room, old waxed wood or Spanish tile floors, an upstairs porch, and cedar lined closets.  It’s interesting to note how a house so beautifully designed and furnished is humble and even a bit primitive.  The bathrooms are small and original. The kitchen, perish the thought, is deprived of gourmet appliances and granite countertops.  If there’s a TV in the house (I didn’t see one), it’s probably obscured by a stack of books.  This suits the Lacambras fine.  Like their home, Jose, a retired nuclear physicist, and Ann, who headed the foreign languages department at Trinity, are lovely and gracious, but completely lack pretense.


Alternate entrance for Easter Bunny


Living room


Abundant natural light


An artist’s touch


Perhaps why they call it a window frame


Each bedroom has a lake view


…even the grandchildren’s room

The Lacambras never used a decorator and the interior furnishings “just grew” from generations of family hand me downs from both Spanish and American sides. The Spanish Mediterranean and traditional antique furnishings reflect the merging of two cultures.  And every object tells a story from a life well-lived, full of travel, adventure, and family.


Grandmother’s room

Witness a silver goblet I admired in “Grandmother’s room.” It had belonged to a distant cousin, Emilie Watts McVea, who was the second president of Sweet Briar College in Virginia.  Ann’s sister Betsy had the matching one—their mother had bequeathed one to each daughter. A few years back, Ann decided to research the life of McVea as a surprise for Betsy. She called Sweet Briar, who e-mailed her relative’s biography.  Ann was astounded to learn that McVea was a friend of Hamilton Holt, and when she retired in 1925, she moved to Winter Park and lectured in English at Rollins.

History is important to Ann and Jose, and so it should be no surprise that they recently listed their home on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places. It’s not just the house, Ann says, but the open land and sky around the structure that benefits the whole neighborhood.  She laments when referring to the current trend of structures built on too-small lots, obscuring all but a sliver of earth and sky.  Ann quotes her grandfather, a conservationist in his own right:  “God didn’t make more land, and God didn’t make more sky.”


Listen carefully and you might hear the Dinky Line

The Lacambras’ across-the-street neighbors and dear friends, Jack and Janne Lane, have also listed their home, a modest, traditional house nestled into the banks of Lake Virginia.  They raised their families across the street from one another, and for decades Jose and Jack played tennis each Saturday at Azalea Lane.

Standing in the Lacambras’ front yard on a glorious sunny winter morning, tracing the steps where the Dinky line once ran, and gazing across Lake Virginia at the college,  the feeling of history on this prominent corner is palpable.   “At least,” Ann smiles, “when we’re all gone, our little corner of Winter Park will remain the same.”

Jack Lane and Lindsey Hayes contributed to this story.



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A Farewell to (the College) Arms


The purpose of this blog post is not to decry the demolition – already in progress – of the College Arms Apartments.  Rather, it’s to offer a brief requiem, only fitting for a lovely building of quality design and construction that has graced our community since 1935. collegearms5

The four-unit apartment building at the corner of Holt and New York Avenues was designed by well-known architect Harold Hair, “to harmonize with the nearby college buildings,” according to the January 25, 1936 edition of “Winter Park Topics.”  A contemporary of James Gamble Rogers, Hair also designed a number of prominent residences including the 1934 Spanish Eclectic house at 500 Interlachen Avenue (on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places) and the 1927 Gary-Morgan House (named last year to the National Register of Historic Places), as well as the Beal-Maltbie Shell Museum on the Rollins campus.


500 N. Interlachen

500 N. Interlachen


The Gary-Morgan House


A gracious entry hall and stairwell lead to four apartments:  two have two bedrooms; two have one. All feature brick fireplaces with wood mantles, original wood floors and plaster walls, and exposed knotty pine beams in the living rooms.   Two of the apartments have glassed-in sunrooms on the Southern exposure.

The exterior of the building boasts an attention to detail and scale absent in most many modern day buildings.  For example, a four unit apartment building constructed today would rarely have the variety of window shapes and sizes, decorative balconies, decorative plasterwork or even the varied articulation that adorn the College Arms. The structure is an homage to a time when details mattered, even on a small rental building.  Early photos show a beautiful barrel-tile roof which was replaced in recent decades.

The building was privately owned until 1969, when Rollins purchased it to expand housing options for students. Until that time the building even had a small backyard pool and nursery. Rollins Vice President John Tiedtke had an office on the first floor of the building from 1973 until his death in 2004; Campus Safety was also briefly located there.  For a time, the upstairs units housed a program called “Holt House,” a group of male and female students who created their own curriculum.
college arms6 (2)

As we go to press, the building is being demolished to make way for a new campus Child Development Center.  The College has taken care to preserve the decorative medallions like the one at left, which have been removed from the building.







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Monday evening, the Winter Park City Commission presented a holiday gift to the community:  the passage, by a 3-2 margin, of a revised historic preservation ordinance, over two years in the making.  This ordinance, which has been written about extensively in this blog and in the local media, effectively makes it easier to form a historic district in Winter Park by lowering the threshold for approval from 67% (the highest such threshold in the state) to a simple majority of homeowners voting in favor of a district’s formation.  How this gift is received–either as a lovely heirloom ornament or a lump of moldy fruitcake–owes largely to whether the recipients, the residents of Winter Park, have been swayed by the misinformation campaign that’s been waged by opponents to the ordinance, who want you to believe that life in a historic district is an Orwellian nightmare.  Consider these actual quotes plucked from widely-circulated scare-o-grams and Facebook:

  • “Once Historic Designation is forced against your will based on arbitrary criteria, the Historic Preservation Board will arbitrarily control every aspect of any improvements on your property.”
  • “When arbitrary and capricious are attached to a town board presiding over our largest asset . . . there’s no place to hide and no amount of booze to dull the loss of freedom.”
  • “Anthropologists are wonderful. However, they shouldn’t be telling you, me or anybody what to do with our house and property. An unelected, appointed anthropologist is as dangerous as every other category cited in the revised HPO. They need to mind their own business.”
  •  Force. Coercion. No Free Choice. Welcome To Winter Park-A city of Coercion and Force. Live and Let Live!

Equally misleading was a postcard sent out in early November to every homeowner in a potential historic district, featuring an image of a house wrapped up in chains on the front.  The back of the postcard warned “MORE RED TAPE–YOUR HOME COULD LOSE VALUE!” in red all caps, citing  an study by “The Sunbeam Times” as its source.

postcard bs 2 (2)









The sender of the postcard – an outfit identified as “YourWinterPark.com”–presumably banked on the fact that recipients wouldn’t fire up their computers and check the source of this scholarship–a St. Pete-based physican/blogger committed to disproving global warming, railing against Islam, and painting the Pope as a liberal “Non-Catholic.”  (http://www.sunbeamtimes.com/2015/09/25/pope-francis-and-his-dangerous-non-catholic-climate-change-politics/)

You read that right–the only known ‘research’ that concludes historic districts decrease home values was conducted by a man who would answer “No” to the question “Is the Pope Catholic?”

Preservation Winter Park thought it would make sense, if we want to know  how future historic districts might operate in Winter Park, to consult the actual evidence of how our current ones are governed.  After all, the College Quarter Historic District was formed in 2003; the Virginia Heights East District followed in 2010.  The minutes from the last six years of HPB meetings are all online for anyone to study. Gluttons for punishment can study them themselves (HPB Minutes); others can just read the following summary of how Winter Park historic districts are governed in actuality:

Myth #1:  In historic districts, you have to consult the Historic Preservation Board before changing the color of your house or installing new door hardware.
Reality: Since 2009, the Historic Preservation Board has not considered a single case pertaining to new paint or door hardware.  Not one. Residents of historic districts are permitted to make changes to their homes that don’t materially affect the structure of the exterior envelope of the home.
Do these photos of homes in the College Quarter point to strict color regulations?
























Myth #2: A contributing resource in a historic district can never be demolished.
Reality: It is true that in order to demolish a contributing resource in a historic district that permission must be granted by the HPB. This is, after all, the purpose of historic districts—to preserve the historic (contributing) resources that enhance the visual appeal of the entire neighborhood, both for current and future residents.
That said, on certain occasions permission has been granted for the demolition of contributing structures in districts. For example, in 2010, a builder petitioned the Historic Preservation Board to demolish a 1950s era cinderblock home at 100 Stirling Avenue. Although the house was considered contributing because of its age, the board determined that the house was not architecturally unique, and that it didn’t add to the character of the district. This home was built in its place:100 stirling

Myth #3: If you are in a historic district, you must consult the Historic Preservation Board before making interior changes to your house.
Reality: The rules that govern historic districts pertain to the exterior envelope of the house only. Interior changes never require approval by the Historic Preservation Board.  Hannah and Wade Miller are in the midst of a 10 month renovation on a home that is both individually listed and located in the Virginia Heights East Historic District. This renovation essentially leaves no room of their home untouched—yet required no approval by the HPB.  (Read the Millers’ story here.)

Myth #4: Major exterior changes cannot be made to contributing houses in historic districts.
Reality: The goal of the Historic Preservation Board is to ensure that changes made to homes in historic districts do not detract from their architectural integrity or from the greater character of the district.  At the majority of its monthly meetings, the HPB approves changes to individually listed structures or homes in districts–many of them quite substantial.  The board works with homeowners toward the mutually beneficial goal of preserving the historic structure while meeting the current homeowners’ needs.  Just a few examples from recent years :

In 2009, the house at 945 Lakeview made a substantial, architecturally appropriate addition to the side and rear of the house:

945 Lakeview after
In 2011, a major rear addition on the house at 1035 Lakeview was approved.college quarter1

In 2011, the homeowners of 1350 College Point received permission to construct a 2nd story garage apartment, which significantly changed the appearance of the home from the street.1350 college point

As reported in our last blog post, the homeowners at 905 Lakeview are in the midst of a major renovation involving the reconstruction of the front facade 8 feet closer to the road.   The homeowner, Pam Coutant, described the process of seeking permission from the HPB as “a non-issue.”

905 Lakeview in the midst of a major remodel

905 Lakeview in the midst of a major remodel

Myth #5:  Any new construction in historic districts has to match the style of neighboring structures. 

When a historic district is formed, the neighbors agree on design guidelines for infill construction.  Typically these guidelines are more concerned with height, materials and rhythm of openings than in dictating architectural style.  For example, in 2008 three houses similar to this one were constructed in the College Quarter Historic District, a neighborhood defined by 1920s bungalows.


Myth #6:  The new ordinance creates a board of unelected historians and anthropologists. 

Reality:  The new ordinance specifies that one member of the HPB shall be a licensed architect, one shall live in a designated home or historic district, and one shall have a demonstrated knowledge of Winter Park history.  The remaining five board members must meet no specific professional qualifications.  The ordinance states:  “Members of the HPB shall have demonstrated civic pride, interest in historic preservation and the knowledge, experience and mature judgment to act in the public interest to make informed and equitable decisions concerning the conservation of historic resources.”  Would we want otherwise?

Myth #7:  The new ordinance creates “mandatory historic districts.”

Reality:  Calling a historic district – as it is defined and created under the revised ordinance – “mandatory” is akin to calling a public official elected by 53% of voters a “dictator.”  As in the majority of civic matters, under the new ordinance, majority rules.  Yet opponents of the ordinance have repeatedly hammered the simple-majority threshold by painting it as mandatory and dictatorial–even invoking Nazi references when arguing on social media.

Back in the real world, understand that the newly-approved ordinance created exactly ZERO new historic districts.  Rather, it codified the following process for a neighborhood to become a district:

  • Twenty percent of the homeowners must sign a petition to the HPB to form a historic district; half of the petitioners must live in designated or contributing structures.  The petition must include a description of the proposed boundaries of the district, and a brief statement explaining setting forth: (i) that at least 50% of the homes in the proposed district are individually designated historic homes or contributing homes; (ii) explaining its historic, cultural, aesthetic or architectural significance, (iii) the specific National Register of Historic Places criteria (two or more) that apply to the proposed district.
  • The HPB then notifies all the homeowners in a proposed district and facilitates a series of conferences with the neighborhood to answer questions and establish the specific guidelines for the district.
  • A full report is mailed to all property owners along with a ballot.  A majority of all property owners must submit a “yes” vote in order for the nomination to proceed.
  • The HPB considers the district application at its next regularly scheduled public meeting and votes to approve or disapprove.
  • If a majority of HPB members approve the district, the application moves on to the City Commission for consideration.  More public input is sought, and then a majority of commissioners must approve the district formation for it be be finalized.

In sum, calling a process “mandatory” approximately googolplex times on social media and in robocalls and slick mailers may incite hysteria, but it does not make it true.  A full description of the process can be found here: Agenda packet, pgs. 196-7.

Myth #7 (and this is a whopper):  Historic Districts decrease property values.

Reality:  Here, we can let the evidence speak for itself.  Supporting this claim is the above-referenced study featured in “The Sunbeam Times.”  Showing precisely the opposite — that property values increase in historic districts–we have scores of scholarly studies commissioned by state governments and major land-grant institutions, including:

 Benefits of Residential Historic District Designation for Property Owners:  http://preservationnj.org/site/ExpEng/images/images/pdfs/Historic%20District%20benefits_Mabry_%206-7-07.

 Historic Preservation: Value Added:  http://www.research.ufl.edu/publications/explore/v08n1/historic.html

 Economic Impacts of Historic Preservation in Florida:  http://dos.myflorida.com/historical/publications/economic-impacts-of-historic-preservation/

 Historic Preservation and Residential Property Values: An Analysis of Texas Cities: http://www.dahp.wa.gov/sites/default/files/Leichenko_Study.pdf

 Profits through Preservation:  http://utahheritagefoundation.com/preservation-resources/econstudy#.VR6tEE10zcs

 CONNECTICUT LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND PROPERTY VALUES:  http://www.placeeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/ct_report_2011.pdf

The Impact of Historic Districts on Residential Property Values:  http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/HistoricDistricts03.pdf

The Impact of Local Historic Districts on House Prices in South Carolina: http://shpo.sc.gov/pubs/Documents/hdgoodforpocketbook.pdf

The (Economic) Value of National Register Listing: http://www.placeeconomics.com/pub/placeeconomicspub2002.pdf

 The federal Advisory Council for Historic Preservation (ACHP) has a page compiling the economic impact studies for 24 different states. http://www.achp.gov/economic-

When, as in this case, the evidence speaks for itself, we won’t interrupt.

What’s the bottom line?  By making it easier for appropriate Winter Park neighborhoods to form historic districts, the City Commission made an intelligent, fiscally prudent, and politically courageous decision that has the potential for benefiting current and future residents through increased property values, and through preserving the precious sense of place that makes Winter Park so unique.  The commissioners voting in favor – Cooper, McMacken and Seidel–committed themselves to analyzing every aspect of the issue, consulting experts,  reading scholarly research, and making a decision that they knew to be right for our city.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith famously said, “The preservation movement has one great curiosity. There is never retrospective controversy or regret. Preservationists are the only people in the world who are invariably confirmed in their wisdom after the fact.”

It bears noting, however, that Commissioners Cooper, McMacken and Seidel didn’t side with preservationists on Monday night.  They sided with Winter Park.

In time, history will thank them for this gift.  This holiday, we should, too.


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