Monthly Archives: October 2013

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:

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   And this house needs work–its electric and plumbing are outdated, the yard is overgrown and in need of landscaping, and the floors need refinishing.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,,

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:  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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