In Praise of the Humble Bungalow

BY JACK C. LANE

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

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

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

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

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

1565 Forest Avenue

1565 Forest Avenue

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

Omans living room

Omans living room

843 Pennsylvania Avenue

843 Pennsylvania Avenue

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

731 French Avenue

731 French Avenue

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

511 Melrose

511 Melrose

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

1167 Lakeview

1167 Lakeview

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

1035 Lakeview

1035 Lakeview

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

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

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

1055 Lakeview in 1986

1055 Lakeview in 1986

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

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

1 Comment

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One response to “In Praise of the Humble Bungalow

  1. ccsmlwrk

    Reblogged this on CCS Restoration and commented:
    We always enjoy the thoughtful comments from the Friends of Casa Feliz!

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