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.
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.
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.
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.
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.