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.
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 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.
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.
“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.
But Ann didn’t stop there. Several months ago, she legally combined 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.
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.