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.
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.
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.”
In 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.
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.
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.”
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.