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Exploring Winter Garden: Land of Citrus and Railroads

On February 15, the Annual Casa Feliz Field Trip ventured to the western edge of Orange County to explore downtown Winter Garden and neighboring communities. Led by our guide, Jim Crescitelli of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, our group learned about the community’s past through its historic architecture and enjoyed insider looks into historic commercial and residential properties.

As with many Orange County communities, the citrus industry played a large role in the development of Winter Garden, which at one time shipped more fruit than any other spot in the nation. The two railroad lines that passed through the city furthered its growth and led to the creation of a commercial district. For many years, Winter Garden also enjoyed a thriving tourist industry that was based on its proximity to Lake Apopka, once an international capital of bass fishing.

The Winter Garden Heritage Museum, located in the 1918 Atlantic Coast Line railroad depot, features a large collection of local citrus crate labels.

Today, the city boasts a bustling commercial district, well-preserved homes, and a sense of pride connected to a fascinating history.

We started our tour at the Winter Garden Heritage Museum, located in the historic Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot in the heart of downtown. The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation’s adjacent visitor center was built in 2014 to complement the depot’s architecture.

Led by Jim, we headed west to explore Winter Garden’s commercial district, which has undergone an incredible renaissance since the 1994 opening of the West Orange Trail, built on the former Atlantic Coast Line rail bed. The trail runs right through the center of Plant Street, Winter Garden’s main thoroughfare.

The tour outside Tony’s Liquors, which was constructed in 1913 as the Shelby Hotel, Winter Garden’s first downtown brick hotel.

Our first stop was the Edgewater Hotel, developed in the 1920s as a state-of-the art accommodation for the anglers who visited Winter Garden to fish for largemouth bass in Lake Apopka. Opening in 1927, the hotel remained in operation until 1969. The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation saved it from demolition, and it reopened in 1999 as a bed-and-breakfast inn. Our tour group was invited upstairs to see some of the historic rooms, lovingly restored with period furnishings.

While offering modern conveniences, the hotels strives to recreate an experience for guests of an authentic Florida hotel in the late 1920s.

Other stops on our downtown walking tour included Garden Theatre, which opened in 1935 as a charming motion-picture palace and was restored in 2008 to become a performing-arts venue, and the Central Florida Railroad Museum, housed in Winter Garden’s second historic train depot. Built by the Tavares and Gulf Railway in 1913, the depot today is packed with memorabilia and artifacts that document the region’s rich railroad history, from the Dinky Line to the Orange Blossom Special.

Originally built in 1935 as a single-screen cinema, the Garden Theatre was said to have been the first in Central Florida built for “talkies.”

Details of just a portion of the extension collection of railroad memorabilia at the Central Florida Railroad Museum.

After a delicious catered lunch and an informative presentation on the history of Lake Apopka, we visited the Britt Mansion at Winter Garden’s eastern edge. Built in 1929 by prominent vegetable grower Morgan Britt, the home is a magnificent example of Colonial Revival architecture. The Britt family lived there until 1967. Today, the building houses the Ort Law Firm, whose members were kind enough to welcome us into the interior.

During the 1930’s vegetable fields, managed by the Britt family, lined Plant Street, giving the home the aura of a sophisticated farmhouse.

We then traveled west and explored Tildenville and Oakland from the comfort of our motor coach as we learned more about west Orange County’s rich history. Tildenville, located in unincorporated Orange County, was settled by pioneering citrus growers and grove workers. Luther Tilden owned a 561-acre parcel of land that gave the settlement its name.

In 1910, Tilden’s son Charles built the grand home that was our last tour stop: Oakland Arms, nestled in a shady stretch of road draped by majestic live oaks. The current owners welcomed graciously welcomed us inside and showed us unique details that included dining-room paneling made from the same pine used for citrus crates and several elaborate terra cotta fireplaces.

Charles Tilden, who built Oakland Arms, was one of the largest landowners and citrus growers in the area.

Winter Garden is a wonderful destination for a day trip, just a short 30-minute drive from Park Avenue. The city’s cozy commercial core has retained its small-town character throughout its recent development boom, in part through smart architecture that strives to maintain the look of the early-20th-century buildings that line Plant Street.

Craft brewery at Plant Street Market.

A great example is the Plant Street Market, a new facility that looks and feels a lot like Winter Park’s venerable Farmer’s Market. On the outside, the 12,000-square-foot brick building looks like a survivor from the earlier century, but inside it’s all 21st-century modern, with a craft brewery and market-to-table cuisine.

Thanks to following for helping to make our excursion so memorable:

• Cynthia Cardona and Jim Crescitelli and others at the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation

Historic Edgewater Hotel Bed & Breakfast

Mears Transportation

Tabletop Catering and Events

Text by Casa Feliz Board Member Rick Kilby
Photos by Casa Feliz Board Member Stephen Pategas

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Come, Lovely Spring

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In this season of renewal and rebirth, we’re delighted to share with you our own story of a second life.

As a home museum open to the public, Casa Feliz celebrated its 10th anniversary last year.  To commemorate the occasion, we commissioned a short documentary to tell the story of the beloved Andalusian farmhouse, and its architect James Gamble Rogers II.   Soon, we’ll be installing a new A/V system in our garden room, and the film will play on a continuous loop during our Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday open houses.

Filmmaker Bob Perry did a masterful job capturing the splendor of Casa Feliz, and of the special people who contributed to its rebirth as Winter Park’s Parlor.   Most of all, the film shows how important it is to cherish, not demolish, our historic treasures.

Longtime Winter Parkers and fans of folk music will recognize the film’s soundtrack as celebrated folk musician Gamble Rogers, the architect’s son.  The junior Rogers’ career was tragically cut short in 1991, when he died attempting to rescue a drowning swimmer off Flagler Beach. Fortunately for us, his music, like the architecture of his father, lives on.

We hope this finds you celebrating the promise of Springtime.  Enjoy.

Click here for video

 

 

 

 

 

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Preserving a Place, Conserving the Light

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The Lacambra Home

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.

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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.

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Rollins College

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.”

p1000940_0023In 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.

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Alternate entrance for Easter Bunny

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Living room

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Abundant natural light

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An artist’s touch

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Perhaps why they call it a window frame

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Each bedroom has a lake view

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…even the grandchildren’s room

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.

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Grandmother’s room

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.”

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Listen carefully and you might hear the Dinky Line

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.

 

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A Farewell to (the College) Arms

 

The purpose of this blog post is not to decry the demolition – already in progress – of the College Arms Apartments.  Rather, it’s to offer a brief requiem, only fitting for a lovely building of quality design and construction that has graced our community since 1935. collegearms5

The four-unit apartment building at the corner of Holt and New York Avenues was designed by well-known architect Harold Hair, “to harmonize with the nearby college buildings,” according to the January 25, 1936 edition of “Winter Park Topics.”  A contemporary of James Gamble Rogers, Hair also designed a number of prominent residences including the 1934 Spanish Eclectic house at 500 Interlachen Avenue (on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places) and the 1927 Gary-Morgan House (named last year to the National Register of Historic Places), as well as the Beal-Maltbie Shell Museum on the Rollins campus.

 

500 N. Interlachen

500 N. Interlachen

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The Gary-Morgan House

 

A gracious entry hall and stairwell lead to four apartments:  two have two bedrooms; two have one. All feature brick fireplaces with wood mantles, original wood floors and plaster walls, and exposed knotty pine beams in the living rooms.   Two of the apartments have glassed-in sunrooms on the Southern exposure.

The exterior of the building boasts an attention to detail and scale absent in most many modern day buildings.  For example, a four unit apartment building constructed today would rarely have the variety of window shapes and sizes, decorative balconies, decorative plasterwork or even the varied articulation that adorn the College Arms. The structure is an homage to a time when details mattered, even on a small rental building.  Early photos show a beautiful barrel-tile roof which was replaced in recent decades.

The building was privately owned until 1969, when Rollins purchased it to expand housing options for students. Until that time the building even had a small backyard pool and nursery. Rollins Vice President John Tiedtke had an office on the first floor of the building from 1973 until his death in 2004; Campus Safety was also briefly located there.  For a time, the upstairs units housed a program called “Holt House,” a group of male and female students who created their own curriculum.
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As we go to press, the building is being demolished to make way for a new campus Child Development Center.  The College has taken care to preserve the decorative medallions like the one at left, which have been removed from the building.

 

 

 

 

 

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COMMISSIONERS GIFT CITY WITH NEW ORDINANCE

 

Monday evening, the Winter Park City Commission presented a holiday gift to the community:  the passage, by a 3-2 margin, of a revised historic preservation ordinance, over two years in the making.  This ordinance, which has been written about extensively in this blog and in the local media, effectively makes it easier to form a historic district in Winter Park by lowering the threshold for approval from 67% (the highest such threshold in the state) to a simple majority of homeowners voting in favor of a district’s formation.  How this gift is received–either as a lovely heirloom ornament or a lump of moldy fruitcake–owes largely to whether the recipients, the residents of Winter Park, have been swayed by the misinformation campaign that’s been waged by opponents to the ordinance, who want you to believe that life in a historic district is an Orwellian nightmare.  Consider these actual quotes plucked from widely-circulated scare-o-grams and Facebook:

  • “Once Historic Designation is forced against your will based on arbitrary criteria, the Historic Preservation Board will arbitrarily control every aspect of any improvements on your property.”
  • “When arbitrary and capricious are attached to a town board presiding over our largest asset . . . there’s no place to hide and no amount of booze to dull the loss of freedom.”
  • “Anthropologists are wonderful. However, they shouldn’t be telling you, me or anybody what to do with our house and property. An unelected, appointed anthropologist is as dangerous as every other category cited in the revised HPO. They need to mind their own business.”
  •  Force. Coercion. No Free Choice. Welcome To Winter Park-A city of Coercion and Force. Live and Let Live!

Equally misleading was a postcard sent out in early November to every homeowner in a potential historic district, featuring an image of a house wrapped up in chains on the front.  The back of the postcard warned “MORE RED TAPE–YOUR HOME COULD LOSE VALUE!” in red all caps, citing  an study by “The Sunbeam Times” as its source.

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The sender of the postcard – an outfit identified as “YourWinterPark.com”–presumably banked on the fact that recipients wouldn’t fire up their computers and check the source of this scholarship–a St. Pete-based physican/blogger committed to disproving global warming, railing against Islam, and painting the Pope as a liberal “Non-Catholic.”  (http://www.sunbeamtimes.com/2015/09/25/pope-francis-and-his-dangerous-non-catholic-climate-change-politics/)

You read that right–the only known ‘research’ that concludes historic districts decrease home values was conducted by a man who would answer “No” to the question “Is the Pope Catholic?”

Preservation Winter Park thought it would make sense, if we want to know  how future historic districts might operate in Winter Park, to consult the actual evidence of how our current ones are governed.  After all, the College Quarter Historic District was formed in 2003; the Virginia Heights East District followed in 2010.  The minutes from the last six years of HPB meetings are all online for anyone to study. Gluttons for punishment can study them themselves (HPB Minutes); others can just read the following summary of how Winter Park historic districts are governed in actuality:

Myth #1:  In historic districts, you have to consult the Historic Preservation Board before changing the color of your house or installing new door hardware.
Reality: Since 2009, the Historic Preservation Board has not considered a single case pertaining to new paint or door hardware.  Not one. Residents of historic districts are permitted to make changes to their homes that don’t materially affect the structure of the exterior envelope of the home.
Do these photos of homes in the College Quarter point to strict color regulations?

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Myth #2: A contributing resource in a historic district can never be demolished.
Reality: It is true that in order to demolish a contributing resource in a historic district that permission must be granted by the HPB. This is, after all, the purpose of historic districts—to preserve the historic (contributing) resources that enhance the visual appeal of the entire neighborhood, both for current and future residents.
That said, on certain occasions permission has been granted for the demolition of contributing structures in districts. For example, in 2010, a builder petitioned the Historic Preservation Board to demolish a 1950s era cinderblock home at 100 Stirling Avenue. Although the house was considered contributing because of its age, the board determined that the house was not architecturally unique, and that it didn’t add to the character of the district. This home was built in its place:100 stirling

Myth #3: If you are in a historic district, you must consult the Historic Preservation Board before making interior changes to your house.
Reality: The rules that govern historic districts pertain to the exterior envelope of the house only. Interior changes never require approval by the Historic Preservation Board.  Hannah and Wade Miller are in the midst of a 10 month renovation on a home that is both individually listed and located in the Virginia Heights East Historic District. This renovation essentially leaves no room of their home untouched—yet required no approval by the HPB.  (Read the Millers’ story here.)

Myth #4: Major exterior changes cannot be made to contributing houses in historic districts.
Reality: The goal of the Historic Preservation Board is to ensure that changes made to homes in historic districts do not detract from their architectural integrity or from the greater character of the district.  At the majority of its monthly meetings, the HPB approves changes to individually listed structures or homes in districts–many of them quite substantial.  The board works with homeowners toward the mutually beneficial goal of preserving the historic structure while meeting the current homeowners’ needs.  Just a few examples from recent years :

In 2009, the house at 945 Lakeview made a substantial, architecturally appropriate addition to the side and rear of the house:

945 Lakeview after
In 2011, a major rear addition on the house at 1035 Lakeview was approved.college quarter1

In 2011, the homeowners of 1350 College Point received permission to construct a 2nd story garage apartment, which significantly changed the appearance of the home from the street.1350 college point

As reported in our last blog post, the homeowners at 905 Lakeview are in the midst of a major renovation involving the reconstruction of the front facade 8 feet closer to the road.   The homeowner, Pam Coutant, described the process of seeking permission from the HPB as “a non-issue.”

905 Lakeview in the midst of a major remodel

905 Lakeview in the midst of a major remodel

Myth #5:  Any new construction in historic districts has to match the style of neighboring structures. 

When a historic district is formed, the neighbors agree on design guidelines for infill construction.  Typically these guidelines are more concerned with height, materials and rhythm of openings than in dictating architectural style.  For example, in 2008 three houses similar to this one were constructed in the College Quarter Historic District, a neighborhood defined by 1920s bungalows.
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Myth #6:  The new ordinance creates a board of unelected historians and anthropologists. 

Reality:  The new ordinance specifies that one member of the HPB shall be a licensed architect, one shall live in a designated home or historic district, and one shall have a demonstrated knowledge of Winter Park history.  The remaining five board members must meet no specific professional qualifications.  The ordinance states:  “Members of the HPB shall have demonstrated civic pride, interest in historic preservation and the knowledge, experience and mature judgment to act in the public interest to make informed and equitable decisions concerning the conservation of historic resources.”  Would we want otherwise?

Myth #7:  The new ordinance creates “mandatory historic districts.”

Reality:  Calling a historic district – as it is defined and created under the revised ordinance – “mandatory” is akin to calling a public official elected by 53% of voters a “dictator.”  As in the majority of civic matters, under the new ordinance, majority rules.  Yet opponents of the ordinance have repeatedly hammered the simple-majority threshold by painting it as mandatory and dictatorial–even invoking Nazi references when arguing on social media.

Back in the real world, understand that the newly-approved ordinance created exactly ZERO new historic districts.  Rather, it codified the following process for a neighborhood to become a district:

  • Twenty percent of the homeowners must sign a petition to the HPB to form a historic district; half of the petitioners must live in designated or contributing structures.  The petition must include a description of the proposed boundaries of the district, and a brief statement explaining setting forth: (i) that at least 50% of the homes in the proposed district are individually designated historic homes or contributing homes; (ii) explaining its historic, cultural, aesthetic or architectural significance, (iii) the specific National Register of Historic Places criteria (two or more) that apply to the proposed district.
  • The HPB then notifies all the homeowners in a proposed district and facilitates a series of conferences with the neighborhood to answer questions and establish the specific guidelines for the district.
  • A full report is mailed to all property owners along with a ballot.  A majority of all property owners must submit a “yes” vote in order for the nomination to proceed.
  • The HPB considers the district application at its next regularly scheduled public meeting and votes to approve or disapprove.
  • If a majority of HPB members approve the district, the application moves on to the City Commission for consideration.  More public input is sought, and then a majority of commissioners must approve the district formation for it be be finalized.

In sum, calling a process “mandatory” approximately googolplex times on social media and in robocalls and slick mailers may incite hysteria, but it does not make it true.  A full description of the process can be found here: Agenda packet, pgs. 196-7.

Myth #7 (and this is a whopper):  Historic Districts decrease property values.

Reality:  Here, we can let the evidence speak for itself.  Supporting this claim is the above-referenced study featured in “The Sunbeam Times.”  Showing precisely the opposite — that property values increase in historic districts–we have scores of scholarly studies commissioned by state governments and major land-grant institutions, including:

 Benefits of Residential Historic District Designation for Property Owners:  http://preservationnj.org/site/ExpEng/images/images/pdfs/Historic%20District%20benefits_Mabry_%206-7-07.

 Historic Preservation: Value Added:  http://www.research.ufl.edu/publications/explore/v08n1/historic.html

 Economic Impacts of Historic Preservation in Florida:  http://dos.myflorida.com/historical/publications/economic-impacts-of-historic-preservation/

 Historic Preservation and Residential Property Values: An Analysis of Texas Cities: http://www.dahp.wa.gov/sites/default/files/Leichenko_Study.pdf

 Profits through Preservation:  http://utahheritagefoundation.com/preservation-resources/econstudy#.VR6tEE10zcs

 CONNECTICUT LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND PROPERTY VALUES:  http://www.placeeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/ct_report_2011.pdf

The Impact of Historic Districts on Residential Property Values:  http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/HistoricDistricts03.pdf

The Impact of Local Historic Districts on House Prices in South Carolina: http://shpo.sc.gov/pubs/Documents/hdgoodforpocketbook.pdf

The (Economic) Value of National Register Listing: http://www.placeeconomics.com/pub/placeeconomicspub2002.pdf

 The federal Advisory Council for Historic Preservation (ACHP) has a page compiling the economic impact studies for 24 different states. http://www.achp.gov/economic-

When, as in this case, the evidence speaks for itself, we won’t interrupt.

What’s the bottom line?  By making it easier for appropriate Winter Park neighborhoods to form historic districts, the City Commission made an intelligent, fiscally prudent, and politically courageous decision that has the potential for benefiting current and future residents through increased property values, and through preserving the precious sense of place that makes Winter Park so unique.  The commissioners voting in favor – Cooper, McMacken and Seidel–committed themselves to analyzing every aspect of the issue, consulting experts,  reading scholarly research, and making a decision that they knew to be right for our city.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith famously said, “The preservation movement has one great curiosity. There is never retrospective controversy or regret. Preservationists are the only people in the world who are invariably confirmed in their wisdom after the fact.”

It bears noting, however, that Commissioners Cooper, McMacken and Seidel didn’t side with preservationists on Monday night.  They sided with Winter Park.

In time, history will thank them for this gift.  This holiday, we should, too.

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Bringing This Old House Into This Century

This is the third installment in our three-part series profiling residents of Winter Park Historic Districts.  Opponents of a strenghtened preservation ordinance have kicked into high gear to try to convince residents that if they find themselves in a historic district, they will be subject to an arbitrary review board that will severely limit what they can and cannot do.  A resident of the College Quarter since 1993, Pam Coutant isn’t buying it.

by Betsy Owens

Pam Coutant oversees the current renovations

Pam Coutant oversees the current renovations

Pam Coutant may have been born 75 years too late. She has the style and energy of a marathon-running supermom, but the gentility and wisdom that conjures my grove-walking southern grandmother—a steel magnolia with a goodly dash of Yankee pragmatism thrown in. Talking to her you get the sense of someone from a different time, when people were more sensible and lacked pretense. She’s a Winter Parker by choice, and is very clear about why she loves it here.

Pam and her engineer husband Steve have been temporarily displaced from their College Quarter home, which is undergoing a major remodeling project. She teaches at the Methodist Preschool a few blocks from her home, while deftly managing the activities of two busy daughters, Lucia (14) and Sophie (12).

Preservation Winter Park: You grew up in Windermere, attended boarding school in the Northeast, and then returned to go to Rollins, and have been in Winter Park since. What is it that has enticed you to stay in Winter Park?

Sadly, it feels like much of what I love about Winter Park is in peril. I like the village scale. I liked the scale and understatedness of the homes. I just love cottagey, older homes—some of them are quirky how they’re set on the land, or embraced by the landscape. I love the downtown, and the culture, and have since I went to Rollins. When I was a student at Rollins, I would sometimes just get in my car, drive around and look at the houses. I loved the whole area.Capture

Most people don’t come to that appreciation for architecture until they’re a little bit older, but you were just a college student.

I think going to school in New England, I was just intrigued by the older buildings. I loved the stone row houses, the richness and character and history. Who lived there? What was life like when they had staff who lived on the top floor? I loved to romanticize.

Are there any other neighborhoods or areas of Central Florida where you would consider living?

No. I mean, sometimes the hustle-bustle is a little much for me here. I liked how Windermere, when I was growing up, was such a sleepy, small Florida town, but it’s not really like that anymore. I love Mount Dora, but it doesn’t have the same amenities we have here.

Do you think it’s possible to preserve an idealized, small-town way of life, or do you think it’s just inevitable that if an area is nice, it’s going to grow and change?

That’s a tough question. I think when you have a nice place, people want to come. But sometimes they don’t realize what it is that attracts them to the place, and they begin to make changes that detract. I think preservation is possible, given the right leadership, but I’m afraid we’re past that point in Winter Park, and we’re backpeddling.

Coutant Home on Lakeview Drive, College Quarter

Coutant Home on Lakeview Drive, College Quarter

Tell me about your house. What particularly attracted you to it?

I was at Rollins at the time. I loved the arched windows and the green roof, and the Mediterranean look. We bought it in 1993.

It was started in 1925 and finished in 1926. Not much has been done to it since then, except for the addition of air conditioning and enclosing the porch. The records of the house were in the basement of City Hall, which flooded, so a lot of our information is hearsay and what we can dig up. Our house and the one immediately south were built at the same time by the Rollins family (no relation to the college). Our house was built as a wedding gift for the daughter. A Dean Enyart from Rollins College later lived in the house. I believe Rollins actually owned the houses for a while.

I was on the committee that helped form the design guidelines for the College Quarter. Going through that process, I’d call our house a mission revival, but it’s not super typical of any one style. The cool thing about it is that it has an interior courtyard, which is typical of mission. It’s very open inside. The living room and dining room are very open, and have long views. It’s a very small house for a family of 4. It’s only about 2000 square feet.

How big will the house be when you’re done?

It’ll be about 3100 square feet. We’re basically just pushing out the exterior walls of the house. But because they’re on different sides of the house, it’s a bigger job than you would think. We’re reconfiguring inside. I’m sure it would have been easier to knock it down and start over.

You’re going to heroic lengths to save the house but to make it suitable for your family.

The Coutant Family

The Coutant Family

Yes. But the good thing is that our architect, Randall Slocum, loves the house and agreed with our vision of adding to the house without compromising its integrity. People encouraged us to fill in the courtyard, or to go up a story, but we wanted to stay true to the Mission Revival style of the house. So we knew we had the right architect.

How has your interaction been with the historic preservation board, in getting approval for the changes you’re making?

It’s been a non-issue. You hear people moaning, “Oh you have to go through the historic preservation people…good luck with that!” but it’s been so easy. What we’re doing is sensitively planned. And here’s the big thing. We’re moving the front façade of the house. But we’re reconstructing it exactly how it looks, 8 feet closer to the road. We assured them that we’re going to have the same stucco, keep the green tile roof, the same style of windows, and they said “fine” and sent us on our merry way.

Did you think it was too easy? Do you wish they’d use more scrutiny?

I don’t, but the reason I don’t is because I am fully confident that what we’re doing is appropriate and acceptable. My philosophy from the beginning has been “Let’s take this old house, and bring it into this century.” We’re not just building it for us, but for whomever comes along later. We’re bringing it to current day living standards so that it will stay there. I love the house so much, and I really don’t want to change it. I drive by right now and shield my eyes—it’s painful to look because, in this messy construction phase, it looks like the house is being compromised. But when we’re done I know it will be right.

Do you think it’s fair that other people in the neighborhood have to abide by a separate set of design rules – that some residents had no hand in determining – that govern what they can do on their private property?

It’s unrealistic to think that all people are going to value history. So I can understand that it makes people mad, that you can’t do certain things.

You can tell people, if you don’t like an old house, don’t buy it. But they want to walk to Park Avenue, and there’s an old house on that lot, and it’s for sale. But I feel that someone has to stand up and say “we’ve got to keep these things if we want them to be around.” Yes, I can see why that irritates people. But on the other hand, these are not big lots. They’re not acre lots. We are living in close proximity to our neighbors, so I feel more strongly about not allowing someone to build a two-story structure that’s smack dab up against someone else’s property line looking down into their yard. That’s what makes me mad. Let’s be considerate of our neighbors.

How would you characterize Winter Park’s sense of place?

I feel, honestly, like we’re holding on for dear life, trying to keep something of the soul and history of Winter Park alive. Winter Park’s heritage is what makes this place feel real to me, in contrast to so much of Central Florida. It’s the land around us, the people who were here before us. They’re the ones whose good stewardship made it such a special place. We’ve been given a gift—at the very least, we just have to try to not mess it up.

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PLANTING ROOTS BACK HOME

This post is the second in our series on living in historic districts in Winter Park. Two weeks ago, we profiled Elizabeth and Jim Faiella, who live in a Victorian cottage in the College Quarter. Here, we talk with Hannah Miller, who recently purchased a 1930 wood-frame modified bungalow in the Virginia Heights East Historic District with her husband Wade. The Millers have two children, Sabine (5) and Ethan (1).

HANNAH COMES HOMEhannah2

After 16 years as a displaced Floridian, Hannah Robertson Miller has found her way home to Winter Park. A third-generation Winter Parker, Hannah was anxious to try something different after she graduated from Trinity Prep in 1998. Her interests in art and architecture, culture and and social activism, led her to attend college in Vermont, law school in Austin, and to live and work in Boston, Santa Fe, and Macon, Georgia. However, after she and her architect husband Wade had their two children, they began to think about moving back to Winter Park to be closer to her parents Pat and Randy Robertson. On the verge of moving into her dream house in the Virginia Heights East Historic District, Hannah is discovering that the sense of place she found so attractive in other cities is right here in her own backyard. And she wants to keep it that way.

Preservation Winter Park: You’ve lived lots of places with well-preserved historic districts.

I have always sought out those particular areas. In Santa Fe, I lived on a street that had the only mud plaster adobe house left, with the traditional interior courtyard. In Macon, I lived in a precious historic neighborhood, right across the street from the oldest Catholic church in Georgia.

PWP: In terms of economic development, you and Wade are the very kind of people that communities are interested in attracting—young, creative, educated, and community-minded. If there had not been historic neighborhoods in Winter Park, would you have been interested in moving back?

I felt very strongly that I would only move back to Winter Park if I could find a house in a neighborhood that had a higher concentration of historic homes. One of the reasons that I love Winter Park and our neighborhood is that it has this texture, this connection to the past, so that when I’m on a walk I can feel a connection to all the people who lived here before. I’m a third generation Winter Park resident, and I feel connections to my parents and my grandparents.miller quote

I think about how this city started. Because it has its roots from New England, and I have spent time in that part of the world, so I feel a connection to that also. It has a real sense of place. Obviously, between the lakes and plant life it’s a place of great natural beauty. But growing up here, with grandparents who lived in a historic home (see blog post at Schecnk House), I had a real sense of the preciousness of the architecture, even as a young child. As a family we lived one year in Palm Beach, when I was 14, and I remember that I’d get on my bike after school, and I’d ride down the Lake Trail, and for my own pleasure I would go architectural touring. I’d look at all the houses that I thought were the most unique and beautiful. So I’ve always had an appreciation for that.

PWP: What do you love about Winter Park?

In addition to the architecture, I love the village quality. The houses are connected to one another, and they have a relationship with one another, and to me that’s one of the most important aspects of preserving the integrity of a neighborhood. It doesn’t put one house above the others; it considers the whole as a community. And when you have these huge houses that are out of scale, dwarfing the homes next door, it changes the feeling of the neighborhood. Architecture is obviously a way of making place but it’s also something that makes community. I appreciate in neighborhoods like the College Quarter and Virginia Heights that there is this feeling of the homes being in relation to one another. And I love that.

millersPWP: Are you concerned, living in a historic district, about being restrained if you want to make changes to your house somewhere down the road?

Well, we are in the middle of a 9 month interior renovation of our house. So I’m not concerned at all. I need to mention this because it was so disturbing to me when we bought our house. I had been eyeing this house from afar for 2 years. I even had a folder on my computer with photos of this house. When we did ultimately buy the house, the previous owners gave us their plans to remodel that they had already had approved through the historic preservation board. To me, the changes that they had proposed would have made the house unrecognizable. So, if anything, I think the rules are too lax. If changes that extensive got through, it’s disingenuous to argue that the current design guidelines are too restrictive.

But, even when the rules are being properly enforced, all it takes is a little creativity to really make something work for your family. We are in the process of making changes on the interior so that there are no closed-off rooms, more long vantage points so that I can see the kids from where I am, and to make it easier for entertaining, more conducive to a modern way of living. And we didn’t change a single exterior wall. The home looks as it did on the outside for many decades.

PWP: Aren’t you afraid of foregoing the opportunity of selling the house as a tear-down for a huge financial windfall? What if someday you really need the money? And do you think it’s fair that others couldn’t avail themselves of such an opportunity as well?

It’s the very hypothetical you’ve given that convinces me how important these kinds of protections are. There are all sorts of ways to justify short-sighted financial decisions, when the reality is that there’s something greater that we’re working towards, in terms of preserving what’s really special about our community. I wouldn’t be seeking out a historic home if I didn’t have those values. I feel very strongly about this issue.

There are plenty of other homes in this community that don’t have historical value. There’s no lack of a variety of housing across this market. There are plenty of Magic Players’ dream homes out there. It’s not the city’s responsibility to guarantee its citizens’ rights to make an obscene profit, at the expense of the community. A home to me is not a profit center. It’s a place of enjoyment. A place to value while you’re there.

PWP: That’s your opinion. But is it fair to force that on others?

Community is important. I don’t care just about myself. I care about my neighbors, and building community for my family. I want my children to know what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than themselves. This is just how I live in all areas of my life. I don’t just think about what I want for myself, but about the people around me, and the impact that my actions have on them.

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LIVING IN THE FLOW OF HISTORY

In recent months, as a revised historic preservation ordinance makes its way toward the Winter Park City Commission, there’s been a lot of buzz about historic districts, and whether they constitute an all-out assault on property rights. Common charges against districts include that they’re overly restrictive; that you must consult a governing authority before making even minor changes to your home; that they decrease property values; and that homes in historic districts rot in disrepair while new development buoys surrounding neighborhoods.

In the spirit of getting it straight from the horse’s mouth, Preservation Winter Park sat down with four residents of three different homes in designated historic districts. Were these homeowners happy living in historic districts or did they feel overly regulated? What had happened to their property values since the district was formed? If anyone had thought about the benefits and perils of living in a historic district, it would be these folks. Over the next few weeks, the blog will be featuring our discussions with them. First up:

THE FAIELLAS

faiella3Jim and Elizabeth Faiella live in a charming 1925 Victorian-style cottage on Lakeview Drive in the College Quarter, right across the street from Lake Virginia. Elizabeth, an attorney, bought the house in 1988, about 15 years before the neighborhood was designated a historic district.  She raised two sons in the 3/3 house which, at less than 2000 square feet, seems surprisingly spacious. She and Jim, a retired construction estimator, married in 1992. They savor time spent with their large blended family, whom they entertain in their cozy home many Sunday afternoons. “There’s no getting away from one another, and we love it,” he smiles.

Preservation Winter Park: What do you like most about Winter Park? What do you think makes it so special?

Jim: I think the older homes, the tree canopy, and you feel safe here. Growing up in the era that I did, everybody sat on their front porch; people walked by and chatted. And it’s the same thing here—people walk by, and you know everybody, and if you don’t, you introduce yourself. It’s a living neighborhood, as opposed to other places, where there are all these big, huge homes but there’s nobody around. Those neighborhoods look vacant to me—like a façade or a movie set almost. I just love this area. I hope that the City will preserve the older homes and not let people come in, buy an old house, tear it down, and then build something so out of character that it damages the neighborhood.

I think when people come from out of town, and they walk down Park Avenue, visit the park and drive through the neighborhoods, they see houses like the old houses on this street and they fall in love with it. I don’t think they fall in love with the big shoebox homes.

Elizabeth: I was thinking about this yesterday, when I went to get a dress hemmed at Yuki’s, and had my nails done next door, and I FAIELLAQUOTEwalked there. And I thought about Rome, which has a rule—their rule is you can’t build any building taller than the Vatican. And what’s happened is that this has helped make Rome one of the most beautiful cities in the world. They had a rule, and they’ve stuck to it. Paris had an amazing planner under Napoleon, Baron Haussman. They have these wide boulevards, and keep building heights low, and it’s still one of the most beautiful cities in the world, because they’ve stuck with the plan. And in Winter Park, we have this, in a way, and we cannot screw this up. When this gets encroached on, it makes us nervous, because you’re giving up that village feel. I have a quality of life that is amazing. I literally live like a European, where I can walk to my office, walk to the farmer’s market, wherever I want to go with the exception of grocery shopping. All this, and I’m right across the street from the lake, where I watch the sunrise every morning, see an otter on the lawn, and an owl in my backyard. It is a real privilege to be able to live like this.

PWP: What do you say to people who say, I should be able to build whatever I want to on my property?

Elizabeth: To me, that’s like saying I should be able to smoke in a restaurant if I want. At a certain point, you exercising your rights infringes on mine to such an extent that the law says “No you can’t.” You can go build a brand spanking new community somewhere else. If you want a community that doesn’t have any traces of the past, nothing from the men and women who lived there many years before you, there are options for you. But what attracts people to a community like Winter Park are the visible reminders of the past, where they can feel their place in the continuity of life, the flow of history. You can’t recreate that when it’s gone. You can’t build history from scratch—even though they try to in places like Celebration. You have a commodity here that is irreplaceable. That’s why we can’t just say, “That’s OK. We can just tear it up piece by piece.”

PWP: Do you have any sense of what’s happened to property values in this neighborhood, as a designated historic district?

Elizabeth: Yes, I have a good indicator. Through my life, there are times when I need to take out a home equity loan. It depends on how my business is going. Some years are good, and some are not so good. So they reappraise your house when you have a home equity loan. This house has steadily increased in value over 25 years. And around me, I darn well know what it’s done. The house next to me has sold about every five years. And I’ve watched the value increase by leaps and bounds each time. The house on the other side of me just sold for a million—when I first moved here it was $195,000. Neither one of them has been touched much.

PWP: You have an amazing (lakefront) lot here, and you’re just around the corner from Park Avenue. Aren’t you afraid that someday, when you might need some money, that a former Backstreet Boy or Orlando Magic Player might come along and say “I need this lot for my dream house. I’ll pay you double the market value.” And you’ll have to explain to him that it will be difficult if not impossible to get permission to knock it down because it’s in a historic district?

Elizabeth: I’m not afraid of that. That is not my thinking. The idea that it would be difficult to do that is reassuring for me. The people that come after us, if we don’t protect it, will have no concept of where we came from. And this matters.

We have a home in Italy in the little village where Jim’s grandparents came from. It was a fixer-upper of major proportions. A tree was growing in the middle of it—we’re talking, bats living inside, practically ruins. We reconstructed it from the inside out. We could not add a window or door or anything on the exterior because the historic preservation law.

Jim: All the homes in that area are the way it was 900 years ago. Prior to that there were wars, et cetera, but all of the architecture appears as it did 900 years ago.

PWP: Was that a major pain in the neck? Did you resent that intrusion?

Jim: It was exciting and it was wonderful. The reason we bought a home that was 900 years old was because you could live in a place where 35 earlier generations had lived.

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

PWP: What would you say to someone who said, “Well, I can see how that’s historic—900 years old, but in Winter Park we’re talking about buildings that at the oldest are 120 years old.”

Elizabeth: Well, where do you start? When do you start preserving history? We’re a younger civilized country. The idea that we wouldn’t start because we got started late? That makes no sense. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

PWP: I know you owned a house over on Antonette that you needed to make some structural changes to. How was going before the Historic Preservation Board? Was it difficult? Did they give you a hard time?

Jim: No. The bottom line was, they said, “don’t change the exterior from the street.” The back we could do some things, and structurally we did some things under the house. We added a few walls, and added on in the back, to make the house more livable. But we didn’t change the façade or the look of it at all.

Elizabeth: Look. Living in a historic district is not for everybody. If you don’t like the feeling of it, playing by the rules, there are ample places you can live, where you can isolate yourself and do what you like on your property. But if you want this, the places you can live in Central Florida are very few. Why would we want to allow that to be changed? The property values in Winter Park are maintained because of this, not in spite of it. If you’re not swayed by preserving the soul of the place, the comfort, the quality of life, then at least pay attention to the economics.

Lots of times in our society, a law might crimp the style of an individual, but for the greater good, we make rules. Historic preservation is done for the greater good.

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Preservation Challenges in Winter Park: What Would Tocqueville Think?

By Jack C. Lane, Emeritus Professor of American History

I

There are several ways of comprehending the reasons why it has been difficult to preserve Winter Park’s built heritage. One way is to see Winter Park as presenting unique challenges. The city is a preferred destination for newcomers and in many cases itinerants. When they think about the past (which, as we shall see, is not often) their memories are of their “home,” of some other place or places where they have roots. Their attachment to Winter Park’s over one hundred and twenty-five year old past is at best tenuous and very possibly non-existent. As Central Florida has grown, it has gotten increasingly difficult for people of ordinary means to afford to live in Winter Park. And while the wealthy are attracted to Winter Park for its charm and historic ambiance, they typically aren’t willing to put up with the small bathrooms and closets and other design challenges of say, historic Virginia Heights’ little nineteen-twenties bungalows. This is to say, they like living in a historic community, but don’t really see a role for themselves in preserving it.

This historic bungalow was demolished to make way for...

This old Winter Park bungalow was demolished to make way for…

...a larger house with more updated features.

…a larger home with more modern features.

Then, there is the matter (not unique to Winter Park) of multiple competing interests who are affected by historic preservation: real estate developers, commercial investors, neighborhood residents, certain politicians and others who believe preservation threatens their interests. Not surprisingly, preservationists find it difficult sledding in the face of these contending, often contentious, influential groups.

But there are two other considerations that reach far beyond the local struggle in Winter Park. Very often controversies in a small community in this country reveal deep-seated American social pathologies. In the effort to save historic buildings and neigh-borhoods in Winter Park preservationists have come face to face with two embedded American characteristics that add additional burdens to their efforts.

tocquevilleThe first is the age-old American conflict between individualism and public good. As early as the 1830s, the famed political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville astutely commented on the dynamic, but potentially destructive, individualistic behavior of most Americans. Tocqueville is careful to distinguish between individualism and “egoism,” or in today’s parlance, self-centeredness. Egoism, Tocqueville argued, is instinctive, an innate human characteristic. On the other hand, individualism is a learned trait that sees public world and the private world as two separate spheres. The average American, Tocqueville observed, is “disposed to withdraw himself into a circle of family and friends and with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look out for itself.” When interest in the public world (which the Founders called “public virtue”) wanes, self-centeredness becomes the dominant preoccupation. If and when that public world impinges on private interests, (as with the attempt to create historic districts) then individualists are aroused in opposition, often raising the cry of “violation of property rights.” Such claims, however, frequently mask the deeper sentiment of individualism, that is, the belief that the right of individuals to do as they wish with their property is more important than the public good of preserving historic landmarks and neighborhoods.

The second factor militating against historic preservation (and closely tied to the first) is the American disinterest in the past. From the beginning, this continent was settled by people who fled their past, by those determined to remove history from their lives. Subsequently, settlers moved west with the same intentions: to excise the past and to turn their eyes to the future. In an 1839 article one writer saw the United States as “The Great Nation of Futurity,” “with no connection to the past.” Today we are the heirs of this ubiquitous indifference toward history. It is no accident that, compared to Europe (the Old World), America (the New World) is a country with few monuments or ruins—that is, without visual evidences of the world of our ancestors. In Europe (for that matter most other societies), historic monuments daily remind even the simplest farmer or worker of the spirit and accomplishments of their ancestors. In America, those built evi-dences of the past are often demolished to make way for new structures. As a result, visual memory of our forebears’ legacies fade and then vanish. Our ties to the past are thereby diminished.

In a culture whose predominant concerns are individual rights and whose eyes are fixed primarily on the present and future, arguments that historic preservation protects Winter Park’s tradition, heritage, and legacy seem weak and abstract, and those advocating historic preservation are viewed as blocking progress, and even un-American.*

II

Often historic preservation becomes vitally personal and to see or not be able to see a landscape of past experiences can have enduring consequences. Here are two stores to illustrate the point:

woman in gold

“Woman in Gold” by Gustav Klimt

At the end of the movie, “Woman in Gold,” Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren), pauses for a moment after the recovery of a painting stolen by the Nazis and at the time housed in the Austrian national museum. Instead of celebrating her victory, she leaves her lawyer and visits the spacious Vienna apartment where she and her family had lived before expulsion by the Nazis. Scenes from her joyful family life come flashing into her mind (and on the screen) as she moves from room to room, emotionally recalling some of the most memorable moments of her childhood life. The recovery of the painting was not enough to excise the anger that had been festering since she had been forced to leave her anguished parents in one of those very rooms. To replace those harrowing memories with the carefree ones of her childhood years, Altmann sensed that it was necessary to experience personally her former home. As she moved from room to room she finally came to terms with her Vienna past, and could now move forward without anger.

The second story is a personal one and has a less gratifying conclusion. During World War II my father, who was too old for the draft, secured a job in a defense factory on the Gulf coast of Texas. The family moved there in February 1942. After a period of homesickness, I adjusted to my new community of Brazoria, made many close friends, and thus spent three very pleasant years there. At the end of the war, my family moved back to our original home. In the subsequent years I retained vivid memories of the little town (population about 2,000), the houses on our street, the church around the corner, the dairy at the end of our long block and the fields where we played football and baseball. In 1985 my sister and I drove from her home in Houston to revisit our ex-periences in Brazoria. After forty years I expected to see some changes in the little town. What I did not anticipate was the absence of any recognizable evidence of our past. Every feature of the natural and built landscape that I had known and remembered had vanished. No original buildings had been left standing. I had wanted to walk down the streets, to reminisce with my sister about our experiences, but there was nothing left to remember. A part of my past had disappeared along with that entire original landscape. I still had visual memories in my mind but the longing to attach those memories to something concrete remained unfulfilled. I left with an unexpected empty feeling as if a part of my being had been violated. I still have not come to terms with my disappointment.

"Old" Winter Park represented by 161 Cortland, now demolished

“Old” Winter Park represented by 161 Cortland, now demolished

What connects these two stories and the embedded American traditions hindering historic preservation is how critical a sense of place is to both our public and personal identity. No pictures in our minds can replace the way familiar landscapes and well-known buildings are capable of awakening the memories, good and bad, of our past experiences. Thus when we demolish the

New Winter Park: replacement home at 161 Cortland
“New” Winter Park: replacement home at 161 Cortland

historic natural and built landscapes of Winter Park, we are robbing ourselves and future generations of the innate hunger to have tangible, visual encounters with the past. Moreover, if, as everyone seems to agree, historic landmarks in Winter Park are the city’s most attractive (and lucrative) feature, demolishing these historic treasures is the equivalent to using seed corn make soup. In time the very factors that make the city attractive will have vanished. Perhaps the only way to persuade those who oppose historic preservation for ideological reasons and those developers who oppose it for material gain is to convince them that historic preservation is even in their self-interest. But don’t hold your breath waiting for conversion. The best way to secure our historic landscape is (in the Lord’s words to Job) “gird your loins” for the work ahead and elect friends of preservation to public office.

(MEMO TO PRESERVATIONISTS: Please interpret the foregoing essay as a historian’s effort to make sense of the unyielding opposition to historic preservation. As a committed preservationist I would like to have written a more encouraging essay. Historians, you know, have the luxury of interpretation without responsibility and without obligation to offer solutions, or so we tell ourselves.)

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.

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The Long, Strange Journey to CLG Status for Winter Park

For at least 14 years, it has been the stated goal of the City of Winter Park to become a Certified Local Government. The city’s historic preservation ordinance, adopted in 2001, states “The HPC shall apply to participate in the certified local government program through the Florida Division of Historical Resources.”  The city’s comprehensive plan similarly states “The City shall participate in the Certified Local Government (CLG) program administered by the State of Florida by maintaining a preservation ordinance complying with state and federal requirements, filing required reports, participating in training workshops for staff and preservation boards, and applying for CLG grants to fund qualifying historic preservation projects.”

Tallahassee used a CLG grant to create a Myers Park walking tour

Tallahassee used a CLG grant to create a Myers Park walking tour

Now, you might be asking, “What exactly IS a certified local government, and why should Winter Park wish to become one?”  And there would be no shame in admitting your CLG illiteracy, given that when the Friends of Casa Feliz Advocacy Committee met individually with each city commissioner in 2013, four of the five had no idea what a CLG was, or that both our preservation ordinance and comprehensive plan had stated that we should become one.

Yet, it’s an important program for a number of reasons, and there’s reason to feel chagrined that the city of Winter Park STILL isn’t a CLG, despite everything short of an 11th Commandment instructing us to become one.

According to the State of Florida website, the CLG program exists to “link three levels of government-federal, state and local- into a preservation partnership for the identification, evaluation and protection of historic properties.”  The website describes the following benefits:

  • CLGs are eligible to receive training, both on-site and at regional meetings, for local historic preservation boards and city staff;
  • CLGs are eligible for special grants for historic resource surveys, National Register application preparation, and community education programs;
  • CLGs are connected with one another through a network to share information, ideas and best practices between their respective communities.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Apparently, just about every other Florida city thinks so.  Here’s a roster of state CLGs, which includes 68 Florida municipalities: http://dos.myflorida.com/media/693655/clg-list-2-23-15.pdf.  Name a Florida city of any size that is known to have some historic resources.  Then check the list.  Tampa? Check.  Miami? Check.  Orlando? Check? Jacksonville, Gainesville, St. Pete, Sarasota, Coral Gables, West Palm? CLGs, every one.  We’re hard put to think of any Florida city, other than Winter Park, that hasn’t seen the wisdom in becoming a CLG.

This begs the question, “Well, why haven’t we, then?”  The primary reason appears to be foot-dragging–it just hasn’t been a priority for anyone at the city, which makes one wonder how the language ended up in the comp plan and the HP ordinance to begin with.  In addition, when the Citywide Board Ordinance was passed in 2011, all language pertaining to board member qualifications was stricken from the HP ordinance.  While such language – which would give preference to a preservation architect applying to serve on the HPB over, say, a shoe salesman – isn’t required, it certainly sends the message that the city is serious about preservation, which is a requirement.  For a board that grapples with issues of historic design and scale and the technicalities of planning and zoning, it is only reasonable that members should have the technical expertise to perform their duties.

Fast forward to 2015, when the City appears to be on the verge of updating our historic preservation ordinance.  The amended

CLG Miami Beach created a brochure and website with its grant

CLG Miami Beach created a brochure and website with its grant

ordinance drafted by City Planning, and released in May, reinserted language back into the ordinance on the skill sets that should be sought for HPB membership.  It required that at least two members be architects, one be a lawyer, one be in building construction, and the remainder have demonstrated expertise in other relevant disciplines. The amended ordinance also specifically stated that the city will finally apply for CLG certification.

While supporters of the ordinance expected some consternation and conversation on the issue of district formation – the draft ordinance recommended lowering the threshold for forming a historic district from the current 2/3 property owner approval to a simple majority—they were surprised when at least one Winter Park resident – Peter Weldon – mounted an attack on the stated intent to become a CLG.

Weldon has exhorted the City Commission and the HPB to abandon the CLG process. He accurately points out that the grant funds available only to CLGs is a small fraction of the state historic preservation grants that even non-CLG governments and nonprofits can apply for.   He also suggests that the requirements of the CLG program would be an undue burden for city staff.

His arguments appear to have gotten some traction among HPB members.  At its June 17 workshop, two of the members who had received Weldon’s email, expressed doubt about whether the city should become a CLG, postulating that it might insert yet another level of bureaucracy into the process and burn up a lot of staff time with minimal benefit. These concerns would be valid if they were true.  Then, at the June 22 City Commission meeting, Mayor Leary similarly expressed doubt over whether the city should pursue designation.

Fernandina Beach used a CLG grant to create downtown design guidelines

Fernandina Beach used a CLG grant to create downtown design guidelines

So, Preservation Winter Park turned to people who should know—the planning staffs of current CLG governments in other cities—to get to the bottom of whether there is indeed an advantage to being a CLG, and whether the advantages outweighed any potential disadvantages.  We emailed Friederike Mittner, City Historic Preservation Planner for West Palm Beach; Emily Foster, Senior Planner for the City of Lakeland; Kathleen Slesnick Kauffman, Historic Preservation Chief of Miami-Dade County; and Richard Forbes, Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Orlando.  Here are their unedited answers to our questions:

PWP:  How, if at all, has being a CLG benefitted your city?

Mittner: We’re now eligible for additional funds set aside for just CLG’s with no match required!  That’s a big deal.  It’s a great networking opportunity too.

Foster: Lakeland has benefited from the CLG program by being eligible for and awarded several CLG grants. These grants have helped us to preserve local historic resources and develop historic district design guidelines. Technical assistance provided by the DHR’s office to staff on an ongoing basis has been beneficial as well. We are also able to provide input on National Register designations, which proved helpful in getting all seven of our local historic districts and several individual landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pass-a-Grille Beach received a $41,000 grant for a historic district survey

Pass-a-Grille Beach received a $41,000 grant for a historic district survey

Kauffman:  While it’s true that any non-profit can pursue a Division of Historical Resources grant, but only CLG eligible governments can go after the special pot of money that is specifically set aside for CLGs. In addition, there is now a new benefit to being a CLG in that CLG applications do not have to provide a match for the small matching grants.

Another really big benefit is the CLG Network, where all of us are instantly connected through a shared email group, and the questions and comments that we ask each other are so useful and pertinent. Why reinvent the wheel when another community may have already created design guidelines, or worked through a vinyl window issue, or figured out how to save a lighthouse from sinking into the water?

Forbes: One of the best things is the listserve where all of the CLG’s can ask questions of other CLG communities to help solve problems and find out what others have done and are doing.  Also get to review National Register nominations first before they go to the state for review.  The match is no longer required for CLG’s for the grants.

PWP: How, if at all, has being a CLG burdened your city?

Boynton Beach created a heritage trail with a $28,000 CLG grant

Boynton Beach created a heritage trail with a $28,000 CLG grant

Mittner: In no way has it been a burden.

Foster:  To my knowledge, Lakeland has not been burdened by our CLG status whatsoever.

Kauffman: It’s never been a burden to be a CLG.

Forbes: Small amount of staff time for reporting to state and National Park Service.

PWP:  How would you describe the requirements of maintaining your CLG status in terms of effort and staff time?

Mittner: One hour per year of completing a report and e-mailing minutes

Foster:  It takes very little effort and staff time to maintain CLG certification. The annual report required by the National Park Service and Florida DHR takes approximately 2-3 hours of staff time PER YEAR.

Kauffman:  Minimal.

Forbes: Reporting takes a few minutes a month and the annual report submission takes at most an hour to complete.

PWP:  If you had to do it over again, would you become a CLG? 

Mittner: Absolutely!

Foster: Absolutely. There is no downside to the CLG program, in my opinion.

Kauffman: Yes, of course I would become a CLG if we were not one already.

Forbes:  Yes.

In the coming months, the Historic Preservation Board, and ultimately the City Commission, will need to decide whether the benefits to becoming a CLG outweigh the detriments.   We hope their decision will be informed by the experiences of cities that have actually participated in the program, and not anti-government ideology.

In her email to us, Kauffman put it this way: “It is not a difficult or lengthy process to become a CLG, but the whole point of the program is to provide a benefit to cities or counties that have an expressed interest in saving their heritage, and have made it a priority to do so by having a strong preservation ordinance. Is this how you would describe Winter Park?”

It’s time that our city joins the legion of other Florida cities that proudly declare through their CLG status, “This place matters.”

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