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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MidCentury Modern: Winter Park’s Hidden Heritage

 

Nils Schweizer's downtown Winter Park office

Nils Schweizer’s downtown Winter Park office; photo by Rick Kilby

by Christine Madrid French

On the surface, the wildly popular television show “Mad Men,”set in the 1960s, chronicled the life of high-flying advertising executive Donald Draper and his stylish coworkers.  On a broader, cultural level, however, the show can be credited with a bringing about a national resurgence of mid-century mania.  Increasingly, well-heeled homebuilders are favoring the modern designs that Winter Parkers are seeing pop up all over town.   And, advised by publications like “Atomic Ranch,” some homeowners are doing the previously unthinkable—ripping out replacement wood flooring to reveal the sparkling terrazzo underneath.  Can harvest gold appliances at Southeast Steel be far behind?

While you may have been following this trend, were you also aware that Winter Park boasts an extensive inventory of midcentury gems?  Indeed, Winter Park’s renowned architectural heritage isn’t just about turn-of-the-century Victorians, 1920s bungalows and 1940s Mediterranean revival, but also includes important but lesser known structures from the middle-twentieth century, often referred to as Mid-Century Modern.

Terrazzo > Hardwood?

Terrazzo > Hardwood?

A subset of the modernism, Mid-Century Modern (MCM) is a more specific term used to differentiate buildings created between the years of World War II (early 1940s), and the Moon landing in 1969. Not coincidently, this was also a remarkable period of growth in Central Florida. Thousands of buildings were constructed to satisfy growing demand and an expanding population.

Modernism is a critical part of Winter Park’s historic context, representing an entire generation of residents, builders, and architects.  Indeed, MCM buildings embody the current “people’s memory” of Winter Park, including shops, schools, houses, and government buildings that we fondly remember and care for today. MCM buildings are included in the Downtown Winter Park Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which outlines 36 contributing buildings, including the 1965 Post Office.  Formally, these buildings “contribute to downtown Winter Park’s sense of time, place, and historical development…and provide an important architectural link to the heritage of Winter Park.” The entire 63-page document can be downloaded here: https://cityofwinterpark.org/docs/departments/planning-community-development/historic-preservation/NRHP_Nomination.pdf

Modernist architects in mid-century Winter Park incorporated dramatic design features such as slanted roofs, expansive windows, and shiny terrazzo floors. In modern buildings of that era, the architect created a design in which the materials and composition speaks for itself, with no additional décor, such as curlicues, Greek columns, or gargoyles. But, exotic motifs and modern artwork distinguish a number of examples, with Asian-inspired screens or tiled murals. Many of these buildings rely on a blurring of the boundary between inside and outside, including sliding glass doors to open up interior spaces, garden boxes in the living areas, or integral water features.

Winter Park’s collection of notable modern buildings is sprinkled all over town, right beneath your eyes. If you are on your own treasure hunt for Modernism in our midst, here are a few key buildings and features to look for:

Royal House, 1295 N. Park Avenue (corner of New York and Park avenues), 1961.

Royal House living room; photo by Ruben Madrid

Royal House living room; photo by Ruben Madrid

The residential designs from this era do not typically receive as much recognition, primarily because the properties are not visible from the street or the buildings are obscured behind concrete screens or heavy vegetation. One house that you can see—and buy—is located at 1295 N. Park Avenue. The house was built in 1961 by Robert M. Howard of Orlando, but the architect is unknown. This elegant MCM home was once owned by William and Edith Royal, owners and operators of three Royal Dance Schools in Orlando and Winter Park (for 38 years) and directors of the Ballet Royal (for 32 years) which brought the Nutcracker to Orlando. She established her first Central Florida dance school in Winter Park in 1949 and is often referred to as the “Mother of Dance in Florida.”[i] She retired in 1985 after training thousands of students in dance and is remembered fondly by generations of Floridians.

royalhouseentry.a

Royal House entry; photo by Ruben Madrid

Recently, Thor Falk, the owner, invited me and a few architecture enthusiasts to tour the home.
Falk has made a few changes to the building for today’s comfort, but the essential character-defining features of this modernist house remain intact. The house incorporates many Asian-inspired elements, a popular motif of the 1960s generated in part from the addition of Hawaii as a state in 1959. The sharply-gabled roof soars right past the walls of the house to create a porte-cochere at the corner of the ½ acre lot, supported by a massive stone wall. The front door is encircled by two lunette windows protected by Asian-inspired metal screens. Similar metal screens on the New York Avenue façade were once room dividers between the living room and dining room, now repurposed and expanded for the side entry. The house also features a classic concrete-block screen to keep the western side of the house cool. The original terrazzo floors run through the central living areas, all illuminated by a dramatic window wall facing Park Avenue and the historic Jewett House, designed by James Gamble Rogers II in 1937. Architect Richard Reep configured a few ways to expand the home while maintaining the original form, so the house could be modified without tearing it down.IMG_1168

Interested? The house is currently for sale with Anne Rogers Realty Group:  Royal House listing

The Winter Park Post Office

photo credit: Rick Kilby

photo credit: Rick Kilby

Built in 1965, the Winter Park Post Office is listed as a significant contributor to the Downtown Winter Park Historic District.  Architect Joseph Shifalo worked with contractors Cason & Moore to create this perfectly proportioned modernist “pavilion,” similar to the work of Mies van der Rohe at the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1945-1951, now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation). Indeed, a similarly-styled 1961 building—a bank–was recently saved and reused as the Architecture and Design Center for the Palm Springs Art Museum in California (http://www.psmuseum.org/architecture-design-center/). Shifalo taught at Rollins in the late 1950s and maintained a firm in Winter Park.

post office mural detail; photo Ruben Madrid

post office mural detail

"beer can" detail

“beer can” detail

The Winter Park Post Office was completed at a cost of $400,000 (about $2.5 million in today’s dollars) and features original artworks on three sides of the exterior. Two sides are decorated with an original painted-stone mural by artist Joe Testa-Secca; a completely unique metal screen composed of smashed Busch Beer cans, painted black, is installed along the east façade in an artistic take on a functional brise-soliel or sun screen. Testa-Secca, a professor emeritus at the University of Tampa, is a significant Florida artist that has exhibited worldwide with current works selling for upwards of $30,000. One of his large murals, “Symbols of Mankind,” installed on the Saunders Public Library in Tampa, was recently moved and preserved as part of a new structure.

More importantly, Testa-Secca provides a critical link between architecture and art in Winter Park. He won the Best of Show award at the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Show in 1965 and was subsequently awarded the commission to design murals for the new post office. According to the National Register listing for Downtown Winter Park, the post office “contains the only documented art work of Testa-Secca’s as part of a building in Winter Park and the only mural from the historic period in the historic district,” and was considered a critical element in continuing the “art” of Park Avenue and the WPSA show across Central Park.

Anything by Nils Schweizer

Schweizer and Wright

Schweizer and Wright

Nils Schweizer (1925-1988), is one of the most significant architects in our area’s history. He worked with Frank Lloyd Wright as on-site architect during the construction of Florida Southern College, and designed a number of important structures in our area including the Winter Park City Hall (1964; the Winter Park Architects Collaborative), Church of the Good Shepherd in Maitland (1967), and the Orlando Public Library addition in downtown (1985). His office on Park Avenue (within sight of the post office) is now a bridal shop. But, if you stop and look up at the building, you will discover a set of beautifully articulated wood eaves and sunscreens. His modernist home in Maitland is preserved by the family. Sons Kevin and Garth are active members in the Nils M. Schweizer Fellows, also known as the Central Florida Modernists group. Monthly meetings are held at significant buildings and members advocate for preservation of Modernism throughout Florida. The Fellows also maintain a web-catalog of both MCM and New Modern buildings in the Winter Park/Maitland/Orlando area. Check it out at: http://www.centralfloridamodern.com.

The catalog of buildings is available at the following links:

For more information on preserving modern buildings, visit the Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative, an international project of the Getty Conservation Institute in California. The CMAI includes technical materials, expert testimony, public programs, and conservation projects that you can use to preserve American Modern architecture in your area.  http://www.getty.edu/conservation/our_projects/field_projects/cmai/

About Christine Madrid French:

chrisChristine Madrid French, architectural historian, was born and raised in Los Angeles. She graduated from the University of Utah in Architectural Studies in 1992 and worked for the National Park Service as an historian in Washington, D.C. Ms. French earned a master’s degree in Architectural History from the University of Virginia in 1998. She worked as the Director of the Modernism + Recent Past Program for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in San Francisco, a two-year project funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, through 2011. She taught architectural history at the University of Central Florida and is an Expert Member on the 20th-Century Heritage Committee for the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). Chris currently works as Project Director for Preservation Capen at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, the landmark effort to save an 1885 house by cutting it in two and floating it across a lake to the grounds of the museum in 2013. The house is now being restored on its new site.

 

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Let’s Go Historic House Hunting!

by Betsy Owens

Even if you’re not in the market for a home, it sure is fun to window shop.  And if you’re like me, you regularly go to realtor.com, punch in home age “over 51 years” and a zip code in the search terms, and salivate like a Pavlovian dog as you wait to see what the search yields.  Come with me as we explore a Winter Park historic home for every pocketbook–from a Birkin bag to a Canal Street knockoff:

1700 Alabama Drive, Unit 3 ∼ 3579 sq. ft.∼ $1.2 MillionIS999q42c1ypya0000000000

At the pricier end of the spectrum, we have the dreamy Packwood-Temple House, on the grounds of the Alabama Hotel condominiums. If walls could talk, this house could tell you quite a bit about Winter Park history—when the list of the former owners reads like a Winter Park/Maitland street map, you know the house is historic. In addition to Central Florida pioneer George Packwood and former Mayor William Temple, the house was owned by Edward Palmer (as in the Avenue) and Joseph Kroenenberger (who platted the subdivision on which the house now sits).  And here’s the amazing thing: the HOA stipulates that maintenance of the entire exterior of the house and grounds are covered by the condo association—so you’ve got a fabulous, 3500 sq. ft. 4/4 single family home with all the benefits of living in a condo.  Nice!   Yes, you pay a monthly $750 condo fee, but try living in a house this size in the Vias and taking care of your landscaping and home maintenance for less than this. Most of the original 1878 Victorian charm of the home is intact…the woodwork! The leaded glass windows! The wraparound porch with Victorian detailing! In addition to retaining so much authenticity, the house has been updated with a truly lovely gourmet kitchen—and can’t you just see yourself having your morning coffee in the window-walled turreted breakfast room?  Plus, you’re across the street from Lake Maitland, a stone’s throw from Kraft Azalea Gardens, and can rent a boat slip for $750 per year.  Strange as it sounds, at $1.2 million, this almost seems too good to be true.

ISdcefbv40ts2w1000000000

Shall we have a spot of lemonade before croquet?

Yum.

Yum.

Shall we have our morning coffee here?

Shall we have our morning coffee here?

Or here?

Or here?

I know it sounds crazy, but just $1.2?

I know it sounds crazy, but just $1.2?

Click here for full Alabama Drive listing

735 McIntyre Avenue∼2340 sq. ft. ∼ $675,000

Talk about curb appeal

Talk about curb appeal

This house was on Casa Feliz’s 2015 Colloquium Tour, and it’s impeccable.  Located in the College Quarter neighborhood, the 1940s traditional looks like it’s straight out of Central Casting for “charming American home.”  It’s been pretty thoroughly updated on the inside, but not so much that you feel like a time traveler when you cross the threshold. The rooms are smallish, but the house has a charming back patio with pool which expands the living space.  Plus, it’s got a large rental unit over the garage that could easily rent for $1,000/mo.   Lots of homes advertise “Walk to Park Avenue,” but for this one, it’s true: who wouldn’t love living just 5 short blocks from the Winter Park Farmer’s Market in one of Winter Park’s most picturesque neighborhoods? Check it out.

living room

living room

cozy sunroom

cozy sunroom

Click here for McIntyre listing

1355 Devon Road ∼ 1817 sq. ft. ∼ $439,900:

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For years, I have walked by and drooled over this Orwin Manor Tudor Revival home, listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.  Someone needs to buy this house to keep me from buying it.  I actually toured it a couple months ago and may just have made an offer if I thought it could accommodate my husband’s grandmother’s baby grand piano, and my grandparents’ dining room furniture, neither of which we’re emotionally ready to part with.  That said, the  3-bedroom house seems plenty spacious, and in the tradition of Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big” philosophy, the house lives large.  It’s sensitively updated—to me, there’s nothing worse than walking into a house that’s 90 years old on the outside, to find it’s been scrubbed of all its original charm on the inside.  Gorgeous French doors separating rooms, lovely woodwork, window seats, hardwood floors, glass door knobs—they’re all still here, while the bathrooms and kitchen have been appropriately updated. Plus, at less than $450K, I think it’s a steal. Seriously. Someone buy this house.

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Scrumptious, right?

Open floor plan AND historic bones? Pinch me!

Open floor plan AND historic bones? Pinch me!

Did I mention the woodwork?

Did I mention the woodwork?

Click here for Devon listing

2600 Old Winter Park Road  ∼ 1525 sq. ft. ∼ $349,900

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This house is not only precious, it’s a great investment.  With the burgeoning Audubon Park/Corrine Drive neighborhood within walking distance, Park Avenue within easy biking distance, and downtown Orlando a 10-minute drive away, this 1925 Mediterranean supports the maxim, “the smaller your house, the larger your world.” Also on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, the 3/2 has a stunning living room with Cathedral ceiling accented by heart pine cross-beams, many original windows, a wonderful woodburning fireplace, hardwood floors, and plaster walls accented with built-in nooks and crannies. A free-standing two-car garage is connected to the house by a breezeway.  While I wish that the kitchen and bathrooms had been updated in a more period-appropriate style, most folks aren’t as obnoxiously priggish about such things as I. This is the perfect house for young professionals or couples looking to downsize.

Authenticity in spades

Authenticity in spades

This house built when people cared about detail - on all four sides.

This house built when people cared about detail – on all four sides.

Click Here for Winter Park Road listing

1675 North Orange Avenue ∼ 1177 sq. ft. ∼ $295,000

Seriously cool plaster

So this one is a fixer-upper, but it’s priced accordingly.  Built in 1922, this  2/1 Mediterranean is a 5 minute drive from both downtown Winter Park and downtown Orlando (well, on Sunday morning, anyway).  The house has good bones and nifty architectural features—check out the living room fireplace and the dining room ceiling. You’ll have to spend another $100K to get this house ship-shape (for starters, the living room floorboards are buckling and the roof tiles have been painted an unfortunate white), or $200K to make it into a 3/2, but when you’re done you’ll have a unique gem of a cottage on .42 acre of land.  If this seems daunting, have a look at the before-and-afters of the house just a few doors down: Phoenix on Orange Avenue. Compared to what the Spencers undertook with this house’s larger cousin, this reno is practically a weekend project.

Look up!

Look up!

Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.

Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.

Click Here for Orange Avenue listing

So, fellow house hunters, is this blog post just a summer beach read, or is there a moral? As usual, I can’t avoid a little bit of sermonizing, so here goes:  Winter Park is blessed to still have a certain inventory of historic homes.  I know I’m not alone in this: when we’ve moved in the past, we’ve avoided entire neighborhoods and even cities that weren’t developed until 1950, knowing we wouldn’t find homes that spoke to us therein.  I’ve spoken to many people in town—educated, creative, artistic citizens who volunteer and contribute to our community in invaluable ways–who agreed to relocate to Central Florida only after they learned of Winter Park’s existence.  Yes, there are those who want newer homes, and that’s fine.  But I know that there are other unabashed old house addicts who’ll chose solid oak closet doors over granite countertops any day of the week.   I hope Winter Park will always have something to offer these folks, because they, like older homes, make the city a much more interesting place to live.


For those who are really in the spirit,  check out these nifty historic listings as well:

211 Overlook Road

807 Golfview Terrace

1264 Richmond Road

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Sarah Susanka: The “Not-So-Big” Author Has Not-So-Small Ideas on Preservation

Susanka addresses the Colloquium audience

Susanka addresses the Colloquium audience

Sarah Susanka may have written the “Not So Big” series of architecture books, but she’s a woman of big, bold ideas.  On May 16, the architect and author shared her wisdom with a Winter Park audience of 250 at Casa Feliz’s 9th Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  Susanka’s nine books, which revolve around the theme of quality over quantity in home design, have sold well over a million copies.  Her ideas have the potential to change not only how we design our homes, but how we plan our cities, and even prioritize our lives.

Susanka squeezed an amazing amount of wisdom into her 90 minute lecture, but we’ve excerpted some particularly memorable gems here:

Lakeview Avenue home on Colloquium House Tour

Lakeview Avenue home on Colloquium House Tour

On Winter Park’s College Quarter and historic neighborhoods: 

“It’s the quality of the scale of each of these (houses) in relation to each other is what gives these places their charm…the older houses have a ‘come and meet me at my porch’ feeling that is largely absent in new houses today.”

On Historic Preservation:

“Preservation is about allowing your community to have a sense of history that you can feel palpably every day…We all know the cities that we love the most and it’s because of that.  And your community has that.”

On a (formerly) historic neighborhood in Illinois, and tear-downs:

“This is what happens when people don’t understand about the proportions and the character of the neighborhood being the point. What’s sad is that people moved there because they loved it.  But then they didn’t understand what it was that they were loving…the property value was very high, so every professional said to the homeowner ‘you need to build at least this much square footage…because of the land value’…What happened?  The very fabric of the community, which is why people wanted to live there, disappeared. This is my fear in communities around the country, and I know this is something that (Winter Park) is grappling with.”

On New Home Design:

“You can’t always say ‘no tear downs.’  So when there is a tear-down, (it’s important to focus on) how to make that new house fit into the neighborhood.”

“We are building our living rooms for people we’d rather not have in our houses.  We are told by all the professionals who are supposed to be guiding us that we have to have these big rooms that we really don’t use anymore.”

“A ‘Not So Big’ house is 1/3 smaller than the house you thought you needed, with the dollars reapportioned to quality over size.”

 “The core values of what people are hunting for – beauty and balance, harmony, home as sanctuary, sustainability and well-being—are totally absent in most of the new houses being built today.”

On the importance of architects:

“We are very attuned to space but we have no language for it.  So just like having a musical ear,  we can all appreciate music to one degree or another, but most of us don’t know how to write a piece of music.  Architects are like musicians of space.  We use the space to create particular qualities, and that’s what people fall in love with.  All these beautiful old bungalows were designed originally by architects…what you’re loving is actually good design.  That’s why they work and why they have worked for such a long time.”

Antonette Avenue bungalow on Colloquium House Tour

Antonette Avenue bungalow on Colloquium House Tour

On the “trap” of being taken in by a floor plan:

“A floor plan tells you zero about how a house will feel. For the feeling, you need information about the 3rd dimension, the heights of everything, and that’s where the feeling starts to come in.  No wonder people are building house after house and are frustrated.”

 “Ceiling height and the shift in ceiling height makes all the difference in the world. And I’m not talking about ‘tall, taller and tallest.’  I’m talking about a shift in articulation from 7 feet to 8 feet.”

On “too big” spaces and building to a human scale:

“The other piece of this that is so critical is that we have to build to our human scale…you can look at a photograph of a massive space and it can look pretty..but if you were trying to live in that room, you’d be in an echo chamber.”

“One of the challenges with these big houses is that we don’t have any of that feeling (of occupying the space).  We feel tiny…An 18 foot ceiling is wonderful for a state capitol but not for your family room. Because you can’t feel like you occupy that space.  You can be in awe, but do you want to be in awe in your family room?”

“People want a house that fits them more like a suit than a sack.”

On the importance of beauty in architecture:

“Beauty matters! We can build the greenest house there is, but I can tell you right now that if it’s not beautiful, it’s not sustainable, because we won’t want to look after it.  Never underestimate the value of making something beautiful.”

On Infill Design in Neighborhoods

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Susanka shares her big ideas

“There are going to be situations where someone’s living in a beautiful neighborhood like Winter Park and they want double the space.  There is still a way to do it so it fits with the existing neighborhood…this is what I call being a good neighbor, where you’re recognizing what is needed to fit in.  It’s letting people know that you’re aware of the beauty of the neighborhood and you want to fit in.  It doesn’t have to look identical but the proportioning, being in scale with your neighbors, is so, so important.”

On why many planned communities fail:

“Doing it from scratch is a real challenge. It needs to have a flavor of organic growth.  That’s what makes it come alive. There are many new urban communities that do that, often by having saved particular trees or a particular anomaly in the landscape that then becomes the focal point and allows other organic idiosyncrasies to happen all around it.”

On Life:

“Life is much simpler than we think. Life is just the experience of what’s happening right now…we don’t have to argue with it, we can just be here.  And that’s where the joy is.  Ask yourself, “what inspires me?” And it doesn’t have to be something enormous—it can be gardening…and give yourself permission to do just that.  Believe it or not, that is the bridge to a sustainable future. Extraordinary things happen by paying attention to what your heart loves to do.”

You can watch Susanka’s entire Colloquium lecture by clicking here:  https://vimeo.com/129314854


PLUS! Winter Park Awards First Ever Historic Preservation Awards

At the 2015 Colloquium, four property owners were honored with the city’s first annual Historic Preservation Awards.  Genean McKinnon, a member of the Winter Park Historic Preservation Board, presented awards to the following:


Excellence in Residential Renovation – The Annie B.  Johnston, 834 Antonette Avenue

Recipients:  current owners Rick and Wendy Hosto

Johnston House - before

Johnston House – before

The house was built in 1926 for Annie B. Johnston. The bungalow is a historic

Johnston House - after

Johnston House – after

resource in the College Quarter Historic District.   Over almost 80 years of occupancy, the bungalow suffered from an application of inappropriate siding and a poorly built addition.  Suzanne Fisher acquired the house in 2005. She removed the siding and improved the front porch access, restored the interior of the house   and replaced the failing add-on in keeping with the historic Craftsman architecture. The historic house was fully renovated in character and prepared for decades of enjoyment.  Ms. Fisher opened the house for the 2014 Colloquium tour which focused on restored homes.  The current owners, Rick and Wendy Hosto, recently purchased the house from Ms. Fisher.


The Coop - before

The Coop – before

Excellence in Commercial Renovation – The COOP by John Rivers, 610 Morse Boulevard

The Coop - after

The Coop – after

Brad Watson, 4Rivers Director of Real Estate & Construction, received the award on behalf of John Rivers

“It’s never too late to mend” (mural on The COOP’s patio wall) expresses the philosophy that guided the sensitive renovation of 610 West Morse Boulevard.  The building had been Mike Hage’s Market in the middle of the last century.  First renovated by John Spang for the East India Market after standing empty for a time, it would later be occupied by a series of tenants who were not always so considerate of the vernacular commercial building.  John River had the foresight to reimagine the building as the perfect place for his new southern style restaurant, The COOP.  He brought the building up to current code standards added a lively vintage inspired sign.  The COOP’s adaptive reuse and renovation preserve the building’s unpretentious character and honors Hannibal Square history.


Kummer-Kilbourne House

Kummer-Kilbourne House

Excellence in Adaptive Reuse –Kummer- Kilbourne House by Allen Keen, Keewin Properties, 121 Garfield Avenue

Parkland International Realty President Hal George, contractor, received the award on behalf of Allen Keen

In the early 1900s, Kummer Lumber was located behind the 1916 house which faces Central Park.  It served as the home of owner Gotthilf “George”  Kummer and his descendants for almost 100 years.  Kummer’s grandchildren spurned many offers to sell the only house in the upscale Park Avenue Corridor after their mother’s passing until they found a buyer they trusted in Allan Keen.  A space in a big glass box office in the suburbs isn’t for everyone.  The house and the detached garage were meticulously restored for Keewin Properties’ business offices.  The house was placed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places in 2004 and is included in the Downtown Winter Park National Register Historic District.


John Spang & grandson

John Spang & grandson

Lifetime Achievement –In Remembrance of John Spang

Mrs. John “Cissy” Spang, owner operator of the Park Plaza Hotel, received the award given in remembrance of her husband John Spang.

A dynamic visionary and Winter Park advocate, John Spang contributed to the revitalization of downtown and Hannibal Square at a time when businesses were moving to new suburbs and shopping malls.   John Spang had a different vision.  He and his wife Cissy arrived in Winter Park in the 1970s.    Recognizing the intrinsic charm of historic but faded downtown, he opened the East India Clothing Store on Park Avenue followed by the East India Ice Cream Parlor. He acquired the former Hamilton Hotel and Grill and revitalized it as the stylish Park Plaza Hotel and Park Plaza Gardens restaurant.  When the 1920s Alabama Hotel closed, John Spang had the vision to reimagine the once grand winter escape as condominiums.  He pioneered revitalization in Hannibal Square by opening the East India Market and Coffee Emporium in the former Mike Hage’s Market building where he became a master coffee roaster before coffee shops were “cool”.  John Spang will be remembered for infusing new life into Winter Park’s historic buildings so residents and visitors can enjoy them today.

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Ordinance Changes Deserve Our Support

Dear Citizens of Winter Park,

Over the past year, the City’s Historic Preservation Board and an ad hoc committee of citizens have been working to strengthen our historic preservation ordinance.  The proposed changes to the ordinance will be discussed at two public meetings this Thursday, May 7, at 9 am and 7 pm, at the Winter Park Welcome Center.

A comprehensive revision to the city’s ordinance has been long overdue.  First written in 2001 as a response to the near demolition of Casa Feliz, the ordinance is intended to promote and protect the historic sites that serve as visible reminders of the history and cultural heritage of the city.

Since the ordinance was adopted, the city has designated 82 historic buildings and 2 historic districts–the College Quarter and Virginia Heights East. While every designation should be celebrated, the fact remains that only 14% of the city’s structures eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are protected from demolition by the city register, and an additional 7 potential historic districts remain undesignated. These shortcomings, coupled with the demolition or near demolition of numerous notable historic structures, underscore the need for a strengthening of the ordinance.

college quarter1The Historic Preservation Board (HPB), working with the consultant Bland and Associates, drafted a revised ordinance in early 2014 and brought it to a public forum for discussion.  It was clear from the tenor of that meeting that various constituencies in Winter Park who would be affected by the new ordinance felt left out of the process.

Consequently, an ‘offline’ group made up of people representing the diverse viewpoints expressed in the forum was formed to see if consensus was possible.  Convened by Winter Park attorney Frank Hamner, the group included: Jeffrey Blydenburgh, an architect and Board President of Mead Botanical Garden; Dykes Everett, attorney and land developer; real estate broker Scott Hillman, President/Owner of Fannie Hillman + Associates;  landscape architect Stephen Pategas, President of Hortus Oasis; and myself, representing the Friends of Casa Feliz.  Four of the six group members live in homes over 50 years old that could potentially qualify for historic status in Winter Park. Two live in potential historic districts.

Over the next year, we met monthly to educate ourselves on Winter Park’s ordinance and housing inventory in comparison to other Florida cities’, and to suggest what we think are fair and reasonable amendments to the city’s ordinance.  The suggested changes effectively balance the rights of the individual property owner with the rights of the community at large to preserve Winter Park’s historic assets.  This amended ordinance was approved by the HPB at its February 2015 meeting, and is scheduled to be considered by the Winter Park City Commission in July.

Two of the three primary changes to the ordinance appear to be undisputed.  The prior ordinance lacked language about the college quarter 3constitution of the HPB.  The revised ordinance would give preference for HPB membership to certain related professions (e.g., architecture, real estate, construction) and people who live in historic homes. Additionally, language was added to the ordinance that would allow for ad valorem tax relief for homes on the historic register that undergo substantial restorations/ improvements.

The third significant change to the ordinance, which has attracted more attention, involves decreasing the percentage of homeowner votes required to form a historic district from 67% to a simple majority.  This change is warranted for the following reasons:

Historic districts are good for individual property values, and therefore should be easier to form.  A multitude of studies of real estate values across the country all point to the same conclusion: Historic districts positively impact property values.  (See: University of Florida Study; Connecticut Study;  Philadelphia study;    National Study).  The reason is that historic district designations give potential homebuyers the assurance that the neighborhood’s appearance will endure over time, and that they can reinvest in sensitive improvements to their own home without the fear that neighbors will undermine this investment.  Evidence shows that historically designated houses that are not located in historic districts do not enjoy the same increase in value.

Historic districts provide derivative benefits to the city economy, and thus should be easier to form. Home buyers are attracted to Winter Park for its magnificent tree canopy, chain of lakes, and historic architecture.  Houses are marketed as being located in “Olde Winter Park,” or in a “Charming historic neighborhood,” even if the houses themselves are of more recent construction.  In addition, countless studies confirm the economic benefits of heritage tourism.  Each year, tens of thousands of visitors are attracted to Winter Park because of its historic reputation. This is an asset that must be carefully guarded, and historic districts can provide such a safeguard.

glencoe1Despite these documented benefits, it is more difficult to form a historic district in Winter Park than in any other Florida city.  Other Florida cities–including Sarasota, Jacksonville, and Ft. Myers–that have a voter threshold that must be reached to form a historic district set that threshold at a simple majority of votes received, or require that 50% of property owners in a proposed district return a “no” vote to defeat designation. In other cities, such as Orlando, Coral Gables, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, historic districts are formed by the City Commission, not by homeowner vote. Lowering the threshold to a simple majority homeowner vote not only will bring Winter Park in line with other cities that value their history, but with all other Winter Park policies that just require a majority vote.

I hope you’ll read these well-considered amendments to the Winter Park Historic Preservation Ordinance (view here: Draft Ordinance). You may voice your opinion by contacting the Mayor and Commissioners directly (mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org) or by attending one of the public information sessions (scheduled for Thursday, May 7, at 9 am and 7 pm at the Winter Park Welcome Center).

 Betsy Owens,  Executive Director, Friends of Casa Feliz

Note:  If you are interested in touring homes in the College Quarter Historic District, and in speaking to homeowners who live in this district, you are invited to register for the 9th Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  More information, including registration, is available here: http://www.casafeliz.us.

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WINTER PARK HOME NAMED TO NATIONAL REGISTER

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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.

Kathryn's prized grape cluster chandelier adds a touch of whimsy to the butler's pantry

Kathryn’s prized grape cluster chandelier adds a touch of whimsy to the butler’s pantry

The site of countless civic meetings through Winter Park history

The site of countless civic meetings through Winter Park history

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.

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The childhood bedroom of Ann and her sister, Jane

The childhood bedroom of Ann and her sister, Jane

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.

One of the many places to pause in Ann's garden

One of the many places to pause in Ann’s garden

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.

Who wouldn't love to curl up here with a good book?

Who wouldn’t love to curl up here with a good book?

“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?

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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.

Mint julep, anyone?

All one lot: Spec house builders can move right along.

But Ann didn’t stop there.  Several months ago, she legally 10432996_10206430273660167_7853996785762327343_ncombined 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.

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Ann Morgan Saurman

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.

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DEAR NEXT MAYOR OF WINTER PARK:

Dear Next Mayor of Winter Park,

Let us be the first to congratulate you on your victory, even before you’ve won!  We at Preservation Winter Park and the Friends of Casa Feliz look forward to working with you on matters of import to our city.  Before you get too giddy over your hard-won $3,000 annual salary, realize that there’s hard work ahead.  As you approach your inauguration, we hope you will consider the following:

  • Your job is to manage growth, not create it. If you asked 100 residents of Winter Park what they love about their city, we doubt one would answer “its growth potential.”   This is because people are attracted to Winter Park for what it is—an oasis of calm and traditional community in the midst of an area defined by urban sprawl, traffic, and strip malls.  People move to Winter Park because they love what it is, not what they hope it will become.  The Pacific Northwest adopted this mindset decades ago, and it hasn’t hurt them one bit.goose
  • Protect Downtown Winter Park: There are certainly areas of Winter Park that could benefit from redevelopment.  But the downtown business district is not one of them. It’s our soul, and it’s our cash cow.  In other words, don’t allow anyone to kill, maim, or expose to avian flu the goose that laid the golden egg. This may seem like it goes without saying, but we know from past experience that the prospect of a big short-term gain can cause the advancement of some astoundingly bad ideas.  See: Hotels, Carlisle. See also: West Meadow, Paving.
  • Know whom you serve: Approach potential developments with the question of “Will this project improve the quality of life for our residents?” and not, “How can we make this work for the developer?”  The posture of our planning department too often seems to be to work with the developer to manipulate and bend the code so that it allows him to do what he wishes with his property.  The buck stops with you.  Consider that the developer may just be operating to maximize profit, not in the best interests of the residents you were elected to represent.extraordinary care
  • Please build with extraordinary care: Regarding growth, it will come, whether we like it or not, given the bustling economy of Central Florida. However, we are in the enviable position as a city to be very particular about how that growth and development will occur.  We have a very scarce commodity in Winter Park: developable land.  This means that we call the shots, not the developers.  It’s time Winter Park had an Architectural Review Board.  This isn’t snobbery, or a restraint of trade.  It’s just good sense.  Many of the places known for their attractiveness—Charleston, Old Town Alexandria, Coral Gables, Santa Barbara, Santa Fe—have them.   Winter Park has a terrific crop of architects that would be delighted to serve.  There should be no commercial building erected in Winter Park that isn’t extraordinary.boiled frog
  • A frog on the stovetop boils one degree at a time: Relaxing zoning for one small lot can seem like not such a big deal.  But when viewed in totality with all of the other zoning variances granted over time in a neighborhood, it can tip the scale.  What’s the harm of increasing the allowed density on a lot when it’s already R-4 directly across the street?  And then next week, we might as well rezone the lots next door, too.  A couple months later, let’s go ahead and take the block.  You get the picture—before too long, you’ve got a boiled frog.lawsuite fear
  • Good policy decisions aren’t made with the guiding principal of lawsuit avoidance. Yet if an outsider were to observe the planning and zoning process in Winter Park in recent years, he might conclude that our city motto was Parco cause procul totus sumptus (Latin for “Avoid lawsuits at all costs”) rather than “The City of Culture and Heritage.”  The city opened itself up to a lawsuit when it stayed the demolition of Casa Feliz, then a private residence—but it was the right thing to do.  The city DID get sued when it denied the final permit for the construction of the Carlisle Hotel.  Would we be better off now if we had taken the path of least resistance? It’s hard to find folks who say, “You know, this park sure would be nicer if it had a 4-story condo complex looming at the edge.”
  • Incentivize Historic Preservation: For a city with the historic assets that Winter Park has, you’d think we might have a historic preservation code that encourages rather than discourages preservation.  The existing ordinance does allow historically-designated properties to have garage apartments and some relaxation of setbacks on additions.  But this hasn’t been enough to incentivize large numbers of historic homeowners to register their properties.  There are lots of ways to sweeten the pot: how about a reduction in utility fees for registered homes? Eliminating permitting fees for remodeling projects or tree removal?  Rebates for making a historic home more energy-efficient?  Low-interest loans for commercial rehabilitations?  The Getty Foundation produced a wonderful resource on historic preservation incentives for the City of Los Angeles: http://www.preservation.lacity.org/files/GCI%20-%20Incentives%20for%20the%20Preservation%20and%20Rehabilitation%20of%20Historic%20Homes.pdf.  It’s time to adopt some of these ideas in Winter Park, and reward the folks who are working hard to preserve the architecture that benefits all of us.

Celebrated author Bill Bryson describes the wisdom of preservation thusly:central park 2

“ [Traveling] makes you realize what an immeasurably nice place much of America could be if only people possessed the same instinct for preservation as they do in Europe. You would think the millions of people who come to Williamsburg every year would say to each other, “Gosh, Bobbi, this place is beautiful. Let’s go home to Smellville and plant lots of trees and preserve all the fine old buildings.” But in fact that never occurs to them. They just go back and build more parking lots and Pizza Huts.”

In sum, may your next three years be more about planting trees and preserving fine old buildings than Pizza Huts.

Yours Truly,

Preservation Winter Park

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CANDIDATES WEIGH IN ON HISTORIC PRESERVATION

In politics, it’s rare to find a candidate who claims to be against historic preservation.  You’d get just about as far running on a platform condemning motherhood and apple pie. Similarly, it’d be pretty dumb to announce that you don’t value private property rights—unless, perhaps you were running for something in North Korea.

But what about when historic preservation appears to be in conflict with an individual’s right to dispose of his private property as he chooses?  For instance, are you still a preservationist if you think the government has no right to delay the demolition of a National Register-worthy private home? How much do you value your community’s roots if you think that historic preservation should be 100% voluntary?  It’s not unlike saying you want a balanced federal budget, but they better not touch your entitlements.  Historic preservation, like fiscal responsibility, can require difficult choices.

With these nuanced questions in mind, Preservation Winter Park set out to gauge the level of commitment that the candidates running for elected office in Winter Park have to historic preservation.  As the ultimate decision-making authority on city ordinances and contentious planning and zoning issues, our city commission wields significant power in determining whether our historic assets are valued and preserved, or are afforded no more protection than any other city real estate.

On January 14, we contacted the four candidates currently running for elected office in Winter Park–Steve Leary and Cynthia Mackinnon, candidates for Mayor; and Gary Brewer and Greg Seidel, candidates for City Commissioner.  We asked them to submit their answers to a questionnaire developed by our advocacy committee, and promised to print their responses in our blog.

Leary

Leary

Leary, the only candidate who is a sitting Commissioner, declined to answer the survey on the advice of city attorney Larry Brown.  In reference to the fact that Casa Feliz is in its 10th year of a 99-year lease with the city, Brown advised Leary thusly: “Although you may comment on these issues in your campaign as you determine appropriate, you should make your statements in forums that are not provided by entities that are parties to a long term lease with the City. This is because a third party may contend that the extent of leverage or coercive power is sufficient that you have wrongly misused your position for a private political advantage.   I don’t know if the Chamber or other non-profits that have long term leases have also proposed questions, but if they have done that, my advice is the same.”   According to the Leary Campaign Facebook page, there are “confirmed debates” at both the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and the Winter Park Public Library, both entities in contracts with the City of Winter Park.

We share the responses of the other three candidates, below.

FRIENDS OF CASA FELIZ

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE

 YES/NO QUESTIONS: Please simply answer “yes” or “no” or “no opinion” to the following questions.

Do you believe that our current historic preservation ordinance adequately protects the city’s historic assets? YES or NO or NO OPINION

Mackinnon: Clearly, given recent controversies regarding some treasured historic homes, our present Ordinance is not designed to balance competing interests and provide a fair method  for safeguarding private property rights while providing an effective means for preserving community assets.

Brewer: YES

Seidel: NO

 

Currently Winter Park has the highest threshold for the formation of historic districts in Florida (2/3 of all property owners must return a ballot in favor of the district). Do you believe this threshold should be lowered to a simple majority? YES or NO or NO OPINION

Mackinnon: Ultimately, citizens must have the right to determine the level of protection appropriate to their neighborhood or district. Achieving the right balance in terms of the approval thresholds is an issue on which we should seek community consensus.

Brewer: NO

Seidel: NO OPINION (Since in some communities, there isn’t a vote required at all, I am not sure 2/3 or simple majority is necessarily the right question.)

 

Currently an application seeking to demolish a historically significant building that has not been voluntarily listed by its owner on the Winter Park Register receives no extra scrutiny than one for a nonhistoric building. Many Florida cities empower their Historic Preservation Boards to lengthen the waiting period for historically significant buildings so that an alternative to demolition might be sought.  Should Winter Park empower its HPB to delay demolitions for buildings eligible for the National Register?  YES or NO or NO OPINION

Mackinnon: My understanding is that there is a task force or work group currently working on this issue. I would like to see the results of that citizen effort and not preempt it.

Brewer: YES

Seidel: YES

SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS (Please limit your answer to each question to no more than 175 words):

Historic Preservation is more than just saving individual buildings. It is about preserving authentic places, including entire neighborhoods and commercial districts. Many cities use historic preservation as an economic development tool – to create a unique sense of place which is marketable and can attract people to invest, live and work in a place with character and a past. If elected mayor or commissioner, how would you integrate historic preservation into your economic development strategy for the city?

Mackinnon

Mackinnon

Mackinnon: I would look at what other cities have done and apply best practices from communities around the country. There will be broader public support for historic preservation if citizens understand that historic structures and districts add value to a community. I would also engage the public and conduct educational forums on the issues. The question has been framed too narrowly at this point (as “property rights” versus “historic preservation”) to attract wide support.

Brewer:  The historic character of Winter Park is an important element of what attracts people who wish to make this community their home. I believe the City can provide incentives through ad valorem tax credits and develop design guidelines to encourage property owners to preserve important structures and neighborhoods. It has to start with clearly articulating what and why a structure or neighborhood deserves preservation.

Seidel: Historical preservation can be an effective economic development tool, if highlighted in city general promotional (and tourism) material, or via celebrations (eg historical homes days, walking tours with educational brochures, etc), signage (via public works or a CRA). The recent designation of the Maitland Art Center as the only National Historic Landmark in the metro area is likely to attract more out-of-area visitors, and collaboration with Maitland should be a priority, as the Museum is investing heavily to attract new visitors that are specifically interested in historical sites.

  

A 2001 survey identified 145 structures in Winter Park as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Since that time, 13 of these structures have been demolished by their owners.  Of the 132 remaining historic resources eligible for National Register status, only 18, or fewer than 14%, are protected from demolition by the Winter Park Register.   As mayor or commissioner, what would you do to help prevent demolition of historically and architecturally significant buildings?

Mackinnon: I would not “prevent” a private owner from demolishing a building if he/she chose to, and would rather encourage a process that is proactive rather than reactive.

Brewer:  Although I appreciate the historic nature of a structure or place and encourage its preservation, the determination to preserve a historic structure must be initiated and sustained by the property owner. I don’t believe the city, state or federal government can or should prevent demolition of any structure unless the government chooses to purchase it.

Seidel: With the caveat that I would need input from the City Attorney as to how much leeway the Mayor or Commission have, as elected officials, we have the ability to educate property owners and their neighbors about the values of historic preservation in terms of community sense of place, civic pride, and increased property values.  As well, educating the public to correct misinformation that many have with regards to restrictions on private property rights under a preservation scenario needs to accompany an effort to increase consideration of historic preservation.  City staff may have already, but if not, could determine if there are other districts that qualify; as with any action perceived to affect private property rights, it may be better to approach en masse, than as individual properties. The Visioning process currently underway by the City is likely to enlighten the Commission on how Winter Parkers feel about historic preservation.

What should the city do to incentivize owners of historic structures to list their properties on the Winter Park Register? What, if any, incentives would you push for as mayor or commissioner?

Seidel

Seidel

Mackinnon: Currently, a group is examining a wide range of possible incentives, and I will support looking around the country for best practices that have produced meaningful preservation efforts.

Brewer: I stated earlier, I would certainly consider an incentive of ad valorem tax credit while the structure is preserved.

Seidel:  With the caveat, again, that I am not expert on what may have already been investigated in this area, there are a multitude of incentives that could be considered.  A question I would have is what steps have been taken to consider any of the approaches that the Bland & Associates report identified in comparison cities.  I was particularly intrigued by the Coral Gables approach of using Transferable Development Rights (TDR) in exchange for historic preservation of rehabilitation. Imagine the tradeoffs of increasing development potential at an underutilized site like the K-mart Plaza and at the same time gaining a restored historical home.  I would need to be better educated on this topic before outlining specific incentives I could push for, but I am aware of many options. Property tax incentives,  increased utility rebates, technical and capital assistance for exterior work, improved or prioritized landscaping on city ROW adjoining historic districts,  and quasi-independent historic trusts are all options, but I am not well-versed enough in this topic to know if any of these are optimal for Winter Park.  I recognize the value of incentives in achieving City goals, and I recognize the value in preserving historical structures. 

 What are your thoughts on the increasing density of Winter Park’s historic West Side and the erosion of single-family neighborhoods there? Do you believe the City Commission and/or the P&Z board should act to curb this trend? If so, how?

Brewer

Brewer

 Mackinnon: I am firmly opposed to increasing density and further eroding the residential nature of the West Side. That neighborhood was platted in the 1880s. I recognize the West Side as historically significant and a community asset. A developer should not be permitted to buy up several single family homes, combine the lots and build a mega-structure with increased density. We do not permit that in other parts of the City. Why would we permit that on the West Side?

Brewer: I believe in an economically diverse community with a focus on neighborhoods with housing options at all income strata. In the 1980’s the CRA addressed many issues improving the quality of life and enhancing property values within the CRA. Before this time zoning in this neighborhood was nearly non-existent. The comprehensive plan and zoning will protect the residential character of this neighborhood.

SeidelI believe we need to protect the community that exists in West Winter Park.  My family personally knows West Winter Park families that are multi-generational in their Winter Park lineage, but lack the fiscal resources to compete with market forces.  I would hope their kids that are growing up with our kids have the opportunity to raise the next generation in their neighborhood if they wish. At the same time, there is a fair amount of what would be considered inferior housing there, and as the properties redevelop, investors obviously want to optimize their return.  I am confident that as a City we can identify ways to preserve this neighborhood without repelling investment.  Assistance with exterior renovations through tax credits may address one half of this equation, while more serious consideration of TDR’s may help address the investor side. Investors will develop where they perceive the maximum return is possible, and this activity can be directed toward areas where the City would like to encourage density with proper incentives.   Overall, I think the City needs a plan, if we expect the West Winter Park neighborhood to survive and thrive. 

 

 

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995 Lincoln: A Christmas Gift for Winter Park

By: Betsy Owens

I have a confession to make:  Last week I promised a blog on the expert rehabilitation of a wonderful, Spanish-style James Gamble Rogers home on Palmer Avenue.  This is a column on the expert rehabilitation of a wonderful, Spanish-style home on Palmer Avenue that is most likely not a James Gamble Rogers house.  At least Bill and Beth Neidlinger, the owners, don’t think it is.

But in my own defense, the house just feels like a Gamble Rogers house.  The way it nestles into the lot, its sense of human scale, the fact that it’s a 3,400 square foot house that reads like 2,400, the way that the house envelops you when you walk inside.

In fact, it was these hallmarks of good design that the Neidlingers were able to discern, back in early 2013, even though prior owners had made choices that masqueraded its beauty.  “Let’s just say it needed a lot of work,” said Bill.

And how.  While the original, 1949 house had been a simple ranch built of half block, red oak floors, and high-grade dimensional lumber, subsequent owners had added their own ill-conceived design touches with questionable tile, plaster, ceiling, window and fixture choices. Strange architectural features had been added, such as a half-window abutment covered by a pitched eave and a massive, 6-foot retaining wall that obscured the house from the road.  Because the house had been in foreclosure, the bank had Scotch-taped in the bottom-of-the-line Home Depot cabinets and plumbing fixtures, in order to unload it. The backyard pool had become a breeding ground for tree frogs, whose population had reached plague-proportions.  Think I’m exaggerating? See for yourself:

Window seat?

A very strage window seat & vinyl windows.

The wall

The wall

Those yellow things? Frogs.

Those yellow things? Frogs.

Someone with less vision (or, Beth would argue, more sanity) would’ve torn it down.  Not so the Neidlingers.  “We wouldn’t have considered demolition,” said Bill.  “Oh, it was too good to knock down.  The house had great bones. Plus, the historic homes, the arts and culture—this is why we moved to Winter Park.”  They chose the city over Charleston, Savannah, Sarasota, and Fairhope (AL) when they retired here from Atlanta 7 years ago.

Their first step was to hire architect Steve Feller, contractor Rich Searl, and landscape architect  Bob Heath to oversee a 10-month rehab that included every room and every corner of the yard.  “These guys understood that in rehabbing a single-floor home on a large, lovely lot, we were doing the antithesis of what everyone else is doing these days.”   Indeed, defying the trend to ‘build as large a house as you can possibly afford,’ the Neidlingers chose quality over quantity.

While they essentially stripped the house to the studs, they did nothing to change the envelope of the house, save enclosing one patio.  These photos show just how extensive the renovation was:

Yikes.

Anyone know a good electrician?

Lots of work to be done

Stripping away the not-so-great

IMG_1427

Fireplace: before

IMG_1369

IMG_1733

Pre-plaster & millwork

Starting to see progress!

Starting to see progress!

The new porte-cochere

The new porte-cochere

Authenticity and craftsmanship were the watchwords of the renovation.  The genuine barrel tile roof was applied the old-fashioned way, with mortar seeping out between the tiles.  “We stole that from Casa Feliz,” chuckles Bill.  The woodwork is magnificent in its beauty and simplicity. And who knew plaster could be this stunning? The stippled plaster walls are a work of art.  Beth repurposed what she could—removing the front wrought-iron gate, refurbishing it, and hanging it as a trellis in the back yard. “I save everything old I can save,” says Beth. “I have a hard time spending money on new anything.”

As you can see, the finished product is a dream of a house, and the perfect backdrop to their antique furniture.   And, amazingly, though the house is essentially brand new inside, it feels like you’re stepping back in time when you cross the threshold. During my visit, I didn’t spot a single big screen TV or Jacuzzi tub to remind me that I wasn’t in a home from the 1940s.

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

IMG_1330

Hard to believe the entryway isn’t original.

Porte-cochere complete

Porte-cochere complete

Look closely: can you see the seeping mortar?

Refurbished lap pool

Refurbished lap pool & repurposed garden gate

Living room

Living room

Dining room

Dining room

Gorgeous plaster & millwork

Gorgeous plaster & millwork

Kitchen

Kitchen

Beth & Bill Neidlinger

Beth & Bill Neidlinger

The Neidlingers credit the team of professionals with how the house turned out, but it is their nature to deflect credit.  In truth, Feller, Searl and Heath brilliantly translated the Neidlingers’ vision.  It’s hard to imagine more genuine, humble folks.  Retired from their jobs in retail and education, they are thrilled to finally be in their new home, particularly because it boasts not one but two gorgeous guest rooms.  About the closest Bill gets to bragging is to proclaim “we are rich in relationships!”  He’s not kidding.  They’ve been in the house 9 weeks and are about to host their 8th visitors.

What’s the moral of this story?

Like the Neidlingers, homebuyers should have some imagination before deciding to raze an old ranch house, which are plentiful in Winter Park.  Environmental implications aside, chances are that whatever new house is built to replace the old one will be of lower quality, be too large for the lot, and won’t blend well with the neighborhood.  In other words, consult with a good architect before calling the demolition company.

In this season of giving, Bill and Beth Neidlinger have presented a gift to Winter Park.  If, as Thomas Jefferson said, architecture is the most public form of art, then the Neidlingers have restored a Rembrandt to the gallery of Palmer Avenue. Let’s hope others follow their example.

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