Tag Archives: Architecture

2017 Winter Park Historic Preservation Awards

CWP_4626On May 10, the City of Winter Park recognized individuals and community cornerstones that have greatly contributed to the state of Historic Preservation in the city. Genean McKinnon, Winter Park Historic Preservation board member, was the master of ceremonies. Her opening remarks included a statement that reminded attendees that,  “Historic homes and buildings are more than vintage architecture and building materials. They are reminders of the people who have lived and labored in them, and their contributions to the community.” Her aim, a belief strongly held by the staff and board of Casa Feliz, was to remind attendees of the human connections throughout the places and institutions discussed. Five awards were handed out during the course of the afternoon, highlighting homes, civic buildings, private clubs, and individuals.

Exceptional Individual: Frank Roark
Although last to be recognized in the ceremony, Frank Roark is first and foremost in the hearts of the Friends of Casa Feliz. He continues to put forth an invaluable amount of time and work towards preserving and maintaining Casa Feliz. Frank specializes in historic restoration and complex preservation projects. His understanding and technical ability have benefitted the community beyond the restoration of Casa Feliz. He helped orchestrate the move of the Showalter-Capen house across lake Osceola to the Albin Polasek Museum property, completed the recent renovation of the Winter Park Woman’s Club, oversaw the restoration of the Barbour Apartments, and directed the placement of the cupola at the First Congregational Church of Winter Park, just to name a few.



Excellence in Residential Renovation: The Geer-Van den Berg House, 138 Detmar Drive
Former Casa Feliz board member Stacey and her husband Rob Panepinto received this award for the renovations to their residence. The home, the Geer-Van den Berg house, is considered the second oldest home in Winter Park. It was built in built in the early 1880s by Dr. Geer, one of the area’s first physicians. The site was purchased in 1876 from Wilson Phelps, and thus, the charming Victorian cottage overlooking Lake Mizell was created. Today, the house’s Victorian charm has not been lost and the house remains one of the finest examples of this style in Winter Park.

The unique historic home has undergone several additions and modifications by the Van den Berg family in the 1970s and the Capper family in the early 2000s. It was the Capper family who added the major additions now seen from Detmar Drive. In 2011 the Panepintos purchased the property and have been active in its preservation ever since. They opened up the house to the public in 2016 for the James Gamble Rogers Colloquium historic home tour.

Excellence in Residential Renovation: The Maher House, 616 Seminole Drive
Two awards for Excellence in Residential Renovation were awarded, and the second recipients were Michael and Diane Maher. The original brick home was built in 1925 on a large double lot on Seminole Drive in a Tudor Revival style that was a copy of the owner’s Michigan home. In 1980 James Gamble Rogers II constructed an additional Great Room. In order to preserve the character of the home, each subsequent addition and renovations have been made in proportion and scale to the original. During the ceremony, Ms. McKinnon relayed an anecdote in which former homeowner Fred Rogers had been spotted from the driveway and invited into the home for a tour by Ms. Maher.

Excellence in Commercial Renovation: Woman’s Club of Winter Park
The next award was granted to the Woman’s Club of Winter Park and accepted by club President, Ms. Cynthia Gerken. The club was founded in 1915 and two years later they received a land donation from Charles Hosmer Morse. In 1921 the club built a Neoclassical Revival Style building designed by L. Percival Hutton. It was the first clubhouse built by any local organization; and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Recently, the Woman’s Club refurbished interior spaces including the main meeting room, stage, office, restrooms, bride’s room, and support spaces. Frank Roark was the general contractor. The craftsmanship and care put into the renovations are the reasons this building and the organization that supports it received the award.

Excellence in Adaptive Reuse: OCPS Winter Park Ninth Grade Center
The award for Adaptive Reuse was given to Orange County Public School’s Winter Park Ninth Grade Center and accepted by Ms. Joie Cadle. Originally built as Winter Park High School’s administrative offices in 1923, the space now houses classrooms. The adjacent gymnasium was designed by Casa Feliz’s architect, James Gamble Rogers II. The Mediterranean Revival style buildings underwent restorations in 2014. This structure was chosen because the manner in which it was renovated helped to maintain the history of Huntington Avenue and the far edge of College Quarter Historic District. The decision to maintain the small decorative details and historic elements on the exterior will provide the next generations with an invaluable sense of history.

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A Farewell to (the College) Arms


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

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


500 N. Interlachen

500 N. Interlachen


The Gary-Morgan House


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

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

The building was privately owned until 1969, when Rollins purchased it to expand housing options for students. Until that time the building even had a small backyard pool and nursery. Rollins Vice President John Tiedtke had an office on the first floor of the building from 1973 until his death in 2004; Campus Safety was also briefly located there.  For a time, the upstairs units housed a program called “Holt House,” a group of male and female students who created their own curriculum.
college arms6 (2)

As we go to press, the building is being demolished to make way for a new campus Child Development Center.  The College has taken care to preserve the decorative medallions like the one at left, which have been removed from the building.







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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


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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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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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:


Anyone know a good electrician?

Lots of work to be done

Stripping away the not-so-great


Fireplace: before



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.




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



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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Golden Eggs in an Unguarded Nest: Vulnerable Downtown Winter Park

Historic preservation made the news again recently in Winter Park, when the board charged with overseeing the city’s historic architectural assets voted 5-2 to deny the Grant Chapel’s application for “Historic Resource” status.

The arguments for and against the application presented an interesting case study in historic preservation theory—what is the tipping point when a building’s character becomes so compromised that it ceases to be historic? But the discussion failed to acknowledge the bigger issue for Winter Park, which is how very vulnerable the majority of our iconic historic buildings are to demolition or architecturally ill-conceived alterations.

Heaven on Wheels:

Grant Chapel was built on Winter Park’s West Side in 1935, and served as a house of worship for the predominantly African American population there for almost 70 years.  When the congregation outgrew its location, it was purchased by developer Dan Bellows, who saw the development potential of its prime Hannibal Square location.  For the past few years, Bellows has rented the property to Suzanne and Steve Graffham, who operate it as the “Winter Park Wedding Chapel,” primarily for destination weddings.

In October of last year, Bellows struck a deal with the City of Winter Park, and made plans to move the chapel to its current location, at the Corner of Lyman and New England, across from the Winter Park Farmer’s Market.  Many citizens expressed gratitude that Bellows was moving the chapel rather than demolishing it, although traditionalists complained that yet another of Winter Park’s historic structures was having to move to escape the wrecking ball. The City’s preservation strategy sometimes appears to be ‘Move it or lose it.’

The deal specified that the new location for the Chapel would be re-zoned commercial if Bellows agreed to list the Chapel on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, ostensibly protecting the structure from future hi-jinx.

After its December move (eclipsed somewhat by the dramatic maritime Capen House move), the chapel was remodeled to include the addition of a basement, with two staircases descending from the front façade.  The new location features fairly elaborate hardscaping, in contrast to the humble, leafy lot where the chapel once resided.  Here are the before-and-afters:

Before the move, New England Avenue

Before the move, New England Avenue


After the move, Lyman and New York

After the move, Lyman and New York

At the August meeting, it was apparent that these changes did not sit well with the HPB. The members who voted against designating the chapel as an historic resource argued that the front façade had been too dramatically altered with the addition of the basement, and that the building’s repositioning as a ‘faux gateway’ to the West Side took it out of its historical neighborhood context.

The staff report (see pgs. 6 and following of : http://cityofwinterpark.org/docs/government/boards/agendas/HPB_agd_2014-08-13.pdf) acknowledged these changes, but recommended that the chapel be designated nonetheless, given that its significance primarily derives from the building’s historic use and not its architectural integrity.  Several HPB members also expressed annoyance that the board had not been consulted before the structural changes were approved by city planning, and that it was a foregone conclusion that the building would be designated despite such extensive alterations.

“I was shocked to see all the changes,” remarked board chairman Randall Glidden, who voted against designation.

“I resent being put between a rock and a hard place,” complained board member Candace Chemtob, who also voted to deny historic status. “I’m kind of shocked this is coming to us after such huge alternations have been made.”

Board member Genean McKinnon expressed dismay that the planning department was aware of the changes that were being made, but didn’t inform the HPB until they were faits accompli, although she ultimately voted in favor of the designation. McKinnon agreed with staff that the building, even in its altered state, is better off protected than not.

Board members are justified in their frustration with the dramatic changes made to a historic structure, and that there were loopholes in the agreement Bellows struck with the city wide enough to drive a bulldozer through.  The agreement stated:

The owner agrees that on completion of the move, the Property and Grant Chapel Church Building shall be listed as a historic landmark property, and governed by Chapter 58, Land Development Code and the Winter Park Historic Preservation Commission. As such, the owner will not demolish or alter the Grant Chapel Church building structure in architectural style or integrity without the consent of the City.

But here are the ambiguities: should the City have had the right to put the kibosh on the basement addition, or was it OK for Bellows to add it since the chapel wasn’t yet officially on the Register? And does “consent of the City” mean the HPB or just the city planning department?  Because we all know that in Winter Park, until a structure has been voluntarily listed by its owner on the historic register (and apparently, the ink is dry), the HPB and city are legally powerless to protect a historic building from incompatible remodeling or demolition.

The Bigger Picture:

The Grant Chapel case shines a bright light on other historic treasures in Winter Park, indeed buildings on which the city’s reputation as “charming, historic Winter Park” rests, that are completely vulnerable to the whim of the property owner.

Did you know that while downtown Winter Park is a National Register Historic District, there are zero—count ‘em, ZERO—buildings in the ‘shopping district’ of Park Avenue that are on the Local Winter Park Register?   And though it seems counterintuitive, it’s the LOCAL register, not the National, that provides a building protection from alteration or demolition.

Greeneda Court

Greeneda Court

Consider Gamble Rogers’ celebrated Greeneda Court.  It’s not unfathomable that a developer might one day conclude that an open courtyard on Park Avenue doesn’t generate any cash flow and fill it in.  The 1882 Ergood Building (now Penzey’s), the Union State Bank Building (now Peterbrooke), the Pioneer Store (now Be on Park) and the Hamilton Hotel (now the Park Plaza) are protected from ruin only by the goodwill of their owners.  Which is to say, they’re one bad sale away from serious peril.

There’s not a single structure on the Rollins campus on the Winter Park Register. Are the Knowles Chapel and Annie Russell Theater on the Rollins campus safe?  One would think so.  Yet the college’s decision to raze gracious Strong Hall, designed by the celebrated architectural firm of Kiehnel and Elliott in 1939, to build a new, larger dormitory in 2013 does not bespeak a sensitivity to history, even though the Rollins website claims that the replacement dorm “has been designed in the Edison (sic) Misener (sic) tradition.”  See this interesting report of the original building’s dedication in 1939 by then-President Hamilton Holt: http://archives.rollins.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/archland/id/643/rec/9.

Strong Hall how it was

Strong Hall how it was

Strong Hall today

Strong Hall today

The equally beautiful Corrin Hall suffered a similar fate.  So, while buildings like the Knowles and the Annie might be considered sacrosanct, if I were Mills Memorial Library or the College Arms, I’d make sure my affairs were in order.

Not to spread hysteria, but Central Park is equally unprotected.  Is it ludicrous that the City would allow something to threaten what is by any objective measure, the most valuable historic resource in the city?  Any skeptics should see:  Hotels, Carlisle.

Yet any of these eventualities could be avoided if the City had the foresight to do what scores of other cities in Florida have done: to designate the contributing structures in the downtown central business district, and even on the Rollins campus, as historic on the local register, with or without the permission of the property owner.  Is this heresy?  A violation of our inalienable freedoms?  If so, then Palm Beach, Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, Tampa, and Coral Gables, just to name a few, are under the rule of totalitarian regimes.

Winter Park – both the politicians and property owners—may not have the stomach for designating an historic commercial district if the property owners don’t desire it. But if this is the case, we can’t be ‘shocked’ when a property owner compromises a treasured building’s historic design to increase profitability.  What’s more, we better have the stomach to tell our grandchildren that downtown Winter Park used to be a place with a lot of historic charm.


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Finding the “Real” in Winter Park Real Estate

One of my favorite features in the magazine “The Week” is a roundup of what houses are selling for around the country.  It’s amazing what $400,000 will buy in Knoxville, Tennessee—and what it won’t buy in San Francisco.

For this summer installment of our blog, we present our own real estate roundup,  Preservation Winter Park-style.   Even in 32789, one of Central Florida’s most expensive zip codes, there’s something for just about every price range in the historic home market.  Here’s what we found when looking for historic authenticity and quality in our fair city:

Price Range: <$200K

park aire front

Did you know you could afford a Park Avenue condo for under $200K?  Not only that, but one in a totally hip Art Moderne building that will make you want to mix up a Manhattan and put Dean Martin on the Hi-Fi.  The Park Aire, the nifty pink building next door to Casa Feliz, was built in 1956 as Winter Park’s first co-op.  “Completely air conditioned!” crowed the ad in the Winter Park Herald. Flash forward to 2014, this $188,500 condo is perfect for the empty nester who wants to downsize and simplify, or the snowbird looking for a stylish pied-a-terre.   Yeah, at only 539 sq. feet, it’s tiny, but the time you’ll save cleaning house you can spend shopping or dining on Park Avenue, or playing golf on the Winter Park municipal course, right outside your doorstep.

park aire living


Price Range: <$500K


You’ve probably driven past this cute bungalow on Holt Avenue in the College Quarter, and not paid that much attention.  I almost didn’t include it here because I think the price is high ($469,000) for a small house on a busy street.  And although the real estate listing says the house is 1,600 sq. ft., it seems smaller in person.  All that said, though, this house exudes historic charm from every pore, and it’s right smack dab in the middle of the action in downtown Winter Park.   Yes, it’s been updated, but impeccably, and very much in keeping with the era of the house;  the kitchen is gorgeous, and the master bath put my charm-meter on the fritz. The wood floors and plaster walls are original and pristine.  After all, with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, and real estate’s 3 Ls in spades, how much more could you want for under $500K?

holtkitchen holtlivingroomholtbath


Price Range: <$700K



A few years back, our Colloquium featured the design/build team of Sorenson & Fletcher, who provided high-quality, affordable housing for Winter Park’s expanding baby boomer population.  And while this $629,000 S & F house in Winter Park’s “tree streets” isn’t cheap, it’s in one of 32789’s top school districts and you can bike to Park Avenue.  What’s more, the house has been tastefully updated through the years to meet today’s lifestyle needs while retaining its Bauhaus flavor.  Too many of these gems have been bulldozed to make way for McMansions with zero design integrity.  If you think midcentury architecture should look like it was built in the 60s, with its original Terrazzo kitchen floors and mosaic tile fireplace, this house is the real McCoy.  Come look inside—


chestnut pool


Are you drooling?  Me too! Meetcha down at the Beef & Bottle for some Chateaubriand!

Price Range:  Cha-ching

osceola frontBut wait—historic home lovers, you have not yet begun to salivate.  Come with me a few decades further back, to 1930, when this house was built for the Sinclair Oil Family.  It then passed to the Showalter family in the mid 50s.  Additions have been made  through the years (including, Bob Showalter remembers, a bomb shelter his dad built after the Cuban Missile Crisis), but the new blends effortlessly with the old.  Indeed, from its Mexican tile floors to its pecky cypress ceilings, everything about this 5 bedroom, 3.5 bath Spanish style house screams “¡Autenticidad!”   (Okay, smart aleck, except for the ginormous master bath with a sinkhole-size soaking tub, but we’ll overlook that concession to modernity).  Seriously, you couldn’t build a house with this quality design and craftsmanship, on Lake Osceola no less, for $2.9 million.  By that standard, this house is a steal.osceola door

osceola living osceola family osceola entry


We  hope you enjoyed our midsummer dream house-hunting.  And remember, next time you’re really in the market for a house, type in “1965” in the “Built Before” search box.  That’s where you’ll find the good stuff.


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Addressing Windows

“The eyes are the window to the soul” — old English proverb

by Richard T. Reep, AIA, LEED-AP

Winding down the bumpety brick streets of old Winter Park is a voyage through time, where historic brick and wood frame homes from the city’s early days coexist with opulent mansions built more recently.  And while it’s not unusual to see two homes, side by side, built in the same architectural style but 80 years apart, it’s usually easy to tell the old from the new–but why?  What makes a new home look new, and an old home look old, is a fascinating journey through lifestyle changes and construction techniques, and once you begin on this journey, you start to appreciate and love the older homes more and more, and crave their simplicity of taste.  One of the easiest ways to see the story of a house is in its windows, and after looking closely at older homes’ windows, you will never see a new home in the same light again.

As stated in a previous essay, the difference between newer structures and older ones is the way the home expresses the act of dwelling. It is a home’s myriad little details–its accretions and additions over time, its way of settling into its landscape—that show us how humans come together and dwell.  Particularly expressive are a house’s windows and doors, which define the special relationship between the interior of the house and what lies outside.  Windows personalize a home, give it character, and act as the unofficial “eyes” of the owner.windows4

In Winter Park’s earliest days, the 1880s, windows were often milled on site using wood available from upriver in Georgia or other places easily accessible by train or by boat.  Windows were frequently custom-sized, many of them odd dimensions with trim or detailing that reflected the habits and skills of the craftsmen who made them.  As such, windows became little showpieces, where joinery and tight-fitting material were key aspects; they were sized in proportion to their walls.

windows5The windows were carefully fitted together and operated by crank handles (casement) or, if they were wood, were double-hung. These were early machines put in houses. The tops slid down on pulleys, with ropes tied to counterweights in the window jambs, letting the rising hot air out of the room.  Or, the bottoms slide open, so a pie could cool on the window sill or a breeze could blow through.

In older masonry homes, like Casa Feliz, the window is set back from the face of the wall.  You see the ends of the bricks lined up at the window jamb; the brick arches over the top carrying the weight of the wall over the opening.  These are craftsman details, and were done with great care, because the window’s job – to let sunlight in, and to provide a view out – competed with the wall’s job, which was to hold the house up and to keep water out.  The window is where all this comes together.

In a wood home, like many old bungalows around town, the wall isn’t as thick as in a masonry home, but the windows are similarly set back.  The shadow line was just enough to help cut the heat from the house, and windows also had many accoutrements – awnings, shutters, and other shade devices to keep the sun out.  Today’s homes have few, if any of these accoutrements, and the windows seem to be stretched tightly across the skin of the house.  They are not set back at all, even a little bit!  You can easily tell a newer home by this detail.

Older windows had much smaller panes of glass, while newer windows – mass produced, shrinkwrapped, and shipped – have much larger panes of glass.  And the whole idea of an operable window seems to have vanished, with many new homes having windows that don’t open at all.  Gone with the casements and sliding mechanisms are the trim pieces that framed the window, giving it importance and place.  If a stucco crew has the time, they may add a thickened band around the window, as a nod to the craftsmen of old.  This just makes a window look cheap, and it looks even cheaper when tiny, thin strips of metal are glued onto the glass.  These faux window muntins read as ‘cartoonish,’ not ‘historic.windows2

Windows flush with the skin of the wall, huge panes of glass that are never opened, unshaded and unprotected from the elements, mere voids…any or all of these characteristics are clues to the age of a home, and the more of this, the less the house says “dwelling”.  If you have an eye for historical architecture, these are painful to see, even if they serve their function.  While old windows universally express view through their details, these new windows can express a certain blindness to craftsmanship and quality.

Building techniques have changed, forcing windows into modular dimensions and having simpler mechanisms.  Often the frames themselves are now made out of vinyl, a triumph of petrochemical engineering.  And they are forced out to the very outside face of the house, so they can be put on in a certain sequence with waterproofing.

Most of all, windows have been freed from their ventilatory functions by air conditioning; so in the eyes of the modern builder, the simpler to operate, and the cheaper to install, the better.  The sum of all this is a fundamental change in our lifestyle; we live in tight, climate-controlled boxes, demanding million-dollar views, but not participating in the civic realm that allows these great views to occur.

This would all be fine, if windows were truly liberated from the drudgery of counterweights, the small glassmakers’ furnaces, rust and rot and all their old ills.  If, once freed from these constraints, windows became more beautiful, and more integrated into their homes, then all of these changes would be blessings.  But, alas, they too often fail to provide any sense of dwelling at all, and instead they bring a new home down.  On big homes, windows are too often a place to save money; and they diminish a structure’s design and its taste.

windows3So, if you are cruising Winter Park and looking at newer homes, learn from the old homes what a window really is.  If you are a homeowner contemplating windows, insist upon windows that are sized in proportion to the overall design of the house, not just the view that you might want to show off.  Insist upon windows that are manufactured with some quality to them, that fit into the wall, not just mount on the face like a band-aid.  Insist that the craftsmen who finish the wall around the window do so with thought about how to protect the opening – shutters, a lintel, or trim that has meaning and design to it, not just another empty stucco band.  And let your window itself join the respectable collection of many windows here in historic Winter Park, where you have chosen to dwell.

Richard Reep is a board member of the Friends of Casa Feliz, the President of the Orlando Foundation for Architecture, and an Adjunct Professor, Growth Studies Department, Rollins College.

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OK: I’ve got One Paladian window, Four Corinthian columns; Do you want a hot apple pie with that?

mount vernon1By Richard T. Reep, AIA, LEED-AP

In America, a house has always spoken volumes about its inhabitant.  Home as status symbol is a time-honored tradition: when George Washington remodeled Mount Vernon over 225 years ago, he carefully chose a neoclassical design style that expressed his growing status as a military and political leader amongst his people.  Unfortunately, today’s houses are built in an era that values skin-deep appearances; features such as stone veneer and fiberglass columns are added as if selected from a fast-food menu, but lack the design depth or quality construction to stand the test of time.

Increasingly in Winter Park, these veneer and fiberglass mansions are eclipsing authentic historic homes, and the community suffers as a result.  There are plenty of places in Central Florida that welcome fast-food box houses, flashy on the outside but not designed to last, which is fine for neighborhoods outside of Winter Park’s historical areas. Indeed, houses fitting into historic communities should be lasting and complimentary to their surroundings; in the meantime, houses that are already here and contribute to the character of the town should be honored for the whole public good.

George Washington’s case is an interesting one.  Like many of today’s homebuilders, Washington, lacking formal architectural training, used plan books, patterns and styles that were trendy among his peers, and he relied heavily on his contractor for the design details.    Yet he also used the traditional house that his father built as the basis for design, carefully integrating the old with the new.  And unlike the disposable homes of today, Mount Vernon has passed the test of time for function, endurance, and beauty.  This is the first in an occasional series of essays that are meant to examine these qualities and how they are expressed in a home, and to share some of the reasons that older homes should be respected and integrated into our lives, rather than be discarded like fast food wrappers.

Supersize me

Supersize me

McMansions, those huge homes built upon small lots out in the exurbs, began springing up in the older urban cores of our cities in the 1980s.  People who wanted big homes fast also wanted to see their property appreciate, and could see that this was happening faster in town than it was on the periphery.  Small lots were purchased and combined into one so a home could be fit onto them…and when this didn’t work, a home was squeezed onto a narrow lot anyway!

The delight of living in a place like Winter Park is to see its history through its architecture.  The materials available in the early days either came in by train, or were made out of lumber nearby.  The earliest settlers dealt with the hot, humid climate by building wood houses, open and airy, allowing natural ventilation to do its job, with deep, wrap-around porches to shade the windows.  Thick-walled Spanish style homes, favored by affluent newcomers, are more suited to an arid climate like Spain, soaking up the sun during the day and giving off heat at night, when the air cools down.

These two styles used local materials but always kept their windows to a minimum – just enough to let in the bright sunlight, not enough to let in the rain.  Plenty of land between homes assured a breeze coming through, and kept neighbors – remember, without air conditioning, the windows were open much of the year – from overhearing too much.  Overall, the homes were hand-built by craftsmen who milled much of the lumber on site, and who situated the home to take advantage of the breezes, the shade, and the view.

These older homes, after several generations develop a patina and are imbued with what many call a “sense of place.”  This can only be achieved over time, and goes beyond character to what the Germans call “stimmung”, meaning a certain atmosphere around a house.  A house’s stimmung comes from its orientation, the shape of the spaces around it, the home’s materials and colors and how it fits into the land.  All of this requires space and time and patience to come into existence.

Stimmung to spare

Stimmung to spare

To achieve this sense of character or atmosphere, a house must be well-built to begin with, and be continuously occupied, with each generation loving the house enough to respect its quirks and idiosyncracies and foibles, molding it and shaping it to fit evolving lifestyles without losing the original character.  In this way, people come to gather at a house, and turn it into a home; this is what is meant by the verb “to dwell”, and this almost magical transformation is evident in a number of older Winter Park homes.  The fact that it has happened in so many parts of Winter Park makes this place special, and it lifts all of our spirits to live here and partake of this stimmung.  This is why, in this town, historic preservation is critical, so that we maintain our ability to dwell between the pretty lakes and under the grand trees that brought our ancestors here in the beginning.

And into this sense of place comes new people, continuously, who are attracted by the beautiful aspects of the town, but who have yet to discover this magical sense of dwelling.  It takes time to discover, just as it took time to create; and in our contemporary, high-speed lifestyle, time is a highly precious commodity.  If newcomers do give themselves the time, they almost always learn to love the nuances and oddities as well as the grand parts of the town, and they learn to slow down – and get to the essence of the place, its stimmung.

parker houseWhere people have lost this sense of dwelling, you can almost always find a rapidly-developed subdivision filled with McMansions.  These tend to be large on their lots, and to have showy front facades that feature details and materials that have nothing to do with Winter Park, its history, character, climate, or anything but a builder’s plan book. In older homes, windows were placed on facades with care, and when you have viewed many old homes, a rhythm and sense of proportion arises from the window patterns, their sizes and placement on the walls.  Older homes were built by practical craftsmen, so materials like stone – weighty, massive, and good in compression – were used to hold things up, like the white masonry base on the Virginia Heights house to the left.  Homebuilders were often good carpenters, so the roofline and rafters were exquisitely carved, expressing lightness and beauty.  Thus the early bungalows and lap-siding homes had a grace and elegance about them, and a street with several of these exudes a very strong stimmung.

All of this is very, very far from the hamburger box that we started with…and for darn good reason.  These houses aren’t throwaway structures–they come from an era when architecture mattered.  And people have come to love Winter Park precisely because of this fact.  They don’t come here because we have less traffic, or lower taxes, or cheaper lots, or faster food.

People who buy houses and lots here do so because, even though they might not initially realize it, they are attracted by the sense of place that has been created here over the last century and a half.  It might take a while for that deeper understanding to be revealed.  And that’s OK, we have patience…as long as the newcomers also have patience with Winter Park, as well.  That way, we all benefit, and preserve this special sense of place for the public good, as well as for future generations.

Richard Reep is a board member of the Friends of Casa Feliz, the President of the Orlando Foundation for Architecture, and an Adjunct Professor, Growth Studies Department, Rollins College.

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Why Historic Preservation Needs Government: the free market can’t do it all

In discussions on historic preservation, it’s common to hear someone say, “I love architecture and history, and think it should be preserved. But it’s not the role of government.  Historic preservation is best left to the private sector.”   Some take it a step further.  Recently, the Orlando Sentinel published an editorial by Dan Peterson, executive director of the Coalition for Property Rights.  In his editorial Peterson states, “A municipal government telling an owner he has no right to demolish a standing structure in order to build a new one is dictatorial and, in fact, unlawful.”

Indeed, there have been fine examples both locally and internationally of the private sector’s providing solutions for threatened historic properties.   Did you know that Mount Vernon isn’t owned by the federal government?

Mount Vernon: pre-restoration

Mount Vernon: pre-restoration

In 1853, Ann Pamela Cunningham formed the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association to purchase George Washington’s family homestead and rescue it from decrepitude, thus launching the first major historic preservation project in the United States.  The Association operates the home museum to this day.  Closer to home, the Friends of Casa Feliz formed in 2000 to save Gamble Rogers’ masterwork, when consensus couldn’t be reached for the city to own the project.  The Morse Foundation has painstakingly preserved Osceola Lodge, the 1883 Craftsman style home of city pioneer Charles Hosmer Morse, without city assistance.

There have been more situations, however, where the private sector was unable or unwilling to intervene, resulting in serious threats to architectural heritage.  In some cases, government has stepped into the breach.  A classic example is Stonehenge—in the 1870s, the monument’s private owner, arguing that “it’s not the slightest use to anyone now,” attempted to sell it to a railway company, when the British government intervened by passing the Ancient Monuments Protection Act.

Penn Station 2

Penn Station: RIP

When government doesn’t come to the rescue of a threatened architectural treasure, people almost invariably wish it had.  Following the 1963 demolition of New York’s Penn Station by the private Pennsylvania Railroad Company, public outcry was such that Congress would ultimately pass the National Historic Preservation Act, which empowered States and municipalities to develop plans to legally protect their historic inventory.  Since the passage of the act in October 1966, cities that value their history have established strong historic preservation ordinances.

While we have a preservation ordinance in Winter Park (enacted in 2003), one need only look at the thin roster of designated homes, coupled with demolition records of the past ten years, to conclude that it doesn’t go far enough to protect the city’s historic assets.  The shortcomings of the ordinance include:

  • An unrealistic threshold for district designation:  In order for a historic district to be formed in the city, the ordinance requires that at least two-thirds of the homeowners in the proposed district vote in favor of its formation.  Two districts have managed to get the votes to form districts—the College Quarter and Virginia Heights East.  Others, though, have fallen short because of this threshold, which far exceeds the requirements of other Florida cities.  West Palm Beach, for example, requires no threshold whatsoever for a neighborhood to be designated, nor should it, according to Friederike Mittner, the city’s historic preservation officer.  “We don’t ask the homeowners’ permission for other zoning ordinances,” she said.  “Historic preservation is just another form of zoning.”  That city has 16 districts designated to date, protecting over 3,500 historic homes from demolition.quote for blog 2
  • Insufficient protection from demolition: If a historic home or building is voluntarily listed by its owner on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, it’s difficult, though not impossible, for a future owner to receive permission to demolish it.   It’s a different story, however, for historic homes or buildings not lucky enough to be owned, or previously owned, by a preservation-minded person.  Specifically, there are  about 700 Winter Park residential and commercial structures on the Florida Master Site File (the state’s official record of historic buildings), yet only about 25% of them are on the Winter Park Register or in a historic district, and thus shielded from demolition.   Thus, if someone were to purchase Gamble Rogers’ Macalaster House,arguably one of the architect’s most acclaimed structures, and raze it, there would be absolutely nothing in the city code to impede the process.  Other precious structures with no protection? The Alabama Hotel.   Rogers’  iconic arte moderne Jewett House.  Sandscove on Via Tuscany. The 1902 George Wright House, the oldest house in the historic Hannibal Square neighborhood, currently being marketed as a tear-down.  The list goes on and on.  

    Macalaster House on Alexander Place

    Macalaster House on Alexander Place

In Sarasota and many other cities that value preservation, it’s not so easy to demolish a historic home, even one not listed on the local register.  Sarasota’s Senior Planner, Dr. Clifford Smith helped draft his city’s ordinance which he says “makes it very difficult to demolish a house on the State Master Site File.”  To knock down a historic home, the owner must demonstrate to the city that he or she has explored every potential option for saving the home, including selling to another buyer, remodeling, and relocation.  If the board is satisfied that these options have been exhausted, they may grant a demolition permit after a waiting period of 120 days.  According to Smith, these regulations make it so difficult to raze a historic home, that in the five years since the policy was written, only a handful of historically significant residences of the 3,500 listed on the Florida Master Site File have been lost.

  • Serious Qualifications for Historic Preservation Board:  If a city takes preservation seriously, its ordinance should outline meaningful qualifications for service on the board that administers its ordinance.  Presumably,  the majority, if not all, of its members should have professional experience in architecture, construction, or history, or have a demonstrated passion for preservation.  In West Palm, for example, the HP ordinance specifies the following about selection of its nine-member board:  “Two members of the full board shall have professional degrees in architecture, at least one of whom shall be a regular member. A minimum of two members shall be chosen from among the disciplines of architecture, history, architectural history, archaeology, landscape architecture or planning. A minimum of two additional members of  the board shall be experienced in the areas of commercial development or real estate, banking or law. Three other members, including the two alternate members, shall be from any of the foregoing professions. Two members shall be citizen members at large. All members shall have demonstrated a special interest, experience or knowledge in historic preservation or related disciplines.”  By contrast, here’s what Winter Park’s ordinance specifies about board members’ qualifications: “Must be a City of Winter Park resident, one of which is an architect.”

There is a role for private citizens and organizations in historic preservation.  But arguing that there’s little place for government in historic preservation is akin to saying that government shouldn’t engage in zoning, or road-building, or park maintenance—that if the private sector values these things, they’ll happen.  We know this not to be the case.  Cities around the country that have been successful in preserving their sense of place have one thing in common:  a strong preservation ordinance enforced by a city government that values its historic resources.  Right now, Winter Park’s Historic Preservation Board has been charged by the City Commission with reviewing the city’s ordinance, and making recommendations to strengthen it.  Let’s hope that ambitious enough changes are proposed by the board—and accepted by the commission—to endow the city with the clout necessary to save our architectural heritage.  Because assuming the free market and a weak ordinance will adequately protect a city’s character and sense of place will, well…you know what they say about assuming.

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