Tag Archives: Demolition

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

11026030_10206441332496631_6236219011266433605_n

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.

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Debunking the Myths of Historic Preservation & Baking Brownies

developerbulldozerhippieOn controversial issues, it’s not unusual—particularly in this internet age of unsigned comments by aliases–to find the public discourse fraught with misinformation and deliberate deception.  Discussions of historic preservation are particularly plagued by hyperbole and scare tactics.  Preservationists are wild eyed sentimentalists who want to rob Americans of their inalienable property rights.  Conversely, developers just want to steamroll everything in the name of the almighty dollar, without regard for history or beauty. In an effort to bring transparency and honesty to the discussion, Preservation Winter Park hereby sets out to debunk the following Top Seven Myths About Historic Preservation (in Winter Park):

“Myth: Winter Park isn’t really that old, so historic preservation is kind of irrelevant.”

Reality check:  Of course, everything is relative, and it would be disingenuous to ascribe to the Winter Park City Hall building the same historic significance as the Pantheon.  Still, by Florida standards, Winter Park is very historic—incorporated in 1887, it’s the 54th oldest of the 410 municipalities in Florida.  In fact, it’s older than other Sunshine State cities known for their historic cache’, such as Palm Beach (est. 1911) and Coral Gables (est. 1925).  It’s Winter Park’s historic sense of place that makes it such an attractive place to live and to visit.  As residents, we benefit not only aesthetically from our historic surroundings, but economically in terms of tourist dollars and property values.  Too, it’s important to note that today’s older house can be tomorrow’s historic treasure.  Mount Vernon wasn’t yet 100 years old when preservationists insisted on saving it in 1858.

“Myth: If I put my home on the Winter Park Register, I’m going to have to ask permission every time I want to move an electrical outlet or change the wallpaper”

Reality check:  This common misconception confuses the interior of a registered structure with the exterior, and overstates the oversight powers of the city’s Historic Preservation Board (HPB).  Only changes that would affect the exterior envelope of a registered structure require approval by the HPB.  Whereas the current ordinance states that “character-defining features should not be changed, destroyed, or obscured,” the HPB works with homeowners who wish to expand or remodel to find workable solutions.  According to Lindsey Hayes, the city’s Historic Preservation Officer, “the board understands that people live differently today than they did in the 1920s.  We will work with folks to accomplish their goals for their homes.”

“Myth: If a house isn’t architecturally exceptional, then it really shouldn’t be protected.”

Reality check:  Certainly design integrity is one factor in determining whether a property is historically significant, but the Winter Park Park Register–taking its cues from the National Register–also aims to protect buildings that are associated with an important figure in city history, that represent a significant pattern or style in our city’s development,  or that are likely to yield important information about city history.  From an historic standpoint, it’s important to preserve homes popular in the various stages of the city’s development (e.g., bungalows in the College Quarter, or Folk Victorian homes along the south shore of Lake Osceola) as well as the homes of important city figures like James Seymour Capen or Charles Hosmer Morse.

“Myth: That building is on the National Register, so it’s already protected from demolition.”

Reality check:  Contrary to popular belief, the National Register offers listed properties no protection from alteration or destruction. It’s counterintuitive, but depending on the ordinance, a property typically enjoys much stronger protection from a local register than from the National Register. The signature barrel tile roof of Casa Feliz, listed on both the National Register and the Winter Park Register, could be topped with Islamic spires and the National Register’s only recourse would be to remove it from its roster.  The Winter Park HPB, however, wouldn’t sanction something so architecturally and historically ill-advised.

Residence by Steve Feller

Residence by Steve Feller

“Myth:  All old construction is good; all new construction is bad.”

Residence by Phil Kean

Residence by Phil Kean

Reality check: Yes, a common argument for preservation is that the new building that replaces the historic building is often of inferior design and quality.  And while an entire blogsite could be filled with pictorial proof of this maxim, there is plenty of really wonderful new construction going on – both residential and commercial.  Preservationists do the movement a disservice by blindly eschewing anything built past 1940. In Winter Park, for example, the architect Steve Feller is known for building beautifully designed, traditional homes of quality craftsmanship and materials.  Some of the contemporary homes built by architect Phil Kean also demonstrate mastery of scale and detail. Many communities, resigned to the ebb and flow of new replacing old have established Architectural Review Boards that enforce design standards for new construction.  Winter Park would be well-served by the creation of such a board.

“Myth: Preservationists in Winter Park want to make it impossible to demolish any structure over 50 years old.”

Reality check:  It’s true that policies under consideration would apply a greater level of scrutiny to demolition permits for buildings over 50 years old, to bring the city’s practice in line with those of Certified Local Governments around the state.  The Friends of Casa Feliz Advocacy Committee Report recommends that the city’s Historic Preservation officer personally review any demolition application for a house that is more than 50 years old or one that is listed on the Florida Master Site File. The HP officer would judge the house for its historic significance according to the standards  in the city’s ordinance, and make a determination of whether to immediately sign off on the permit or to refer it to the HPB for further review.  In cities that use this system, most demo requests for buildings that are not historically or architecturally significant (e.g., a 1950s cinderblock rancher or a 1960s split-level, which are plentiful in number and not particularly unique) are granted without delay .  Clifford Smith, Sarasota’s HP Officer, states that the “large majority of demo permits are approved without ever going before the (HP) board.” Smith also asserts that knowing the review process exists discourages developers and spec house builders from pursuing truly historic homes as tear-downs.

“Myth: Houses on the historic register are worth less because they can’t be sold as tear-downs.”

This common misconception persists despite considerable empirical evidence to the contrary. Multiple studies have shown that houses located within protected historic districts increase in value at a faster rate (or in an economic downtown, lose value at a slower rate) than their non-protected counterparts. A 2005 study on property values in Philadelphia concluded “Strong and clear increases in property values after designation were documented in all five of the neighborhoods studied”  (see: http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=hp_theses).  A 2007 study found that “Home values rose 5% to 35% per decade in more than 20 historic districts nationwide, compared with home values in undesignated neighborhoods in the same communities.” (see: http://www.preservationnj.org/site/ExpEng/images/images/pdfs/Historic%20District%20benefits_Mabry_%206-7-07.pdf).  This all makes perfect sense, according to Ken Bernstein, manager of the Office of Historic Resources for Los Angeles.  Bernstein writes “Historic district designation gives potential homebuyers two rare and economically valuable assurances: that the very qualities that attracted them to their neighborhood will actually endure over time, and that they can safely reinvest in sensitive improvements to their home without fear that their neighbor will undermine this investment with a new ‘monster home’ or inappropriate new development.”

Let’s make one of our New Year’s Resolutions to elevate discussions of historic preservation above the level of name-calling and hyperbole.  We can agree to disagree, but Winter Park should make intellectual honesty one of our guiding principles.

Story Update:

This weekend, I made good on a promise by delivering a batch of fresh-baked brownies to the couple who just closed on the 1935 house featured in our October 18 blog post (see: https://friendsofcasafeliz.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/wont-you-be-our-neighbor/).  The house’s previous owner, an elderly widow living out of state, was weighing offers from developers who planned to raze the house and subdivide the lot.  Enter John and Rachel Grogan, who gravitated to Winter Park because of its “New England charm.” The Grogans, who spend their summers in New Hampshire, have their work cut out for them to bring the 1935 plumbing and wiring up to 2014 standards, and have a couple additions planned.  Still, as Rachel walks through her new home, she overlooks the grime-coated wood floors (which will be stripped and refinished this week) to effuse about the built-in niches, fabulous heart pine ceilings and custom ironwork.   Having seen what the Grogans accomplished in the home they left behind in Orlando, I know we all have a before-and-after blog to look forward to before 2015.

Is there an historic house in your neighborhood that’s for sale and vulnerable to the wrecking ball?  Maybe Preservation Winter Park can help!  In the meantime, I’m happy to share my recipe for what I’m calling

“Preservation Brownies”

1  pkg.  (4 oz.) unsweetened Chocolate
3/4  cup  butter
2  cups  sugar
3  eggs
1  tsp.  vanilla extract
1  cup  flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

HEAT oven to 350°F.

GREASE WELL, THEN FLOUR 13×9-inch pan.

MICROWAVE chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour then chocolate chips; mix well. Pour into prepared pan.

BAKE 30 to 35 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. (Do not overbake.) Cool completely.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

CAPEN CELEBRATION!

If ever I start to forget why I love my hometown of Winter Park, I need only return to the memories of yesterday, December 10, 2013, when the community came together to move a precious historic house across a lake.  Yesterday was a triumph shared by  many people:

  • By Debbie Komanski, executive director of the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, who has been the definition of indefatigable throughout this six-month journey.  When she first agreed to take on this project, she was told “all you really need to do is provide the land.  We’ll take care of the rest.” That she is not only still speaking to the starry-eyed preservationist/blogger who made this promise–perhaps the most outrageous understatement in city history–but at every turn deflects credit from herself onto others, is incredible. She is grace personified.
  • By the Preservation Capen team, a cross-organizational cadre of community leaders and technical experts who have met week after week, month after month, to strategize, publicize, raise money, make phone calls, speak to civic groups, and cheer-lead at the Farmer’s Market, at rallies, and parades.  This group has provided the spiritual fuel, sweat, and goodwill that has propelled the Capen House project forward.
  • By Christine Madrid French, a nationally renowned preservationist who by our good fortune found herself living in preservation-challenged (but improving!) Central Florida. As project director, she has capably steered the project to fruition, with a huge smile on her face and sparkles in her hair.
  • By Pat and Randy Robertson, whose early donation to the project got us off the ground.
  • By the boards, staff and members of the Albin Polasek Museum, Winter Park Historical Association and the Friends of Casa Feliz, who locked arms to devote their organizational resources to helping make history in Winter Park. I’ve never seen a stronger testament to teamwork.
  • By the local press, who have belied the common complaint that the media only report bad news.  The Orlando Sentinel’s David Breen and I LUV Winter Park’s Clyde Moore, and a whole bevy of print, TV, web and radio reporters have pursued this story with persistence, fairness and accuracy.
  • By hundreds of financial supporters, whose contributions have made the dream of floating a house across a lake a reality.
  • By property owners John and Betsy Pokorny, who have bent over backwards to cooperate with the community’s plans to move the Capen House.  In a city that told them, “go ahead, you can knock it down,” they put their dream house on hold for many months so the preservation community could satisfy their dream of moving the house.
  • By Thaddeus Seymour, an 85-year-old retired college president who by all rights should be sipping martinis on a golf course in Palm Springs, but instead has spent his retirement serving his adopted community of Winter Park.  No task is too daunting or too picayune for Thad, who will spend a morning asking a community leader for a landmark donation and an afternoon printing out Capen House postcards on his Mac.
  • By Frank Roark, the general contractor overseeing the project, who has juggled the often competing needs of the Polasek, the moving company, the city, the homeowners, the lawyers, the fundraisers, and the media, and has subjugated his own personal needs to all of the above. He loves Winter Park, and Winter Park loves him.

If you weren’t among the throngs of folks who witnessed this miracle first-hand, we hope you’ll enjoy some of these photos and videos from this jubilant day:

Image

The descent to the Lake

Image

Final boarding call

Image

Cat’s out of the bag

Video of the Move–Click Here

Anchors aweigh!

Anchors aweigh!

Sailing, sailing!

Sailing, sailing!

Thad Seymour documents history

Thad Seymour documents history

Image

A flotilla of well-wishers

Image

First Night in her new home

Image

A final plea…


http://www.orlandosentinel.com/videogallery/78500977/Time-lapse-of-moving-the-Capen-House

http://findingjoyinflorida.com/2013/12/11/moving-victory-in-winter-park/

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

HP TAKES CENTER STAGE AT CITY HALL

Artist’s rendering of what’s to come!

Historic Preservation became front page news a few months back when the 1885 Capen House, one of Winter Park’s oldest, was threatened with demolition.  The good news is that, as it did 12 years ago with Casa Feliz, the local community has risen to the challenge of raising the money to relocate the historic home.  Before the end of the year, one of the city’s oldest homes will be floated across Lake Osceola by barge, from its location on Interlachen Avenue to its new home on the grounds of the Albin Polasek Museum, where it will provide a much-needed expansion to museum operations.  Funds are still needed for renovations, but the house has been saved. Hallelujah!

Yet amidst all the high-fiving—and indeed, this is occasion for enthusiastic celebration—let’s not neglect to keep our eye on the bigger issue:  fixing the system that imperiled the Capen House to begin with.  Behind the scenes, the city’s Historic Preservation Board (HPB), made up of 7 citizen members and staffed by city planner Lindsey Hayes, is working on a proposal to revise the City’s historic preservation ordinance.  The HPB will bring their recommendations to the City Commission, who will make the final call on changing the ordinance.  If all goes well, we’ll no longer have to move our historic buildings around to avoid the wrecking ball, like the world’s most expensive chess game.  No one wants to change our motto from the City of Homes to the City of Mobile Homes.

Annie Russell House 1926-2005

Annie Russell House 1926-2005

To this end, the City hired the consulting firm Bland and Associates to produce a study to benchmark Winter Park against other cities, and recommend how we can incorporate best practices into our historic preservation policy. Miles Bland presented his recommendations to the HPB on November 14; an audience of about 50 Winter Park residents attended the public meeting.  If people came to the meeting thinking that the city’s hired consultant would soft pedal and mollify, then they were surprised by what they heard.  Bland was as subtle as a bulldozer—according to the consultant, the City’s ordinance must undergo extensive surgery to ensure the survival of its historic assets and reputation.  He urged the board in the strongest possible terms to make changes now to the ordinance, or else get used to seeing a wrecking ball in the City of Culture and Heritage. Click here for a synopsis of the report: http://cityofwinterpark.org/Docs/Government/Boards/Other_Info/BlandAssociatesPowerpoint_2013-11-14.pdf

A second study, this one by the Casa Feliz Preservation Advocacy Committee (CFPAC), rose out of an examination of the ordinances which govern historic preservation in 38 Certified Local Government cities (CLGs) around Florida.  The CFPAC report can be seen here:  https://casafeliz.squarespace.com/advocacy-report/

Here’s how the two reports compare on three critical HP issues:quote2

 DISTRICT FORMATION:

  • CFPAC REPORT: Instead of the current requirement that 2/3 of property owners approve the formation of a historic district (the highest such threshold in the state), lower the requirement to a 50% “no” vote by property owners.  This would bring the city’s ordinance in line with others around the state, and will facilitate the creation of historic districts, which not only protect the character of the neighborhood, but increase the property values.
  • BLAND REPORT:  Remove any requirement that residents in a proposed district vote to approve the district.  Decisions on the formation of historic districts should be recommended by the HPB and approved by the City Commission—resident input should be sought and considered, but in the end the authority to form a district should rest with the Commission. According to Bland, “(property owner) voting is not the norm, quite odd, and certainly counterproductive to historic preservation; it is analogous to allowing public determination of residential speed limits. This voting element of the code is the crux of WP’s historic preservation problem.”

logo-city-of-wp DEMOLITION PERMITS:

  • CFPAC REPORT: A permit to demolish all or part of a 50+ year-old or FMSF-listed home would only be issued after a thorough review by the city’s Historic Preservation Officer.  After reviewing the application, the HP Officer could sign off on the permit (if it was determined that the building was not historically significant by stated standards), or refer the case to the HPB.  The HPB could approve the demolition, or require that the applicant make efforts to sell or otherwise preserve on site or move the historic structure.  A delay of demolition could also be ordered, which would allow time for mitigation. Only after the HPB is satisfied that reasonable efforts have been made to preserve a historically significant property would a demolition permit be issued.
  • BLAND REPORT:  Similar to the CFPAC opinion, Bland recommends a much more stringent process for demolitions of buildings more than 50 years old.  He warns in his report that “historic structures were sparse to begin with in WP, and are being lost at a staggering rate; about 1.2% of the NET, known historic structures are leveled each year, and this rate is accelerating. If the historic structure density drops too low, then historic districts can never be formed due to loss of spatial continuity.”

 APPOINTMENT TO HISTORIC PRESERVATION BOARD

  • CFPAC REPORT: Institute more stringent qualifications for appointment to the city’s Historic Preservation Board.  Winter Park’s ordinance is the only one of the 38 ordinances studied by the committee that does not require board members to have knowledge of or experience in architecture or other related disciplines.
  • BLAND REPORT:  Like the CFPAC report, Bland advocates for specific professional and educational qualifications for service on the HPB.   Without such language, Winter Park is unable to qualify for Certified Local Government status, which would provide the city with educational and grant opportunities for historic preservation projects.

It’s expected that the HPB will make its recommendations for strengthening the ordinance early next year. It will then be in the decision of the five City Commissioners how to proceed—whether to put teeth in our historic preservation policy, or to remain laissez faire.  Without a doubt, any meaningful changes to our ordinance will be met with outrage by property rights advocates, who want us to believe that the city’s intervention in HP is tantamount to government “taking” of private property.  They neglect the inconvenient truth that virtually every other Florida city blessed with historic structures manages to strike a reasonable balance between private property rights and preservation.  Good public policy requires operating in the ‘grey’ area between seemingly conflicting goals.  Let’s hope Winter Park is up to the challenge.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

PRESERVATIONIST PROFILE: PAT ROBERTSON

Channeling Despair into Activism

Pat Robertson vividly remembers the year 1969, when she was 14 and her parents wrestled with buying their stately home at 950 Palmer Avenue, then known as the Joshua Chase House.  She says her parents couldn’t really afford the house—it was $89,000, which was a huge stretch for the couple raising four children.  Pat recalls, “After church one day, my dad tried to interest my mom in another, less expensive house that was for sale on Georgia Avenue.  My brother and sisters and I got out of the car, and ran all around that house and through the backyard. We thought it was great.”  Her mother refused to get out of the car.  She had fallen in love with the 1926 Mediterranean on Palmer, and if they couldn’t afford it, she’d just as soon stay in Maitland.

As is often the case when it comes to real estate transactions, the wife prevailed. Page Schenck convinced Jay, who with his brother Virgil ran the Schenck Company beer distributorship, that she would be willing to sacrifice other budget items in order to move into the Chase House. And Jay held her to it.  Pat remembers that they lived in the house without living room or dining room furniture for more than a year.  But Page was content because she loved every inch of the house, even unfurnished. “Mom and Dad could make do with less, and wanted their kids to do the same. They didn’t believe in buying things on credit.  My sisters and I had a meager clothing allowance.  We made our own clothes.”  One year, when Pat and her younger sister were teenagers, they both asked for 10-speed bikes for Christmas.  “We came down Christmas morning, and they had gotten us one 10-speed bike, and it was a tandem,” laughs Pat.

The Schenck Family, 1971

The Schenck Family, 1971

Page instilled in Pat her love for the craftsmanship of an old home.  “Every detail of that house – the windows, the door hardware, the light fixtures, the slate floors—was a work of art,” remembers Pat.

In fact, they studied together the original letters that citrus magnate Joshua Chase had written to the contractor while his house was being built, and the original plans, which were lovingly stored in a brown suede bag.  In a stroke of kismet, they discovered that the plans were dated April 1, Pat’s and Page’s shared birthday.

The house exuded history.  Pat said that each of the beautiful mahogany bedroom doors had door knockers; evidently the house received overflow guests from the nearby Alabama Hotel in the 1930s and 40s.  The original floor tiles had been used as ballast on a ship that came over from Europe in 1925. Over the garage, there were two servants’ rooms that had dial recievers on the wall; each bedroom in the main house had a buzzer that communicated with the receiver to summon the servants to the appropriate room. The Schencks didn’t have live-in help, but the kids had a grand time playing with the buzzers from a bygone era. The house also had its own incinerator and chimney for disposing of trash, common in the 1920s but a curiosity in the 1970s.

In the late 1980s, a friend created this video of the picturesque home: 

“The thing that I most loved about the house was the textures,” says Pat.  She waxes poetic about the nooks and crannies that adorned each room, the rough plaster walls, the curved ironwork railings, the cold slate floors that brought relief even in the hottest months.  Pat says spending time in their grandparents’ house engendered a love for historic homes in her own children.  “My son has bought a 100-year-old house in Asheville that he’s having to put a lot of work into, but he loves it, and it’s worth it.”

After Jay Schenck died in 2004, his heirs put the 5,264 square foot historic home on the market.  These photos were taken to market the home:

The Chase-Schenck Home, 2004

The Chase-Schenck Home, 2004

Schenck living room, 2004

Schenck living room, 2004

Schenck Dining Room, 2004

Schenck Dining Room, 2004

Unfortunately, the siblings couldn’t reach consensus on whether to list it on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, which would have protected the house from demolition, but had the potential for reducing the selling price.  Pat prayed that someone would buy it who would cherish the house, its history and its eccentricities, and not just want the prestigious lakefront lot.  But this was not to be.

The new owner immediately began demolition on the house he purchased for $3.3 million. A wrecking crew arrived on property, and demolished all but the pergola, two fireplaces and the wall between the garage and kitchen.  Pat went to the property and walked among the rubble.  “It’s good I went alone, because I wailed like a hyena,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe it.”  She harvested a piece of green tile from her girlhood bathroom that she cherished, and a tiny scrap of curtain.  “It was all that was left.”

In place of the 1926 Chase-Schenck House, an 11,800 square foot mansion, complete with his-and-her dressing rooms, travertine floors and a “grand staircase” rose up to take its place.  In 2010, the owner stopped making payments and the bank foreclosed on the double-wide hacienda, pictured below:

950 Palmer Avenue, 2010

950 Palmer Avenue, 2010

950 Palmer Avenue, living room

950 Palmer Avenue, living room, 2010

.

950 Palmer Avenue, home theater

950 Palmer Avenue, home theater, 2010

In 2011, Fifth Third Bank sold the house to the current owner for $2.65 million.

As a result of what happened with her parents’ house, Pat got active in historic preservation.  “You have to take the poison in your life and make something good come from it,” she says. She credits serving on the Casa Feliz board as part of her healing.  “If I can help save other significant Winter Park homes from ending up like my parents’ did, I want to help do it.”  Currently, Pat serves on the steering committee of Preservation Capen, which will oversee the move of the 1885 Capen House this December.  She’s convinced some of her siblings, who were chagrined at the demolition of their parents’ home, to contribute financially to saving the Capen House.

She has a reputation in the community as being a diplomatic and effective advocate for keeping Winter Park true to its roots. “If I had to name the five people who have given the most to preservation in this community, Pat’s name would be among them,” says Jack Rogers, who served with Pat on the Friends board.  “She has made Casa Feliz a better organization, and Winter Park a better city. Her energy is a force of nature.”

Pat and Randy Robertson

Pat and Randy Robertson

One house that will never meet with the wrecking ball is Pat’s own lakefront home on College Point, an eclectic Italianate house with craftsman-style features, where she lives with her husband Randy. They purchased the home from Thad and Polly Seymour in 2007, and like her mother before her, Pat knew instantly when she crossed the threshold that she was meant to live there.  “I’ve never been in a house with such clean, good energy. I told Randy, don’t tell me what the taxes are, because then I won’t want to buy it, and I’m going to buy this house.”  The 1933 house is listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.

Robertson Residence on College Point

Robertson Residence on College Point

Looking ahead, Pat hopes that Winter Park will heed the wakeup call to prevent future demolitions of the homes that add so much to the community. “These special homes truly define Winter Park, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. I’m optimistic that Winter Park’s preservation ordinance will be strengthened to safeguard our architectural history.”

If that happens, it means that Winter Parkers would find it a lot more difficult to demolish a 1926 landmark home to build an oversized faux chateau with an in-home theater.  But then again, maybe we could all learn to make do with a little less.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Phoenix on Orange Avenue

In recent years, anyone driving down Orange Avenue from Winter Park to Orlando passed by this eyesore:

before front

Of course, the house at 1509 North Orange Avenue hadn’t always looked this way.  When it was constructed in 1926 for the Babcock Family, the house was a gleaming example of the Spanish eclectic architecture that would become so popular in Central Florida in the years that followed.  The stucco, barrel-tile roofed structure attracted buyers to the new neighborhood by Walter Rose’s Central Florida Development Company.  Orwin Manor—so named because it straddled the border of ORlando and WINter Park–was the first neighborhood in the area built with streetlamps, sidewalks, and a sewer system.  The deed to the land specified that the buyer  “shall at no time erect any dwelling on the above described premises costing any less than $7,500.00,” a princely sum at the time. The Babcocks’ home did not disappoint—its striking façade was detailed with arched French doors leading to shallow ironwork balconies, rounded arch vents, an asymmetrical recessed entry with decoratively sculpted plasterwork, and a beautiful side Florida room with arched windows. Clearly, this house was built to stop traffic on what was then called “Dixie Highway,” the only two-lane road between the two cities.

Through the years, the house was occupied by a series of prominent families, including citrus magnate JM McCord. Yet in recent decades, disrepair overtook the house’s original glory.  Sheets of paint peeled from the façade. Overgrown shrubbery and ‘trash trees’ obscured the house’s architectural detailing.  Six rusted vehicles cluttered the yard.

It would be reasonable for a passerby to assume that the house, which occupied this valuable piece of real estate a five-minute drive from both downtown Winter Park and Orlando, was not long for this world. Over the past 20 years, houses in better condition than this have been demolished on a weekly basis in Winter Park.  Surely, even preservation pioneers would consider this dilapidated doozy “too far gone.”

Enter Aimee and Michael Spencer.  Newly relocated to Winter Park, the Spencers had a penchant for old houses. They had restored a 1924 house in Colonialtown in the City of Orlando and painstakingly built another in Historic Flamingo Park in the City of West Palm Beach to “look like it was built in the 1920s”.  Their work was so convincing that they frequently got questions from people wondering about “the restoration.”

Still, when they crossed the threshold with their real estate agent, the house was a full-on assault on their senses.  See for yourself:

Kitchen: before

Kitchen: before

Master bedroom: before

Master bedroom: before

Twin bedroom: before

Twin bedroom: before

Sheets of paint hung from ceilings, rust-stained from years of roof and plumbing leakage. Floors and windows hadn’t been maintained for decades. The piles of clutter and boxes created a labyrinthine effect, stacked in nearly every room.  The kitchen was squalid, with rusted cabinets hanging from their hinges. During their visit, the couple counted six cats and four dogs.

But the Spencers liked a challenge.  They saw beneath the clutter and grime the bones of a structure that would be extremely costly if impossible to rebuild.  Plus, Michael, a general contractor and construction manager for SeaWorld, had a lot more know-how than your average homebuyer.  They rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

The first step was to discern what jobs they should farm out and what they could realistically tackle themselves with their three-year-old daughter, Ava Grace, nipping at their heels.   In the former category they put the roof, which was painstakingly repaired—section by section, tiles were removed, subroof replaced, and then tiles reinstalled. The electric and plumbing systems were completely replaced. The exterior of the house required extensive scraping and repainting.  Interior plaster ceilings and walls had to be replaced because of water damage.

A lot of the work involved a complete restoration of the original doors and windows.  The Spencers teamed with CCS Restorations of Sanford for the work.  While it might have been easier to replace rather than restore, the quality of the original woodwork was apparent.  Though shabby in appearance, the heart cypress sashes had no rot, despite at least 30 years of neglect. Plus, according to Aimee, “new doors and windows rob a historic house of its soul.”   The Spencers removed the windows a few at a time, drove them to Sanford, and restored the jambs themselves while CCS tackled the sashes. Seeing the beautifully restored and reinstalled windows and doors, it would be difficult to argue that their labor was unjustified.  The soul of the house flourishes.

The backyard required a full-scale excavation. When all was said and done, they had hauled 4 dumpsters full of trash from the property. When they thought they were done, they uncovered a Suzuki Samurai hidden in the back yard’s overgrown vegetation.

The interior of the house is an anomaly–it retains its historic character while gleaming with newness.  The special Benjamin Moore metallic blue paint shimmers as sun streams in through the French doors.  Although many of the fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen are new, the Spencers took care to choose things that were period-appropriate.  They were also able to reuse the ‘subway’ tile from the original bathrooms for the butler’s pantry and backsplashes.

By May 2012, the home was ready to occupy, although the couple continues to chip away at painting and yardwork.  Ava Grace now occupies a pink-painted room with dark brown stuffed monkeys and polka dots frolicking on the linens. The Spencers have received broad recognition for the project.  In 2012, the house was named to the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.  Earlier this year, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation presented the Spencers with an Outstanding Achievement award. The website of “This Old House” features the house’s restoration.  It’s easy to see why:

The Spencer Home - 2013

The Spencer Home – 2013

Here are some after shots provided by the Spencers.  Preservation Winter Park has verified with our own eyes that in fact, these ARE the same house:

Rear after

Rear: after

Living room after

Living room: after

Sun porch: after

Sun porch: after

Kitchen: after

Kitchen: after

Kitchen: after

Kitchen: after

Master bedroom: after

Master bedroom: after

Twin bedroom - after

Twin bedroom: after

And although the Spencers “intend to be repainting this house when (they’re) 80,” the rehab has made financial sense as well.  Purchased for $275,000, after complete renovations the couple will have invested less than $200 per square foot for a house with all new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, insulation, waterproof membrane and original tile roof, and refinished or new finished in place hardwoods.  The estimate even includes the cost of a future swimming pool and fenced backyard.

Still, Aimee says the greatest rewards for their labor are intangible.  “People have gotten so far away from caring for their own homes.  The further away you get, the less appreciation you have for the richness of the materials, which combine function and beauty. With this home, we’ve gotten to witness a Phoenix rising from the ashes.”  She also hopes that their persistence will teach Ava Grace that “anything worth having is worth the work.”

Looking ahead, Aimee plans to become more active in historic preservation in Winter Park.  “I hope the city will start to put a higher priority on protecting historic houses. We need a stronger ordinance, and better incentives for people to have their houses listed.” She serves on the Friends of Casa Feliz’s advocacy committee, and is eager to share with Winter Park some of the preservation successes she witnessed during her years in Orlando and West Palm Beach.

Meanwhile, there’s more crown molding that needs to be painted, and some screens to repair. The Phoenix has risen, but he needs to be fed.

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Let’s Cherish – Not Demolish – Our Heritage

Winter Park’s seal identifies it as the “City of Culture and Heritage.”   On the city’s website, ‘webisodes’ such as this one profess Winter Park’s devotion to preserving its cultural and architectural history:   http://vimeo.com/43260029.

Indeed, the city’s identity is inextricably tied to its architectural character.  Drive through Alaqua Lakes and it would be easy enough to imagine yourself in Celebration, Heathrow or Keene’s Pointe.  Nice places to live, but as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, “there’s no there there.” By contrast, meander past the old churches and historic homes lining Interlachen Avenue, stroll under the laurel oaks around Lake Chelton, or bike bucolic Berkshire Avenue in Orwin Manor, and you’ve been somewhere memorable.

After nearly losing Casa Feliz to demolition in 2001, our city leaders adopted a Preservation Ordinance that provides for the protection of designated historic properties. Listed structures may not be demolished or significantly altered without approval of the city’s Historic Preservation Board. Since the program’s inception, 77 individual homes and two entire neighborhoods – the College Quarter and Virginia Heights East – have been listed.   Because of the protection of this ordinance, and the dedication and community spirit of the homeowners, homes like this Gamble Rogers-designed Colonial Revival on Alberta Drive will grace Winter Park for at least another 75 years:

 Image

 And this 1926 Tudor Revival ‘gingerbread’ home, located on Palmer Avenue, will delight children in future generations who bike the sidewalks of Palmer Avenue:

 Image

Across town, this craftsman style home on Hillcrest will survive future changes in ownership and continue to add charm and character to its beautiful neighborhood:

 hillcrest

These preservation success stories point to the city’s will and ability to safeguard its uniqueness. At the same time, it is difficult to square Winter Park’s stated commitment to preserving our architecture with the inch-thick computer printout of single family home demolitions we were provided by the City clerk’s office last week.  Apparently, the last two decades have been a good time to be in the demo business.demo permits 2

The report details the following:

  • Since 1993, more than 1 in every 8 single family homes, or 1,066 of 8,440, was demolished in the City of Winter Park.    This ratio is more than double the national average.
  • Not surprisingly, areas with older homes and valuable land, such as the “Vias” in Winter Park, have been particularly hard-hit. If you define the Vias as the area bound by Palmer Avenue on the South, Temple Drive on the East, Lake Maitland on the West and Howell Branch Road on the North, 174 homes were razed in two decades, about 10 each year.
  • Of the 61 houses on Via Tuscany, one in three are ‘replacement’ houses that did not exist 20 years ago.  This number was exceeded only on Venetian Way, which saw 22 of its homes razed.
  • 13 of 46 of the houses on Via Lugano have been demolished and replaced in the last 20 years.
  • Of the 10 houses on the Isle of Sicily, only 4 existed in 1990. Only 1 existed in 1980.

The bottom line is that over the last 20 years, for every one house protected by our Historic Preservation program, five homes were demolished.

Sadly, there is an economic incentive for the city of Culture and History, in difficult budgeting times, to allow its older, smaller homes to be replaced with Supersized versions.  As with most all municipalities, Winter Park’s budget is directly tied to individual property values, and replacing a $400,000 bungalow with a $4 million behemoth yields obvious near-term fiscal benefits. Multiply this increase by, let’s say, 1066, and we’re talking real money.

Yet the intent of this blog post is not to decry all, or even most, home demolitions. Should every nondescript cinderblock rancher be preserved in perpetuity, simply because it’s achieved AARP status?  Of course not.  Is it possible, though, that the City of Culture and History may be complicit in the destruction of some of its most valuable assets – its unique historic architecture? Could we be standing by while the baby is tossed out with the bathwater? Absolutely.

The challenge, then, is deciding which homes should be protected as historically significant, and which ones left vulnerable to the wrecking ball of progress.  Let’s be clear: this discernment process will require some governmental authority making a value judgment on what should be saved, and this is anathema to private property purists.  Yet we fool ourselves if we think that government doesn’t already limit what we can do with our property.  If the guy down the block hasn’t paved his front yard to set up a brake repair business, you have zoning to thank.  If your neighbor hasn’t built a four-story tower looming over your backyard, thank P & Z.  Historic preservation is just one more tool communities have to protect the value and quality of life in their neighborhoods.

Consider what other Florida communities have done to protect historic buildings from overzealous development:

Review of Demolition Requests: Ten years ago, as a result of the loss of historically significant non-designated buildings, the Coral Gables City Commission passed an ordinance that requires its Historic Preservation Officer’s approval of ALL demolitions.  If a building is deemed historic by staff, the request is referred to the Preservation Board, which undertakes a full assessment.  Since the ordinance has been in place, the HP Board has denied only 50 out of 750 demolition requests.  Those 50 properties were then granted protection status on the City’s Register of Historic Places; the other 700 were demolished—hardly an all-out war on property rights.  Jacksonville, Sarasota and Islamorada are among cities that have similar review processes.

Demolition delays/waiting periods:  St. Augustine has an ordinance that requires HP board review of demolition requests for the following: buildings that are over 50 years old, buildings recorded on the state inventory (Florida Master Site File), buildings in historic preservation zoning districts, and contributing buildings to National Register districts.  A delay may be imposed for up to 24 months while solutions to a proposed demolition are sought.  Additionally, with granting a demolition, the board may require documentation and salvage, as well as a requirement that full building plans be prepared prior to the release of the demolition permit.   New Smyrna Beach, Melbourne, Naples and St. Petersburg have delay ordinances worthy of study as well.

Hardly a new idea, ordinances safeguarding historically significant buildings actually predate the Roman Empire.  Even Stonehenge, privately owned in the 1800s, was nearly demolished when the British government intervened.  To his credit, Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley recently told Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab he wants the city to review its entire demolition process. This is the right move. The Friends of Casa Feliz look forward to working in cooperation with city leaders to strengthen our preservation ordinance, and to safeguard Winter Park’s architectural heritage for future generations to enjoy.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

City’s Historic Capen House to be Demolished

The Capen House: 520 N. Interlachen Avenue

The Capen House: 520 N. Interlachen Avenue

There are precious few houses in the city of Winter Park as old as the Capen House, located at 520 North Interlachen Avenue. Built in 1885 for James S. Capen, one of the city’s early settlers, the house was initially constructed in a Folk Victorian style, and celebrated by the local community.  City founder Loring Chase wrote in Winter Park Scrapbook on September 22, 1885, “Our handsome friend, J.S. Capen will soon move into his new house on the banks of beautiful Lake Osceola. It is an elegant house, but none too good for Seymour, who is the very best of men.”  Capen Avenue on Winter Park’s West side is testament to Mr. Capen’s importance as a city father, a former town alderman and developer of the “Dinky Line” train route through the city.  Capen was chosen as a member of the committee to greet President Benjamin Harrison when he visited Winter Park.

In 1923, the house was purchased by another prominent Winter Parker, Howard Showalter, who remodeled it to its current Tudor Revival style. The Showalter family built Winter Park’s first and only airfield, which would later become the gridiron where the Wildcats play and cheer on Friday nights.

Last week a demolition permit was granted by the City of Winter Park, allowing the 128-year-old home to be razed after June 13. Preservation-minded people are scratching their heads to connect the dots.  How did we get from there to here?

The recent history of the Capen House has been enigmatic.  In 2007, Clardy Malugen, the house’s former owner, engaged Steve Feller, a Winter Park architect known for his expertise in working on historic properties, to oversee an extensive restoration. Malugen says she spent over $700,000 restoring the floors and woodwork, and adding new plumbing, wiring, air conditioning, and appliances.   “I put my heart and soul into this house,” says Malugen. “There is no other house in Winter Park like it.”Capture 2

She was so proud of the restored house that she applied to have it listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places. The city historic preservation staff wrote in its report that “The Capen House has been kept in good condition through the years, retains its significance and is recommended for listing as a local landmark.”  The Winter Park Historic Preservation Board unanimously approved the application and on August 8, 2011, the Winter Park City Commission designated the house as an historic landmark (http://cityofwinterpark.org/Docs/Government/OrdinancesResolutions/2091-11.pdf).

Unfortunately, Malugen encountered severe liquidity issues when the real estate market – in which she was heavily invested – went south.   In fact, foreclosure proceedings by Sun Trust Bank were already underway in 2011 when the house was designated.  The house was repossessed on July 17, 2012, and the bank enlisted local real estate agent Kelly Price & Company to find a buyer.

On August  1, 2012, Price listed the home for $3.2 million.  The following is an excerpt from the description the realtor wrote to market the property: “In the heart of Winter Park, built in 1901 (sic), a historical masterpiece set on Lake Osceola. This traditional four bedroom, three bath home with a detached guest house is spectacular! Throughout this home are beautifully maintained pine floors, three fireplaces, an enclosed sun porch that wraps around the house with gorgeous views of the lake, along with a gourmet kitchen with top of the line appliances… This historic home has kept its charm and character with amazing wood details, glass doorknobs, and unique windows and doors… Do not miss out on this one of a kind lakefront property!” To see photos from the real estate listing, click here: http://www.estately.com/sold/520-n-interlachen-ave

Despite this glowing description, the powers that be clearly believed that the house would be more marketable as a tear down. Like most historic homes, the house has limitations when compared to more modern houses in the same price range: a somewhat odd layout of rooms which doesn’t optimize the lake view, a 1-car garage, and an upstairs master bedroom. Consequently, just two weeks after listing, Jason Searl, an attorney for Gray Robinson representing Sun Trust, wrote to City Planner Jeff Briggs, requesting that the house be stripped of its historic designation.  Searl argued in the letter that the bank had already begun legal proceedings to repossess the house when it was listed on the Register, casting doubt on Malugen’s right to encumber the house with the restrictions placed on historically designated properties.

On September 24, 2012 the Winter Park City Commission, doubtless fearing a lawsuit from one of Central Florida’s most powerful law firms filed on behalf of Central Florida’s largest bank, voted unanimously to remove the Capen House from the Register.  A month later, the price was slashed to a mere $2.1 million, and the house quickly sold.

The new owners, John and Betsy Pokorny, intend to raze the house and build a new one in its place.  The house, John told me, has serious mold and foundation problems, and the layout is untenable for his family’s needs.  He has contracted with a celebrated local architect and intends to build a ‘contemporary farmhouse,’ actually smaller than the Capen House.  John said that they love Winter Park for its history and charm, and understand the need to save historic buildings—in fact, a few years back, the Pokornys worked with Steve Feller to painstakingly restore their beautiful historic home on Virginia Avenue.  They considered remodeling the Capen House to meet their needs, but after meeting with numerous building professionals determined it would have been prohibitively expensive to solve the house’s problems and then ‘retrofit’ the house to their liking. When we spoke, he offered to donate the house to any group willing to move it, and contribute $10,000 toward the move.

It’s as easy to find excuses for the actions of each of the players in this unfortunate drama as it is to assign blame. Yet whether or not you believe the Capen House is salvagable, the fact remains that one of the city’s oldest homes, historically significant enough to be listed as a Winter Park Historic Landmark as recently as 2011, will likely soon be destroyed.  In a sense, all of Winter Park bears some responsibility in creating the barometric conditions where this perfect storm, resulting in the destruction of a historic, albeit somewhat compromised, house is allowed to occur.

Is the Capen House one of the most architecturally or historically significant homes in the history of Winter Park?  Thirty years ago, the answer may have been “no.”  But recent decades have witnessed the almost systematic demolition of scores of the city’s prized historic homes. For instance, in 2005, one of James Gamble Rogers’ most notable homes – the Tudor style house on the Isle of Sicily, owned for 50 years by philanthropists John and Sylvia Tiedtke—was demolished to make way for a larger, more modern home. Also that year, the large Mediterranean home known as “the Annie Russell House” on Via Tuscany was razed.  A 12,000 square foot 21-room “Moroccan-themed” compound was erected in its place.  Set against this backdrop, those who value the city’s heritage are apt to cling to each of the city’s scarce remaining historic homes, even those not in pristine condition. Your great-grandmother’s tarnished silver brooch becomes particularly dear if the diamond and emerald ones have been stolen.  It’s not perfect, and it might not fetch much at an antique show, but it’s all you have to remember her by.

If Winter Park is to remain the gem of Central Florida, all of the city’s stakeholders – the mayor, commissioners, city staff, people in building construction and design, real estate brokers, and citizens—must take stock of our shared historic assets and safeguard them. In many cases, this will mean putting community interests before self-interest. It will mean making difficult—indeed, sometimes heroic—efforts to save and refurbish rather than raze and rebuild. We can look to other communities—Wilmington, North Carolina, Macon, Georgia, or St. Augustine,  just to name a few—that have come together to save their civic and architectural histories, and have culturally and yes, even financially benefited from their hard work.

Winter Park is worth the effort.

A POSTSCRIPT, 32 HOURS LATER:

We have been surprised by the level of interest in this blog post. In the last 32 hours, more than 1800 people have visited this site. It shows that overwhelmingly, people still care about Winter Park’s retaining its unique historic value.

It is important in any discussion of an emotional issue to be intellectually honest. Therefore, a few clarifying comments are called for:

It is often said in historic preservation that losing a historic home is only half the problem. The other half comes when you see what’s built in its place.
In many – perhaps most – cases, a historic home being demolished results in an out-of-scale, builder-designed structure being put up in its place. Often this replacement house is of poor quality and poorer design.
Of course, there are no guarantees what will be built in place of the Capen House if it is demolished. However, Mr. Pokorny says that he intends to build a house of quality construction designed by a well-regarded architect. He is not interested in enlarging the house’s footprint. We take him at his word. His previous restoration of a historic home was impeccably sensitive in detail and authenticity. We believe that he values Winter Park and appreciates the city’s heritage. Knowing Mr. Pokorny, and the architect he is working with, the replacement structure will doubtless be tasteful and beautiful. We regret the invasion of privacy that goes along with bringing this story to light.
What is often lost in cases such as this, however, is that the destruction of every single historic home (excepting those that have fallen into abject disrepair) results in the erosion of the cultural and architectural underpinnings of the entire community. Especially when the home is prominently located, as this one is, the city’s historic charm and authenticity are significantly diluted. Because Winter Park has allowed countless of these demolitions over the past two decades, saving each remaining home takes on heightened importance.

One final note: in the internet age, no blogger can control how widely a post is disseminated, and how it might be twisted or taken out of context in its replication. This is the regrettable counterpart of the efficiency and scope of internet communication. We do reserve the right to only publish comments that are fair, polite, and based on truth.
Thank you for believing as we do, that Winter Park’s architecture and history matter.
Betsy Owens, Executive Director, Friends of Casa Feliz

43 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized