Tag Archives: Orwin Manor

Won’t you be our neighbor?

It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood, but a cloud is looming.  I hope the sun will break through.

This morning, I received an email from Stephen Pategas, a Casa Feliz board member, a neighbor of mine in Orwin Manor (although I live on the OR side, he lives on the WIN), and landscape architect par excellence.  Stephen had been contacted by Susan Childers, the listing agent on an historic house that sits on a half acre (!) corner lot in the neighborhood. The house is priced at $350,000, although all offers are being considered. Susan thought Stephen, the head of the Orwin Manor Homeowners’ Association, might know of an interested buyer.

Because the 1935, 2400 sq. ft. cottage is in need of a hefty dose of TLC, it will likely meet one of two fates. Either someone will buy the 78-year-old eclectic Mediterranean charmer and restore it to its former glory, or it will be purchased by a developer, razed, and then subdivided into two lots.  Needless to say, we Orwin Manorites are hoping for the former.

Because I live just down the street from the house, located at 1541 Westchester Avenue, Winter Park, I hopped on my bike and pedaled through the morning fog to snap some photos, to add to the ones posted online by Susan.

See what you think:

1541 Westchester Avenue, Winter Park

1541 Westchester Avenue, Winter Park

Welcome in.

Won’t you come in?

Hansel-and-Gretel detailing

Farmhouse detailingIronwork over windows

Ironwork over windows
Not Provence--Winter Park.

Rustic shutters

Nooks and crannies

Nooks and crannies, including a walled courtyard!

The backyard of this house is big enough to add a tennis court AND swimming pool, and still have room for an addition.


Here are some shots of the inside.  Picture it with some fresh paint and refinished floors:

Living room.  The woodwork!

Living room. The woodwork!

Be still my heart.

Be still my heart.

Arched doorways

Arched doorways

Original plaster walls

Original plaster walls

Great bathroom tile!

Great bathroom tile!

You can find the full listing here: http://susanchilders.com/featured-home.html

While it’s hard for the preservation-minded to fathom knocking down a house with this much innate charm, the real estate market is cruel. It values maximum allowable square footage, marble countertops and  jacuzzi tubs over original iron grating and heart pine ceilings.   And this house needs work–its electric and plumbing are outdated, the yard is overgrown and in need of landscaping, and the floors need refinishing.  The kitchen, though a good size, needs updating.  But a look at some of the other old houses on the street points to some promising possibilities:





My guess is, if you buy the house and choose to restore it, your new neighbor Stephen Pategas might even throw in a little free landscaping advice.  And I would happily bake you brownies.  Maybe even weekly.

Another neighbor tells me that a developer has already made one run at redeveloping the property, but when he learned that the lot could only be divided in two, and not three, the deal fell through.  Still, there are lots half the size of this one in Winter Park that are selling for north of $300K. 

Looking around the neighborhood gives us a glimpse of what we might expect if this house is demolished replaced with a larger one:


No comment.

These are houses that were built before the real estate market in Florida crashed.  Now that we’re on the upswing, it’s likely developers will be trolling Orwin Manor for good land deals again.

A few years back, Stephen, his wife Kristin and a group of their neighbors attempted to have Orwin Manor designated on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.  Unfortunately, they were unable to reach the two-thirds property owner approval requirement, the most onerous threshold of any historic preservation ordinance in the state of Florida, and so the neighborhood remains unprotected (although 15 individual homes are designated).  If they had succeeded, the house wouldn’t be approved for demolition.

If you’re interested in becoming our newest Orwin Manor neighbor, and living in a unique piece of Winter Park history, contact Susan at Exit Realty Central:   407-970-2900, childers@iag.net, http://susanchilders.com/

By Betsy Owens, Executive Director, Friends of Casa Feliz

Story Update, 1/7/2014:

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.


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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.




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