Tag Archives: Real estate

Have You Hugged Your P&Z Member Today?


by Betsy Owens

On Sunday, Mayor Steve Leary declared May 1 “Thaddeus Seymour Day” in honor of everyone’s favorite Rollins president emeritus (Hear, hear!)  May 2, you may not realize, is “National Truffle Day” (in my house, every day is Truffle Day).  But May 3?  This sad little date has the ignoble distinction of being “National Lumpy Rug Day” (really and truly) and “National Two Different Colored Shoes Day” (look it up).  To correct this injustice, and based on the actions of Winter Park’s Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night, I hereby declare May 3 to be “National Hug a P&Z Board Member Day.”   Because Tuesday night in Winter Park, democracy functioned as it should, and our P&Z Board listened to what the West Side residents want, and don’t want, built in their neighborhood.

Under consideration was a proposal by Owens Realty Services (irony noted) to construct 6 3-story duplexes (for a total of 12 units) on 5 lots that the company owns at the corner of West Lyman Avenue and Hannibal Square.  The project would require rezoning of two of the lots from the current R-1A (Single Family) to R-3 (or, according to the developer’s attorney, “R-3 light,” as the project would be slightly smaller than R-3 zoning would allow).

lyman project

Proposed Duplexes at Lyman and Hannibal

In some neighborhoods, the project would have been acceptable—maybe even desirable.   The developer’s lawyer argued that the property would certainly look better with the townhouses than it does in its current barren state. In addition, she argued that 3-story townhouses would present a more gradual transition between the 5-story garage to the west and the small, single-family homes to the east of the property.

This rezoning request wasn’t nearly as ambitious as many of the requests over the years that have preceded it.  But Tuesday evening something remarkable happened.  People from both sides of the tracks (I stopped counting at 25) rose up with one voice and said, “Enough.”

Enough turning a blind eye to the unchecked gentrification of the historic West Side.

Enough buying into the impoverished mythology that the “highest and best use” for land brings about social and economic well-being.

Enough siding with developers over residents.

Indeed, the Owens project was voted down not because it was more lacking in merit than any other West Side development.  It was voted down because Winter Park has finally reached the tipping point where we can no longer ignore the systematic erasure of a community that has contributed to Winter Park’s history in equal measure to the folks on the white side of the tracks.

Winter Park citizens, Tuesday evening, your Planning and Zoning Commission listened.  They listened to city planner Jeff Briggs, who warned that the proposal was in direct opposition to the city’s comprehensive plan, which states that any upzoning from R-1A on the West Side is to be “strongly discouraged.”

They listened to Gerald Girand, who, as the owner of one of the new David Weekley villas just west of the railroad tracks, acknowledged that folks might have expected him to be for the project. Instead, he and his neighbors urged the commission to follow the comp plan and to not “subject Lyman Avenue to the slippery slope” of density.

Open window

This is what a slippery slope looks like: from the City’s Comprehensive Plan

They heard Glenn Franklin, whose home of 40 years would directly abut the proposed townhouses, question “why can’t they build lovely single family homes on Lyman Avenue like they do in the rest of Winter Park?”  Resident Barry Greenstein, who once worked for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Washington and Maryland, agreed. Referring to townhouse clusters and apartment buildings, he said, the developers “don’t offer the same ‘products’ on the Isle of Sicily or in the Vias,” and warned that Winter Park’s zoning practices of the last 30 years could be considered discriminatory.

Longtime West Side residents Mary Daniels, Martha Bryant-Hall and Linda Walker-Chapell decried the gradual chipping away of the historic fabric of their neighborhood with incompatible structures and displaced residents.  Of the 5-story parking garage that was to be ‘softened’ by the 3-story townhouses, Lurlene Fletcher complained “we didn’t want that thing to begin with!”


The city changed the Comp Plan in 2004 to allow this behemoth on the West Side.

The developer’s logic in that case was particularly rich.  “Since your neighborhood has already been marred with a 5-story parking garage, we’re going to lessen the blow with some 3-story townhouses.”

Laurel Habgood, a white woman who lives at 411 West Comstock, said that she and her husband relocated from out of town to the West Side in 2014 because of its diversity and history. “We don’t want to see that change,” she said.

new david weekly

One modest home finds itself caught in the undertow of David Weekley’s “Park West.”

You would have been proud of your P&Z board.  After public comment, Pete Gottfried immediately moved to reject the proposal.  Ross Johnston seconded, saying “calling this R-3 light is a smokescreen.”  P&Z Chairman James Johnston spoke in favor of the project, but the other members weren’t having it.  Tom Sacha said “when you buy property you should plan to build to the zoning you bought into.”  Bob Hahn said that although the architectural renderings were good, the decision was a “social justice issue.” In the end, the vote was unanimous against the proposal.

What does the future hold for West Winter Park?  With the profits to be made through developing what is analogous to the fertile banks of the Nile, we have certainly not heard the last of zoning change requests for that neighborhood.  Like a giant Whack-A-Mole game, citizens will need to be vigilant in bird-dogging where the next ill-advised rezoning request pops up.  But if Tuesday night was any indication, perhaps we’ve reached a new level of awareness in the City of Culture and Heritage.  Let’s hope so, anyway.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

PWP: What do you love about Winter Park?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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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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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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