This is a real house here on the island. It's kind of adorable. Like a little doll house, a cottage, a bungalow, I suppose. It was built in 1926 which means it was constructed in the original hey day of our little city of Venice. And currently it is sitting right in the plumb center of a controversy.
From what I gather, and since I don't actually personally know any of the people involved I am getting all of my information from the local newspaper and online so I cannot guarantee anything I say here is 100% fact ok? Let's start there.
I have to tell you a wee bit about the beginning of our town for this to make sense. In the 1880's there were a few people living here, but not many. It wasn't really a town, it was more just an area which was referred to as Horse and Chaise. As I understand it, it's because the shore line as seen from boats in the water, resembled a horse driven conveyance. Ok. Enter the force of nature otherwise known as Bertha Potter Palmer.
Mrs. Palmer was rather taken with the mostly undeveloped West Coast of Florida and was something of a visionary. A visionary with a LOT of money. She bought land here. Lots and lots of land. She then convinced the railroad to extend their rail service to what became our fair city. She decided that the name of this city would be Venice. All of that happened began in 1911 Shortly thereafter the US went land speculation crazy. It was a boom like no other.
Among the folks who bought land here was Dr. Fred Albee who bought just shy of 3,000 acres with the intent to build a town. He even hired his friend, the famous Mr. John Nolen to draw up plans for the town with a very specific idea. Even the style of the homes and buildings were dictated by Mr. Nolen's ultra comprehensive plan.
However, very shortly after the good Dr. Albee purchased the land, he was approached by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers who also liked the idea of creating a town and subsequently Dr. Albee sold the land to the BLE.
Up until October of 1929 the town grew in leaps and bounds, following the Nolen Plan. The population grew and grew and it seemed as if the good times would never end. Until the depression showed it's ugly face and everything changed forever.
Since then Venice has had it's ups and downs but once recovered from the Great depression, it's mostly been up. And that's a wonderful thing. There are still quite a few of the original wonderfully historic homes from the 1920's and often they exist side by side with newer more modern homes which creates it's own unique sort of charm.
Ok now back to The Situation.
Back in 2014 or 2015 (depending on your news source) a nice couple bought the house in question (at the top of the page) with the intent of fixing it up. Fast Forward to 2020 and they seem to have thrown their hands up in the air and said, "That's it, we quit. This house is a money pit. We would be better off tearing it down and starting over"
So far so good, right? It actually happens a lot here. It's not just that it's costly to reno an older home or that the layouts aren't up to modern esthetic standards, it's also that the electricity and plumbing are no longer to code. Odds are extremely good that the HVAC needs to be replaced as does the roof and the windows which need to be as hurricane proof as possible. The list goes on ad nauseum. So you see, it's not just cosmetics that need to be addressed in an older home. And the nice people who had such good intentions initially aren't wrong. It probably is cheaper to tear it down and rebuild.
HOWEVER, this house is in a specifically designated historic district. Part of the original John Nolen plan. Which means that to do something as dramatic as tearing it down, they had to petition the town first. When they petitioned the town for permission to tear the house down, they ran smack up against the historic preservation people who absolutely do not want the house torn down. They feel that, as one of the first of the BLE homes (not THE first but one of them) the house has enough historical significance that it needs to remain.
So there's been a lot of back and forth. The couple who own the house have construction folks on their side explaining the money dilemma. The historic preservation people, who have the fact that the house is within the Historic District on their side, naturally want to preserve as much of the town original history as possible.
It feels a lot like a stalemate and I do not envy the person or persons who have to make the decision.
That said, I have lived in a lot of older homes. One of those older homes was built in the 1700's. When we bought it, it had no central heat, substandard plumbing (the pipes froze every winter), substandard electricity (you couldn't plug in two things at the same time in the kitchen). It was so cold in the house in winter that there was ice on the inside of the walls, not just the windows, the actual walls. All winter long everyone spent all waking hours in the kitchen because that was where the woodstove was. So I do have some familiarity with the inconveniences of trying to live in an older home.
Fast forward a few years and we have the first house that Tim and I bought together which was in Connecticut. That house was built in 1940. Not ancient but old enough that the first 5 years that we lived there, every spare penny we had went toward updating things that you couldn't see, like a new pump for the well, a new septic system, a new roof, etc.etc.etc. But, we were aware that we were taking on a BIG job when we bought it and knew that it would probably take a lifetime to make it what we envisioned. We were patient and we were willing to sacrifice to make it happen. We only lived there 10 years but made terrific headway in those years.
It is not insignificant that when we moved from Connecticut to Colorado, we did not buy an existing older home but had a brand new home built for us. This was Not a coincidence.
Regardless of how good your intentions, sometimes, reno-ing a house is more of a job than you anticipate. Our current house here in Florida was built in 1962. Yes, we jumped into the miasma once again. So there it was. As we knew would happen, in these four years that we've lived here we have had to update the HVAC, the electricity and had the entire house replumbed and that is the short list of things we've had to do here. The list of things that still need to be addressed is sometimes a little daunting. We occasionally day dream about, as Tim says, "blowing it all up and starting over". Just like this other couple.
The difference is that our house, while still on the island, is not in an historic district. If we actually wanted to tear it down and start over, nobody cares. Nope. In the original John Nolen plan, our house was designated as an Orange Grove. Nothing historic about that.
So here is my thought. I love history. I adore this town. Part of what I love about it is the historic charm. BUT the people who own the house are the ones who are paying the mortgage and the insurance and the taxes. The people who are living within it's walls and dealing with the rotting floors and the collapsing roof and whatever else is wrong with it (according to the news article the cost quote for bringing the house up to speed is upwards of $300,000 which is more than they originally paid for the house), these folks are the ones who should get to decide.
The historic preservation people are rightly concerned that if everyone who lives in the historic district is allowed to tear down their homes and build new, then Venice will no longer be Venice. Well technically it will still BE Venice, it's just won't look the same. But I get what they are saying. What bothered me the most was the spokesperson who said (and I quote) "Owners for such properties should be considered custodians and if they no longer wish to maintain them, they should be forced to sell"
Forced to sell? Oh me oh my! That's, ummm, an aggressive stance I'll say.
I rather liked the response given by the director of the local Museum where I am a docent. A year or so ago, someone else who was upset about the possibility of a different historic home being sold and further they feared that it would be sold to a developer who would of course tear it down and put multiple homes on the site, came in to talk to Harry, (our director) about it, looking for an ally I assume. When the person said to Harry, "What will you do about this!" He answered, "I will be sad". And that was the end of that. He went on to explain that you simply cannot save them all.
And perhaps this is one that cannot be saved. I don't know. If the town doesn't allow them to tear down and rebuild, I wonder if they will keep tinktinktinking away at repairs little by little, or will they just sell it as is. If they do, I wonder who will want to buy it.
It's quite the dilemma and I have no answers. But it's an interesting problem for sure.
Before I leave for the long holiday weekend (and I wish you a good one) I want to Thank my friends, Randy & Mary, who suggested this news story to me as a Blog Post idea. Thanks guys!
See y'all on Tuesday. Have fun and Be safe this Labor Day weekend. Hugs all 'round
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.