On June 16, Martha Bryant Hall submitted a request to place her house at 331 W. Lyman Ave. on the City of Winter Park Register of Historic Places. She based her application on the age of the home, which was built in 1958, and on the contributions to the community by her late husband, the Reverend Jerry Hall, who owned the home from 1958 until his death in 2008.
City Encourages Voluntary Designation?
Although the City Staff and some Commissioners have had a lot to say about encouraging citizens to voluntarily place their homes on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, a citizen who has a larger, grander home may receive more encouragement than one who has a more modest dwelling. And, if that modest dwelling stands in the way of someone’s larger, grander plan, an application for historic designation might be regarded with less interest.
Criteria for Designation
The Historic Preservation Ordinance, No. 3024-15, which has been written and re-written since the last election cycle, is ambiguous at best. Click the link below and see Sec. 58-456.
The first criterion reads as follows;
a. A quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in . . .buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and associations; and . . .
If the City Staff determines that the building in question somehow matches the above paragraph – which is written as a statement and not as one or more criteria — then it must also meet one of seven additional criteria. The ordinance continues to paragraph (b) thusly.
b. At least one of the following:
i. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
ii. That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or . . . . [five more criteria, which you can read by clicking here].
That the Hall residence was built in 1958 is, in itself, significant. That was the year the City of Winter Park displaced 18 families by eminent domain to create Lake Island Park, now known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Reverend Hall and his family were obliged to move out of Lake Island Estates and into the Hannibal Square neighborhood to make way for the park.
A City Staff Report dated July 13, 2016, states that Planning Staff determinations are:
• The home has no distinctive architectural significance but it is being part of the post-war development of West Winter Park is significant.
• The designation would be based upon the importance of Reverend Hall and his contributions to the Hannibal Square neighborhood.
• In such cases, if a future demolition to HPB [Historic Preservation Board] were requested, the HPB could approve provided the replacement structure was architecturally compatible with the traditional neighborhood styles.
In conclusion: “Staff recommendation is for listing in the Winter Park Register of Historic Places as a historic resource property.”
A month later, on August 24th, the Staff Report read, “. . .while Reverend Hall was an important figure to the community, he passed away in 2008. It is still too early to know how his legacy and contributions to the city, especially in the Hannibal Square area, will be determined.”
No Historic Merit
At the August 24 meeting of the Historic Preservation Board, City Planning Director Dori Stone first stated that staff’s decision to deny historic designation to the Hall home was based solely on the architectural merits of the house. Stone pointed out that there are “literally thousands” of these houses all over Winter Park, and that the Hall residence is in no way unique or “even at risk.” She pointed out that the high rate of redevelopment was not limited to Hannibal Square, but was occurring all over the city. “Hannibal Square is not alone,” said Stone.
‘Too Soon to Tell’ About Rev. Hall
But then, despite her earlier assurance that the decision was based only on the architectural merit of the structure, Stone turned to the question of Reverend Hall’s legacy. “As for Reverend Hall’s legacy,” said Stone, “he only passed away in 2008, so it is premature to say what his legacy is at this time.”
Stone said the Planning Staff had consulted preservationists in other communities, who suggested an appropriate period of time might be 50 years [after Hall’s death], the same as for a structure. Stone did not identify those she consulted, and she declined the Voice’s request for comment and clarification.
‘Come Back in 50 Years’
While 50 years may or may not be an appropriate period to measure the impact of an individual life on a community, it is safe to say the little green house at 331 W. Lyman Ave. probably will not be standing — in the unlikely event that discussion ever takes place.
Martha Bryant Hall told the Voice that Ms. Stone had informed her in advance of the HPB meeting that her request had been denied. Hall said Stone told her, “Your husband just hasn’t been dead long enough.”
Narrow Definition of ‘Historic’
Dr. Julian Chambliss, Chair of the History Department at Rollins College, observed that Winter Park seems to take a very narrow definition of historic preservation. While nationally, preservationists are more interested in protecting the vernacular culture and architecture of a given community within the context of a given time, Winter Park seems to want to rely solely on the architectural merit of the individual structure.
“If you look at the key issues for the post-World War II black community,” said Chambliss, “they included civil rights, education and desegregation. Reverend Hall was deeply involved in that local narrative. The local efforts were key to supporting the broader national narrative of the transformation of our community.”
“To say it is still ‘too early’ to know how Reverend Hall’s legacy and contributions will be determined,” said Chambliss, “is tantamount to saying that the Hannibal Square community is still a work in progress. In fact, Hannibal Square is a fully functioning community whose origins pre-date those of Winter Park itself.”
Is the House in Someone’s Way?
Eight people submitted letters or emails in support of Mrs. Hall’s request to designate her home, and one party opposed it. Opposition came in the form of two letters from Kim C. Booker, Attorney at Law. The text of the two letters was identical, but in one letter Ms. Booker represented Winter Park Redevelopment Agency, Ltd. and in the other she represented Morney Partnership, Ltd. Both are companies of developer Dan Bellows.
Bellows and the Hall Family Have a History.
In June 2004, then WESH2 Anchor Wendy Chioji began her report, “Imagine answering your door one day and a man is standing there, saying he now owns half your house.
“That is what happened to the Rev. Jerry Hall, 89,” said Chioji. “The man at the door . . . – controversial businessman Dan Bellows.”
Bellows had indeed acquired a half interest in the Hall house at 300 S. Virginia Ave. Hall built the house for his daughter Catherine, retaining half ownership and giving Catherine the other half. After Catherine’s death, Hall moved into the house, planning to leave his half to Catherine’s children, but, upon Catherine’s death, her husband Clifford and their two children had already inherited their half, which they sold to Bellows.
That made Rev. Hall and Bellows co-owners of the house. Rev. Hall ended up selling his half to Bellows. And that is how the Halls came to reside at 331 W. Lyman.