Renovation and reinvention are at the heart of Victoria Park history. At the beginning of this century, the land now occupied by the Fort Lauderdale neighborhood was slated by Henry Flagler as a right of way for his fledgling Florida railroad. Dade County pioneers William and Mary Brickell, who owned the property along the New River, had other ideas, preferring to save the acreage for a suburb of the new Broward County town. This nasty difference of opinion sent the railroad on a jog around the west side of the burgeoning burg and forever defined Victoria Park as a residential corridor along the high ridge east of Federal Highway.
Tranquil suburbia gave way to the Victoria Park of the 1970s through the early '90s, which many remember as a shady haven of crack dens, petty burglaries, and general civic mischief. "This area has gone up and down," acknowledges Victoria Park resident Steve Kelley. "You can't say property values have always followed a linear ascent."
But over the past decade, Victoria Park has become a hotbed of gentrification. It's now home to an increasing number of the famous and near-famous, among them movie star Meg Ryan's mother, Johnny Carson's son, and two best-selling authors who prefer anonymity.
Even Martha Stewart wouldn't sneeze at some of the houses here, and while not every home in Victoria Park is worthy of coverage in a slick shelter magazine, the seven domiciles on this weekend's Ninth Annual Victoria Park Holiday Home Tour -- bungalows, colonials, cottages, and plain (but heavily gentrified) 1950s concrete-walled tract homes -- exemplify the area's far-flung variety of tastes, styles, and architecture.
Illustrating this diversity are the first and last stops on the tour, which begins with a walk-through of the Key West-style cottage owned by Neil and Kelly Lawrence. The couple's fondness for white wicker, bright floral cushions, and Haitian art -- and the fish-shape pool out back -- reflects their love of Jimmy Buffett and the musician's trademark island style.
After riding by trolley to five other homes on the tour, gawkers conclude their trip with a look at the two-story yellow colonial owned by Cliff Smith and Ben Lap. The stately home on Victoria Park Road was built in 1938 of famously durable Dade County pine, and Lap, an executive with a pharmaceutical company, believes it was once the residence of the president of Fort Lauderdale College.
Lap, Smith, and -- last but not least -- Bam-Bam, their soft-coated wheaten terrier, have just moved into the 1900-square-foot home. True to local form, they are already planning a major renovation, which will involve adding 2000 square feet of space for a new kitchen, family room, master bedroom, and three-car garage.
"Although we love every inch of it, the house really isn't very big," says Lap, standing in the book-lined den, a favorite room. "We need the extra space."
Smith and Lap's designer-showroom tastes are already evident in the present space. The home's original wood floors, still in fine shape, are set off by aged Egyptian carpets, richly colored upholstery, and walls the color of yellow roses. Lush landscaping and aged brickwork give the pool area its own allure.
When the two are done refurbishing, they'll have bragging rights shared by other Victoria Park residents for their hard work and forethought. For example, claims Kelly Lawrence, "We bought this house in 1989 for $114,000, spent around $80,000 in renovations, and now could probably sell for $300,000."
Other variously priced properties on the tour include a Disney-themed bungalow and the "Animal House," of Greg Briche and Craig Eagle, known to locals by that name because of all the birds and other pets that inhabit the house and yard.
As guests tour the holiday-bedecked abodes, says Mark Ketcham, president of the Victoria Park Civic Association, homeowners "get to hear the kind of praise they feel they've earned during their months of renovation."