There Goes the Neighborhood

As potentially historic homes fall to new construction, will red-hot Victoria Park still be so desirable?

For his part, Wright sees few older homes in Victoria Park worth renovating.

"I just think you start harming the ambiance of them, and that starts detracting from what people would want to preserve. It's a Catch-22. I don't know how you improve something when it's that small. I just simply don't know where you'd start. Eventually, they'd become antiquated to the point that people would have a hard time living in them."

Still, he has a soft spot for the dying breed of older homes.

Oodles of charm: Jon Schwenzer (top) and his 1939 bungalow. Developer Glenn Wright (bottom) declares, "Over time, you'll see these [small houses] disappear."
Joshua Prezant
Oodles of charm: Jon Schwenzer (top) and his 1939 bungalow. Developer Glenn Wright (bottom) declares, "Over time, you'll see these [small houses] disappear."

"They're worth preserving somehow, but the homes are so small that they don't work in today's large, spacious, air-conditioned environment that people want," says Wright, a busy man with a habit of adding the phrase "if you follow what I'm saying" to the end of every other sentence. "So you've got these magnificent, small buildings that are antiquated from a use point of view. They're absolutely functionally obsolete, but they're architecturally magnificent. It's a shame, because I think over time you'll see them disappear. People say they're pretty, but they're simply too small."

Wright knows at least one way residents can help save historic homes. "If they want to control what happens on a contiguous piece of property, then they should buy it when it comes on the market," he says, frustrated. "Unless they're prepared to buy the property and prevent what someone else is legally allowed to do with it, I don't understand what the complaint is."

If renovation is too slow and expensive to halt Victoria Park's ignominious slide into suburbanity, another remedy may provide more sweeping protection: historical designation. In fact, such action increases property values just as tangibly as new construction.

In Fort Lauderdale, any building that is 50 years old or older is eligible for historic designation as long as it hasn't been modified or fallen into substantial disrepair. Through the neighborhood civic association, a homeowner can apply to the city's quasi-judicial Historic Preservation Board, established in 1975. The board votes on these applications and submits its recommendations to the City Commission, which has the final say.

Though Fort Lauderdale is in the process of updating its historical register of older homes, the city has only one full-time preservation planner. Until a community advocates designating certain properties or neighborhoods for preservation, even a home built in 1910 -- the age of Victoria Park's oldest property -- could be demolished, assuming the owner meets all the other criteria of the law, explains Eck.

"Until the city gives resources to the historic preservation board they've created, they're going to continue to lose properties," he says. "Victoria Park won't be regulated until it's been cited officially that portions of [the neighborhood] are historic. But until that application is brought before the board and passed, those properties won't be regulated. People should begin to realize that if they don't act now, often what drew them to particular neighborhoods will be lost."

Commissioner Tim Smith, among the city's most vocal advocates for saving historic structures, recently asked for research into local landmarks like the Yankee Clipper Hotel and the Floridian Restaurant. And while he says he'd be happy to see Victoria Park or any other older neighborhood in his district win better protection, he's waiting for his constituents to organize around the issue. "There may be other ways to do it other than declaring areas historic with the same restrictions as Sailboat Bend," Smith says. "But I tell you, if that neighborhood was in favor of it and they wanted to do it, I'd give it strong consideration."

To demolish or update a historic structure in Fort Lauderdale, a developer must request a Certificate of Appropriateness for Alteration, Modification, or Demolition. The City Commission votes on whether to approve the changes to the property. In March, the commission approved four applications to alter and issued permits to demolish three historic structures in Sailboat Bend.

Four years ago, Victoria Park resident George Hunker and his neighbors on 17th Road, a narrow alley lined with eight tiny wood-frame bungalows built in the 1920s, applied for historical designation. The city granted it for each property. A good thing, says the white-bearded Hunker, because too many old homes in the neighborhood have already been lost. He doesn't welcome the new development. "I'm not pleased at all," he says, "because it won't be Victoria Park anymore. It'll be Boca."

Wright doesn't like the idea of historical protection for Victoria Park.

"I think there'd be massive wrangling about what constitutes 'historical.' And I think anything that deprives anybody of their right of usage is against the law. You get into the issue of stepping on somebody's right to do what they are allowed to do with the land that they own, and I don't think that's appropriate. You shouldn't go there, if you follow what I'm saying."

Anyone bemoaning the fate of Victoria Park should look to the example of Sailboat Bend. In the mid-1990s, a majority of Sailboat Bend residents voted and took steps to designate the area as a historic district. After a lengthy process, the city passed a preservation ordinance that strictly limits what can be demolished and constructed in the neighborhood as well as what alterations can be made to existing structures. Any such proposed changes must be brought before the Historic Preservation Board. The old swing bridge on the North Fork of the New River is operated manually. An operator leaves the tiny shack (built in 1925), slowly ambles to the middle of the bridge, and moves the lever that turns the bridge from a turntable in the middle of the river. Boats can travel up the river as far as Broward Boulevard, and cars can drive across from Sailboat Bend into Riverside Park. Both neighborhoods contain an eclectic blend of some of Fort Lauderdale's oldest homes. Riverfront estates, 1970s-era flophouse apartments, rickety convenience stores, and pine-hewn homes with guest cottages peek from bougainvilleaed back yards and large lots overgrown with palms, pines, vines, and saw palmetto.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help