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¨Those who thought she was at least fair-minded have lost confidence in her,¨ laments Diane Smart, who replaced Jordan on the Broward Trust.
¨She´s the reason things are in the state they´re in,¨ adds Jordan. ¨Her votes and her lack of leadership have been devastating.¨
Hutchinson acknowledges that ¨some of the votes I´ve had to make are quite hard on historic preservation. With the Gypsy Graves House, I don´t know if I did the right thing. If I had it to do over, my vote might well have been different. But it´s too late. That vote in particular has bothered me because maybe I didn´t do the right thing.¨
¨We need a city preservationist who has no bureaucratic obstacles,¨ Jordan contends. ¨We need an in-your-face preservation group. I can´t live in this town and just watch this keep happening.¨
The Gypsy Graves House was ¨the poster child for everything that´s wrong with historical preservation in this town,¨ Jordan says. ¨I would have made as much or more money from restoring it.¨
Current Historical Preservation Board President Art Bengochea, himself an architect/builder, says he personally tried to save the place, preparing sketches showing how he could modernize the house without sacrificing its rich detail. ¨I looked at extending the dining room and adding bathrooms and closets commensurate with a multimillion-dollar house,¨ Bengochea says. But none of his high-end clients bit. ¨By the time I looked at it, there was a lot to be done to bring it up to current standards for a large, luxury home.¨
Could he have still realized a substantial profit? ¨Absolutely,¨ he says.
There are profits to be made in historic houses, Bengochea says, citing a project he´s engaged in now. Faced with the same choice Levine had to raze or not to raze Bengochea shows the kinder, gentler method.
It´s one of Abreu´s most extravagant palaces on the New River, the Reed Bryan House, at 403 Tarpon Terrace. Bengochea is painstakingly restoring all the original distinctive details of the 1925 home. The black-and-white marble floors have been replaced, the wrought ironwork sandblasted and polished, new wood-frame windows inserted. The square footage has been bumped from 6,600 feet up to ¨about 10,000,¨ he says, fitting surroundings for Michael Egan, the former Alamo Rent-a-Car and AutoNation executive once listed in Forbes as one of America´s richest individuals.
The house was originally built for $50,000 and resold for $100,000 in 1980. According to Broward County Property Appraiser data, the Egans paid $3.05 million for the house last November. Bengochea acknowledges he´s custom-building the additions for the Egans but declines to name his fee.
Jordan pulls into the dust- and gravel-filled yard of the Bryan Home, marveling at the expanded dimensions. ¨With the money he has, Michael Egan has taken a position that´s more preservationist than anyone in the city.
¨Art is a very sensitive architect,¨ Jordan says carefully. ¨Put this job in the wrong hands and it would have been a terrible mess, but this is in keeping with the original design. If it´s a choice between tearing it down and building a McMansion, I guess I´d choose this.¨
Another Rio Vista resident and Abreu fan, Jay Adams, has renovated two of the architect´s homes on South Andrews Avenue and is now at work on the Progresso Plaza on North Andrews, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places one of only three commercial buildings in the city to attain such an honor.
¨These projects are very difficult to make financial sense out of,¨ he concedes. ¨It´s almost more of a labor of love than an investment. I can´t tell you how many times I´ve been told, Oh, just tear it down!´¨
There´s a tendency to dismiss young cities like Fort Lauderdale as being bereft of history. And the momentum is distinctly anti-preservation one look at Fort Lauderdale´s skyline and the disappearance of single-story bungalows in neighborhoods like Victoria Park tells the tale.
In other cities like Savannah, Georgia historic preservation boards operate independently of local politics, commissioner Hutchinson points out. ¨Instead of just reviewing and advising, the preservation board could be more pro-active, take on more of a protective role.¨
City Commission votes on the Graves House, the Stranahan House, or the Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel all demonstrate how the city, afraid of lawsuits from deep-pocketed developers, have capitulated to their whims. As part of an effort to stem the tide, the city is looking into hiring a full-time preservation officer. ¨Someone who´d eat, sleep, and drink historic preservation,¨ Hutchinson says. ¨Someone who can figure out how we can give people incentives to declare their properties historic.¨
Developers have always led the land booms in Broward County, from downtown speculators in the 1930s to land-grabbers like the Bergeron family to the condominium kings of the past decade. Realtor Andy Weiser, who can´t wait for the chance to sell downtown penthouse units on the Las Olas site where the Hyde Park Market once stood, decries the ¨small and entirely too vocal antidevelopment crowd.¨ On his webpage, he points out that seeking to recoup damage done by not being able to exercise property rights is a viable tactic. The threat of ¨lawsuit(s) the city can ill afford¨ can give a project the momentum to get it through the complicated land-use process, he suggests.