Raze the Roof

Greed, neglect, and the bulldozer's blade chew away at the work of Fort Lauderdale's master builder

Christopher Eck, director of the Broward County Historical Society, begs to differ, seeing instead ¨a cartoonish representation that replicates what had been there.¨ Instead of the earth-toned nobility of the Graves estate, its replacement is a typically ostentatious small hotel, as if one of the enormous trophy homes that dominate the county´s western suburban fringes had uprooted, fattened itself on fake colonnades, and moved downtown. Its huge, red-ochre bulk nestles up against its neighbors like a spoiled windbag puffing a cigar during a dinner party.

Neighbor Leslie Curley derisively calls it ¨a starter castle.¨

Gaskill recently came across a pen-and-ink drawing of her mother´s old house, and she says she wants to present it to Saban. But a spokesman for the Dolphins, Harvey Greene, says Saban ¨wouldn´t be able to even think about that until after the football season.¨ He adds: ¨For security and personal reasons, he´s very private about this stuff. It´s not a gated community.¨

Eck chuckles at interior designer VanVoast´s mention of a ¨Destroyer´s Curse,¨ but she remains dead serious. ¨I would hope that it wouldn´t follow the people who bought it, because it´s not their fault. It´s on [Levine´s] head,¨ VanVoast says ominously. O´Connor calls developers who tear down valuable old properties ¨greedy pigs¨ and says of Levine´s windfall, ¨I hope he spends it all on doctor´s bills.¨

Levine doesn´t understand the animosity. ¨There was no guilt,¨ he says. ¨It was an open transaction. The city should have come along and bought it or had someone else buy it. If people are so concerned about preserving the work of Francis Abreu, they should designate his houses as historic.¨

At least one more Abreu structure´s days are numbered. In January, the city voted unanimously to remove the old Post Office from the Himmarshee Street historic district so it can be torn down and replaced with a new maritime museum. ¨The building had been bastardized,¨ says Bengochea, noting that it has stood empty and gutted for years. Says Hutchinson: ¨There was nothing left to save.¨

But Jordan says Abreu´s original plan for the Post Office was for three stories, not the one-story one that was built. He believes that, if the old blueprints were consulted, a museum could be constructed along those lines. Eck decries the city´s ¨gerrymandering¨ in the historic district to placate another development project downtown.

¨It was a cute little maneuver that pulled that one building out of the historic district so it could be demolished,¨ says Smart, calling the tactic ¨another indication of our disregard for preservation.¨

But the deal is done, and the Post Office´s date with destiny approaches. Vacant for almost a decade, it is fenced off from public view.

¨We´re the custodians of our own history,¨ Smart says. ¨And the city doesn´t see that.¨

Hutchinson, battered by the salvos of preservationists, won´t argue with that. ¨We need to do a better job,¨ she says. ¨I mean, we´ve already talked the talk.¨

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