MORE

A House Surrounded

Hidden at the center of downtown Fort Lauderdale at 335 SE Sixth Ave. sits the Stranahan House, a green-and-white, two-story, wooden rectangle on the north shore of the New River with massive wrap-around porches ringing both floors. At 101 years old, the oldest residence in Broward County has survived hurricanes, nearby construction projects, and incarnations as a business and boarding house. Though large for its time, the home is far from ornate.

"Stranahan House is the perfect example of pioneer architecture in South Florida before it was developed, when it was still a true wilderness," points out Katherine Lee Von Dullen, an architect who worked on the home's restoration 21 years ago. "What makes it so important is not that it's a grand mansion but that it's a very simple rustic pioneer trading post. People don't understand that Fort Lauderdale's history is as important to South Florida as the Pilgrims' history is to Massachusetts."

Now a museum and historic resource of national significance, the Stranahan House has weathered the city's proliferation of office buildings and skyscrapers with dogged obstinacy, if not grace. But the historic home is threatened on nearly every side by encroaching development: Some 150 feet to the east, the Riverside Hotel is completing a 16-story addition and parking garage, literally throwing the little house in the shade for much of the morning. Beneath the house runs the Federal Highway tunnel under the New River. And just north and west of the historic home -- on the defunct Hyde Park Market site, its parking lot, and the land immediately to its east -- the prospect of an even-more inappropriate building looms in the form of a proposed $50 million, 312-unit residential high-rise whose bulk would wrap around the house and block out much of its sky for good.

Already, the structure is all but hidden from public view from every angle save the New River, which flows 20 feet from its porch steps. The average pedestrian or driver will never notice it; the condominium will further seal off that view, many contend. Part of the problem is that the building was not situated to have a public face to Las Olas Boulevard -- it was always oriented toward the river. "Unfortunately, we don't come by boat anymore," adds Von Dullen. "If they can develop the parcel so that it will leave it some visual access to Las Olas, that would be better for everyone."

At its closest point, the proposed tower would stand just 90 feet from the Stranahan House's northwest flank. But when developers unveiled plans for their gleaming 363-foot high-rise, they said it was done with the home's low profile in mind. More likely, the condo will enclose the Stranahan House in a box canyon of concrete and glass, with sunsets and sunrises becoming muted, rushed affairs.

"It's a travesty what's happening there," says Dr. Paul S. George, professor of history at Miami-Dade Community College, who also serves as historian to the Historical Association of Southern Florida. "The Stranahan House is one of the very few old buildings we have left, and it happens to be the most important of all of them. It's the home of the mom and dad of modern Fort Lauderdale."

The Stranahan House and its allies are using every resource at their disposal to stop this latest sky-scraping interloper. With the help of the City of Fort Lauderdale and private donors, the nonprofit that operates the house has raised slightly more than $18 million to buy the Hyde Park lot, which the city would then turn into a park. But the landowner and developer have pledged not to part with the parcel at any price -- certainly not for the measly sum of $18 million. Miami developer the Related Group expects the condo project to earn a profit of at least $38 million; when the city tries to take the land in an eminent-domain trial beginning February 18, the Related Group's attorneys will try to convince a jury that the land is worth that much. With the understanding that Fort Lauderdale is limited in the amount it can fork over to purchase the site for a park, the owner/developer hopes it can price the parcel out of the city's reach.

Even if the jury decides that $18 million is fair, that's still more than five times what the owner paid for the property in 1999. Some would find the developer's attempt to jack up the price to be shrewd business practice based on "situational value." Others have called it extortion. But the historic home isn't going to let itself be completely hemmed in without a fight.


Inside the trailer that serves as the office of the Stranahan House, executive director Barbara Keith is doing all she can not to complain about the noise, dust, and inconvenience from the Riverside Hotel's expansion. "It has been so difficult," she says with eyes rolling toward her matronly mass of ivory curls. "Maybe we should have fought that too. But all of a sudden, we were surrounded on all sides." On this weekday in early December, chainlink fences surround the Riverside construction site, and the small parking lot next to the house is white with drywall dust that is blowing onto its grounds. The shrill beep of a tractor backing up fills the courtyard around the home, and a worker yells as a load of lumber and debris is dropped from a high floor to the ground with a ragged boom.

A historic site in Broward County, where local heritage is traditionally a tough sell, must pick its battles with great care. A 16-story addition roughly keeping to an original design is going to seem like a bee sting compared to the sledgehammer blow of a concrete, steel, and glass tower going up just yards away on the Hyde Park property.

The plans for the proposed development depict a building designed with an open-air atrium at its ground-level core; the actual living units don't begin until the ninth floor. Examining the drawings of the proposal in her office, Keith notes that a proposed parking structure in front of the condominium facing Las Olas will block most views. "There is no way," she insists, folding her arms across her chest and shaking her head, "that you'll ever see a two-story house behind an eight-story parking garage."

Looking at the white-elephant storefront, its dirty, fenced-in parking lot, and signs announcing new luxury residences and a street-front bus stop, Keith's soft eyes narrow and flash a betraying hint of fire. She reiterates a point she's made again and again.

"No one on the Stranahan House board is against development," she preaches. "Not one. These buildings are wonderful," she says, gesturing toward the new skyscrapers right across the street. "But not if you don't have green space to sit and reflect.

"It's my vision of a park here," she says pointedly, with a sweep of her hand around her head. Then she pounds her hand gently between her laptop and Rolodex. "And it's my mission to make sure it happens."


When Frank Stranahan, the son of a Presbyterian minister, moved to Fort Lauderdale from Youngstown, Ohio, in 1893, Dade County encompassed all of what is now Martin, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties -- and the population of the entire county would have easily fit in the proposed Hyde Park condo. Only two white settlements existed at the time: a north outpost in Lantana and a south encampment in what was known as Lemon City. A dirt track connected the two, with primitive drawbridges crossing each river and stream along the way -- except for the deep, wide New River, where a ferryboat operated. Stranahan set up camp there, only about a mile from the beach, and took charge of the ferry and the post office. Later that year, when the prominent Brickell family wanted to buy the high hammock land near the confluence of the New and Tarpon rivers, it simply relocated the road west and told the county to use the new spur. The county agreed.

Stranahan moved his campsite, ferry, and post office when the road relocated, continuing to charge horse and wagon traffic a toll of 60 cents to cross the river. At the new site, he again set up his collection of tents where weary travelers could spend the night, as the trip from Biscayne Bay to Lake Worth could easily take two days. Hostilities with Seminole Indians had long since ceased, so there was no threat from them; the small bands who poled dugout canoes down the river were seen as peaceful savages by the white populace, even a curiosity. Stranahan took title to the property in 1894. The frontiersman bought 10.7 acres, including 300 feet on the water, for $1 an acre. By 1899, he was the town's first postmaster, store owner, and bank president. He met the town's lone schoolteacher, 18-year-old Ivy Julia Cromartie from North Florida, and they married the following year.

Seminoles from the western wilds would bring what they'd hunted to Stranahan & Company, Frank's small, one-story, wooden building on the river. Sometimes 100 or so Seminoles would come at a time, sleeping in a tented camp on what is now the Hyde Park parking lot or, in smaller numbers, on the porch of the Stranahans' cottage. Even after Ed King built the young couple a new home in 1901, the Seminoles still didn't like coming inside, but with two wrap-around porches, they were well-accommodated. The Stranahans planted a live-oak tree next to the new house; it still stands outside Ivy's bedroom window. Ivy took it upon herself to school the younger Seminoles who came along, teaching mostly Christianity and the alphabet.

Frank moved his trading post down the river to Andrews Avenue and continued to trade sugar and coffee to Seminoles in exchange for animal pelts and hides. By 1906, the trading post had evolved into a general store and bank. The Stranahans filled their home with European artifacts, fancy silver, and china.

In 1912, Frank sold Stranahan & Company, positioning himself to take full advantage of the real estate boom that would grip the area for the next decade. He and Ivy, founders of the town and two of its most active civic leaders, enjoyed the best times of their lives as one of Fort Lauderdale's most important and wealthiest couples.

But by the end of 1928, the economy in South Florida was at the nadir of a boom-or-bust cycle, and all the money Frank had earned was lost. Worse, all the money he'd persuaded his friends to invest or deposit in his Fort Lauderdale Bank and Trust Company was gone too, leaving him guilt-wracked and despondent. By spring, the city was in political disarray and the Stranahans owed money to several lenders. On the afternoon of May 22, 1929, to try to induce some calm, Ivy drove him to the beach. Frank, who had never learned to drive a car, was beside himself. When they returned, he tinkered in the garage. Next to the porch, in an old wheelbarrow, he found an iron storm grate, tied it to his leg, and threw himself into the river just behind his house. Stranahan was pulled from the water almost immediately, but it was too late. Every business in Fort Lauderdale shut down the next day to mourn him.

After her husband's death, Ivy continued converting Seminoles to her Seventh-day Adventist faith and abiding by a strict vegetarian diet. Decades before tofu was sold in stores, Ivy prepared dishes made with gluten and soy grits. She made sandwiches consisting of a homemade yeast mixture not unlike Australia's beloved Vegemite. Raw vegetables and brown rice were everywhere, and she added wheat germ to milk, salads, and almost everything else she ate. She even practiced yoga right up until her very last days.

The Stranahans never had children -- Ivy had reputedly seen a sister die during childbirth. But she came to treat Seminole children as her own, even bathing them in her tub. After the 1930s failed to bring any prosperity to South Florida, she began taking boarders into the large home and tried in 1936 to turn part of it into a restaurant, the Water's Edge Inn, but it failed after a year. Prospector Etson J. Blackwell and his wife, Elsie, were traveling up Federal Highway when they saw the structure at the New River and its "for rent" sign; they proposed to Ivy another restaurant, occupying the first floor of the home, necessitating the addition of another wrap-around porch that would extend the dining area all the way to the edge of the river. Ivy agreed, and the Pioneer House began in 1940 as one of three eateries in town. The Blackwells and their children lived upstairs with Ivy, who at times would relocate to the attic when additional boarders necessitated it.

In 1959, the city decided to construct the only traffic tunnel in the state of Florida under the New River at Federal Highway. Ivy opposed the tunnel's construction: The noise from the blasting and the vibration unnerved her, and the dust settled over everything. A huge ventilation shaft was erected outside of her bedroom window, just past the oak tree. She worried about the effect the blasting would have on the home's foundation; in fact, some cracking and settlement on the east side of the house were subsequently found.

In 1966, August Burghard and Philip Weidling published Checkered Sunshine, the first historical account of Fort Lauderdale. The death of Frank Stranahan is noted, but the gory details are glossed over; in fact, out of respect to Ivy, it wasn't even mentioned that he killed himself, despite the fact that many of the city's residents at the time were old enough to remember the headlines and his funeral. In fact, Burghard, a former Fort Lauderdale lifeguard, had unsuccessfully attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Stranahan's lifeless body when it was pulled from the river.

In 1971, Ivy died in her sleep in her upstairs bedroom. She was 90 years old.

Two years later, the city applied to have the Pioneer House recognized as a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was added to the register but with qualifications because of the "incompatible" porch additions to the restaurant. Ivy had willed the home to the Seventh-day Adventists, but the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society bought it from the church.

The restaurant closed in 1979, and the site was rezoned as a Historic Preservation District. The added-on veranda, which left no walkway between the river and the house and stretched from the wall of the grocery store to the street on the east, was removed, and the original wood porches had deteriorated to the point that they had to be torn down too. In charge of the restoration work was Shepard Associates from Jacksonville, which named Katherine Lee Von Dullen as project manager.

"It's one of my dearest and most favorite projects," says Von Dullen, who left the Fort Lauderdale area in the mid-'90s and now lives in Chicago. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime project, as a matter of fact." The project began in 1980 and was completed in 1984.

The basic block of the house, composed of Dade County pine, was still dry and strong. But the porch additions were attached to the exterior walls and had begun to bow them out. After the porches were removed, the bowing remained; Von Dullen's crew actually had to strap the house together and pull it back into vertical alignment with turnbuckles and steel cables around the roofline and the ground plane of the first floor.

The home was restored to its 1915 state, two years after electricity and plumbing had been installed. For the sake of comfort, the house was also fitted with central air conditioning. The interior of the home was restored as closely as possible to its original craftsmanship, though some paneling of Dade County pine was replaced with yellow pine and refinished to match. Many of the glass windows are 101 years old. The fireplace was dismantled, stripped of its brown paint, and reconstructed brick by brick.

Since the museum and the Stranahan House Board of Directors needed office space, the master bedroom became a board room and the kitchen a gift shop. Recently, the kitchen was refashioned and the gift shop moved to a small upstairs room formerly used as a screened-in porch. All the bedrooms are now decorated as bedrooms.

As the recession pains of the 1980s faded, Fort Lauderdale turned its attention to revitalizing its neglected downtown. The economy hit its stride during the early part of the next decade, office space filled up, and neighborhoods ringing the city center rapidly increased in value. For a short time, the museum seemed buffered from the threat of downtown development. But as squat, older structures were slowly replaced by high-rise residences, the Hyde Park Market site, located in one of the more valuable and desirable spots downtown, appeared unlikely to remain a grocery store for very long.


The Hyde Park chain began closing its stores in South Florida during 1998. The city -- which had already eyed the Las Olas site as a perfect terminus and entry point for Riverwalk -- couldn't decide whether to turn the 1.48-acre lot into a park or accept a high-rise condominium complex with retail and parking. The property owner (Coolidge-South Market Equities of New York City) and the developer (Miami's the Related Group) essentially merged into one entity, presenting the city's Downtown Development Authority review committee with its condominium plans in August 1999. But the Stranahan House board countered just a month later with its own dream of transforming the land into a park -- which would include a welcome center for the historic dwelling. Then came the incongruous sight of grassroots political activists mixing with moneyed history buffs to carry placards around town that read "100 Years of History vs. 38 Stories of Concrete." The group collected more than 10,000 signatures to push for a bond issuance for the city to buy the land.

Until then, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission had been bitterly divided on the issue. Commissioners Tim Smith and Carlton Moore attempted to stall the bond issue, with Moore citing more pressing issues in the community, particularly his northwest district. Smith decried the proposal to buy the land at the markup the developer was demanding, saying that the commission was, in effect, being "held hostage" by the Related Group.

But the bond issue was added to the ballot in March 2000, the same month the Hyde Park Market shut its doors for good. The park bond issuance passed, 55 percent to 44 percent.

Even before urban renaissance arrived, the city began planning to revitalize the river between SW Seventh Avenue and the tunnel at Federal Highway, at the river's closest point to the Las Olas shops. The Las Olas Riverfront Mall and the Riverwalk pathway represent Fort Lauderdale's decision to bring downtown back to its human-scale, pedestrian-friendly roots. And the Hyde Park Market site occupied the perfect spot to anchor that revitalization with green open space right on the New River, representing a refocus on Broward County's original artery for travel and commerce.

Unfortunately, this revival has come at great cost to the city's historic structures. Much of the original flavor of Brickell Avenue, once the main street of town, died as the wrecking ball claimed a saloon, pawn shop, and cafe, all built in the late 1910s or early 1920s. A couple of old stores were spared but are buried in the mall's stucco labyrinth. West of the railroad tracks between the New River and Himmarshee Street lies a small historic district with its centerpieces the River Inn and the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society; on the east side of downtown, the Stranahan House is the only notable historic building.

Fort Lauderdale stated that it had one goal in mind when the Riverwalk concept was evolving: to be the best city of its size by the mid-1990s. And to realize that, says assistant city manager Bud Bentley, Fort Lauderdale wants a park to anchor the end of Riverwalk. Not a 38-story condo.

"Could we live with it?" Bentley asks with a scowl. "Yeah, we could live with it. You can live on half a salary too, but your quality of life isn't the same."

Other experts agree. Don Singer, a leading Broward architect for 40 years, sees the issue as "a building of major impact versus a site that should be a Riverwalk connector, and I think a park is the most meaningful thing to do that. The fact that the Stranahan House is there is a super plus." Since the city has already allocated the funds to connect Riverwalk to Las Olas, he advises, "The opportunity is here, so bite the bullet and do it."

Thorn Grafton, a Coral Gables architect retained by Stranahan House, noted in a report last summer that "as in any good city there must be a passion of place, to give the city a social order, a unique cultural spirit, and a cohesive form. Those expressing passion of pocketbook without regard for passion of place can extinguish the life of parts of the city." In summing up the audacity of the proposed project, he wrote, "Miami Beach with a mean streak has come to the New River."

But Toby Prince Brigham, a Miami lawyer representing the Related Group, notes that the 1999 Comprehensive Land Use Plan adopted by the city gives developers carte blanche to construct on the Hyde Park site.

"The city made a conscious decision that this particular property should be a vertical residential community, and it should not be a park," he asserts. "I certainly know that if there were any compelling reason that the property should be a park, it would have said so in the comprehensive land-use plan."

At the heart of the developer's argument is not that the land was zoned strictly for high-density and precludes other uses but that more revenue can be generated that way than any other. Furthermore, since Fort Lauderdale's original Riverwalk plans don't feature a park at that site, Brigham argues, the city has no right to call for one now.

"We are allowed to change our mind," counters Bentley. "We're trying to achieve what's reasonable and possible within the plan." That plan designates the east Riverwalk terminus as "regional activity center," which permits a broad range of uses. Pointing out the rapid growth downtown and the expected arrival of at least 5600 dwelling units in the next few years, Bentley says adding a pedestrian-friendly green space is foresight that will be rewarded in the long term. "We can't tear down a high-rise to build a park," he warns.

Thus, the city began stocking its war chest early. The bond issuance earmarked some $8 million to try to buy the Hyde Park land, fortifying a secret donor's $2 million, given to the Stranahan House board in September 1999. "Where did the anonymous $2 million come from?" queries Brigham. "Nobody knows. But our building blocks the views of others."

Just west of the Hyde Park site, against the river east of the Third Avenue Bridge, H. Wayne Huizenga is turning a vacant parcel into his own luxury residential high-rise. But the billionaire, whose building's eastward views would be obscured by the Related Group's development and who has supported the Stranahan House in the past, is not the donor, Keith insists. An elderly widow in the Rio Vista area, Bentley whispers, is reportedly the mysterious benefactor.

One year later, the Seminole tribe pledged $3 million toward the city's efforts, subject to a host of conditions, chief among them that the park would be known as Seminole Park at Stranahan House. Finally, early this January, the city received a $6.6 million grant from the state's Florida Forever program to further fund the purchase. But with the landowner repeatedly insisting the parcel isn't for sale at any price, the Related Group must now fend off Fort Lauderdale's attempted hostile takeover. If a jury decides the city can condemn and take the land, it will have to determine a fair market value for the parcel. And if that amount is more than $18 million, it creates another -- possibly insurmountable -- obstacle for the city.

The city filed its eminent-domain suit in Broward County Circuit Court on June 22, 2000, but the trial -- set to conclude with a 12-member jury deciding the property's value -- didn't begin until late August 2001. As lines were drawn, Stranahan supporter and local attorney Jim Blosser told Bentley to dig in for a serious, all-out battle: "We strongly suggest," he wrote earlier that year, "whomever is chosen as special counsel for the city have experience in litigation with Toby Brigham, who is one of the most effective and successful eminent domain lawyers in Florida."

"Toby is a property-rights advocate like no other advocate in this country," confirms attorney John Shubin of the Miami law firm Shubin and Bass, whom the Stranahan House retained at the onset of the eminent-domain case. "He's constantly pressing the contours of the law." Mark Ulmer has been selected to serve as counsel for the city in the eminent-domain process.

In an unforeseen and bizarre turn of events, the trial came to an immediate halt just one day after the city had presented its arguments, when Judge J. Leonard Fleet dropped a bombshell on the court August 30, 2001, by abruptly withdrawing from the case. Although he and Brigham had graduated together from the University of Florida's law school in 1959, both denied they'd spent social time together since. Fleet's recusal, it was revealed, came about because on the evening of August 28, he was having dinner with longtime buddy Fred Kornberg, a Coral Springs real-estate agent, who told the judge he had a friend who wanted to offer him at least $100,000 to rule in favor of the developer. After a sleepless night, Fleet recused himself; Judge Robert Lance Andrews is in charge of the new trial, which begins February 18.

Says Brigham, who vigorously denied that his client was behind the attempted bribe: "It appears that's all been taken care of. I assume we'll proceed with a fair hearing and a decision will be made in the court based on the facts of law."


Though many have called the Stranahan House's not-for-profit battle noble and brave in the face of a powerful developer and powerful attorneys, Brigham dismisses the bulldog tactics of the political action committee put together by the Stranahan House. "I don't intend to characterize their efforts other than as special interest," he says. "And we don't understand why all of these decisions the city has made should be overturned on the whims of special interests. I don't think it's lawful. Is the Stranahan House so privileged that they can just take a vote and decide that the owner can't lawfully use the property? I think that there is not a reasonable necessity for the property to be taken for public purposes."

Other prominent downtown developers have spoken in favor of an urban park -- a rare commodity in Fort Lauderdale -- because it would increase their property values. Downtown office workers would find the park at the corner of centrally located Federal Highway and Las Olas the perfect spot to sit with their bag lunches.

Brigham contends that the Related Group's project has been singled out unfairly. "If you look at a brochure about the Stranahan House, there's a picture of how it's framed by the high-rise buildings of Fort Lauderdale," he points out. Brigham has little sympathy for the grumblings of the two-story warriors. "They don't seem to complain about the Riverside Hotel going 16 stories up right across the street from them," he throws out.

The Stranahan House will be fine, with hundreds of new neighbors to enjoy it, Brigham promises, explaining that old and new together will create a new fabric, a new visual texture at the city's heart. Many observers might find that relationship jarring or horribly out of scale, but it feels fine to the attorney. "Having them side by side emphasizes the historic significance of the Stranahan House. It seems to make history come alive," Brigham argues. "It's a very charming juxtaposition."

Grafton's report finds the juxtaposition considerably less than charming: "The main reason for the building being set on massive columns eight stories high is to puff up its sense of grandeur and exclusivity for the benefit of the residents and their view of the New River above the landscape.... The Stranahan House in this design has been partially captured for use by a privileged few. From the street-bound public's perspective the view created of the house is framed with such massive and self-important architecture that the subject of the view is lost."

Brigham only chuckles, "How are we ever going to have historic buildings in the future if we don't build some more?" The Stranahan House's campaign literature posits that the condo tower would stand as a monument to the city's lack of foresight. Brigham mulls that over and pauses only a moment. "I wonder," he muses, "if the citizens of Fort Lauderdale felt that way when the Stranahan House was built."

The details of Fort Lauderdale's pioneer past may elude him, but Brigham says recent history gives him hope that this case will end up in his favor: the Miami Circle case. Land developer Michael Baumann had permits in place to begin construction of a condo in Miami's Biscayne Park. When an ancient, 38-foot circle carved into the oolitic limestone bedrock by Tequesta Indians was discovered, construction was halted, and the city voted to take the land by eminent domain. The price the city and Baumann agreed to out of court ($26.7 million) and the price Baumann originally paid for the land ($8 million) left much debate as to who actually emerged the victor. Brigham has even referred to the land at 500 East Las Olas as "the Fort Lauderdale Square."

"Toby's trying to turn this into a Circle case," charges attorney Shubin, comparing potential meet-in-the-middle scenarios. "Toby wants to speak as if the Circle case is an indication of the state of the law. It is the legal precedent, but it was unique, the perfect storm, a confluence of events that resulted in a negotiated settlement that was unique and unprecedented. But it's like winning the friggin' lottery: It's one in a million."

Yet the Related Group and Coolidge-South have already bought a $2.5 million lottery ticket with a guaranteed payoff several times that amount.


By mid-January, the construction of the addition to the historic Riverside Hotel has entered its final phase; at 185 feet tall, it now dominates Las Olas Boulevard. Generators sit silent, windows have been installed, and the new sea-green and white chiffon stucco roughly matches that of the original structure, now almost invisible at the base of the garage.

If the Hyde Park condo plans go through, this time next year could bring the pounding of huge pilings driven into the marshy land just behind the Stranahan House office and right up against the western boundary of the yard. The commotion would start at ground level and descend below, as trucks, heavy machines, and laborers surround the site and create a concrete foundation. Then the noise and dust and chaos would take two long years to creep steadily skyward, rudely dominating the sight and smell and peace and green of the Stranahan House. And then it would remain there forever, twice the height of the new Riverside Hotel tower, smugly standing over the house.


Betty Tonking is the docent leading a tour though the house on an overcast Sunday afternoon in mid-January. Volunteers are busy taking down Christmas decorations, and packing lights, a small wooden sled, and antique ornaments into boxes. The dark pine paneling makes each room seem slightly smaller, and period incandescent lamps glow in each one. Even the smallest bedroom is lighted with three old glass lamps at 2 in the afternoon, usually one of the brightest times of the day. Behind the dining-room table, hidden by paneling, is a black box safe underneath the stairs. "You can tell everyone you've seen Fort Lauderdale's first bank," Tonking tells the group of seven tourists. "No tall buildings. This was it." Above the safe is a portrait of Frank with round, Harry Truman glasses and a conservative suit coat and tie.

At the top of the staircase to the second floor, an undated photograph shows a smiling, wrinkled Ivy, her hair done simply, age spots dotting her arms and hands. Another much older, faded photograph shows the home surrounded by a stand of slash pines that grow a few feet taller than the roof's peak. Yet another photo, taken after the exterior porches were removed but before renovation began, shows the house with holes in its roof, propped up by sticks, ready to cave in.

"This is the fun part of the tour," Tonking announces to the group, opening the tall, narrow French doors to the porch outside of Ivy's bedroom. The oak tree's rotund base splits off into five thick, sprawling branches, each festooned with dangling air plants. Across the river, northbound traffic rises momentarily on Federal Highway before plunging into the tunnel underneath the river. Opposite Ivy's window is the huge ventilation shaft for the tunnel, and traffic noise whooshes out of its speaker-like enclosure. Everyone's neck cranes to follow the huge parking garage rising across the street. "We're not too happy about the Riverside," Tonking says as she leads the group to the balcony's west face, "but we can't do anything about that."

Across the roof of the Hyde Park Market looms a brand-new office building on Las Olas and an even taller bank going up behind it. Two red construction cranes ascend above them, dwarfing a tall royal palm tree -- a wedding gift to the Stranahans -- that sits in the garden just two feet from the wall of the market. Underneath the tree is a carpet of philodendrons, ferns, and mothers-in-law tongues, as well as tangling vines that coat the protective wall of the grocery store. How the demolition of the market could take place without removing this foliage isn't answered by staring.


Sponsor Content