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Raze the Roof

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¨You´ve got to want to do this kind of thing,¨ and it´s far from easy, he says. Too many unforeseen problems and ¨the numbers start to not work.¨ And the city doesn´t make it easy either. ¨The zoning department decided to run us through the mill,¨ he says, scratching his neatly trimmed, graying beard. ¨There are very few people who even know enough to battle the city on the level I did.

¨I wouldn´t even consider tearing this building down,¨ he continues, pointing out the red Cuban tiles capping small bell-towers with tiny, wood-framed windows. ¨It would be a sin. But even someone well-intentioned could have lost this battle and this building.¨

Jordan owns New World Builders, a construction firm he says is dedicated to ¨sensitive¨ development. He led the city´s Historic Preservation Board for two years and was the president of the Broward Trust for Historic Preservation until this year, when he resigned to run for a seat against District 4 City Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson. In fact, preservationists in the city uniformly point to Hutchinson as one commissioner who can be counted on to side with developers — and overturn the Historical Preservation Board´s recommendation when it´s time to vote.

Hutchinson, who points out that she is ¨only one vote,¨ understands the outcry. ¨I know,¨ she sighs. ¨Somebody has to pay for this.¨

¨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.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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