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Raze the Roof

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To avoid the tarnish of allowing a developer to demolish another historic building downtown, Naugle appealed the ruling, and the commission worked out a compromise that allowed Haan to pocket $25,000 each from the city and the developer just to haul the thing away.

The ordeal was far from painless, though. Haan had to pay $30,000 to move the house. The barge rental alone ran $10,000. It cost $4,000 for every traffic light that had to be removed and replaced while the house was trucked from the Performing Arts Center to its new home. It was a three-day process just to get it there and then four years before Haan could move in. An artist by trade, he chuckles, ¨I had faux finish in here before I had running water.¨

On large lots, developers can (and do) replace them with three townhomes that sell for as much as $500,000 each. ¨And they tax my land as if I can do the same thing!¨ Haan gripes. He says a developer offered him $400,000 for his house — with a clause that says the historic designation must be withdrawn. ¨There are no breaks if you have a historic house that limits what you can do with your property. Not one penny. I asked [Broward County Property Appraiser] Lori Parrish why they´re doing that, and she said, Tear down your house. Just tear it down. ´¨

The calculators that make those decisions are faulty, Haan thinks. ¨How do you factor in that it´s an Abreu, that it´s the Oliver House? They don´t know how to compute that.¨

The only thing he can do to make sure the house outlives him, Haan figures, is to eventually sell it ¨for a high enough price to force a buyer to appreciate all those intangibles.¨

Last year, a local plastic surgeon, Harry Moon, saved a 1926 Abreu apartment building from a developer who planned to demolish it. The City Commission had declared Himmarshee Court historic in 1999, but the building nearly crumbled in the years that followed. The stucco-and-clay-tile building — recently remodeled and doubled in size — is now Moon´s new clinic.

Levine, whose office is nearby, doesn´t understand the decision to renovate Himmarshee Court. ¨To me, it looks nothing like what was originally there,¨ he grumbles.

He´s far more pleased with the mansion that replaced the Gypsy Graves House. Property records show the new house at 1115 N. Rio Vista was sold in June for $6.7 million. ¨What we put back there is very similar in design, only it´s substantially larger,¨ he adds. ¨It´s 11,000 square feet under roof. It´s occupied by Nick Saban, the coach of the Dolphins, and I think it´s an enhancement to the City of Fort Lauderdale.¨

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.¨

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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