Thursday, September 17, 2015

Florida Today Goes Digital!

A few weeks ago the announcement was made that Ancestry, the leader in family history and consumer genetics, was collaborating with Gannett Co., Inc., the largest local-to-national media company, to digitize more than 80 daily newspapers across the nation. These newspapers will be available via a subscription to Newspapers.com, which is a business unit of Ancestry. Since Gannett owns our very own Florida Today I was hoping that it would be included among these papers.  Yesterday I had a chance to meet with the new Editor of Florida Today, Bob Gabordi, and ask him about the announcement. Fortunately, I was able to confirm that YES, the Florida Today will be included in this project! This announcement is like an early Christmas present for us since we receive daily requests to assist individuals trying to find articles and photographs previously published in the paper. Currently we have a complete collection of the paper on micro-film, and thanks to our volunteers we have some indexes to obituaries that appeared in the paper, but there are no subject indexes and no way to search it beside taking a roll and just looking through it page by page. Just yesterday I had a request from a lady whose terminally ill father wanted to find an article published about him in his youth, but she wasn't even sure what year it might have appeared in. Now helping people with searches like these will be much easier!

This project is planned to provide viewers with "a historical viewing experience complete with full text search, clipping and sharing features." The database will ultimately include every available page from the first date of publication up to issues from 30 days ago. Archives will be updated on a regular basis with content from the previous month. Gannett digital subscribers will have access to the most recent two years of content and complete archives will be available to everyone through a monthly or annual subscription. As most of you know the library system is already a subscriber to Ancestry.com and hopefully we will be able to add access to Newspapers.com with our package. Apparently they are going in alphabetical order by newspaper title, so this all should be happening in the near future. Fingers crossed!!!  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Oceanfront History

Since I have had many of you tell me that you like my blog posts on historical homes I thought I would tell you about a local oceanfront property that has an interesting but little known history! "The Folly" which is located at 365 S. Atlantic Ave in Cocoa Beach occupies a beautiful oceanfront location just south of the former Neuharth estate, "Pumpkin Center," which also changed hands  recently for the tidy sum of $4,000,000. What you may not realize is that behind the remodeled facades of both properties lies two historic homes. The Neuharth estate has at its core the very first house that was built on the ocean at Cocoa Beach. It was built in 1927 by none other than Eugene Wuesthoff who was a wealthy winter resident of Rockledge, and who's name is still recognizable from his association with Wuesthoff Hospital. Wuesthoff's house was built for $8,000 and was meant to mimic a rustic log cabin. 

"The Folly" Howard House, 365 S. Atlantic Ave. Built 1937
Courtesy of Carpenter/Kessel Homeselling Team

"The Folly" was built in 1937, exactly ten years after Wuesthoff's house, and let's just say the place got off to a roaring start. The lucky builders of this home were Mr. and Mrs. Graeme Keith Howard of New York City. When he built this house Mr. Howard was in the middle of an illustrious career. He had already graduated from Stanford with a degree in Economics, attended Harvard Graduate School and served as a top executive with General Motors in Bombay, Copenhagen and London. He went on to write and publish the noted book "America and A New World Order" in 1940, serve as Head of the U.S. mission to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces and eventually retired as Director of the International division of the Ford Motor Company in 1950.

The Howards hired noted local architect Richard W. Rummell to design the home and to supervise construction, which was done by the contractors Bower and Smith. It is even possible that Mr. Rummell was responsible for the Howards choosing to winter in this area, as his daughter Grace worked in the International division of GM in New York and was also married to a GM executive. The charming house Mr. Rummell designed for the Howards was largely of brick construction, which was unusual in the area, but was similar to the house Rummell was building for prominent citrus man John D'Albora in Cocoa at the same time which is shown below. The original three bedroom Howard house, whose construction price was not made public, was about 75 feet in length and built on an east-west axis with a large central section flanked by two shorter wings. 

D'Albora House, Indian River Dr., Cocoa, Built 1937
Also currently for sale with Re/Max Elite
The Howards visited Cocoa Beach the week of October 7, 1937 to check on the progress of their house which was largely completed, and to arrange to have the grounds extensively landscaped which included transplanting full size palms. No sooner did the Howards return to New York City than they received a phone call from the architect Rummell that their house had caught fire and was almost totally destroyed. Since Cocoa Beach was so sparsely settled at this period, picture A1A as a dirt road, no one knew of the fire until the workmen showed up the next morning to finish up, only to find "nothing but blackened brick walls." Several residents of Cocoa later reported that they had seen the light from the fire about midnight one night, but that they had thought it was from a woods fire on the island. 

Aerial View, Original wing on the right side of  photo

View from the beach, Original brick wing on the right side of photo with shutters

Luckily the Howards had already insured the home and they immediately instructed Mr. Rummell to rebuild the house using the same plans. He employed a large force to get the house ready for them so that they could occupy it for the winter season of 1937. Fortunately the new furniture the Howards had ordered for the house and wanted installed before their next trip had not arrived yet! 

Two Views of the original 1937 living room
Courtesy of Carpenter/Kessel
Although they got off to a rough start, as you can see the house ended up being a real charmer! The style of the home is hard to characterize, but  clearly draws from the New England colonial style with its brick construction, shutters and finely pine paneled walls. However the vaulted ceiling in the living room with its pecky cypress beams is reminiscent of other Rummell designed ceilings put into the Spanish style buildings he is so famous for. The home still contains several original lighting fixtures,  push button electrical switches, period bathrooms and pegged wood floors. Overall you just have to settle for the fact that it is all clearly in good taste and leave it at that!

For more information about the house and additional photos you can contact DeWayne Carpenter or Kirk Kessel of the Carpenter/Kessel Homeselling team. Also be sure to check out their blog.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Is That A Cistern?

So as many of you know it seems as if I am always in the process of some type of remodeling project either on my home or that of someone else. I am currently tackling the "last" room in my house that I haven't completely torn apart, rebuilt, and painstakingly put back together. This room is at the very back of the house behind the kitchen and was part of the old service part of the house. The kitchen, now one large room, originally consisted of a butler's pantry, kitchen and then a small hallway and half bath with this room behind it. Previous owners referred to this as the maid's room. After removing the half bath to enlarge the kitchen, I don't think bathrooms and kitchens should really mix anyway, this room is now on its way to becoming the new much larger, out of the way downstairs bath. Since there was no plumbing in this room new waste and water lines needed to go in, which required tearing up the old floor and digging under the house to connect everything to existing lines. When we took up the floor we discovered a large concrete structure just inches from the bottom of the floor that was of course right where we wanted to run our lines. As soon as I saw it I thought, "Is that a cistern?" The top visible part was covered in concrete and the sides were square and made of concrete block. 

Looking down at the top and side of the cistern
For those of you who may not know, cisterns were tanks constructed to store rainwater and were a common occurrence in early Florida homes before the arrival of municipal water systems. They were typically placed under the house or to the side and are almost always found in homes constructed before 1900. Dates vary of course as they were gradually phased out over time as the state's various city's installed utilities.

703 Rockledge Dr. showing large domed cistern under the two windows
beside the house
My house. Rummell House Built 1924
Bower House. Built 1925

What makes this find odd is that my home, which was built in 1924, was part of a planned subdivision that was heralded for its modernity and included its own waterworks. If this was a cistern it would not really have been needed, and would have been a bit old fashioned in a house that was otherwise very modern. After some research I have been able to determine that it was indeed a cistern and it is one of several that were built with homes constructed in Rockledge as late as 1929. Interestingly enough all of these later date cisterns were built with homes designed by Richard Rummell, a degreed architect and early pioneer of the area. Perhaps his experience with Florida droughts or a desire to have a back up to city water prompted him to include this feature. Turns out the house directly across the street from me, designed by Rummell for prominent local contractor Hervie Bower, has a room behind the kitchen that still has a hand pump coming through the floor that is undoubtedly connected to a cistern. A little more digging, not in the dirt this time thankfully, uncovered further proof in an article published in the Cocoa Tribune in 1929 about the construction of the Phebe Blakeslee home located at 1287 Rockledge Drive and shown below. The description given for this home reads, "Adjoining the kitchen is a laundry and this is complete with built-in ironing board and rain water from a large concrete cistern." So there you have it, we definitely have a cistern. Maybe Rummell should be considered one of Florida's first "green" builders for adding this environmentally friendly feature! In any case mystery solved. Feel free to comment if you know of any other cisterns that are not exactly where you expected to find them!

Blakeslee House, courtesy of the Brevard Property Appraiser's page.  Built 1929

Friday, December 5, 2014

Glass Bank Demolition

From what I hear the landmark building in Cocoa Beach known locally as the "Glass Bank" is in the process of falling to the wrecking ball. While I was always taught that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones, the same can not be said for those involved in the recent events surrounding this structure. Like many old buildings that have met the same fate over the years, its demise can be attributed to a fairly typical deadly cocktail of insensitive remodeling, soap opera worthy legal battles and strong public opinion. 

The Glass Bank in its heyday
Whatever your feelings may be on the current situation, the glass bank, originally called the First Federal Building, was the pride of the community when it first rose its flashy head above the sands of Cocoa Beach. Interestingly enough despite its local notoriety I was able to find little about it when I started researching it in our archives. No one was sure exactly what year it was built, and the City of Cocoa Beach has not kept the building permits for that period. Fortunately I was able to narrow down the year to 1961 by using our collection of city directories. I then turned to our microfilm collection of the Cocoa Tribune and went through each issue until I found the first mention of it on June 16th. Another article shown below appeared in September and states that the bank was scheduled to open on October 1st.

This article also confirms what I had suspected in that the bank's unique design was not thrown together by a contractor, but was rather the work of a trained architect. In this case it was Reginald Knight of Bradenton. A quick Google search reveals that this gentleman was no joke as they say. Reginald Caywood Knight was a graduate of both Harvard and Columbia and was on the faculty of Princeton and MIT. In 1957 he was awarded the first prize in the Enrico Fermi Memorial World Architectural Competition. He was a proponent of the the modern school of architecture and other notable landmarks he designed include the Bradenton municipal auditorium, shown below, and the John Shuler home on Longboat Key. 

Sadly I fear that unless something fabulous replaces this landmark it will probably end up in the "we wish we hadn't done that" category in years to come. Only time will tell! In the meantime you might want to go by and pay your respects before it is gone for good. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Early Cocoa Beach and Port Canaveral

Another photo of Cocoa Beach taken in the 1920's most likely showing one of the events of the period that were meant to draw people in order to sell real estate. The sign featured in the center shows the early intentions of the area's residents to create Port Canaveral, which was not dedicated until 1953.