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.