On Tuesday night Brevard County history suffered a great loss when the ocean front estate of the late Al Neuharth, the founder of Florida Today and USA Today newspaper burned. The home, known as Pumpkin Center, is considered to be a total loss and had been recently sold by the Neuharth family to Jeffery Wells for nearly $5 million dollars, the highest price ever paid for a home in Brevard County. The sprawling house had over 10,000 of living space with 11 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. The home is commonly said to have been built in 1975, but a few old timers know that its core was a much earlier structure built as the ocean front get away of another early Brevard County tycoon, Eugene Wuesthoff.
From the collections of the Brevard County Historical Commission
Mr. Wuesthoff was one of the early visitors who came to Brevard County to enjoy the weather and recreation opportunities. Mr. Wuesthoff had been the general manager of the Slitz Breweries in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and later one of two owners of the Union Refrigerated and Transit Company, from which business he retired in 1922. He spent the majority of his time in Rockledge, a well known winter resort at the time, where he immersed himself in local community activities. He contributed his financial support to many projects and groups, and left a generous legacy to found the hospital in Rockledge which still bears his name. He was also a major investor in local real estate, particularly during the land boom. In 1925 he purchased a custom built house on Valencia Road in Rockledge where he spent his winters until he passed away in 1940. This house, pictured below, featured the first swimming pool in the area and a cabana with separate changing rooms for men and women. The pool is still has been restored and is still in use today!
|Wuesthoff House, 25 Valencia Road, Rockledge, FL|
In 1927 it was Mr. Wuesthoff who began construction on what was to become Pumpkin Center. In December of that year the Cocoa Tribune reported that he had let contracts for the construction of a "lodge" on Cocoa Beach to cost approximately $8,000. The lodge, known as Pelican Dunes and described below, was of an usual design, giving the appearance of a log cabin, and set the tone for the rambling structure that it was to become.
Wuesthoff's lodge is familiar to some of our early Space Race residents as "the house on the beach," where it was the site of many parties thrown by the renters living there. A great description of this part of the home's history and a rare photograph of the house may been seen in Melba McCaslin's recently published book Young and Single on the Space Coast 1953 to 1969.
In a strange coincidence the house immediately south of Pumpkin Center and known as "The Folly," was destroyed by fire as it was nearing completion in 1937. For my previous blog post on this interesting story click here.