Saturday, January 13, 2007
Our neighbor's mother, Linda, surprised us with this Christmas card, her excellent water-color painting of our beloved pink house. We live on Amelia Avenue in DeLand, FLA. Our street, which cuts through downtown DeLand, is named after Amelia DeLand Leete, Henry DeLand's sister and wife of the town's first minister, the Rev. M.S. Leete.
From the 1880s until the 1920s, our neighborhood was the center of DeLand's groves. In the early 1920s, the neighborhood was developed as a very upscale "subdivision" (long before there was something to subdivide here in Central Florida). There are about a dozen large homes that date from the 1920s in a five-block area. Ours is one of a half-dozen Spanish Revival houses built in town, all of them dating from the boom-time of the 1920s. Several Tudor-style homes, built by the same architects, somewhat incongruously share the neighborhood with some neoclassicals. The story I've heard, though never confirmed, was that there was a contest among seven architects to design their perfect Florida house, which explains the variety of styles and rather extravagant sizes. (For the time, this house was huge even without the additions: It's initial square footage was roughly 1200 square feet, built at a time when the average house was not much larger than today's garages... We forget often that as recently as 1950, the average US house size was under 1000 square feet.)
The 1920s was a heady time of economic expansion and easy credit (for the well-to-do classes, at least), and it left its mark in the eclectic pastiche of architectural styles here in DeLand. The 'Roaring Twenties' were followed, of course, by the Depression and World War II. In the intervening decades, the lots were divided and smaller, more modest cinderblock homes have been built, and Stetson has expanded from its original core of buildings to cover something like seven-hundred acres (about a square mile).
DeLand's groves are long gone.
An update: I had a colleague over for supper last week who told me a bit more about the history of our house. John came to Stetson back in 1955. He's in his eighties, and though he's physically frail, his memory hasn't failed in the slightest. He told me that this house was the first one he looked at when he joined the faculty at Stetson. At the time, it was roughly half the current square footage. (There have been three additions made to the house: one in the 1960s, the others in the 1990s.) He said three sisters lived here, and they were auctioning the house off in November. John and another new faculty member, James Stewart (the Dean of the Chapel), were inspecting the house. At the time, the house was heated by porcelain-framed electric wire grates -- not unlike the resistance wires in a toaster. (The grates are still in the walls, and some of them still work, though we have a central system now. We've hidden them behind furniture to keep kids' curious fingers out of trouble.)
Anyway, it was cold outside, but very warm inside, and John and Jim went out to check the electricity meter to see how much energy was being used. John said the dial was spinning so fast you could hardly see it!
Jim was worried that the auction was going to shortchange the sisters, and went inside to offer them $14,000 for the house. They demurred, sure that the auction would bring a fair price. The next day, the opening bid was for $7500. Jim won the auction and bought the house for $10,500. John said Jim even offered to pay the sisters the full $14,000 he had initially offered, but they refused his generosity.
James lived here for ten years. He died not so long ago, at the ripe age of 102.