I live in the city of Winter Park, Florida - a gem within the tourist mecca of Orlando. This small town, originally developed to attract wealthy snowbirds, is known for beautiful homes along brick-paved streets. Our main street is called Park Avenue and attracts people from all over to its shops and restaurants (and the people watching). Park Avenue is bordered on one end by Rollins College - the oldest college in Florida - and the 9-hole Winter Park Municipal Golf Course on the other. Some of the more well known structures in town were designed by local architect, James Gamble Rogers II (1901-1990) - a man with an architect pedigree, yet no formal training. The Rogers family was originally from Chicago, though it was John Arthur Rogers' (his father) health condition that prompted the family to relocate to Daytona Beach, Florida in 1915. After James graduated from Daytona Beach High School in 1918, he attended Darthmouth College on a swimming scholarship, but returned home prior to graduating due to his father's declining health. He began working in his father's architecture firm and learned his trade. He closed the Daytona Beach office and moved it to Winter Park following his father's death in 1935. Rogers had become social with people who wanted him to design homes for them in Winter Park, and decided it would make a nice place to live.
Though Rogers had no formal training, he had other architects at the firm carefully review his work until he acquired his license from the State of Florida in 1936. Some local businessmen purchased what was then called Bear Island - now known as the Isle of Sicily - and wanted to plot lots for the development of new homes. Rogers said he would help lay the plots if they allowed him a choice of lots to build his own home. Rogers' home known as Four Winds was in the French Provincial style, but his most famous work was done in the Spanish style - a style he believe worked well with the climate and terrain of Florida. He believed that architecture should correlate with the terrain and foliage of a place and be in harmony with the surroundings.
R.B. Barbour commissioned Rogers to build a home for him after he saw Four Winds. This home, known as Casa Feliz (which means "the happy house"), is Rogers' most famous. The home is in the style of an Andalusian farm house (Cortijo) - or a style known as Spanish Eclectic. This 5,400 SF home was located along the shore of Lake Osceola and completed in 1933 for the cost of $25,000. However, the home was threatened to be torn down in 2000 after new buyers deemed it too small for their needs. They began demolishing portions of the home when preservationists bombarded city officials, who responded by temporarily halting their city permit. The owners eventually gifted the house to the City and the efforts by The Friends of Casa Feliz raised $1.7M, which resulted in the home being moved across the street onto city land that borders the Winter Park Municipal Golf Course. Since I live down the street from this home, I vividly remember this project occurring. There was even a set of bleachers erected for interested observers to sit and view the gargantuan task of moving an entire home across the street. The 750 ton home was balanced on 20 pneumatically leveled dollies to make the 300 yard journey.
Today, the home is fully restored and is an incredibly popular location for events, particularly weddings and receptions. It has been said that were Rogers alive today, he would be known as a "green" architect. I would agree. At the time, he wanted the homes he designed to look authentic with character and age. He used salvaged materials such as bricks and tiles in many of his projects. For example, the bricks used to originally build Casa Feliz were from the Orlando Armory and were already one hundred years old. The roof tiles were brought to Florida by a tin roof salesman who traded for them in Cuba.
Below: Details. Details. Look at the design in the tiny window of the turret.
Below: Something I remember distinctly from this home are these multicolored spindles.
Below: I love the "Z" pattern on the shutters and the ironwork holdbacks. I did ask about the blue paint used on the window trim and was told it is a custom Sherwin-Williams shade.
Below: Back view of the house.
Below: The arcade along the back courtyard.
Below: I like that they left the ceiling boards of the arcade in the original condition.
Below: The herringbone pattern in the brick.
Below: The back courtyard overlooking the golf course.
Below: Beautiful landscaping surrounds the property.
Below: Looking through the porte cochere.
Below: The home received its place in the National Historic Register in December of 2008.
Below: The opposite view through the porte cochere - such great details.
Below: The home even has a bell tower.
Below: The brick entrance gates still remain at the original location across the street. I was surprised they weren't moved and added to the property in a creative way. I'm not certain if there is a plan for them once the new house (see below) is complete.
Below: In case you're interested, this is the house that is being built where Casa Feliz originally resided. Since Casa Feliz was moved in the early 2000s, this lot sat empty and overgrown with weeds until 2011 when new construction began. This home features 5 bedrooms and 7 baths in 19,000 SF that will make it the largest home in Winter Park (read more here).
Below: Here is another one of Rogers's masterpieces overlooking Lake Osceola that is just around the corner.
Below: This gem known as Casa Felice overlooks Lake Maitland and is currently for sale.
The Barbour Family who commissioned the house known as Casa Feliz also wanted to build nice apartments for Northerners who wintered here. These apartments were originally known as The Barbour Apartments and reflect the same style Rogers was known for. The apartments changed owners over the years and fell into disrepair. Threatened with being demolished, the apartments were saved by owners who wanted to restore its historical integrity, while introducing modern amenities. I've always loved passing by these apartments - even when they fell into "disrepair" - because the building always possessed such character. Today, the 10-unit complex is known as Barbour House - see the website to peek inside the units.
Below: Look at the detail in the iron balcony - see the rings for hanging a terracotta pot?
Below: Rogers also designed a building called Greeneda Court along our main downtown street, Park Avenue. It is my favorite building in town because again, the details are amazing and it has this lovely brick-lined courtyard with a fountain. At night and during the holidays, it looks magical with the lights.
Below: More amazing details.
Below: A familiar design element.
In researching James Gamble Rogers II, I visited the Winter Park Public Library and read this book:
The book lists the addresses of the homes Rogers II designed, so I drove around town looking for them. Bob and I also rode our bikes around to search for the houses. Some exist, while others have been torn down. Rogers II was most famous for his Spanish-style homes, however he did design using styles such as French Provincial, and even Art Deco Modern. Regardless of the style, his influence is forever woven into the fabric of this community. While I was not at the frontlines more than 10 years ago of the battle of whether or not to save Casa Feliz from demolition - I simply cannot imagine it not being here. I thank those who worked tirelessly to save it, and the artisans who worked to preserve its beauty and character (and details!) for generations to come. That was truly the right decision.
*images via Casa Feliz and me