The fate of the old home near the shores of Lake Sue was almost certain: death by bulldozer.
It’s the same demise one out of every eight homes in Winter Park — or more than 1,000 in the last two decades — meets when prospective buyers decide the dirt is worth more than the house.
And the 1,900-square-foot bungalow with a round sun room wasn’t any different. Mansions had already gone up all around it, leaving the house looking like a knee-high toddler at a party of adults.
Allen is part of a small, but growing movement of Winter Parkers who have decided they don’t have to build big to live big.
They are choosing to build up old homes rather than tear them down. And, in the process, save the city’s old-style charm.
But even somebody like Allen, a soft-spoken woman with an artist’s eye for big potential, wasn’t convinced at first that she could save the house.
Untamed landscaping hid the sleek lines that make the house an example of modernist architecture popular around the time it was built in 1949.
The inside was a disaster.
The ceiling was caving in from water damage. The kitchen was dark and closed off. Plaster was peeling off the walls. Black and white checkered tile — laden with asbestos — was standing between Allen and a million-dollar view of Lake Sue from the rounded sun room.
About two weeks into the project Allen concedes she was ready to put down her hammer and walk away.
But something kept her going. Maybe it was the memory of the spunky woman who lived in the home for 47 years before Allen found it.
The home belonged to Thelma McNew, the longtime principal at Brookshire Elementary, who died in 2009 at age 93.
McNew still has a place in the home: A small portrait of her sits atop Allen’s piano in the renovated sun room.
The ceiling was redone with tongue-and-groove wood planks painted white. Carpet made of sea grass replaced the old asbestos tile. The room is light and bright and the view takes center stage with moss hanging off the old oak trees in front of the lake across the street.
Allen took down a wall that separated the kitchen from the living room. She took up three layers of linoleum to reveal the original oak wood floors.
And she found a way to deal with another quirk: two side-by-side bathrooms in the hallway.
She talked to one of McNew’s former caretakers and discovered that some older homes were built to accommodate the owners as well as their housekeepers during segregation.
Allen turned one bathroom into a closet and gutted and redid the other one with white subway tile and new fixtures.
The home is filled with small touches that show her commitment to repurposing materials.
She fashioned a dining room table and a desk from old heart pine that had to be removed from the garage. She sewed together her grandmother’s old table cloths to make a duvet cover that looks like it came straight from thePottery Barn catalog. She used old family doilies and runners to make the pillows.
“It was so worth it,” she said of the whole project. “The bones of the home are so much better than anything I could build now.”
Aimee Spencer couldn’t agree more.
She fell in love with a Spanish-style two-story from the 1920s in Orwin Manor that her real estate agent told her was a lost cause.
She and her husband embarked on a 5-month renovation before moving in. The home’s transformation was so astounding the Spencers won a preservation award from the Florida Trust last year and were featured in This Old House magazine.
It’s been more than a year since the city of Winter Park approved the demolition of one of its oldest and most historic homes, touching off a firestorm over the city’s flippant attitude about its past.
The city still hasn’t adopted a single rule change and has issued permits for 34 homes to be demolished since January.
For now, it’s up to homeowners like Allen and the Spencers to show how the city’s character is worth preserving one home at a time.