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Edgewater Heights

The Lake Adair-Lake Concord National Register Historic District was recognized as historic more than ten years ago during the planning for the most recent expansion of Interstate-4. The original interstate construction in the 1960s brought the destruction of many homes and businesses along the east side of College Park. All but six of the streets running east and west between Edgewater Drive and North Orange Avenue were closed, disrupting daily life and dividing the community.

When plans for more I-4 construction showed the potential loss of many more College Park structures, The College Park Neighborhood Association requested mitigation for the cultural losses. Three National Register Historic Districts resulted, with the Florida Department of Transportation funding the extensive surveys and research required for the acceptance of the Rosemere Historic District in 2009, Lake Ivanhoe in 2010, and Lake Adair-Lake Concord in 2011. Few people knew about the districts, fewer still knew where they were, and hardly anyone understood that the districts are honorary and include no restrictions. However, they stand as proof that College Park has history worth preserving.

In pursuit of its goal of recognizing and celebrating College Park history, the new College Park Historical Society, formed in August 2020, applied for markers identifying two of the districts from the Florida State Historic Preservation Office. The third district will have a marker also. Orlando Commissioner Robert F. Stuart agreed to pay for all three district markers and for their installation from his city commission discretionary funds. The marker text for the Edgewater Heights district appears below. The reverse side of the marker will include a map of the district.

Lake Adair-Lake Concord Historic District

The Lake Adair-Lake Concord Historic District reflects the change that automobiles brought to community planning and development and to the resulting growth of a middle and upper-class community. A lack of transportation had kept even the affluent population in the city, but by 1920, developers began platting communities for wealthier residents among the lakes near the city limits. Larger building lots along curving, landscaped streets attracted buyers who hired well-known local architects to design distinctive houses. The district was listed on the NRHP in recognition of its variety of outstanding architecture. The 148-acre district contains 400 buildings, of which 77 percent were listed as contributing to the district. The residences vary widely in size and style, and they represent the work of more than 30 architects, including James Gamble Rogers II, R. C. Stevens, Maurice Kressly, Howard Reynolds, Richard Boone Rogers, and Harold “Rabbit” Hair. The largest and most imposing residences front on the lakes, but many fine historic homes are found elsewhere within the district’s 29 blocks, which include parts of 29 Subdivisions.

The written history of Edgewater Heights begins in 1875 when Adam Given of Louisville, Kentucky, bought two quarter-sections of land in Sections 23 and 24, Township 22, Range 29 from the Florida Internal Improvement Fund. His seventy-nine acres passed through several owners and was platted as Edgewater Subdivision in 1922 and replatted in 1924 as Edgewater Heights. Developers F. H. Thwing of Kansas City and Thomas Smith of Denver purchased the subdivision for $100,000, and hired the J.P. Holbrook Company to market it as an upper-class neighborhood.

Holbrook advertised heavily, touting the wide attractive streets, the telephone and light poles placed out of sight at the rear of properties, the wonderful shade trees, and the orange trees. The streets fronted closely along Lake Adair and the western shore of Lake Concord, thereby retaining the lake front as open park space. In 1927 a typical ad boasted that “It is today a combination of lakes, rolling high land, fine homes, broad streets, avenues of splendid trees, orange groves, a Country Club at the side door and a place close in to the heart of town.”

Owner/developer Thomas Smith set the tone for the development in 1925 when he engaged architect Peter C. Samwel to design an elegant Mediterranean style house on a large lot at the intersection of Seville Place and Alameda Street. It became the show house for Edgewater Heights, and the setting for many teas, luncheons, and garden parties. Most of Samwel’s work was in Winter Park and Maitland, but his list of designs includes “a mansion for Thomas H. Smith, c.1925, with high garden wall surrounding the entire property for the new owner William N. Reynolds, 1927.” Reynolds, co-owner of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in North Carolina bought the property and made it his winter home, bringing with him his stable of race horses and famed trainer, Ben White.

Encouraged by the beauty of the site and the amenities the developers offered, upper-class buyers, including a number of wealthy winter visitors, invested in the large building lots. Several of the earliest followed Thomas Smith’s example and employed architects to design large, elaborate houses. D. Ross Wynn, the sales manager for the J.P. Holbrook Company, commissioned Percy Pamorrow Turner to design what the newspaper announcements called “a pretentious” house on North Adair Boulevard, across Lake Adair from the house under construction for Smith. The permit was issued to H. A. McCardell, Orlando businessman and Wynn’s son-in-law, to be a residence for both families. Featuring three sleeping porches, a large sun porch, and a “living porch,” comfort seemed to be one of the main features of the expansive and well-appointed Italian Renaissance Revival structure. Percy P. Turner, who studied architecture and engineering at Princeton University and graduated at the top of his class, specialized in residential architecture in Orlando from 1925 until 1928.

By the mid-1920s, more than twenty residences replaced the orange groves in Edgewater Heights. Not all of them could boast important architects and only a few could qualify as mansions. Still, many of the impressive houses lining the curving streets represented the character and style set by the architects, even as they followed blueprints more likely created by builders, such as Jerry Ahern and Ed Allardice. In 1926 builder/architect Ed Kenyon designed and built an elegant Italian-influenced house on Cordova Drive for Edward Maull, Crescent City citrus industrialist and inventor of the Maull Sizer for sizing oranges. Raymond C. Stevens, a builder who later became a registered architect, completed two Mediterranean Revival houses on Seville Place and Cordova Drive for Judge William K. Whitfield in 1928. Whitfield, a lawyer and judge from Indiana, opened his own law firm with his son in Orlando. Stevens also designed and built a Colonial Revival house on Alameda Street in 1929 for Missouri citrus investor Carl Ricker.

Finally, two large architect-designed houses finished a busy five years of costly residential construction before most building stopped during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1928 Howard Reynolds, noted architect of Orlando’s schools, designed and built a Mediterranean Revival house for J. Thomas Gurney on Seville Place, its Spanish architecture reportedly charming in every detail. Gurney, an influential civic leader, who worked with the Orlando Utilities Commission for many years, came to Orlando to practice law in 1922. In 1930 Maurice Kressly designed a Mediterranean style house on Alameda Street for John A. Porter, an industrialist and philanthropist from Georgia. The Porter family wintered in Edgewater Heights, returning to Macon, Georgia, in the summers until 1936, when having completed an addition to their home, Casa Alameda, they remained in Orlando year round. Described as palatial and one of the most elaborate Mediterranean Revival style houses in Central Florida, Casa Alameda clearly reflects the influence of Addison Mizner on architect Maurice Kressly’s work.

By the mid-1930s, the worst of the Great Depression seemed to be easing and moneyed interests began again to build houses. Residences erected in Edgewater Heights in the 1920s, even the stylish and elaborate ones designed by architects, tended to be smaller, one or two-stories on one or two building lots. When building resumed after the Great Depression, people bought more property and hired architects to build large mansions along Lake Concord and on the hills overlooking Lake Adair. Five houses were under construction in Edgewater Heights in the spring of 1935 alone, among them a Monterey Revival style house on Lake Adair Boulevard designed by D. Harold “Rabbit” Hair for Florida Tire Company executive William L. Jones. With degrees in architecture from Clemson University and the Eole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied on a scholarship, Hair had his office in Winter Park from 1925 until 1942.

Architect James Gamble Rogers II figured prominently in residential building around Lake Adair and Lake Concord in the 1930s and 1940s, designing three impressive residences on Peachtree Road in the 1930s. Orlando businessman John Huttig chose Rogers to design a Tudor Revival in 1934, and C. Arthur Yergey, another local businessman, hired Rogers for a French Eclectic residence next door to Huttig’s, also in 1934. In 1938 Rogers designed a French Eclectic house on Peachtree for prominent Orlando surgeon, Dr. Douglas McEwan.

Also in 1938, Rogers designed a very large, imposing Georgian Colonial house on North Lake Adair Boulevard for R. D. Keene, well-known in the citrus industry and cattle ranching, and a noted philanthropist. Twelve years later, in 1950, R.D. Keene’s daughter and son-in-law, John & Dorothy McPherson, chose Rogers to design a house in the Minimal Traditional style on Alba Drive. In 1939 Rogers designed a Mediterranean Revival residence on Seville Place for citrus grower Harold Stein, and that same year Orlando banker N. A. Baker hired Rogers to design a residence in the Monterey version of the Mediterranean Revival style on Overbrook Drive.

Other architects and builders who designed and built distinctive houses around the lakes from the 1920s through the mid-1950s included Donovan Dean, Howard C. Kiehl, A.B Struble, F.N. Cline, Allardice & Allardice, Eugene Tavel, C.C. Construction, Frank N. Anderson, Allen E. Arthur, Sr., Sam Stoltz, Ida Annah Ryan, Isabel Roberts, Richard Boone Rogers, and many others. Together with many unknown builders, carpenters, and other artisans, they created one of Orlando’s largest concentrations of middle to upper-class houses constructed during the 1920s and 1930s, and one of the city’s first automobile suburbs.

Edgewater Heights remains little changed and many of these houses will be on the November 2023 Tour of Homes, though not all will be open for viewing. The tour will feature architects and architecture, but it will showcase the Edgewater Heights community. The forward-thinking developers whose plat design attracted the wealthy buyers, the architects who created a picturesque neighborhood, and the generations of residents who valued and preserved their unique homes, all contributed to the honor of the Lake Adair-Lake Concord National Register Historic District.

Tana Mosier Porter




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