Thornton Park’s historic bungalows, eclectic restaurants and proximity to downtown have drawn thousands to the tony enclave, just east of Lake Eola.
But the historic charm has come back to haunt Paul Richards in the restoration of a 1915 home in the Lake Lawsona Historic District. The district was established in 1994 and contains approximately 500 buildings that date from 1911 to the 1950s.
Richards, who owns Armstrong Air and Heating, has spent $962,000 renovating the clapboard home at 907 E. Washington St.
And while the businessman thought he was doing everything according to code, the City of Orlando’s Historic Preservation Board is forcing him to remove the $7,000 double front doors that “are not in keeping with the character of the house,” according to minutes from the board’s Oct. 5 meeting.
Richards, an Orlando native who grew up in public housing just a 10-minute walk from Thornton Park, has fought the board’s decision and hired an attorney to take the next step. He could not be reached for comment.
His attorney, Victor Chapman, did not return a reporter’s phone calls.
The original 1,400-square-foot home is full of history. It was nearly gutted by fire twice and slated for demolition when Richards bought it for $285,000. The lot’s origins can be traced back to E.F. Sperry, who arrived in the late 1880s and started a metal-works industry and became mayor of Orlando.
The home was vacant when Richards filed plans to expand it by 500 square feet. He added a concrete foundation, pricy interior finishes and the best air and heat system on the market.
His purchased the front doors from a home in Tampa and that’s when the trouble started.
The Historic Preservation Board cited him for doors that do not follow Lake Lawsona Historic District’s strict regulations. He was told to move the doors to an area of the home that could not be seen from the street.
In a written objection to the board, Richards claimed that the double doors are “appropriate and compatible with the style or period of the structure and other district doors on neighboring properties. He gave photos of similar doors previously approved by the Historic Preservation Board showing his denial was selective enforcement.
Richards hired Attorney Victor Chapman, who took up his cause at the Orlando City Council’s March 20 meeting. Chapman brought a court reporter, who recorded commissioners’ comments in support of the board’s decision.
City staff told commissioners that the doors appear to be high Victorian style from the 1880s or 90s and are not an appropriate match for Richards’ farmhouse-style home built in 1915. There is no record of what the home’s original doors looked like because the front porch was enclosed when the historic district was created, according to Richard Forbes, Orlando’s preservation official.
Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who represents the Thornton Park district, said she was relieved to see that the house was not demolished after the arson attempts but sided with the Historic Preservation Board’s decision.
“People get upset and don’t like the historic district rules,” Sheehan said. “But the stringent restrictions make Thornton Park a beautiful neighborhood. “It may just seem like a door, but if we allow this one, we will not have a consistent look with these historic homes.”
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer asked commissioners to “appreciate the fact the owner spent a significant amount of money restoring the home.” But commissioners unanimously voted to approve the board’s recommendation to replace the doors.