Monday, February 22, 2016

The John Wesley Dutton House is undergoing some major restoration.


The plan was to drive up to Deland Florida to sketch an antique car show. After parking my car, I started walking downtown and stopped in front of this skeletal structure. Capitals and bases of the front porch columns were stripped away. The plaster columns themselves were hollowed out exposing the four by four posts that actually support the porch. The upper floor railings were replaced with two by fours and the inner wood structure was exposed on the second floor balconies. I couldn't resist the temptation to sketch this once grand estate which was now in a desolate part of town.

In 1993 the DeLand City Commission voted to demolish the John Wesley Dutton House, an architecturally significant site that local historic buffs had been fighting to save for more than two years. The demolition ball was poised to strike until Peter Warrick, a publishing executive from Fort Lauderdale became the new owner. He formed a nonprofit organization that would help to restore the large house, which needs repairs. Complete restoration, which Warrick estimated would take at least five years, will return the house to its original charm and allow opening it to the public as a historic showcase. Twenty two years later, the restorations are still not complete.

Built in 1910 for $25,000 by turpentine magnate John Wesley Dutton, the stately two-story house at 332 W. New York Ave., was once ''the talk of the town,'' said Sidney Johnston, president of Historic DeLand, Inc., a group of local citizens who tried to purchase the house in 1992. Dutton lived in the house with his wife and seven children until 1911. It changed hands several times, including stints as a meeting hall, a funeral parlor and a rooming house called the Colonial Arms Apartments. It then went vacant for years. Warrick estimated that repair on the house will cost him from $150,000 to $225,000 or more. H would seem that the funds dried up before the restoration could be completed. The historic restoration fund now depends on grants from private donations. ECHO Funds of $234,800 in 2006 secured the outer envelope of the structure to reduce further interior damage. Once re-opened the historic structure will be used as a cultural center.

Paranormal investigators have wandered the buildings dark rooms to see if ghosts reside inside. Investigators found cold spots in certain rooms, heard banging noises and saw floating orbs. Is this conclusive evidence? That depends on what you believe. Dark storm clouds rolled in as I sketched and lightning flashed on the horizon. I rushed to complete the sketch before becoming a statistic. A group of African American girls walked by and one looked over me shoulder. "Did you do that here?" she asked. Sigh. "Yes." She is an artist, so I encourage her to keep sketching. They made their way downtown full of energy. Perhaps someday I will return to sketch the building in all it's former glory. The economy of the surrounding neighborhood however implies that the restoration might take a couple of more decades.

1 comment:

Mel Brandle said...

Can you imagine before they have this open house event, how hectic it must be for the people and employees who would normally work inside these buildings? They probably have a week long clean up event before they can open their doors! Haha!