When you think of Orlando, do you think of historic buildings and homes? Most people probably picture theme parks and miles of suburban tract housing with palm trees and warm weather, but downtown Orlando is actually home to six historic districts. These include Downtown, Lake Cherokee, Lake Copeland, Lake Eola Heights, Lake Lawsona, and Colonialtown South.
What makes these neighborhoods historic? At some point, historic buildings were brand new, so what makes our neighborhoods special? After all, many of the houses aren’t even 100 years old yet.
Generally, when an area has a large collection of buildings or houses that are significant examples of a particular architectural style, the area deserves recognition and protection as a historic district. Think of Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District or the brick colonial buildings of Philadelphia’s Old City.
Orlando boomed in the 1920s when the craftsman (or arts and crafts) style was popular, and many of our older neighborhoods have well-preserved collections of craftsman bungalows.
Beginning in 1980, the City of Orlando began to identify and preserve these historic neighborhoods by creating historic districts along with a Historic Preservation Board. When creating the districts, the board looked at the following criteria:
—Evaluation of the architectural significance of area buildings
—Consideration of the neighborhood’s contributions to Orlando’s cultural heritage
Today, the Historic Preservation Board holds monthly public hearings and reviews all changes to structures within the historic districts. Orlando even has a full-time historic preservation officer, Richard Forbes.
A group of residents in the Lake Lawsona Historic District wants to take their historic designation a step further. Vivian Ward and Nancy Lewis have spearheaded an effort to place their district on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Lake Lawsona Historic District comprises parts of the Thornton Park and Lawsona/Fern Creek neighborhoods. Each property in the district, both contributing (historic) and noncontributing, must be documented and photographed, a task which the volunteer group is taking on.
An effort was begun in 2009 — as part of a mitigation case related to expansion plans of the State Road 408 tollway and the potential effect on the adjacent Lake Lawsona Historic District — but was not completed.
Since 1966, the National Register of Historic Places has facilitated “public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources” (nps.gov/nr/about.htm).
Benefits of the National Register primarily include further recognition and prestige, but there are also tax incentives (especially for businesses in historic buildings) and opportunities to access grant money for future preservation projects.
Ward believes the formal recognition of the district’s historical, architectural, and archaeological significance could potentially make properties even more valuable.
According to the National Park Service, which administers the Register, “a 20 percent income tax credit is available for the rehabilitation of historic, income-producing buildings that are determined by the Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, to be ‘certified historic structures.’” (See nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives.htm for more details.)
The recently passed Congressional tax plan modifies some of the rules affecting a taxpayer’s ability to use the 20 percent tax credit, but it still would be an appealing option for business owners within the Lake Lawsona Historic District, most of whose businesses are along Washington Street in Thornton Park