Sunday, July 12, 2009

Exploring "Little Switerzland"

Ever since I found out that one of Sam Stoltz's Plymouthonian houses was for sale, I've been chomping at the bit to see it. In the months since I first learned about it, the price has dropped substantially, so now the 2,200 sq. ft. four bedroom, three bath home is available for just $199,000. So when I learned they was an auction at the property, I hoped it would be an opportunity to get to see the house first hand, because it appears to be headed for foreclosure.

After working with developer Carl Dann on homes around the Dubsdread Golf Course in the College Park suburb of Orlando, artist/builder Sam Stoltz continued the collaboration in the tiny Lake County town of Mt. Plymouth. In 1926 Dann built a majestic resort hotel around a Scottish style links golf course and Stoltz surrounded it with whimsical storybook-like homes. In a marketing ploy that is so very Florida, they nicknamed Mt. Plymouth "Little Switerland". Hotel guests included baseball legend Connie Mack, gangster Al Capone, Kate Smith and Margaret Truman according to this Mt. Plymouth history website.

Stoltz is quoted as saying this about his Plymouthonian homes: "Nature confines her lines entirely to curves. Mount Plymouth, with its beautiful hills and valleys is full of curves. When we created The Plymouthonian, we followed the teachings of the old masters and modern artists, elimination the usual harsh lines and produced a type of home in keeping with its surroundings, just as if it grew there - a part of landscape."

Reportedly there are four of his homes left in Mt. Plymouth and the fairy tale house we visited is known as Plymouthonian No. 2. Local legends say that the house is full of secret passages and that Al Capone's bookkeeper once lived there. One thing is for certain, it is not your ordinary house.

Much more Gothic and fairy tale-like than the Mediterranean inspired homes of College Park, Plymouthonian No. 2 has the steepest pitched roof I've ever seen. The chimney soars like one of the many palm trees on the site, and the painted plaster surfaces are punctuated with coquina rocks and irregularly placed windows (flanked by wooden shutters with hearts cut out of them). A small waterfall trickles from a rock feature in the front of the house and the water follows a 12 inch wide steam under a footbridge to a small pond, long since dried up. The landing is paved with colorful rocks and it appeared to me that the original main entrance is no longer functioning, so the only way to enter is through the garage.

Immediately upon entering the house one notices the soaring Pecky Cypress ceilings that were painted by Stoltz, as is almost every surface not made of rock. And it appears to me that Stoltz was quite the "rock hound", as coquina, chert and other colorful stones are precisely placed for maximum impact. The bird decorations that are his trademark, are present on the exterior and in the interior; a duck medallion hangs over the fireplace, flamingos and pelicans dress up the bathrooms, and cardinals and egrets dance beneath the overhanging roof. His technique used to create the relief sculpture looks as if he manipulated the plaster with his fingers and his brushwork is very gestural, reminding me of the abstract expressionists who followed later in the century. Or maybe finger painting.

Floor detail in front of the fireplace

Medallion over fireplace

Master bath with Stoltz flamingos

Mother-in-law suite from the inside

Mother-in-law suite from the outside

Pecky Cypress back door

Exterior ornamentation

The rooms are small by today's standards, some are dark and somewhat gloomy, others are bathed in light from double french door-sized windows. The bathrooms seem to have the most ornamentation, it is possible to see Stoltz fingerprints literally on almost every vertical surface. Pointed archways separate many of the rooms and the kitchen has an oddly placed column in the middle separating what once was probably a breakfast nook. As I am partial to attics, one of my favorite spaces was the mother-in-law "suite" over the garage, accessible only by rickety stairs from the garage or the backyard.

The house is unlike any other I've ever seen, full of whimsy and charm, but it's hard to imagine actually living there. Skipping the auction, we went in search of the other Stoltz creations and stumbled across a home that was one quarter log cabin, three quarters rock house. The owner confirmed that it was indeed a Stoltz house that was originally built for Carl Dann, then later occupied by the President of the NY Stock Exchange. When the Mt. Plymouth Hotel became a boys' school years later it became home to the schoomaster.

This Stoltz house is being remodeled, a bit at a time
photo by Joy Dee

Mt. Plymouth has some hidden gems of architecture hidden in its hills. But with all things vintage in Florida, if you want to see them, get there fast, because I can't guarantee that they will last.

One of the other Plymouthonian houses
photo by Joy Dee


  1. This could make the perfect little B&B for fairy tale weddings. My big fear is that it will be re-muddled significantly or even knocked down. Let's hope the right owners find it!

  2. Great post Rick. Such imagination in those houses.

  3. Amazing... I never knew there was a substantial Fairytale style development like this nearby. Great post & pics.

  4. Very nice, indeed! I am especially envious of how you got in to see it first hand! Thanks for the great photos and commentary. You just have to love these whimsical creations. There is a nice one, originally the Irvin Willat Studio on Washington Boulevard in Culver City, but later transplanted to Beverly Hills and currently used as a private residence (and nicely documented in Jim Heimann's California Crazy).

  5. Happy to report that the wonderful Plymouthonian house for sale is now under contract and appears to be in very good hands!

  6. I wonder if you ever found Al Capone's trap doors. In 1984/5 I did a story on the old hotel for my school newspaper at Lake Brantley High. We tracked down this old house and made several attempts at getting a tour. The owner claimed the stories to be true and a colleague of mine was lucky enough to see them. However I never laid my pearly whites on it so I have always had a sense of skepticism. I wonder if you can clear that up?


  7. Jeff- What I saw at the open house were "trap doors" into storage spaces. However, the folks who have the house under contract talked to some previous owners of the house and believe the rumors to be true. I would be glad to send you the email address of the soon to be owner if you like.

  8. Pleased to report that the house sale closed about two weeks ago. The buyers are Martin Cushman and his partner Bob who is a landscape architect and boy does this place need one.

    Regular readers of this blog may remember that Martin Cushman was mentioned in the post August 3, 2009 "Floridana in Mt. Dora." Martin plans on moving his studio and kilns into the workshop building in the back. No plans for the chicken coop yet.

    Having toured the house a couple of weeks ago, I can attest that this blog entry is remarkably accurate. There is a lot of work to do.

  9. I am the gg grandniece of Sam Stoltz. For years I have been searching the internet for information on Sam. I am so glad to see that more and more information is coming on line. I would like to thank you for your remarkable pictures and words!

  10. I'd be glad to get you in touch with the new owners of this house, or folks who know more about Mr. Stoltz than I! You can email me at

  11. I live in one of the Stoltz homes on Interlachen. Am looking for a complete list of all his Plymouth homes. I may have uncovered another but information is hard to find

  12. Tom- I'll ask around and see if such a list exists.

  13. Hey Rick, Steve Williams here. Check out my photos of the house now that it has new owners:;postID=4649808595213702640;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=postname

  14. Hey Rick, here's my post with photos of the house recently:
    Let's see if that link works,