Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hot Happenings at the Howey Mansion

I first learned of the Howey Mansion through the photostream of Black Doll, one of my Flickr contacts who very artistically photographs and accurately documents the architecture of the past in Florida and parts of the South. An article in the newspaper alerted me that the vacant home was hosting an estate sale and I knew I could not miss this opportunity to see this unique property from Florida's early 20th century past. It was a hot and humid afternoon on the final day of the sale when Mrs. Ephemera and I lined up with hundreds of other folks to shuffle past the lamps, knick-knacks, and the few pieces of furniture that survived the first two days of the extravaganza.

Cars packed the spacious grounds of the fantastic estate and I was amazed that so many people had come out to the tiny little town in Lake County to look at old stuff. It was clear to me immediately that many, like myself, were more interested in the house than the stuff packed inside. In fact so many people were taking pictures that it was hard to walk through any of the five rooms that were open to the public without getting in someone's shot.

Upon entering under a gorgeous stained glass window, a curved staircase hugs the curve of a stone wall, forcing your eye up to an incredible chandelier. The town website adds: "The wall surface of the foyer and lower hall is of Florentine beige marble squares so expertly joined that on first inspection they appear to be of one mass."

From the foyer, you could go to a huge room to the right, a small library straight ahead, or a small dining room to the left. All the rest of the rooms were off limits. The spaces were dark and mysterious despite it being a bright afternoon, and I'm guessing the house was reasonably cool in the days before air conditioning. The interiors reminded me a great deal of the rooms created by builder/artist Sam Stoltz but on a much larger scale. Friends noticed that all the drapery appeared to be original, I was mesmerized by the all the pecky cypress doors and beams throughout every inch of the place.

The web page dedicated to the mansion on the town's website eloquently describes the space thusly:
"Three immense fireplaces, a ballroom-size drawing room, massive beamed ceilings and the servant call-bell phone system are not surprising architectural styles and convenience refinements to see in a house of this size. The unexpected is what delights the eye and creates visual images. For instance, a cozy breakfast room is built in the tower on the backside of the mansion, entered midway up the main staircase and serviced by an enclosed stairway and dumb waiter from the butler’s pantry on the first floor...."

Outside a narrow staircase leading from the back of the house allowed access to a patio with a view of the courtyard. The courtyard's focal point is a lily-filled pond with a delicate mermaid statue raising a shell to the sky from which water apparently used to flow. A small plaque in the garden reads:

The Howey Mansion was the 1925 home to William J. Howey, a land promoter who purchased 60,000 acres of Lake County, the center of which was to become Howey-in-the Hills. The land, purchased for less than $10 an acre, was cleared, planted with citrus trees and then resold for between $800 and $2000 an acre. He opened the Floridian Hotel in Howey-in-the-Hills in 1924, incorporated the town in 1925 and saw his holdings triple during the Florida and boom of the 1920s. When the Howey Mansion was completed in 1927, a mere 15,000 people were invited for an outdoor performance of the New York Civic Opera Company.

A rare shot of the mansion before it was covered with vines.

The view from the Howey Mansion in 1928.
Today it sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The Floridian Hotel, today incorporated as part of the Mission Inn.

Howey had a nose for politics and he unsuccessfully ran for governor twice in 1928 and 1932. Among the famous politicians he entertained at the mansion were Kansas governor and presidential candidate Alf Landon and President Calvin Coolidge. Howey died in Lake County in 1938 and is buried in a small mausoleum somewhere on the mansion's 15-acre grounds. We searched in vain for the crypt but were unable to locate it.

Miami offices of William Howey's gubernatorial election campaign.

Rumor has it that the house is to be renovated and used for weddings. Restoring this Mediterranean Revival beauty is taunting task as it is very apparent much work needs to be done. But I'm optimistic that such a venture would be successful, for when I attended a wedding across the street at the Mission Inn earlier in the month, three other weddings were being held at simultaneously. So there appears to be a market for it. I wish them well!

Archival images from the State Archives of Florida


  1. Incredible! Thank you for posting this. Love the first picture especially.

  2. These are great!

    I hope they can do something with this building. It reminds me quite a bit of The Thomas Center up here in G'ville, which does a brisk wedding business and which also serves as city offices, a public park, and a children's theatre.

  3. Yes my Dad used to have his office in the Thomas Center when he worked for the city. I need to visit it soon and take some pics so I can blog about it...

  4. This is a wonderful overview, Rick; thanks for posting it. We missed the event and are sorry we did.

  5. I remember going into this house as a little girl ( not long ago ) with my mom who helped the little lady who lived there.

  6. i lived across the street for some time. the crypt is in the woods to the north or the mansion, it seems to be detached from the actual property. it is quite beautiful.

  7. I saw this wonderful house from the outside, why can't they open it for the tourist can see how wonderful it is from the inside

  8. The mausoleum is to the right of the house on the other side of wall. There is dirt road along that part of wall where you will find it.

  9. I have enjoyed reading about this House. I Love Historical Anything !!! Thank You for posting !!!!

  10. Thanks for the tour!

  11. Nice work here Rick. I visited the mansion today for photos. I wish I was brave enough to get closer for more shots. I love this place. Stay safe.

  12. I was heartbroken today to see this gem in its present state. There is actually a window open and I am horrified to think what is happening inside. If I was very rich I would pay anything to buy this place and fix it up perfect to its past beauty. I hope something positive will be done, and soon, to save this place of magical wonder. This building is a Florida -- and United States -- treasure. I am so sad.

  13. We also loved this place. Saw it from the road on our way to Mt. Dora 26 Jauary 2013, had to swing back around and get a look. Sad shape for something that grand to be in. It used to be on 16? acres and now it is down to alittle over 5 acres, hence no more view of the lake and the crypt is no longer on the property.

  14. I discovered the mansion last year (2012) and have driven family and friends by this beautiful sturcture. I winter in Tavares. We all hope that this beautiful building can somehow be saved.

  15. I seen pictures of this beautiful sturcture on facebook kids took pictures of the inside & out .... I wish i could live that fairytale back in those days

  16. I am trying to find the person that took these pictures. I am making a huge commitment, more than I may be able to handle, but I am going to attempt to put a page together on Facebook with pictures and a history to try to save this house from complete ruin. I know it is going to be a huge task but as a teacher I am out of work for the summer and I want to get a substantial amount done while I am out. I would even like to eventually get media involvement to bring awareness to the house and history behind it. Anyone that would like to get involved even if it is just to offer pictures or a personal story please contact me at which is my home Facebook page. Thank you!

    1. Dear Autumn. I hope you find what you are looking for. SO am I. I am a Howey. Just seems like the trail ends. That is the story within my family...

  17. Please visit: William J. Jowey Mansion Community Restoration Project... The official Website