What makes a home truly historic? The way a building captures your attention with uncommon architecture? Or the legacy left behind by the person who once called that house home?
The house at 331 W. Lyman Ave. may not cause residents and tourists to stop for a moment and take pictures at first. The ranch style home built in 1958 looks similar to many other homes on its surrounding streets in the Hannibal Square community. There’s no “rustic feel” and there’s no charming cobblestone pathway leading up to the front door, but on Monday Winter Park City Commissioners voted to designate the home on Lyman Avenue to the city’s registry of historic homes – realizing that it wasn’t the building itself in this case that was significant, but the man who built it.
The home belonged to the late Rev. Jerry Hall – a local preacher, church builder, community leader and a voice of peace during the African American civil rights movement in the 1960s – who passed away in October 2008.
Hall originally built the house after his previous home was one of several displaced by the city by eminent domain in 1958. That land was freed up to establish Lake Island Park, which was later renamed to Martin Luther King Jr. Park in 2012.
Hall’s widow, Martha Bryant-Hall, applied to have Hall’s house designated as historic back in June based on the reverend’s influence and legacy in the community, but was denied by a unanimous 0-7 vote from the city’s Historic Preservation Board.
Winter Park Director of Planning and Community Development Dori Stone said the board voted it down because the house possessed no architectural significance. Meeting minutes from the board meeting also revealed that the board acknowledged Hall was an important figure, but that it was still “too early to know how his legacy and contributions to the city, especially in the Hannibal Square area, will be determined,” noting that Hall has only been dead since 2008.
Bryant-Hall appealed the board’s decision, which brought it before City Commissioners on Monday.
“That house would be significant, to show the contributions of Rev. Hall,” Bryant-Hall said.
Rev. Hall was born in Bonds, Miss., moving to Winter Park in 1937. In the city he worked numerous jobs: a caddy at the Winter Park Country Club, a lawn worker for the city, a chauffer and an undertaker.
But most residents may think of Hall in his role as a street preacher, who founded numerous churches throughout Central Florida, including the Prayer Mission Church that still sits on Lyman Avenue to this day.
During the tense decade of the 1960s when the civil rights movement was in full swing, Hall was a voice of reason and non-violence, Bryant-Hall said, adding in her application for historic designation that the home itself was a meeting place for the members of the community to come together and discuss the pressing issues of racial injustice and segregation.
“When incidents broke out in the neighborhood, he calmed the neighborhood down, because he believed in non-violence,” Bryant-Hall said. “He made sure there was no uproar in the city.”
Hall also pushed for integration of jobs at the post office and at city hall, playing a direct role in the hiring of the first African American secretary to work for the city of Winter Park, Bryant-Hall said.
But Hall’s widow wasn’t the only resident ready to testify to Hall’s legacy on Monday.
“There are two things here that we’re talking about tonight: one is a building and one is man,” Former Mayor Joe Terranova said. “I remember many, many times Rev. Hall would come to the City Commission and he would make his case, not for himself but for his community. The historical board said he hasn’t really been dead long enough to see whether he’s made a contribution, so we ought to wait another 42 years. Well I can’t wait 42 years, because in 42 years I’m going to 133 years old and no man has ever lived that long.”
After a presentation on Hall’s life and legacy, Commissioners voted 3-2 to designate the home as historic, with Commissioners Sarah Sprinkel, Carolyn Cooper and Greg Seidel opting for Bryant-Hall’s appeal and Mayor Steve Leary and Commissioner Peter Weldon voting to uphold the board’s decision.
“Ms. Hall, I just want to apologize that you’re even here,” Commissioner Greg Seidel said.
“To me, history is about what’s important to people. It’s very important to the city what Rev. Hall did. If his family wants to make his house historic, god bless them.”
Both Leary and Weldon said they felt compelled to stand by the board’s unanimous decision, and that perhaps this will help the city better define its laws regarding which of its homes are historic.
The home at 331 W. Lyman Ave. may not stand out today, but in the coming weeks a gold and black historic resource plaque on the building will distinguish it from the rest.
“It’s long overdue,” Bryant-Hall said.