The Autrey House

The Autrey House

108 Hillcrest Street

The handsome red-brick mansion built in 1921 for L. M. Autrey stands on Hillcrest Street, at the south-east corner of Magnolia Avenue, just outside the Lake Eola Heights National Register Historic District.  North Carolina native, Latta M. Autrey, vice-president of the Lake Wales Naval Stores Co., relocated to Orlando with his wife and six children in 1920.  He took out the building permit for a house to cost $30,000 in January 1921.

Orlando architect Murry S. King designed the two-story residence in the Chicago/Prairie Style, with the typical horizontal profile, low hip-roof, wide eaves, and rows of windows.  He added Tuscan columns and white concrete trim.  Mr. Autrey bought three lots in the Chauncey Holt Addition to the Town of Orlando, which provided ample space for lawns and landscaping and a porte cochere rear entrance from Magnolia Avenue.  The plans for the elaborate structure, to be built of solid brick, rare for Orlando construction, included a center porch, open terraces and an enclosed porch with a large fireplace.  The living room, reception room, library, dining room, and breakfast room completed the first floor, with four bedrooms, four baths, dressing rooms, closets, and sleeping porches on the second floor, for a total of about 7,000 square feet.

Mr. Autrey took an active role in his new community, which elected him mayor in 1925.  During his three-year term, Autrey brought his progressive vision to Orlando, completing a long list of beautification and improvement projects, but he declined a second term, citing family considerations.  The ending of the boom times no doubt influenced his decision.  The Autrey family moved in 1929, to Valdosta, Georgia, the site of his naval stores business. In 1930, Autrey sold the house at 108 Hillcrest Street, by that time vacant for nearly a year, to Clarence Thomas. Latta Autrey died in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1938.

Clarence Thomas, a millionaire owner of chain stores in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a winter resident of Orlando, paid $65,000 for the Autrey House in 1930, one of the city’s showplaces, rumored to have cost more than $100,000 to build.  A pioneer in chain marketing, he built his original Grand Rapids store into one of the Michigan city’s leading businesses, adding new stores throughout the area until he had more than one hundred stores.  He bought another chain store company, and in 1929, he sold his entire holdings to Kroger Stores, reportedly for about $3 million. He next started a chain of hardware stores in Grand Rapids.  The Thomas family lived in the palatial Autrey house with its spacious grounds for twenty-seven years, though they may have divided that time between Orlando and Grand Rapids.

Westwood, Inc., the firm of Carl T. Langford and William Slemons, paid $100,000 for the Autrey house in 1957, with plans to use it as an office for their real estate, insurance, and mortgage businesses.  Clarence Thomas, who possibly bought a smaller house in the area after the sale of the Autrey House in 1957, died in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1973.   

The various enterprises of Langford and Slemons occupied offices in the Autrey House from 1957 until about 1969, when they dissolved their partnership.  Carl T. Langford, elected Mayor of Orlando in 1967, closed out his business interests to devote his time to the city.  In 1970, a local insurance company headed by Frank C. Drane, Jr., bought the Autrey House and announced plans to restore it as much as possible to its former appearance and to dedicate it to the memory of Mayor Autrey.  The first floor would be furnished as the original home, with commercial offices on the second floor.

The Autrey House sold again in 1975, when three attorneys bought it for $205,000 as an investment.  They sold it in 1980 to Robert Oreck for $305,000.  Oreck, who had started his own restoration of the brick mansion he called the Embassy House., intended to make it the headquarters for his new development firm.  He sold it two years later for $500,000.  It sold again after about a year for $460,000.  The new owners, the law firm of E. Clay Parker, held the property from 1983 until 1994, when Parker bought it.  He sold in 2007 to another law firm for $1,435,000.  That firm sold to an investment company in 2017, for $1.4 million.  In 2019 the investment firm still owns the Autrey House.

 The impressive mansion looks much as it probably did when new.  Its quality design and solid brick construction remain sound, though parking lots and multi-lane streets have whittled away at the once beautiful grounds.  Mayor Autry’s vision for Orlando came true, built on the many accomplishments of his administration, including an adequate water supply, an airport, miles of brick-paved streets, sidewalks, drainage wells, sanitary sewers, storm sewer, and fire hydrants.  He set out to beautify the city, and his own residence contributed to his vision.

Tana Mosier Porter



Busy Weekend for Preservation

Two recent high profile events celebrated the importance of historic preservation in our community.  The first celebrated the architectural design detail of mid-century and the other the preservation and rehabilitation of a residential structure in a moving way.


The first event was on Saturday December 1st out front of the Orange County History Center  with the unveiling of a portion of the brise soleil that adorned the round building that was once where the new Dr. Phillips performing Arts center now stands. The ceremony was presided by John Kaiser of Designage. In attendance were civic officials and leaders,  members from Nils Schweitzer Modern Group, and the many partners who donated services and materials.


The second event was the relocation of the 1921 structure that once stood on the corner of Broadway Ave and Ridgewood Street in the Lake Eola Heights neighborhood. It was moved two blocks north and east to the corner of E. Livingston St and Cathcart Ave.  While there had been some controversy of its inclusion as a contributing structure in the local Lake Eola Heights Historic District it is a contributing structure in the Lake Eola Heights National Register District.

Many residents, who patiently endured the utility outages and traffic disruption, as well as media watched as the large structure made its way through the neighborhood to its new home. The new site which had a rear structure was able to accommodate the home as it had never been fully developed. The vacated site is planned for a 5-unit condominium development.

John Kaiser(l) Orlando Comm Patty Sheehan(r)

John Kaiser(l) Orlando Comm Patty Sheehan(r)


The Sam Robinson House


 419 N. Magnolia Avenue

One of Orlando’s oldest and most elegant houses stands on the east side of North Magnolia Avenue near Livingston Street.  Sam Robinson built it in 1884. According to Orlando historian, Eve Bacon, the large Colonial-style frame residence “featured a gable and widow’s walk.  It had famous plate glass windows that puzzled the town because of their near invisibility.  The only running water in the home was through a hose in the bathroom off the ground floor master bedroom, which connected to the faucet on the back porch.  Its installation was considered almost grotesque modernity on the part of Mr. Robinson.” 

 Samuel Austin Robinson came to Orlando from Michigan in 1876 to help his older brother, Norman, set out a citrus grove in what is now Lake Eola Heights.  A civil engineer, Sam Robinson soon established a surveying practice in Central Florida and worked for seventeen years as Orange County’s Surveyor.  He also served as tax assessor and tax collector, alderman, school trustee, and city surveyor, in addition to two terms in the State Legislature.  Robinson laid out the downtown streets, and with Otto Fries, he surveyed the new Greenwood Cemetery. 

Sam first built a log house on Norman Robinson’s grove land at the northeast corner of Hillcrest Street and Cathcart Avenue, followed in 1884 by one of the first houses in the Lake Eola Heights area. Robinson built on land deeded to him in 1878 by his brother before the area was platted, resulting in difficult property descriptions.  His acreage eventually became part of the Speirs and Lockharts Subdivisions, but efforts to trace property ownership remain complicated.

Robinson lived in the house until 1900, when he sold it to Levi Dodge, for $2000 and release from the mortgage Dodge held on the property.  Sam Robinson relocated at that time to the North Main and Washington Streets area, where he occupied several different houses over the years and died in 1926.  At some time, probably before 1913, renovations to the front façade of the Magnolia Avenue house, including the addition of the four two-story columns, changed the Colonial Revival house to an imposing Classical Revival mansion. 

 In 1902, Dodge sold the same property to Isaac C. Mann, who lived there until his death in 1917.  His widow, Lizzie Mann, sold it to Alice H. Baker for $5000 in 1919. John and Alice Baker sold the house in 1920 to T. C. Brannon.  Brannon, a citrus inspector, conductor on the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, realtor, and prominent Orlando citizen, occupied the residence, advertised as “The Magnolia,” for fifteen years.    The very social Brannon family gave numerous parties and gatherings, and they operated a boarding house, renting out rooms in the former Robinson house. The Broadway Methodist Church was organized at a meeting in the house in 1922.

In 1934, the Majefee Corporation, a housing construction firm which held a mortgage encumbering the property on Magnolia Avenue, foreclosed on T. C. Brannon.  The judgement required that the property be sold at auction for no less than $9,000 and Majefee was the highest bidder.  The house, called “The Colonial,” operated as a boarding house for the next ten years.  In 1936, the Colonial Tea Room advertised in the Winter Park Topics: lunches, dinners, special parties, and rooms by the day or the week.  The Orlando Sentinel society column praised the colonial atmosphere, furnishings and architecture, and noted “the particular charm” of the house.

By 1946, when the Majefee Corporation sold the property to William C. Haynie, commerce had begun to move out from the city along Magnolia Avenue.  Luther and Virginia Damron bought the house in 1948, with plans to open a twelve-room tourist hotel to be called “Magnolia Manor.”  The Damrons paid $32,500, with $13,000 remaining to be paid on $15,000 mortgage granted to the Majefee Corporation.

The Damrons sold the property to W. O. Daley, a certified public accountant, in 1954, and Daley’s newly organized firm, Four Nineteen, Inc., occupied the structure until 1986.  The Daley family sold in 2015 to Thorne Properties.

Today, Sam Robinson’s Colonial Revival residence that fronted a vast orange grove in 1884, has become a Classical Revival mansion on a heavily-traveled street in the heart of Orlando’s downtown.  Parts of the residential neighborhood that replaced the orange groves has itself given way to commercial concerns, and 419 Magnolia Avenue, a business for more than a half-century, led the way.  The imposing four-columned mansion appears wedged between two unfortunate additions of its own with businesses flanking those.  The oak trees that Sam Robinson planted are all gone in this section of Magnolia Avenue, which has been realigned so that the house is set back from the one-way street on a curve, obscuring it from the fast-moving traffic.  Many Orlandoans who pass every day have probably never noticed the beautiful and historically important house at 419 North Magnolia Avenue.

Tana Mosier Porter 2018











Church lot parking is limited however free on-street parking available starting 6pm

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Grace Hagedorn Receives Awards at OPT 2018 Spring Event

Orange Preservation Trust  Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation Award  Grace Hagedorn, (l) Raymond Cox (r)

Orange Preservation Trust

Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation Award

Grace Hagedorn, (l) Raymond Cox (r)

City of Orlando Grace Hagedorn Day Proclamation  (Richard Forbes,l, Grace Hagedorn,c, Raymond Cox,r.)

City of Orlando Grace Hagedorn Day Proclamation

(Richard Forbes,l, Grace Hagedorn,c, Raymond Cox,r.)


On Sunday April 29, Grace Hagedorn was awarded OPT's 1st Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation Award.

Surrounded by family, friends and fellow preservationists OPT president Raymond Cox gave the presentation including a quick review of her years of activism.

Not only did Grace receive OPT's award, on behalf of Mayor Dyer, Richard Forbes the Orlando Historic Preservation Officer, presented Grace with a City Proclamation that proclaimed April 29, 2018 Grace Hagedorn Day in the City of Orlando.

OPT would like to thank all the attendees, donors and especially Chad and Patty Lalonde for opening their beautiful 1911 historic home in the Lake Eola Heights Historic District for the event.

OPT Ending the Year on a Positive Note!

OPT's project for 2017 was to elevate the profile of the Orlando Landmarked Grand Avenue school. With it's closure this past school year and no confirmation from OCPS of its fate OPT's board became concerned. Even through visits, correspondence and meetings with vested parties nothing was forthcoming. The non-historic structures were demolished again with no word from OCPS of their intent for the site. City Commissioner Sam Ings had expressed his concern and  wishes  to see the historic structure saved and adapted to a facility serving the surrounding community. 

It was communicated this week from the City of Orlando and announced December 7th that the City of Orlando will take possession of the site including the historic school building via a land swap with the OCPS. The goal is to create a center for after-school programs, Parramore Kids Zone youth center and pottery program. Additionally a gymnasium with be constructed. The facility will continue its 90 plus year tradition as a central gathering place for the area.

A detailed article by Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeff Weiner can be found at this link

The move by the City of Orlando to take ownership of this site is a demonstration of creative solutions in providing needed social services and protecting the city's cultural historic resources. Kudos to Mayor Buddy Dyer and his staff for taking the lead.

Tinker Field History Plaza Groundbreaking

Monday October 30th was the ground breaking for the Tinker Field History Center on site of Tinker Field. The preservation of Tinker Field was the catalyst that launched Orange Preservation Trust, OPT, 3 years ago. The threat of demolishing the field for a parking lot did not sit well for many in the community. Tinker Field was where the winter league baseball teams began. It was also the site of black league baseball and where the discussion of integrated major league baseball started. Not only was it the site where Orlandoans gathered for recreation it was also a site where citizens gathered for social causes. Tinker Field hosted Dr. Martin Luther King where he spoke out for racial equality.

As size demanded larger sports venues and inter-city competition for winter training teams intensified Tinker Field was over-shadowed by larger interests. The Camping World Stadium expansion began to pressure the field. Tinker Field did remain active for smaller eclectic events and exhibits especially during football and soccer playoffs.

Through public pressure and support of local Orlando and state officials and staff via many public meetings the idea of the Tinker Field History Center was born. City of Orlando District 5 Commissioner Regina Hill gathered today to thank all involved and to turn dirt to begin the construction.

For more information please check the following City of Orlando link

Your support of preservation activism through volunteering and or donations helps insure that valuable cultural resources in Orange County, such as Tinker Field, will be protected.

Grand Avenue School Getting More Support

The recent Orlando Sentinel Editorial, dated July 23, 2017, adds to the support of saving the City of Orlando Landmark. Orlando District 6 City Commissioner Sam Ings is also requesting that the historic school building be repurposed to serve as a community gathering place as a charter school, after school activity center or event space. The surrounding land would provide park land that the City has indicated it would like to expand. While no definitive plans have been provided by OCPS it is important that we remain diligent to this project. OPT will continue to monitor any activity. 


Grand Avenue School

Grand Ave School photo from City of Orlando Historic Preservation Master Site File

Raymond Cox, president OPT

Coming off a successful 2016 project campaign, submitting the successful application for local City of Orlando landmark designation of the Marsh house, aka Eola House in Lake Eola Park, OPT was searching for a project for 2017. From informal conversations with members of the Orlando City Council OPT directed its attention to the west side of Orlando where preservation has had some difficulty. It was learned that OCPS was closing the City of Orlando landmarked Grand Avenue School mid June of 2017. Through conversation and investigation, OPT decided to focus on the landmarked Grand Avenue School. Two of our board members toured the school with the principal and both were amazed how well the facility was maintained and impressed how proud the staff was of the historic facility.

Deeper correspondence with the OCPS administration was pursued inquiring on the future of the historic facility. Correspondence from me to School Board Chairman Sublette was cc’d to Orlando City Council and planning staff with the purpose to provide a heads-up of any possible city planning and zoning conflict should demolition be attempted. E-mails between OPT board members and OCPS board members, legal staff and board chair provided no definitive answer and nothing could be ascertained other than it will no longer be used for educational purposes.

If you have been following our Facebook page or been reading the Orlando Sentinel, there have been 2 investigative articles by staff reporter Jeff Weiner trying to get more information from both the OCPS and City of Orlando. (see attached hotlinks to these articles).


There appears to be support from Orlando City Commissioner Ings on adaptive re-use of the facility as well as recent past opposition from the State Department of Historic Resources for demolition. OPT has no opinion on the future use of the property other than to maintain the historic structure, irrespective of public or private ownership, while allowing any non-historic structures on the property to be demolished.

As I have said, 22 years ago the citizens of Orlando through due process of the City of Orlando’s Planning and Zoning policy decided along with the City of Orlando and the OCPS that Grand Avenue School is an important part of the community’s historic cultural fabric and it is our responsibility as stewards of this community to respect and protect these cultural assets.

Please watch on our web site and Facebook page as well as follow in the local media for any further developments. Stay informed and stay involved.

FB: Orange Preservation Trust