by Tim Gilmore, 3/25/2022
1. In Through the Horseshoe
It’s one of only two houses in the city with horseshoe arches. The only other house, as far as Kiley Secrest knows, is down on First Street. Kiley is the new owner of the only house with circles outside the horseshoes in the upper corners of the frames. It’s an unusual Victorian motif, derived from Moorish architecture in North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.
As soon as he heard the house was for sale, Kiley knew he had to see it, walked through it that same night with his neighbor and realtor Pat Nodurft. “I first saw it in the dark,” he says, “but I fell in love with it immediately.”
It’s the most distinctive house designed by carpenter Fillmore Applegate, who married Stella Gardner in North Carolina in 1906 and built this house for her in 1910. It was late for such a “high Victorian design,” and by the time Fillmore died in 1922, the Applegates were living in a more then-fashionable Craftsman house he’d designed and built at the other end and the other side of one-block Redwing Street.
2. Rendering the District
But step back, back up, more than a century and eight blocks south. The turret on the corner of the Queen Anne style house looks kindly out on the neighborhood. Its eyes are the windows on the turret’s third floor, its cone roof a hat reminiscent of the Tin Man’s oilcan in The Wizard of Oz. With a conversational smile, the house says, “The Gilded Age was the best!”
I’m describing Perry, the house anthropomorphized as neighborhood guide in Kiley Secrest’s 10 year project Residential Renderings. Perry’s named for the first owner of the Victorian house at 1206 Hubbard Street, Arthur Perry. It’s hard to describe Kiley’s relationship to Perry, its place in his psyche and worldview. It’s a house; it’s a character; it’s Kiley’s alter ego, but also his ideal love.
Kiley Secrest first fell in love with Victorian architecture when he was growing up in conservative suburban Fleming Island in Clay County. He felt like an outsider in the bland wealth of cookie-cutter tract-house subdivisions. Victorian architecture, with its borrowings from other cultures, its asymmetries, its color range, its ornate and intricate details, its idiosyncrasies, seemed to him what home might be.
In 2013, when he and his family moved to Springfield, the dense turn-of-the-20th-century neighborhood just north of Downtown, Kiley felt his fantasy environment come to life around him. He’d immersed himself in books about the architectural “painted ladies” of Victorian San Francisco. He’d pieced together a model of a grand Victorian house that graced his bedroom. Moving to Springfield saturated him in his obsession, and he set about immediately drawing the neighborhood one house at a time.
In 2015, when Kiley Secrest and Hurley Winkler met me at Casa Dora Italian Restaurant by the Florida Theater to celebrate the conclusion of our work together on the book The Mad Atlas of Virginia King, they gave me a Kodak Brownie camera from the 1960s. Virginia carried her Brownie everywhere when she wandered, center of the city, in the ’60s and ’70s, snapping blurred and crooked photos, because she couldn’t stand still long enough to take the picture, stalking old houses and buildings about to be demolished.
Artist and writer Hurley Winkler was there in 2014 in Old St. Luke’s Hospital, now headquarters and archives for the Jacksonville Historical Society, when historian Lauren Mosely first showed us the 19 binders that comprised the strangest book ever written in Florida, Virginia King’s 8,448-page Interesting Facts About Leading People and Families of Duval County: Also, Where Progress Has Changed a Lot of Homes and Buildings. I had, I knew, to find out more about Virginia, who’d died in 2001, to write about her life and urgency.
I knew Hurley should be part of the project and Hurley and I knew, simultaneously and separately, that Kiley Secrest should too. Hurley had helped found the Jax-based arts and literature magazine Perversion, for which she wrote and drew a comic called “Girl Crush.”
She formed an instant “girl crush” on Virginia King, rail-thin and strident and obsessive and still dressing in the 1980s like it was the 1950s. I, on the other hand, automatically feared that I was Virginia King, obsessive and compulsive in tracking the bizarre stories of my Florida hometown. We both knew Kiley from following Residential Renderings on social media.
“Through lunch meetings over the Virginia King project, Kiley and I have learned that we have a lot in common.” So writes Hurley Winkler in “Kiley Secrest: Illustrating Springfield the Virginia King Way,” one of several intermezzos she wrote for The Mad Atlas. “We each like to collect things, we spent our childhoods doodling, and our peers refer to us as ‘old souls.’”
She describes the hutch in his bedroom where Kiley displayed his collection of LuRay Pastels, “a line of chinaware produced from the 1930s through the ’60s” in four main colors: “Persian Cream, Windsor Blue, Sharon Pink and Surf Green.” When Hurley refers to a house on their walk through Springfield as “mustard-y colored,” Kiley tells her it’s “actually yellow ochre. It’s a very classic Victorian color.” Kiley’s own colors, he tells Hurley, are yellow and aqua. They’re the colors he most frequently wears. They say something of the assertive grace of his personality and his way of being in the world.
Kiley connected to Virginia King, fell in love with her in his own way, identified with and revivified her. He drew a detailed map of all the places across Riverside where she’d lived. She drew a detailed map of Springfield addresses she’d chronicled. The maps appeared in the book, with breakout details of particular buildings. His original cover image now graces posters for the play adaptation on the main stage of the Wilson Center for the Arts.
He soon published his own collection of renderings, Welcome to Springfield, containing more than 60 images. Virginia’s lifelong goal was to write the city into a book. Kiley was already rendering the city’s principally Victorian neighborhood into his art.
3. Love in the Quadrant
The Northwest Quadrant of Springfield is an historic working class area where artisans planted their signature in the cityscape. Carpenter Richard Drysdale, namesake of half-block Drysdale Street, built four houses around the corner on Walnut. Kiley believes Applegate designed and built the two houses just north of his corner of Redwing and East 10th and two similar designs a block away on North Market.
At this most distinctive Applegate house, Kiley says the carpenter was “showing off.” He points out the chamfered edges of the front porch posts. The original Palladian windows are still in the attic, covered up by siding since a fire scorched the front of the house. The Palladian windows on the two houses immediately north still stand in full view.
It’s not clear when the fire burned through. Originally the house had a chimney on each side and the plate-like flue cover shows where a woodstove once stood on the Redwing side. The ceilings are lower on this side of the house too. The original wood char is still visible in the attic above the drop ceiling, as is faded wallpaper blazoned with starbursts.
Kiley wants to know everything that ever happened in this house. He won’t undo some of the aesthetic changes made in previous decades that might now seem questionable. Wesley, the Barbadian man who sold him the house, called the dining room “the den.” The room has all the hallmarks of that 1970s house feature, including brown wood paneling and rustic scenes sketched in pale chiaroscuro wallpaper.
Kiley subscribes more to the British idea of preservation than to the American. “In America,” he says, “we tend to want to take a house back to the way it was originally built and designed and call that preservation, but the British idea is that you honor the ways the house has changed over the years and preserve them too.”
He’s intrigued with what he’s learned of Stella Applegate. Though Fillmore, 30 years his wife’s senior, died in ’22, Stella lived until 1980. She married two more times, but divorced her second and third husbands, uncommonly bold actions for a woman earlier in the 20th century. She lived the rest of her life here in “the Quadrant,” spending her last days single in a four-bedroom two-story house on East 11th.
“At the end of her life,” Kiley says, “despite those other two marriages and divorces, she still went by the last name Applegate.” He points out that keeping a surname through later marriages was rarer for a woman even than filing for divorce. “I’d like to think Fillmore was the love of her life,” he says.
The house Fillmore built Stella is the love of Kiley’s life. It’s been a long time coming. The 30 year old artist plans to call this house home for the rest of his days.
This afternoon, his blond hair grown to his shoulders, Kiley is dressed all vintage: white Chelsea boots, a 1970s shirt blue with stylized waves, clouds and silhouettes of gulls, and his usual puka shell necklace. He speaks in gentle Southern fluidities, moves gracefully through his new home, points to shelving in the dining room containing half his LuRay collection.
He shows me an advertising plate for Hart Furniture Company, located at 618 West Forsyth Street in LaVilla, a multistory historic building recently demolished. “You know how our city just loves to tear all its old buildings down,” he says. The plate, which shows an image of a turkey, is an example of how companies gave away chinaware with a larger purchase, an expression of gratitude and smart advertising.
On a “very Mid-Century Modern” room-divider shelf open from both sides, added decades ago to bisect the dining room, an antique aquamarine General Electric alarm clock keeps time. Kiley especially loves the maize colored GE stove in the kitchen and says, “You have no idea how hard it is to find harvest gold appliances these days.”
The stove waited, unused in a condo in St. Johns County since the late 1970s, until a contractor demo’ing the condo found it and put out a listing. “It was so close to going to the landfill,” Kiley says, “but the contractor said he knew the right person would want it.” He did.
In the parlor in the front bay beneath the regent style diamond paned window pose the turquoise ducks, rabbits, even lamas of his Haldeman Caliente figurine collection.
Kiley says upfront he doesn’t care for new things. “If I can buy something vintage or antique, whether it’s appliances or clothes, I will,” he says. “Older things are more aesthetically pleasing. Our culture has lost so much of its craftsmanship and pride of product. Not only that, but unlike lots of new things that are only a year or two old, the older things still work!” Virginia King expressed similar sentiments.
He was surprised recently to find an old Polaroid of his mother’s first birthday party, showing his grandmother feeding her cake. His eye immediately caught the LuRay on his grandmother’s table. He had no idea he’d chosen for himself the same chinaware his grandmother had chosen in 1950 for her wedding.
Kiley planned for his grandmother to move into the house with him. He shows the room he says “was supposed to be” hers. Buying the house, however, coincided with his grandmother’s health taking a turn for the worse. Even as he stands on the front porch, gaping holes in the floorboards on either side of him soon to be fixed, he tells me his grandmother has just entered Hospice.
It’s one of the hardest of the series of complications that led him to announce that after 10 years, he’s pulling back on Residential Renderings. That decision coincides ironically with the fact that he’s set aside a room in the Applegate House as his studio. He’s never had his own space designated for his artistry. He still owes a couple of commissions, one in Atlanta, one in Ohio.
Kiley Secrest knows every house in Springfield. Strangely, he never got around to rendering the Applegate House. Though his grandmother can’t move in with him, she’s here. In the kindness of Kiley’s way of speaking. In his collections and colors. In his particular contemporary version of the past in the present, one where horseshoe arches on a Victorian cottage welcome a young gay architectural portraitist home in the 21st century.
When Kiley visits his grandmother in Hospice Tuesday morning before work, a nurse tells him the time is coming. It might be two hours from now. It might be two days. It’s neither. It’s 10 minutes later. It’s peaceful. Kiley’s grandmother is in no pain. He’s with her at the end. He sees and hears her stop breathing. The end comes gently.
The house is the home of Stella Applegate and Kiley Secrest, of the Residential Renderings, of Kiley’s grandmother and Virginia King, in whose 8,448 page book even now Kiley and I speak on this front porch, the Palladian window waits in the attic for its reintroduction, and I write this very sentence.