by Tim Gilmore, 5/20/2022
See also Cathedral District: Elena Flats
1. Chosen by the House
It’s one of the last remaining Victorian turrets in the city, on one of the most dramatic Queen Anne style houses. The story of the Perry Rinehart House, circa 1891, is the house itself. It tells itself as you walk it. Its histories move in convergences, in strange parallel tracks and concentric circles, in frames within frames. I’ll try not to butcher its geometries.
Standing on the porch by the fishscale shingles of the three-story corner tower, Jack Meeks says it was 19 years ago today that he and JoAnn Tredennick bought the house. I’m admiring the garden path that wraps around the verandah that wraps the house, the blue-green olive tree both lush and spare, the herb bed, the blue plumbago, the gold-blooming bougainvillea.
Milo, an orange tabby cat, stretches luxuriously in the middle of the porch, blinking beneath the M on his forehead. He’s described variously as “block captain” and “the mayor of Hubbard Street.” He goes in and out of other houses and lies down before passersby on the sidewalks.
“When we decided we wanted to restore a house,” JoAnn says, “we looked for years. We lived on the Southside, but we’d ride our bikes through the historic neighborhoods.” Finally Jack and JoAnn decided on Springfield, just north of Downtown, and when they first entered the foyer, JoAnn knew this was the house.
Kiley Secrest, artist and neighbor, nods his head. “They say in Springfield, the house chooses you,” he says. He speaks of the chamfered woodwork on the Eastlake front doorframe with endearment bordering on rapture. The neighborhood’s a village and JoAnn knows this house symbolizes everything Kiley loves about Springfield, about Victorian architecture itself.
He’s personified the house as “Perry,” the neighborhood guide in Residential Renderings, his 10 year project drawing the architectural portraits of Springfield. Perry opens his mouth to speak, his eyes the windows near the top of the tower. The image is cartoonlike, but poignantly personal, for Springfield gave Kiley his first real sense of home, having grown up gay in conservative suburbia, and Perry’s the personification of that salvation.
Jack and JoAnn spent four years renovating the house intensively, moving in halfway through the process. The story emerges as we walk, circling the four first-floor fireplaces, each at a 45 degree angle to its room, the foyer, the dining room, the ladies’ and men’s parlors. Remember those fireplaces. They have their own story.
2. Layers and Variations
The parlors sequestered the sexes as did Victorian society and the fireplaces from one parlor to the next reflect that dichotomy. The hearth in the ladies’ parlor is embellished with curlicues, the surround and the mirror above the mantel framed in curves and folds. The fireplace in the men’s parlor is bookended with wooden columns outside the surround of green subway tile, the cabinet above the mantel – no mirror on the men’s side – squared, dark and beveled.
Pocket doors glide softly on either entry to the ladies’ parlor, one from the men’s, one from the foyer, tasseled lamps by the pillowed sofa, a tufted blue velvet settee and chairs in the bay with its three thin tall windows and its wallpaper elegant in green and light gold. Mission-style chairs furnish the men’s parlor in sturdy straight lines and strong corners.
Unlike many another grand Springfield house, the Perry Rinehart was never butchered, carved into various apartments, and thus still retains its original woodwork, tilework and a thousand distinctive features, from the dragons in the grille of the fireplace in the ladies’ parlor to the barley-twist column at the foot of the main stairs.
Sitting on the stairs beside that column, Jack describes a Dante’s Inferno that layers what happened to historic Springfield houses. That layering mirrors the steps of Springfield’s “descent into Hell,” from which it’s risen so gloriously in recent years.
Early in the 20th century, racial fears pulled Springfield’s wealthier whites south of Downtown to Riverside and then San Marco, while the city’s black crown, from LaVilla to Hansontown on the west, increasingly encompassing Springfield in the center, to Oakland and the Eastside, solidified.
Jacksonville’s “white flight” began decades before post-World War II suburban expansion and foretold the fate of Springfield’s grand old houses. Throughout that descent into poverty, exploitation and desperation, the Perry Rinehart House fared better than most. The Perrys only lived here from 1891 to 1900, but the Rineharts hung on, calling this house home until the 1940s.
“At the highest level,” Jack says, “are the houses that always remained single-family,” as did this house with the exception of the few years in the 1980s when it housed Robert Perkins’s architectural firm. “The next level down is when landlords chopped these big houses into apartments. Then comes the rooming house, sliced into as many places as they could rent out for a week or a night, then these ‘adult living’ facilities with 30 or 40 shipwrecked people sleeping in chairs. And the lowest level was when a house had descended through the others and ended up abandoned, everything valuable stripped out of it.”
We move from room to room, floor to floor, from sunlight obscured through bamboo shades over reclining chairs in the library made from a sun room to the back second floor sitting room with William Morris wallpaper and booklined walls in what once was a sleeping porch. In the former room, on the first floor, a beadboard ceiling replaced a drop ceiling and single-hung windows replaced jalousies beneath a metal porch awning. The latter room, cutting an elbow at the back of the house, features Stickley furniture under Willow Bough patterns.
JoAnn loves the light in different rooms differently at various times of day in varied seasons. The winter sun cuts at lower angles, less washed out, in the early morning in that front sitting room, and afternoon winter light comes gently through the wavy glass of old windows in the men’s parlor. The softer sunlight of winter plays lambent on variations of reds and yellows in the wood of the house’s interior.
3. Circles of Houses on Hubbard
We circle the four central fireplaces. And we come back to the central staircase, with its stick-and-ball banister and central barley-twist column golden in the sunlight from the window at first landing.
Atop the original bureau in that tiny room beneath the stairs, I spot copies of Louise Stanton Warren’s 1998 book A House on Hubbard Street, about the beginnings of Hubbard House, the first domestic violence shelter for women in Florida. Formed just across the street at 1231 Hubbard in 1976, Hubbard House now operates from an undisclosed location, a $3.2 million facility that opened in 1997.
JoAnn Tredennick helped start Friends of Hubbard House and served for nine years as president of the Hubbard House Foundation to raise endowed funds for the nonprofit focused on ending and preventing domestic violence. It’s another instance of those strange and wondrous geometries that reach out from the Perry Rinehart House.
“To live here on Hubbard Street,” she says, “across from the original Hubbard House, and to think of those brave women who were threatened for fighting for women” reminds her of how “the house picks you. There’s something wonderfully circular about it.”
Even the chimney at the center of the house twists and turns from floor to floor. In the master bedroom, on the second floor, bricks step up from the hearth and I first see how the chimney turns. JoAnn says to wait for the attic. That story awaits.
We take a servants’ staircase behind the elbow of the former sleeping porch, pass the side door to the ductwork and rear dormer at the top of the house, then ascend to the attic bedroom, the top of the curving chimney and the small arched doorway to the top-floor tower room.
The first two floors hold thousands of books – on glass artist Dale Chihuly, on Southern Gothic, Ty Seidule’s Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Lost Cause and Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History. The only television is in the attic.
Between the attic bedroom and sitting room rises this strange twisting masonry, the pinnacle of the confluence climbing from those four first-floor fireplaces. It’s uncanny. It curves, stands crooked. From one line of brick to the next, it turns, shifts a few degrees, alters its center.
JoAnn pictures the brick mason working a floor at a time, “from the first floor, where the four fireplaces each face their room at 45 degrees, turning the chimney to the hearths on the second floor, then turning it further in the attic and moving it over 18 inches to align it with the center of the roof.” The chimney makes “a spinal twist,” she says, snakes itself up through the heart of the house.
Forbye these twisting rows of brick, a narrow peaked doorway of light beams through the attic living room, strange angles waving us inside to one of the most magical architectural spaces in the entire city.
It’s a pinnacle. As the story of the house is the house itself, it culminates in this intimate corner height to which we’ve worked ourselves. This space cannot be photographed. It cannot be written about. While this house is one of the city’s grandest, its most intimate spaces are its best, so intimate they can only be experienced. This space cannot be represented.
I can tell you of three thin tall windows, of the red gold of Bradbury and Bradbury wallpaper, of the Arabic geometry of two counteracting squares around stars in the ceiling wallpaper from which depend the elegant jagged angles that hold three globes of old lighting, of the Moroccan chairs and the double-squared octagonal table that mirrors the ceiling. I can tell you how the wallpaper motifs, lanterns but floral, refract the light. I cannot, however, place you here. The space cannot be captured.
Kiley mentions the Victorian legend that turrets were built on the corners of houses because witches couldn’t navigate curves. When JoAnn laughs, says she doesn’t buy it, I ask her if she’s ever seen a witch flying around the tower. When she says she hasn’t, Kiley laughs and says, “See! It works.”
5. Queen Anne in an Arts-&-Crafts Frame
We’re sitting at the table on the deck outside the kitchen and leafing through old records. City directories from 1891 list Arthur Franklin Perry as secretary and treasurer of Citizens’ Gas and Electric Company and Jacksonville Electric Light Company, his home address here at “First North Adeline Street.” He’s 25 years old. The antique light fixture JoAnn chose for her second floor office holds both gas and electric capacities, the former pointed up, the latter down.
By ’93, Perry’s listed as treasurer of Southern Savings and Trust Co. By ’96, he’s also secretary of National Peace River Phosphate Co., secretary and treasurer of Main Street Railroad Co. and treasurer of the Springfield Co. Adeline has become Hubbard Street.
The latter two enterprises lead new residential development north of the city proper, later Downtown itself, and Perry’s home serves as showcase. S. Paul Brown’s 1895 Book of Jacksonville features Springfield as “exclusively for white persons” with houses “of a superior character at once artistic and ornamental.”
Now questions arise about the Perrys’ ambitions and finances. Why did the Perrys leave this sensational house, having built it in their 20s, after just a decade? They moved to 1522 North Main Street in 1900, then into the smaller Colonial Revival-style house they’d had built at 1342 North Laura. JoAnn wonders if their finances had taken a hit. Then again, Arthur Perry served on Jacksonville City Council from 1897 to 1901.
Clement and Maude Rinehart moved into the Perry House when Arthur and Isabelle left. Both the Perrys and the Rineharts transitionally called 1522 North Main home. The Perrys lived at North Laura Street for just three years, then moved into a larger house south of Downtown at Riverside Avenue and Lomax Street.
A century later, convergences continue. After restoring the Perry Rinehart House, JoAnn Tredennick and Jack Meeks decided to renovate the house beside the offices for Jack Meeks & Associates, CPAs, LLC on North Laura. Only then did they find the Perrys had built that house too. They’d followed the Perrys without knowing it. Now 1342 North Laura serves as Jack’s campaign headquarters as he runs for city council.
Clement Darling Rinehart, an attorney, lived in the house the Perrys built until his death in 1941, his wife Maude until her death in ’47. When the Rineharts first moved in, they added newer architectural fashions to the Perrys’ suddenly outmoded Queen Anne ostentation. Metal awnings accrued like barnacles in the 1960s.
The name “Queen Anne,” as Kiley Secrest explains it, “is a bit of a misnomer. English architect Richard Norman Shaw wanted it to be associated with the elegance and class that he felt were part of Queen Anne’s reign.” The style debuted at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia, boasted asymmetry, featured corner turrets and balconies, and contrasted colors, forms and materials.
The Rineharts removed Victorian gingerbread from the porch, added tapered square posts rising from cast concrete blocks. JoAnn calls the house “a Queen Anne body in an Arts and Crafts frame.”
6. Housetop Beneath the House
We’ve come from that third-floor tower room to the old tower cone in the basement. Lying on its side nearby is the cistern Jack and JoAnn found in the attic. It originally piped rainwater down through a separate chimney system to the basement kitchen, reached from a back butler’s pantry and servant’s quarters.
The bronze-painted tin cone waits lonely on the dirt floor beneath the house like some wayward 1950s’ futuristic space needle, the globe beneath its upper spire partially melted by a lightning strike. Jack and JoAnn installed a lightning rod on the current cone. She’s sure, JoAnn says, lightning struck the old cone more than once.
This treetop cone beneath this house seems some oddest shrine. Absurdly enough, I want to tell it something personal, private, but no words come. When they do, when I sit down to write this story, the words arrive in mad muddles, like Wordsworth’s paradoxical definition of poetry, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility.”
So it’s not just that top tower room that can’t be represented. As this story approaches 2500 words, I see I’ve deleted 1,033. I lost the geometries I tried to trace. Spines twisted like barley. Parallel lines crossed paths. I lost control of the narrative. If the Queen Anne’s the glory of asymmetries, then perhaps my dilemma is apt. Volutes turn. Woodwork beams. The story of the house reinterprets itself indefinitely.