BY SALLY LANDIS BOHON
May I add my voice to those who have expressed their deep disappointment in the City Commission for its lack of due diligence in the preservation of our historic structures. I lost any semblance of respect for this body when it allowed Stetson University to tear down Stover Little Theater after the Historic Preservation Board had voted 100 percent for its preservation.
Stover Theater was the dream child of longtime Stetson President Dr. Lincoln Hulley, and it enjoyed the reputation of being the oldest university building devoted to theater production south of the Mason-Dixon Line. For generations, DeLand residents were introduced to stage plays from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams, concerts, dances and recitals. It is now a parking lot.
Just as sadly, Dr. Hulley and his wife are buried in a squat mausoleum that was originally the lofty and iconic Hulley Tower just south of Chaudoin Hall. For eight-plus decades, the town, university and neighboring homes enjoyed the music that poured forth from the tower’s chimes each evening. Damaged by the hurricanes in 2004, Stetson promised to rebuild the tower if the city would allow it to be lowered. It never did, and the City Commission just glanced away. No need here to list the number of new structures and athletic fields the university has since managed to build.
And now the City Commission has the fate of the Putnam Hotel in its hands. Yes, the Putnam is in wretched condition, but I trust the judgment of Mark Shuttleworth, who has devoted his adult life to building preservation and who says, “FIX IT!” I trust the Historic Preservation Board, whose goal is the preservation of our historic sites, who echoes this sentiment.
I trust Barb Shepherd, who owns multiple 100-year-old Downtown buildings and has shed more time, money and muscle into preserving them than anyone else we know. We all can remember when Artisan Alley was just a filthy cut-thru alley from New York to Georgia. Her sweat and vision turned it into DeLand’s favorite venue for shops, restaurants, jazz concerts, and Friday-night markets.
Shepherd’s column “How committed are we to preserving history?” should prick us all. It certainly did me.
So I add my voice to those above who say the Putnam can and should be saved. Why? Because the Putnam is one of the scarce remnants we have left with its roots in the very founding of our town. It sits on the site of DeLand’s first inn, The Grove House. Funded by Henry DeLand and managed by his older sister Martha Terry, it was an early sentinel that housed the settlers who stayed and built. That wooden inn, sitting in the cradle of this town, thrived, expanded, and was later christened the Putnam Inn. It burned to the ground a hundred years ago, and from its ashes arose a magnificent Mediterranean Revival-style Putnam Hotel, designed by architect William J. Carpenter.
No need here to go further into the Putnam’s history, and let me acknowledge that today it is a mess. A tragic mess! The open question is whether or not the city has the will — need I say guts? — to require its present owner to bring in a structural engineer with the expertise to fix it.
One by one, I have watched the slow, tortuous destruction of historic structures, from homes to city and university buildings, to iconic landmarks. I’m still waiting and hoping for that line in the sand that the City Commission will not erase.
— Bohon, of DeLand, grew up in her family home across the street from the Putnam Hotel. Her grandfather, Cary D. Landis, who came from Indiana to DeLand to start a law school for Stetson University, was among founders of the Landis Graham French law firm that still serves Volusia County today. Her father, Erskine Landis, also was a lawyer with the firm.