by Suzanne Fox Sevel
Historic homes on the Space Coast are gems well worth preserving. With classic lines and a timeless appeal, these structures defy trends because quality craftsmanship and historical significance are two qualities that endure. In 1924, John V. “Jack” D’Albora came to Brevard from New York to expand his father Felix’s citrus business and oversee fruit packing operations. Over the next 10 years, D’Albora built his business and became a leader among the area’s Citrus Barons. While many Americans were struggling during and after the Great Depression, D’Albora was just hitting his stride and he bought the Acme Fruit Company.
D’Albora and his wife, Marie, built their home in 1936 on North Indian River Drive in an area of Cocoa called Broadview Manor, once touted to be the newest prestigious subdivision. D’Albora was drawn to the area because his father had seen the spot and said, “John, you need to build a house here someday.”
Selling Cool Breezes and Dreamy Vistas. Developers advertised Broadview Manor during the land boom of the 1920’s as an affluent area that would have great parks, street lights, sidewalks, majestic trees and river access. But D’Albora bought the property for sentimental reasons since his father had passed away. “It was more like a memorial to my grandfather,” said D’Albora’s son John Jr. A flagpole was erected in the front yard and an American flag was ceremoniously raised each morning and retired each evening. “That house was my first real home. I was 10 when we moved in. It was exciting,” he explains. D’Albora was among the first to build homes in the neighborhood before World War II.
An Air of Distinction. One of a few impressive brick homes designed in the Colonial Revival style by famed Rockledge architect Richard Rummell, the home features a rare style of brickwork called weeping mortar, where the mortar appears to be oozing out of the sides of the brick. D’Albora was involved in most aspects of the home design as building was his first passion. The home has simple, classic detailing with white columns around the entryway, windows with wooden shutters and is flanked by enclosed patios on both sides. A finished basement, paneled in original pecky cypress, features a bar, a coquina rock fireplace, an entertainment area and Florida’s first Fedders central air conditioning system. D’Albora had the air conditioning installed for his son John Jr. who had bronchitis.
Love of the Seas. The stately three-bedroom home, built on a hill overlooking the intercoastal, was designed to command attention. D’Albora bought the property and three lots to the south as well as 300 feet of river frontage. He later built two docks, a boatlift and a boathouse for his 50-foot yacht. Boating and fishing were among D’Albora’s favorite pastimes. D’Albora and his son John Jr. belonged to the Eau Gallie Yacht Club, where John Jr. is still a member. John Jr. said he had “fond memories” of boating with his father, who taught him how to operate the yacht when he was 12.
D’Albora’s sister Molly and her husband, Frank Sullivan, (among the founding directors of the Wuesthoff Hospital), built a smaller home on the lot next door and a stone walkway connects the two properties.
A Gilded Age. The large lush tropical gardens and stone work in the backyard once featured a man-made goldfish pond. The estate was the setting for many fabulous parties according to nephew and former Port Commissioner, Frank Sullivan III, who still lives in the house next door and operates Sullivan Victory Groves. “People would come to the house and the party often ended up in the basement, a large room with a wet bar, stone fireplace and an entertainment area. This used to be called a “rumpus room,” Sullivan recalls.
D’Albora was fanatical about the yard and employed full-time landscapers. Sullivan noted that his uncle was “meticulous about the grass and once had the lawn spray painted green after a frost. It always looked as pristine as a putting green,” he recalls. A carriage house sits in the backyard complete with kitchenette, full bathroom, and living room/bedroom. This apartment is above the detached three-car garage. Here guests could stay or the hospitality crew could prep for parties and store equipment.
Preserving the Home’s Spirit. The home is now owned by Lori Niebuhr, regional vice president for Zurich Global Life. Niebuhr successfully managed to respect the home’s historic authenticity while infusing it with her own personality. Still brimming with originality, the D’Albora home in its current incarnation has the right combination of old-fashioned charm and modern conveniences.
Passion for the Past.“I just fell in love with the house. It was my absolute dream house. It reminded me of the style of houses in Williamsburg where I used to vacation as a child,” Lori says. She decorated the estate using authentic Queen Anne’s antiques and paintings from her private art collection. Niebuhr hired interior designer Terry Pentz of Islands Paint & Decorating to advise on the restorations and colors for the décor. A dramatic entryway, high ceilings, solid oak floors, staircase with curved oak banister and built-in bookcases are the signature features that D’Albora built into his home. Niebuhr incorporates period elements into the foyer and living room such as a grandfather clock, a crystal chandelier, velvet chairs, a buffet, end tables and upholstered sofas to complement the home’s historic details.
Lori updated the kitchen with cherry cabinets, an island with a cooktop, oven and a built-in wine cooler, effectively combining the best of both worlds. The gourmet kitchen offers style and functionality while at the same time giving a nod to the glory days of yesteryear.
Granite countertops and a tile backsplash were added to the kitchen, while a breakfast nook table with built-in bench seating provides an intimate area for casual meals. A faux tile ceiling gives the space an old world feel, while modern pendant lights above the bar have a distinct 21st century flair. Directly off the kitchen and sitting room, glass inlaid French doors open up to the dining room. A repurposed sunroom, the formal dining room features an elegant, 12 seat antique dining table and is bathed in either natural light or romantic candlelight. This spot has gorgeous views of the river on one side and a canopy of trees on the other. “The dining room is my favorite room. The large table is made for a room like this in a house like this,” says Lori.
Upstairs, the expansive master bedroom is romantic and luxurious. This spacious master suite has a cozy fireplace and opens up to an outdoor teak deck with superb views of the river and the leafy oaks in the backyard. The master bathroom is updated with a garden tub and polished marble countertops.
The backyard now has a swimming pool rather than a goldfish pond, but she has added much to the original landscaping to give it a classic resort-like quality that doubles as an outdoor entertaining area.
Manatee Heaven. The docks and deep-water boatlift areas receive flowing water from a fresh water aquifer. Deeper water can accommodate larger watercraft and the horizontal dock is closer to the banks. Attracted by the fresh water, manatees playing in the water are a regular sight to behold.
Some of the elegant details of the home are still in their original form such as the solid oak floors, ceramic and coquina tile, stone masonry, pecky cypress paneling in the basement, wainscoting and crown molding throughout. Because so much of the original work still exists in the home and the restoration and upgrades are consistent with the era, the D’Albora home is listed in the Brevard Register of Historic Places.
John’s legacy as a successful leader in the citrus industry earned him a place in the Citrus Growers Hall of Fame for his innovations in developing mechanical harvesting techniques, promoting citrus in out-of-state markets and later funding the University of Florida’s food and agricultural sciences educational programs. His home is both a piece of the past and a current treasure that future generations can enjoy.
A fitting ending for SpaceCoast Living’s wedding issue – Lori decided to leave the house of her dreams for the man of her dreams. She will be moving to be closer to her love and decided to list the house for sale.
This article appears in the July 2015 issue of SpaceCoast Living.
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