Date: February 12, 2008
Byline: Betsy Owens
Winter Park, Fla.... If you associate a person’s name with the house now known as Casa Feliz, chances are it’s Barbour or Rogers, not Chestnut. But on February 24, craftsmen from all facets of the building trade gathered at the house to mark the 75th anniversary of the signing of the “J.N. Chestnut” board.
The full transcription on the celebrated board actually reads “Built by J.N. Chestnut, Daytona Beach, Fla., February 24, 1933.” The board was part of the window frame on the exterior of Casa Feliz’s dining room, which was damaged when the previous owner started demolition in 2000. The signature was discovered when Donnie Hamilton, one of the carpenters working on the restoration of the house in 2001, removed the board to repair the window. Hamilton got excited, and called Frank Roark, the general contractor, who called Jim Doane, the restoration’s stone mason, who then walked the board down the street to the office of the architect’s son, Jack Rogers. The restoration team decided not to put it back, but preserve it as a reminder of the kind of pride the original craftsmen felt for their work.
“This signature is all we know of J.N. Chestnut, so it leaves room to mythologize. What we can surmise is that this is a craftsman who was very, very proud of his work.” Even though it’s the architect and the owner who typically get the credit, building a wonderful house, says Roark, takes both teamwork and individual ownership. “Notice he wrote ‘Built by J.N. Chestnut,’ as if he were the sole creator of the house. This is the kind of pride in craftsmanship you don’t see enough of these days.”
To mark the occasion, about 40 people – many of whom worked on the restoration - gathered, shared stories about the history of the house, and signed a second commemorative board, which will be hung in the attic and perhaps discovered in another 75 years. Roark hopes that the event will become an annual celebration of the desire of “an unknown, ordinary guy to leave a piece of himself behind.”