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Howey Mansion

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William John Howey was born on January 19, 1876 in Odin, Illinois. He began selling insurance at 16-years-old and by 1900 began developing land and towns for the railroad in Oklahoma. He opened the Howey Motor Car Company in Kansas City in 1903, and after making seven Howey Cars, closed his business. At age 31, he bought a large tract of land in Mexico and tried his hand at selling pineapple plantations, but the Mexican Revolution forced him out.

It was in 1908 when Howey found himself in Winter Haven, Florida where he perfected his citrus farming and sales program techniques. He believed that if he took raw land and controlled its development into mature citrus groves, he could guarantee investors a successful enterprise while making a profit on each step of citrus cultivation. In 1914, he began buying land for $8 to $10 per acre and later sold them at $800 to $2000 per acre, cleared and planted with 48 citrus trees per acre. Howey also offered a no-risk guarantee: if the buyer signed up for Howey’s company to maintain the land as well but the land didn’t turn a profit with a set amount of time, he would buy back the land for the original cost plus interest.

Buyers flocked to the town, many considering him Florida’s greatest citrus developer. In 1917, he built the “Bougainvillea”, a two-story frame boarding house across from the future site of the Howey Mansion, to house the visiting investors. By 1920, he had amassed nearly 60,000 raw acres for his “City Inevitable,” but the Bougainvillea burned to the ground that year. He set up temporary housing in “Tent City” on the same location and opened the Floridan Hotel at the south end of town in 1924, and it soon became the social hub of the community. The Floridan Hotel would later become a victim to “the bomb”, an economic boom that occurred in parts of Florida where movie production companies would pay cities to blow up buildings for their movies; it was blown up in 1994 for Hulk Hogan’s “Thunder in Paradise”.

Howey Mansion

The two main entrances to the mansion.

The Florida Land Boom tripled Howey’s enterprises and the “Town of Howey” was incorporated on May 8, 1925. In 1927, the name was officially changed to Howey-in-the-Hills to reflect the location of the town in an area of rolling hills which he dubbed “The Florida Alps”. In 1927, construction of his mansion was completed; a 20-room, 7,200 square foot mansion at the cost of $250,000, around $3.2 million after inflation. To celebrate, he hosted the entire New York Civic Opera Company of 100 artists, drawing a crowd of 15,000 arriving in 4,000 automobiles to the free outdoor performance.

Howey died of a heart attack on June 7, 1938 at the age of 62. His wife, Mary Grace Hastings, lived in the Howey mansion until her death on December 18, 1981 and was laid to rest in the family mausoleum on the mansion grounds along with William and their daughter Lois.

Today, the mansion sits vacant and the story of how it came to be is one too common. The current owner, Marvel Zona, purchased the home in 1984 for around $400,000 along with her husband Jack. In 1996, the property was in trust to Marvel’s name. With her husband in failing health, she took a $347,000 reverse mortgage which would pay her a fixed income for life. Her Husband passed away in 2000.

Howey Mansion - Photo by: Bullet, 2012

Photo Credit: Bullet, 2012 – The dining hall which makes up a large portion of the house.

Over the years, Zona opened the mansion to public tours with the profits going to charity. In 2003, she approached Lake County officials with the idea of turning the home into a museum, but it was not eligible for state historic preservation grant funds due to the fact that it was privately owned.

In 2005, Zona was approached by would-be buyers who convinced her that the reverse mortgage was a bad deal. If she took a $1.2 million loan, leverage by a mansion she owned in North Carolina, she could pay off the mortgage and would make the mansion easier to sell. In 2006, she agreed to a $1.2 million adjustable rate mortgage with a starting interest rate of 1.25%. The rate would later rise monthly to a rate of 9.95%. Though her income was a mere $1000 per month, her monthly payments were $3,200 for the next 30 years. Within two years, she lost the mansion the North Carolina and the Howey mansion was put into foreclosure.

Many potential buyers have made offers on the home but none can really afford it. Zona’s lawyer suspects the parties who have the house tied up would settle for no less than $2 million. In addition, estimates for the repairs to the house along with the installation of central air conditioning would cost an additional $1.5 million.

Police have been called to the property multiple times whenever residents suspect vandals of entering the home, but so far most of the people caught there have been photographers or history buffs looking to get a glimpse of the mansion.

  • Photographer: Bullet
    Year Taken: 2012
    Website: Abandoned Florida
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131 Comments

  1. Officer J. Hamelink on

    Maybe if people would respect other people’s property there won’t have been a need to board up the residents, but because people continue to break in and do damage, because they feel they have the right to do.
    The answer is still no. U can’t go into or on the property.

  2. Haha… I knew that would get a rise out if you Mr. Hamelink. I have no intention to access the property illegally, so don’t get all worried about me. I will only be there legally and when I do finally get back out there it would be an honour if you were my guest. My children and husband have seen the place so many times that it does not captivate them as much any longer. Then I can finally shake the hand of the ever-so law abiding man that has made it clear that NO ONE can go out there without being arrested. Oh, and I do agree about people illegally going out there but if you even cared an ounce for that house you would feel the pain I feel knowing that nails have been plunged into its outer walls. Luckily for you, it’s just a house and it’s just a job. I very much look forward to meeting you one day. Curtis told me you were a nice person, and although I argued that it couldn’t be the same person that was very brash and uncaring, he insisted you were just misunderstood. I hope you sleep well tonight.

  3. And just a side note… banks are not people. They are a group of money hungry, inconsiderate conglomerates who focus on one thing… MONEY. They have no regard for history or the significant impact that was made by the man who built this house unless they can put a dollar sign on it. What’s right ks right but they aren’t paying my bills. They are a business card hiding behind their desks like little trolls under a bridge waiting to jump out and steal something else important from the regular working people.

  4. Jane,

    Officer Hamelink is just trying to do his job in protecting the mansion. Sometimes people need to be told again and again or they don’t read all the comments. This post started back in April 2013 and there were comments with people asking about gates/walls and the surroundings because they were planning to trespass. Those same people get emails updates on this post just as I do, so reiterating is a necessity.

    They have dealt with a number of trespassers and they’re probably quite tired of dealing with the issue of people damaging the mansion. I’m not sure how you think its okay to say that he doesn’t care about the walls of the mansion being damaged by being boarded up. As he said it only has been boarded up because people aren’t respecting the property and that was the bank’s doing. His job in the code enforcement division is to keep the city looking beautiful so you can imagine that he doesn’t love the fact that the mansion has had to be boarded up because its anything but beautiful. The officers there have a job to protect the city, they don’t go to school for this career because they could care less and certainly aren’t getting rich.

    I grew up in Howey and spent time in the mansion as a child and then again during the estate sale. There is something about that small town that most everyone in it has a sense of pride for the town and the mansion!

    It kills me to see the mansion boarded and vacant. There was a Facebook group and a lady that was trying to save the mansion but things didn’t work out as everyone had hoped. If you are interested to see pictures or drone videos from when the group had access to the mansion you can search Facebook for William J. Howey Mansion Community Restoration Project or Hoping for Help at the Howey Mansion.

    Have a great day :)

  5. My sweet lady,
    Yes, I do understand everything you said, quite a bit more than you could imagine. I have spent hundreds of hours in that mansion over the last 2 years. I am very well aware of Jackie and keep in very close contact with her. It is very nice of you to defend Hamelink but it is not necessary seeing that I am only being sarcastic and apparently terrible at it. I do hold some ill feelings towards him because he has no idea who I am or how much I have actually done to try to save that place, but that is my fault, not his, due to the fact that I have never prpoerly introduced myself. As for seeing pictures, I have thousands of my own and plenty of memories that are still very fresh in my mind. I am sure Hamelink appreciates you defending his professional position but I come from a much more emotional standpoint on this mansion. Good day.

  6. Sarcasm is easier in to understand in person rather than typed so there tends to be misunderstandings in online text. Glad to know how much you have cared for the mansion. You are lucky to have the pictures and the memories. I feel lucky to have spent so much time exploring the house as a child. My babysitter/best friend’s mom cleaned to mansion for Mrs. Zona so we went with her and spent hours there.. This was in the early to mid 90’s when the house was in well kept condition and filled with antique furniture. I drove by to see the boards for myself after taking my daughters to the town Christmas Parade. I still have hopes for the mansion…for now the situation just sucks. Best wishes!

  7. I am not sure if you are aware but Marvel has passed. It was a very sad time and she will be missed. I posted it on the Hoping For Help at the Howey Mansion page.

  8. Permission Denied on

    TLDR of previous post: The openings to the gate (look) wide enough for even a mildly obese man to fit through. The owner of the property is: NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE LLC; Their contact info is easy enough to get.

  9. Permission Denied on

    Ohh, and “Officer Hamelick”, why don’t you and Cpl. Brown send more citations out to Nationstar? Surely they are in violation of some codes. Furthermore, I am sure that they are the focus of far too many man hour spent hunting down evil photographers and history buffs.

  10. Permission Denied on

    I am a Howey resident. I think the property is overgrown and exhibits excessive vegetation. Would you suggest that I file a complaint?

  11. I am proud to see the surrounding wall cleared of over growth and debris. The city is doing a great job in trying to protect the property. I pray a solution is found before the home deteriorates anymore.

  12. Is the current title holder willing to grant permission in exchange for a modest access fee? Seems like some revenue generation is better than none. A one page form to hold the title holder harmless and identify specific dates and purpose of access should cover legal aspects.

  13. Ofc. Hamelink Howey in the Hills Police Dept on

    My last communication with the bank. They do not want anyone on their property. They want all trespassers arrested or issued a ticket.
    There has been quite a bit of damage done to the inside from people breaking in and not respect their privacy.
    I think you could agree if this property belong to you and you have posted the property. You want people to respect your wishes and stay off the property.

  14. Officer Hamelink, I understand they don’t want folks on their property without their permission. I’m not proposing to trespass. I also am willing to sign a document that I’ll do no harm to the property during a photo shoot, and might even effect a minor repair at my own expense. Rather than copy and paste your previous responses, could you bother to speak to someone at the bank about allowing a responsible party making a reasonable request for access. Monitored if they desire.

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