Howey Mansion Cover Image

Howey Mansion

Photo courtesy of  the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Photo Credit: State Archives of Florida; Florida Memory, 192-

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”.

howey2-002
Photo: 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.

Photo by Nomeus - Flurbex.com
Photo Credit: Nomeus – Flurbex.com

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 propert 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.

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 with the property on the National Register of Historic Places, it was not eligible for state historic preservation funds and was considered too costly to renovate.

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. Resisting the harsh Florida weather and after few cracks and broken windows, the mansion still seems solid. But how much longer can it stand? When will someone take the initiative to save this piece of history?

Photographer: Bullet
Website: Abandoned Florida

Photographer: Nomeus
Website: FLURBEX

77 thoughts on “Howey Mansion”

  1. well thats what happens when you fail to make money the property is either demolished or destoryed or other people come in and take over

  2. Another important historical fact about Howey concerns the famous US Supreme Court case that bears his name, S.E.C. v. W.J. Howey Company, 328 U.S. 293 (1946), which determined that the fractional interests in orange groves Howey was selling were securities.

    1. Since there are photos, I would assume yes, someone has been there. The property is gated and watched by county sheriff.

      1. Yes, I have been there inside and out. It is gated with a wall and it’s in a very small town with residents surrounding. They call the Howey PD if there are trespassers. Howey is so small the PD will be there in less than a minute. I grew up there and went inside when I was a child while my friends’ mom cleaned it. I was there in May 2010 when there was an estate sale. I do not suggest trying to attempt to make it on the property, it’s not worth it…other have been caught.

        1. Hey JL, Do you know where an old cemetery would be around there? Haven’t had any luck, my G. G. Grandma died around there in 1936 @ 90 y.o.. Obit says she was one of the oldest pioneers there? I’ve been wanting to do a day trip, I’m in Sarasota. Been up to the Okeefenokee, where she actually came from & took pictures of my ancestors graves there. The woman in question name was Annie Michael (yes spelled like a boy) Davis nee Altman. Appreciate any insight! Thanks

    2. i was there today. it is gated a monitored by cameras by police. its for sale $2 million. it beautiful to see even through the gate

      1. I was there the same day, might have passed you on the way to the crypt. Such a shame to let this grandure decay. I would pay money to tour this property. Such a possibilities.

      2. Amazing the greed of this state with billions for roads paid to Disney roads and bridges out here ; the Disney tax status of VIP allows no taxation for our over used pathways leading to the Disney Godzillionaire operation; Floridians must take up the issue to create more taxes for the rest of Florida’s people including the Middle Class that is ripped off on a daily, brutally basis! Disney, it’s time to give us our heritage restored and a result would be greater chices for every
        tourist and a better overall quality of life in this god-forsaken wilderness in the Disney aftermath. Try some goodwill for the surrounding suffering citizens of Central Florida alongwith your never-ending REVENUE-SHARING goody two-shoes program out there.

    3. Yes, the property is gated. It is a very interesting place to take a peak at through the gates. My Grandchildren want us to buy it if we win Lotto !

  3. This wrenches my heart. Of course, we have Winter Park,
    Florida, that allows historic homes to be sold and bulldozed so that
    another McMansion can be built on the site.

  4. This is a fine example of Florida’s rich early history. The house should be preserved so Fla. history can be shown with detail and clarity.

  5. I am trying to find the person that took these pictures. I am making a huge commitment, more than I may be able to handle, but I am going to attempt to put a page together on Facebook with pictures and a history to try to save this house from complete ruin. I know it is going to be a huge task but as a teacher I am out of work for the summer and I want to get a substantial amount done while I am out. I would even like to eventually get media involvement to bring awareness to the house and history behind it. Anyone that would like to get involved even if it is just to offer pictures or a personal story please contact me at https://www.facebook.com/autumn.jacunski?ref=tn_tnmn which is my home Facebook page. Thank you!

  6. Than you for the info! This was one of the coolest places i have ever been! I really hope this place doesn’t get torn down, that would be a sad day!

    1. I would love to go for a tour… Makes me sad that one of the windows is open.. with the weather and all???? Any info would help me… It’s on my bucket list to go for a tour in there. Cheryl

      1. well, considering that her son went apeshit on a youtube user and threatened him with theft and trespassing, I doubt there will be any tours.

  7. ==–
    I was thinking about to take a look. From Google Earth, there don’t seem to be fences, just gates. And I could park the car far and walk through the oranges, past the mausoleum in the woods.

    I don’t know if that’s legal, but neither are most fun things that don’t hurt anyone these days. I just want to peek in the windows, and I’ll risk it. At worst, it would just be trespassing, not vandalism or burglary.

    But noooo WAY! One of the tags on this article is: “HAUNTED!!” ☠

    — faye kane ♀ smartypants scaredypants

      1. You never said that there were anti-pedestrian fences. I assume there are now since you’re the admin and therefore, the expert. But you asked why I thought there might not be. Okay!

        — To keep trucks out that could haul away stuff

        — To force trespassers to leave their cars on the street so the sheriff knows someone’s skulking around

        — Trespassers on foot could easily push down, put a ladder against, or cut through a fence located near the mausoleum and would never, ever be seen doing it. Stuff could be taken out out the same way and hauled through the orange orchard. Thus, a fence to keep out thieves on foot is a waste of money, and a fence to keep out people who merely want to take pictures is a waste of it, too.

        — The large, fancy gates were from Mr. Howie and are mainly a formality; and the state never had anything to do with it. That’s my theory. My beloved University had huge, ornate brick gates just like Howie’s, but the brick fence around the campus was about a foot tall. All of it was symbolic, to mark the perimeter.

        — I didn’t see any fences in Google street view. Only gates. That required an explanation. Yes, “the fences are wire too thin to see” is an acceptable one, but I didn’t want to assume so in my comment, because the whole point of my post was the punch line about the “haunted” tag. I’m actually homeless and live in a cave in the woods in Virginia. I steal electricity.

        In retrospect, I’m sorry I missed the mausoleum/zombies angle.

        PS:
        Never ask an autistic person a rhetorical question! Even “Hi, how are you?” will get a long answer.

        faye kane ♀ idiot savant
        http://tinyurl.com/kanescave

        1. Theories and assumptions are easy to come up with, actually being there is a different story. Fence or no fence, orchard or no orchard, car or no car, it all depends on luck; if the police are patrolling around the house at the time you visit.

      2. There is a stone fence and gates around this property. The pictures were probably taken a few years ago when the house had an estate sale. I was thru it at that time. Access to the kitchen and upper rooms were not permitted that weekend. I suspect that the photograper had permission to go and take pictures.
        The possibilities are certainly there with this property. It will need at least 3-5 million in work.

  8. It’s a shame that this place became a victim of the “bubble”. I would estimate, if you bought it for 2 mil, 1.5 for AC, you would still spend another 2-3 mil to renovate it. It would make a great club hose on a golf ourselves though. That guy that bought the Greenbrier in White Sulfer Springs WV should look into it.

    1. I ve known marval since 1982 , very inspirational person , know her whole story and of her demise , she is from winter park , used to own the abbey and many other properties , as far as saving stuff like this , go ahead
      It’s a free country
      As far as the winter park coment earlier , rubbish
      Is marval still living ?
      Truly a remarkable person learned so much from her ,
      My last conversation with her was in 2008 ??! When all this was going down , she was in her 90s living off oranges from her back yard , she told me ” michael , poverty is only a state of mind ”
      Mosurf@mindspring.com

        1. Wow, that’s cool. Is she still local? I haven’t spoken to her since probably 1995ish….I was just a kid then but she let us tour the house. Sweet lady.

  9. I’ve been in the mansion twice. Those first photos must have been taken long before I went because those rugs were no longer there. Possibly sold at the estate sale. The mansion is beautiful, I spent hours there taking photos. It’s like a dream.

  10. What an interesting story and like the lady above said very tragic. It is such a shame for history such as that to be forgotten or tied up the way it is.

  11. URGENTLY trying to contact the owner of this amazing property, or a relative, lawyer, caretaker, etc in the hope of legally gaining access in the very near future. We have a full crew and are hoping to film there for a day, but it has to be totally legit and above board. Any help in pointing me in the right direction is greatly appreciated. Thanks!!

    1. People who say “legit” are not legitimate. I could renovate the entire property for under $800,000. Would someone tell barney to take his one bullet, and go over there and close the windows. For crying out loud, the bank has ans asset manager, who owes us that much. Come on people lets organize some action on this thing this year.

  12. Thank you for all the history and pictures of this beautiful mansion. I have been so fascinated and intrigued by this beautiful “spooky” house and was dying to be able to get inside. I had so many questions and you answered them all with amazing details about Mr. Howey and on top of that you gave me an inside tour with the pictures.

    1. According to Marvel Zona’s son, at the moment, no. The mansion is no longer for sale, the mortgage issues are currently being taken to court and will be resolved soon.

  13. This would make the perfect setting for the story I am writing. I don’t like that no one is doing anything to keep it up and show it to people.

  14. THE HOWEY- IN-THE-HILLS MANSION:
    I do. It was truly a beautiful place! I so enjoyed our visit there. Especially the visit in the summer of 1981 when my 89 year old grandmother, mother, and sister in law, visiting from Texas, were with us. My teenaged daughter was spending some of the summer at the mansion with Aunt Bessie, her first grade teacher. Who was now care taker of Mrs. Howie. Mommie, my 88 year old grandmother and Mrs. Howey had a great time talking history of their times. Mrs. Howey gave us a grand tour with wonderful history and funny happenings. She was a gracious hostess. It was truly a highlight from those days. So sorry to hear that gorgeous mansion and grounds are abandoned! How could that be?

  15. I actually went there yesterday and explored the grounds with my family. We know the current owner, and I must say the inside view is extraordinary. I was completely in awe.

  16. I have left repeated messages with the “realtor.” They don’t even call back. I with a local history / heritage foundation and would love to explore the grounds, at least. I hate when these beautiful places end up mired in stupid litigation and architectural malaise…

  17. Jan 4 2014, had a tour of mansion today. It was a private showing with realitor. Amazing to say the least. The home was in great shape . I could not believe how untouched by time . There really wasn’t any rot or decay. It needs some roof tiles and interior paint. The kitchen needs total remodel. I think the grounds would cost more to renovate than house.( not counting new air) house truly solid , level floors ,solid walls. The walls are all block and stucco inside and out. The sub floors are concrete with wood overlay. There just is nothing to rot. It was beautiful!

      1. No price asked. Odd , it’s like its a mistery. We only found out because we are visiting family in howey and a friend mentioned the house would be shown tomorrow. We met at gate sat at 11:30 and walked right in. Not rushed. Spent as much time as wanted. Some we’re saying it would be around 500,000 or more to get it. I think the bank wants to unload and you could get it cheaper. Just my opinion. It is a white elephant ,just like all mansions in the country. The cost of upkeep would be brutal . Not bad if you wanted to live in it like marvel , in one room off of main door. People want luxury these days and what was luxury back in the day wont cut it by today’s standards. I would love to buy and renovate.

    1. Darin, I would love to find a way to get a tour of this beautiful place. Is there a way you could help me? I am going to be visiting from Michigan next week and will do whatever I need through the proper channels to get a once in a lifetime chance at looking at this place. Thank you for any help you can provide. Regina rkabraham@comcast.net

    1. I’ll have to look at sign again on gate. She lives in howey. We saw her on walk and got to ya king about the hoses for sale and one thing led to another and I mentioned the mansion. That’s when she said she had a showing. We were invited. I’ll ask mother in law when she gets back ( it’s her neighbor) the gal that was being shown property was from Utah.

      1. I would love a recent update on this estate. I understand it is not for sale, is the son keeping it? Also curious about the incident with the son and the YouTube guru, (adamthewoo by any chance?). I have much more id love to chat about and a lot id love to share. Please feel free to email me at katiecorley17@gmail.com you should receive a response within 24 hours.

    1. Jim, have you received the information needed to tour the mansion (from Darin Surr)? I an also local and would love to tour it with you if you and/or the realtor would allow.. Please contact me if able.

  18. hi if anyone could get back to me on this that would be great! Who is the owner of the house now? I would like to make a visit and make sure it is okay with them first as well, I would pay millions for this house I want to buy it and save it- from the instant I saw a video of someone exploring this house I knew I had to have it no matter the cost, this house is a castle and is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and with such history!

    1. We are winter residents at Mission Inn across the road from the mansion. I walk by it every morning. I hope you are serious about purchasing it and restoring it. So many people would rejoice!

  19. We stopped by today. There is a restoration project going on, with some local folks working on the grounds. There will be a photo walkabout on May 4. They now have a fledgling Facebook page, just started. Look for HoweyMansion on FB.

    The woman in charge would not let us walk inside, but did let us take pictures from outside and wander around the grounds. Her name is Jackquelyn … I believe she is associated with the real estate company listed on the signs on the front gates. I’d call first.

  20. I am a real estate broker with an interested buyer. Reading these posts, there are many conflicting reports. Is this house indeed for sale and if so how much? Can someone please contact me 407-745-9408 Mindy Serratore, Lic. Real Estate Broker

  21. Update on Howey Mansion: posted in the last 30 days (May-2014) on Orlando’s Craigslist. Thought those truly interested in restoring or volunteering their talents could benefit from this information:

    Need volunteers for the Restore the Historic Howey Mansion (1001 Citrus Avenue Howey-The-Hills, Flor)

    Historic Howey Mansion Restoration. We need volunteers to help with this project, for physical work and volunteers to help raise the donations. We desperately need an attorney as well, a volunteer attorney, no pay. If you want to help, please contact us. Also, if you know an attorney that can volunteer a few hours each week please let us know.

    Thank you.
    Joseph Nemchik
    Historic Howey Mansion, Inc.
    a non-profit corporation
    1001 Citrus Avenue
    Howey-The-Hills, Florida 34737
    407-462-1708

    1. My Bucket List (I’m 77) top priority is touring this beautiful home and property while I still can. Would be willing to volunteer whatever I can do to make that happen. Have looked at it thru closed gates many many times and love it more each time. Please preserve this priceless property.

  22. Skeptical on the reverse mortgage part of the story. As I understand, one of the requirements of a reverse mortgage is that 1.) You have to be living on the property and 2.) it’s the only property you own. The story reveals that she owned another “home” in NC…This would be a breach enabling foreclosure of the reverse mortgage property long before the scammers even got involved in the first place.

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