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.

Howey Mansion - Photo by Bullet

Photo Credit: Bullet, 2012

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
    Year Taken: 2012
    Website: Abandoned Florida
  • Photographer: Nomeus
    Website: FLURBEX
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About Author

I was born and raised in South Florida and have lived here since. I began urban exploring in 2009 after watching a documentary about it and becoming interested in the history and things people had left behind. My love for photography grew from it as a way to share these places with others.

82 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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…

  3. 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!

      • 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.

    • Regina Abraham on

      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

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • Carol Grassano on

      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.

  4. 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!

    • 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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

    • Eileen Klosterman on

      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.

  8. 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.

  9. I also would love to see this mansion, I love historic homes and I love photography so would love to photograph this place. I am a senior citizen and would never do damage to a beautiful historic place like this. Is there anyway to be notified about when it might be open for photographers? I am coming from Sarasota so would need a few days notice but I would do anything to see this place. jeaneshaw225@hotmail.com

  10. Angela Stonebraker on

    A DEBUTANTE AT THE HOWEY BALL
    In 1964 I attended Howey Academy for a few months (August to December) until I returned to my old boarding school in Boston, an all girls school, because I did not care for the academics being taught at Howey Academy. While there, I was invited to attend a ball at the Howey Mansion by Mrs, Howey, addressing it as a Debutante Ball. It was an evening to remember, with the mansion all lit up in its glory and the property was full of cars that came from all over the state of Florida and beyond. There were many politicians and dignitaries there. The ballroom was truly beautiful as the stairway going upstairs to the restroom that we were told to use. A service maid handed us towels after we washed our hands. It was all very grand, just beautiful….and I will always remember it. History should be preserved.
    Some years ago, not quite sure how many, but my husband and I decided to take a ride to Howey in the Hills to see the old school, Howey Academy, but to my great disappointment, it had changed hands and was no longer the school that I went to, but we did manage to drive right onto the Howey Estate (the gate was wide open) and while walking around we met the grounds keeper, who took us on a tour of the property and allowed me to take a bunch of pictures. In the meantime, a very elderly woman opened the front door to ask us what we were doing there and I explained to her that I once went to a ball in that house when I attended Howey Academy. She was very afraid of us and asked us to leave. This must have been Marvel. All a very nice memory.

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