Boca Raton: Historic bungalow may face bulldozer

By Mary Thurwachter

Quiet, for a moment, please. Listen carefully and you can hear an SOS coming from the Boca Raton Historical Society. The wrecking ball looms and it’s threatening to take away a slice of the city’s history.
In this case, it’s the Luff House, a unique Boca Raton example of the Florida coral rock-bungalow style. The two-story home at 390 Palmetto Park Road was built in the 1920s by pioneer residents Theodore and Harriet Luff.
The current owners want to sell the property, says Mary Csar, the Boca Raton Historical Society’s executive director. They have offered the house to the Historical Society, but the organization lacks the money to buy it, move it and restore it.
Although it would be eligible for grant funds like those provided in the past by the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation, those are limited and cannot be counted on, Csar says.
The society is hoping a sensitive buyer will come forward — soon.

House with a history
In the 1920s, the Luffs had the house built in a Florida interpretation of the bungalow style, using coral rock on the porches and chimneys. This type of bungalow, once fairly common, is now exceedingly rare in the state and is unique in Boca Raton.
As Palmetto Park Road grew more commercial, the structure was occupied by a several businesses, including Front Porch Antiques, the Boca Watch Shoppe and Carousel Jewelers.
The bungalow was home to community agencies like the Junior Service League and was the first home of the Boca Raton Historical Society.
Arlene Owens, a Boca native born in 1945, says the Luffs were family friends and she recalls visiting the house as a child when they were quite old.
“Everybody knew everybody back then,” Owens says. “There about 600 people living in the town then, although it swelled during the season with northerners would come to stay in the hotel.”
Owens says the Luff’s décor was decidedly manly, “more him than her.” Owens particularly remembers a huge snooker table that took up a whole room.
Theodore Luff, she recalls, was a bright, eccentric man who made his money investing and once gave her dad a stock tip.
“He was a sharp old fellow,” she says. “You never knew what would come out of his mouth.”

If the walls could talk
Pioneer Diane Benedetto, born Imogene Alice Gates in 1916, has memories that go back further. She remembers visiting the house when she was a child and being fascinated by the Luffs.
“They were health food people and naturists, and I always liked to ask to use the restroom to look at all the magazines with nude people in them,” Benedetto says.
“They were spiritualists,” she adds. “She (Mrs. Luff) would tell me about all the blue light around me and the spirits. When their dog died they had him stuffed and put him on the mantle.”
Benedetto, who is 94 and lives with her daughter in Miami, also recalls a secret hiding spot in the house.
“If you lifted up a section of the floor in a closet in the back bedroom, you could see a place where they kept valuables,” she says.

Steps taken
In an effort to save the structures, the Historical Society met with public officials and private and civic organizations to discuss the relocation, restoration and possible future uses of the house and researched costs for its relocation.
“This is a community treasure; once gone, it will be gone forever,” says Csar.
To contact the Boca Raton Historical Society regarding the Luff house, call 395-6766, Ext. 106.
Help would be greatly appreciated, Csar says, in preserving this rare historic link with Boca’s past.

Mary Thurwachter is a West Palm Beach freelance writer and founder/producer of INNsideFlorida.com (www.innsideflorida.com).

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