By Jane Smith
Delray Beach will soon be able to boast that it has two historic districts on the National Register.
The Old School Square Historic District, with 119 contributing structures, received unanimous approval Nov. 30 from the Florida National Register Review Board. The application was sent in mid-December to the Keeper of the National Register in the National Park Service in Washington, D.C.
It will take about 60 days for the keeper and the state review board officer to decide whether Old School Square Historic District can be listed or will be sent back for revisions, said the Florida Department of State spokeswoman. Most state submissions make it onto the National Register, she said. The Marina Historic District is the city’s other designated district on the National Register.
The National Register is the federal government’s official listing of historically significant properties and districts throughout the country. The list includes sites and properties identified and documented as having played a significant role in the architectural historical development of the nation, states, counties and local communities.
The Old School Square District contains historic structures that span more than 60 years. The oldest is an 1898 building, but most of its historic structures were built between 1920 and 1960. “It has a very good selection of architectural styles,” said Ruben Acosta, survey and registration supervisor for Florida, when describing the district to the Review Board.
Boca Raton attorney Michael Weiner, who owns several buildings in the Old School Square District, spoke by phone at the review board meeting. He was against the designation.
“It is forcing the neighborhood backwards, rather than helping to preserve it,” he said. Among the buildings he owns is the 52 N. Swinton Ave. house that was converted into a commercial use for the popular Dada restaurant.
“It won’t add additional approval layers for local property owners,” said Price Patton, vice chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Board. He traveled to Tallahassee for the Review Board meeting. “It’s an honorary title that is well-deserved,” he said.
Carolyn Patton, a board member of the Delray Beach Preservation Trust, said that as far back as 2008, consultants recommended the district be nominated, but the city had insufficient staff to fill out the demanding application. In 2014, the trust was successful in having the Marina Historic District named to the National Register.
“We have several others in the works,” she said. “The Old School Square District contains Delray’s history and Delray’s heart.”
The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency sent a letter supporting the district’s designation, said Andrea Harden, a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Board. The agency owns buildings in the district, including its offices at 20 N. Swinton Ave. — a house that is an example of Monterrey style architecture.
The trust raised money to hire Ellen Uguccioni, a Florida Review Board member and a historic preservation expert, to write the National Register application. Uguccioni recused herself from the vote, as did preservation architect Rick Gonzalez, also on the Review Board.
Gonzalez is working with the developers of Midtown Delray Beach, a proposed project that includes historic buildings on South Swinton Avenue. The most famous is the Sundy House, built in 1902 in the Frame Vernacular style for Delray Beach’s first mayor.
The Sundy House and the Old School Square campus are individually listed on the National Register.
“We are excited that this Delray Beach treasure is finally getting the recognition that it has long deserved,” Preservation Trust President JoAnn Peart said in a prepared statement after the Review Board vote.
Note: Price and Carolyn Patton are founding partners of The Coastal Star.