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Pensacola couple saves historic home from destruction

It was built before the dawn of a new century, a classic Gulf Coast-style cottage in the heart of one of Pensacola’s most historic neighborhoods. On Monday morning, the nearly 80-ton house was lifted up from the site where it stood for more than 130 years and hauled more than 1,000 feet to the north —to its new home in Pensacola’s Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood.

Under a steady rain, Reshard watched as several men maneuvered the structure from its former site at 422 West Gregory Street and began the slow, cumbersome process of the move to its new home on North Coyle Street.

The house had been lifted off its 19th century-era joists, placed atop metal beams that ran parallel to the earth, and, inch-by-inch, moved across several vacant neighborhood lots to reach its new home.

Arthur Herbert D’Alemberte built the house in the early 1880s, said Reshard. D’Alemberte was a businessman and civil servant in Pensacola who served for many years as city and county tax collector and city councilman before being ousted from office after a jury ruled that he did not reside in the precinct which he represented.

An 1885 Wellge map drawing displays an aerial rendering of Pensacola. The extremely detailed lithograph shows the home at 422 West Gregory (circled) built prior to 1885. (Library of Congress/Special to The Pulse)

Records show D’Alemberte transferred the property to his wife in 1884, and the D’Alembertes were noted as living in a house on the property in the 1885 city directory. The D’Alembertes sold the house in 1905 to Julius Eggart, a conductor for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.

Within the last century, the home was expanded more than 1,000 square feet, as it later became a boarding house. Several rooms were added on during the early 20th century. The relocation of the structure required that the later additions be removed.

Now, the home looks almost exactly the same as when it was built, complete with original beadboard walls, fireplaces, hand-planed doors and exposed beams.

“It’s a snapshot of how Pensacolians lived a century ago,” Reshard said. “The details that have been left preserved are wonderful.”

A historic home nearly lost

Despite the celebrated move, the home’s preservation was not always certain.

Last September, after the controversial demolition of the historic John Sunday House, Pensacola’s city council enacted a 180-day moratorium on demolition permits for any structure more than 100 years old, which expired in February.

Despite the freeze, the city illegally issued a demolition permit for the house located at 422 West Gregory Street. The city cited data from the Escambia County Property Appraiser’s office, which falsely stated the home was built in 1938 and thus did not meet the requirements of the moratorium.

But a review of archival maps and other records dates the house back to at least 1885.

“The Property Appraiser dates are usually wrong and this house is from the late 1800s,” said Ross Pristera, a historic preservationist with the University of West Florida Historic Trust. “This Gulf Coast style cottage house is one of the unique architectural styles in this region and it is what makes Pensacola special.”

A man rides past a 1880s-era home being moved through Pensacola’s Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood Monday morning. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

Nonetheless, city officials relied on the 1938 date and issued a demolition permit in December to A Door Properties, which purchased the parcel in December and plans to build townhomes on the site.

It’s unclear why the city chose to rely on the Property Appraiser’s questionable data instead of accurately determining the house’s age. In February, City Council president Brian Spencer, who introduced the moratorium ordinance, said the error points to the need for a comprehensive assessment of the city’s historic structures.

“I believe this isolated incident has provided evidence that our city’s current dependability on the Property Appraiser’s data is unreliable,” said Spencer. “And because the consequences of demolition are so irreversible, corrective action in the form of replacing erroneous data with correct data is imperative. Timing is of the essence, and a new assessment should be a top priority.”

Despite the issuance of the demolition permit, A Door Properties pledged to seek out a new owner for the structure, eventually donating the home to Lloyd and Robin Reshard, residents and business owners in Belmont-DeVilliers. The Reshards then committed to raising the approximately $50,000 for the structure’s relocation.

“Their [A Door’s] idea was to preserve the house if they could find somebody to move it,” said Reshard. “We just went out, talked to some friends and raised some money in order to make this happen.”

Reshard said she knew little of the home’s history when she was first approached with the idea to move the home.

“To me this was a story that was getting ready to be erased,” said Reshard. “Belmont-DeVilliers is the epitome of African-American history in Pensacola and, so I thought, I have to find out more about this house and tell its story.”

Home to see new day as “space for the community”

With its survival no longer in doubt, the Reshards plan to restore the home, eventually using it as a space for the neighborhood and community.

“First, I see it as a community space,” Reshard said. “I see people being able to touch the original walls, wood floors, and nails that were here. Being able to come and experience the spirit and stories of the people who lived here and those that called this neighborhood home.”

The new owners of the home said they want preservation efforts like this to become more of the norm, rather than the exception.

“We’re in this amazing first settlement of America,” Reshard said. “We have to keep and preserve our physical space in order to celebrate that. I think this community expects that, and I think the community deserves that.”

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