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A 99-year-old Hollywood home is as old as the city. It could soon be demolished

Sifting through a photo album of the white stucco Spanish-style home at 1317 Harrison St. in Hollywood, Penny Johns recalled a fraction of the memories she has from living there: leaving in the mornings to work at her mom’s shop downtown, seeing her father’s friends as they arrived for rooftop parties, marrying her husband Karl in a ceremony in the backyard.

Now, if you peer inside the 99-year-old Hollywood Lakes home, you’ll see no sign of life: only a white refrigerator — the single appliance in the home — remains, along with a new “no trespassing” sign. What was once a pool in the back of the property is now filled with rubble. A fountain has become a lounge for lizards. Debris is piled between the main home and an add-on.

Although the Hollywood Historic Preservation Board has determined the home meets requirements to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is up to the Hollywood City Commission to decide if the home can be demolished so that its current owner can build two two-story homes on the 9,080-square-foot site — one for each of his children, a son and daughter aged 40 and 36, respectively. The owner of the property has said that nothing about the home in its current state is worth saving.

The city was expected to decide on the matter at a Dec. 6 commission meeting, but the item was pulled to give officials time to conduct more research.

“The team is looking at all aspects of the structure, history and property, as they do for all requests of this nature within a historic district,” Hollywood city spokeswoman Joann Hussey wrote in an email to the Miami Herald, adding that the demolition may be back up for discussion in April.

Historic preservationists in South Florida say that each teardown of a longstanding building erases part of the historic character of a city like Hollywood or Miami Beach, whose oldest homes are roughly a century old. But critics often contend the structures have become unsafe over the years and are unsuitable to withstand the modern threats of a changing climate. Those concerns have been amplified by a bill making its way through the Florida House that would allow for the demolition of historic homes in flood plains, legislation that exposes the tensions between preservation of the past and resiliency for the future.

“Now we’re being tested more than ever with our historic preservation ordinances and our historic districts, and the historic community is really very concerned that we could be losing our historic identity,” said Clive Taylor, president of the Hollywood Historical Society.

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Aerial view of a nearly 100-year-old historic home, center, in Hollywood, Fla. The home could be torn down so the current owner can build two new residences on the property. MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com
Aerial view of a nearly 100-year-old historic home, center, in Hollywood, Fla. The home could be torn down so the current owner can build two new residences on the property. MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

Melina’s home

Built in 1925, the Harrison Street home is as old as the city is. It was once the residence of a self-proclaimed “Coffee King” in the 1930s before Johns’ family purchased the home in 1946, according to a historical structure form.

As Penny Johns tells it, her grandfather moved from Nebraska to Hollywood, where he met her grandmother, Melina, who owned a store at the Historic Hollywood Beach Resort. The two would eventually buy the house on Harrison Street and build the downtown Hollywood store, a children and ladies clothing retailer that would later become Melina’s Lingerie Shoppe — one of the longest-running businesses in Hollywood before it shuttered in 2021.

Her daughter Elsie Johns — Penny’s mother — would go on to manage the store. In 1990, on Melina’s Lingerie Shoppe letterhead, Elsie Johns expressed her belief that her family’s home was historic: “Dear Captain Pat, As per our conversation, I feel 1317 Harrison Street should be on the historical list,” she wrote.

To save or not to save

Taylor, the historical society president, said the structure meets the criteria to be considered historic, based on its age, architecture and a prominent person owning and living in the home: Melina Johns.

“One of the biggest things she did is when there was racial segregation and Black kids couldn’t try on clothes at department stores, she opened her store, and Black children could come in her store and try clothes on,” he said, adding that she was also a proponent of the gay community in Hollywood. “So she really was an important person, and it would be a shame to lose something like this that was her personal home.”

After Melina’s daughter Elsie Johns died in 2021, Penny Johns said she and her family sold the home because they couldn’t keep up with the expenses.

According to property records, Tiram Real Estate Enterprises, an LLC out of Delaware, purchased the property for $900,000. In June 2023, Aaron Tiram, owner of the LLC, filed an application for demolition to build two homes on the property.

Tiram, 67, told the Herald that nothing about the home is historic and insisted the home in its current state is unlivable and unable to be saved.

“There is not a single element at the outside of the house or structure that you can say is historic, whatsoever,” Tiram said.

According to a January 2023 structural assessment report conducted by Green Coastal Engineering, three buildings on the property require foundation work, the add-on to the home has a rotting roof and a structure in the back of the main home has rotting timber. Pictures of the home’s interior from a Zillow listing show part of a ceiling on one structure caving in, as well as cracked walls around a window and a door. More pictures inside the home taken by an architecture firm show one of the walls has mold.

Ideally, it’s preferred that the exterior of a home is saved even if the interior is gutted, Taylor said.

“We love to see the interior integrity intact, but the historical community realizes people don’t want to live like 1932 and they want to live for today,” he said. “So they can gut a house. There’s nothing wrong with gutting a historic house and retaining the exterior.”

If the home must be torn down, Penny Johns said she’d like to see the architectural style maintained.

“I would love it, and I think most people that talk about it would love to have the two homes be architecturally fitting in with the neighborhood and not ugly structures,” she said. “There’s houses around that have been built that are just big blocks that just don’t fit in the neighborhood.”