2010-12-16 / Undercover Historian

A gift to the community

Restoration and preservation of the Olde Naples Building
Special to Florida Weekly
“Most people do not pray; they only beg.”

In front of the Olde Naples Buiiding Jackie Sloan, Mary Prince Lipstake, Jon Kikk, Lavern Gaynor and Sue Smith COURTESY PHOTO In front of the Olde Naples Buiiding Jackie Sloan, Mary Prince Lipstake, Jon Kikk, Lavern Gaynor and Sue Smith COURTESY PHOTO

— George Bernard Shaw

When the news came that the Naples Planning Board had approved changes to the Olde Naples Building at 1148 Third St. S. that would return the last remaining historic building in the city to its historical grandeur, my first thought was, “Who says prayer doesn’t work?”

The adoration of old buildings is not a new concept, except perhaps here in Naples. In 1887, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was founded by William Morris of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. Mr. Morris sought to preserve the integrity of historic buildings in Victorian England by preventing unnecessary or “insensitive” repairs and additions to aging and ancient structures.

In a parallel universe across the pond, concern for preservation in America came to the forefront of the country’s consciousness around 1853, when George Washington’s great-great nephew failed in repeated attempts to get the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia to save his uncle’s home, Mount Vernon, in Virginia just outside Washington, D.C. Ann Pamela Cunningham, founder of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, mounted a national campaign and garnered support from the country’s leading people, both in influence and intellect, and by 1860 the MVLA had raised the necessary awareness and funds to save our first national treasure from ruin.

This was the birth of the preservation movement in America. We owe Mrs. Cunningham a debt of thanks for not just saving this historic home, but also for serving as a model for later initiatives, such as the 1920s effort to preserve Colonial Williamsburg, sponsored by John Rockefeller. Her influence was also seen in 1961, when the oldest house in Newburgh, N.Y., the Hasbrouck House, which was the longest serving headquarters of George Washington during the Revolutionary War, became the first property to be designated a national landmark by any U.S. state simply for historic reasons.

The significance of this national treasure (other than the fact that Mr. Washington slept there) is that it was where he rejected the appeal to establish an American monarchy; and where he created the first Badge of Military Merit, the forerunner of the Purple Heart; and where, on April 19, 1783, he issued the “cessation of hostilities” that formally ended the Revolutionary War.

Gradually, our country began to see the importance of its historic treasures.

In 1949, The National Trust for Historic Preservation was founded to revitalize America’s communities as well as to protect the irreplaceable places that tell America’s story. With the help of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, historic buildings that preserve our national heritage were united with those places that tell America’s story.

The Naples movement

For years, many locals have been watching with great interest the last remaining historic commercial structure in Naples, which was built in 1921 by Ed Crayton.

The Naples Company Building, as it was originally called, has withstood the test of time (and hurricanes) for some 89 years and has served as many things, among them: community center, movie theater, real estate office, drug store, courthouse, doctor’s office, bus station, jewelry store, Presbyterian church, Catholic church, Methodist church, barber shop, high school carnival and graduation hall, tap dance studio, photography studio, yacht supply house, library and, of course, a wine and cheese shop.

This building, in this place, embodies much about the character and identify of Naples.

One reason preservation of a community’s character and identity is deemed so important is that it is often associated with economic value. A plethora of data validates this fact. But there is another value, one that is often hard to quantify, and this is simple that it is good for the community’s soul.

Stewards of history

Last month we received a Thanksgiving present when the Wynn family showed their commitment to this place we call home by integrating local history into the remodeling of Sunshine Ace Hardware.

Now the new owners of The Old Naples Building, Naples residents Anne and Charles Camalier III, have presented an early holiday gift. These stewards, who are well known as history lovers and for renovating historic buildings, have laboriously and lovingly taken on the costly task of taking the beloved commercial structure down to its authentic core in preparation for its honorable restoration. In the eyes of many, this is nothing less than heroic — especially for those who have been praying so hard. 

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