Love shines through Lane-Towers house restoration

Love shines through Lane-Towers house restoration
In the early 1970s Pokey Towers commissioned New York artist Jack Moment to portray her family in front of their new home at 3730 Richmond Street in Avondale in a primitive-style painting. Moment depicted the Towers family of Bill, Elizabeth (Betsy), William, Pokey, Agnes, John and Corey, the family’s Irish setter, in front of the grand old house. Family friend Wyndham Manning, who lived in the specious apartment above the four-car garage, is shown hanging out a second-story window while housekeeper Helen Jefferson, who was considered “family” by the Towers, stands in the driveway.

A landmark property gains grateful owners

The Edward W. Lane House in Avondale, regarded by architectural historian Wayne Wood as “the most spectacular example of Tudor-Revival style architecture in Jacksonville,” is in the process of being refurbished down to its very foundation.

Edward W. Lane House, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of Jacksonville Historical Preservation Commission.

Edward W. Lane House, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of Jacksonville Historical Preservation Commission.

In 2012 John and Yvonne Hove paid $2.6 million for the elegant riverfront mansion, known as the Lane-Towers House, at 3730 Richmond St. Over the past three years they have been steadily rejuvenating the exterior structure back to its original 1920s grandeur with plans to subtly modernize it inside.

John Hove, whose hobby is to restore pre-World War II automobiles, brings engineering expertise to his massive renovation project. As owner of an international company that manufactures and distributes of intermodal hardware products to the transportation industry, reconstructing a large historic home is a welcome challenge.

“I like to fix old things,” Hove said. “Restoring this house is like restoring 50 cars at the same time.”

“We’re changing the inside of the house but we aren’t modernizing it. We’re making it more congenial to 2015,” said Hove’s wife, Yvonne. “You don’t often get to bring a house into the 21st century and have it look like the 17th,” she said, noting the inside will be comfortable while retaining “90 percent” of the classic Tudor interior.

Sitting on a two-and-a-half acre lot, the Lane-Towers House is the largest single-family dwelling in the Riverside-Avondale Historic District and was one of the largest homes in Jacksonville when it was built, said Wood, who wrote the definitive architectural reference, Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage Landmarks for the Future.

“It is one of the greatest houses in Jacksonville,” Wood said. “Over the years I have always listed it as one of my top 10 buildings architecturally in Jacksonville.” The Lane-Towers House was featured on the very first Riverside-Avondale Preservation tour in 1976 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

European influence

Designed by famed Jacksonville architects Mulford Marsh and Harold Saxelbye (also designers of Epping Forest), the house was built in 1928 for Atlantic National Bank founder Edward Wood Lane, Sr. and his wife Anna Taliaferro Lane, daughter of U.S. Senator James P. Taliaferro (Dem.-FL, 1899-1911). Prior to building the house, the Lanes had traveled extensively in Europe and sought to recreate a Tudor-Revival home with many of the details Mrs. Lane had admired in the European homes she visited.

Front door of the Edward W. Lane House, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of Jacksonville Historical Preservation Commission.

Front door of the Edward W. Lane House, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of Jacksonville Historical Preservation Commission.

The exterior of the house includes such attributes as half-timbering with pegged joints, leaded- and stained-glass windows, a slate roof, Tudor-style arches over the doors and some windows, ornamental cast stone, massive chimneys with star-shaped tracks and chimney pots, steep gables with ornate bargeboards and random-shaped limestone blocks that trim the windows, doors and corners.

According to the Hove’s plan, the interior will again include pegged oak floors, rich linen-fold wood paneling, exposed beam ceilings, arched doorways with carved stone lintels, huge stone fireplaces, and sculpted plaster ceilings. The Hoves have been careful to save as much of the original woodwork, plaster and unique features of the house as possible.

In 1928, the home cost the Lanes $130,000 to build. Mrs. Lane took a special interest in its construction, Wood said, personally supervising the bricklaying as she observed the workers from a lawn chair under a tree in the backyard.

Prior to the Hoves, Lane House has had two other owners: Mortgage banker and developer William Towers and his wife, Jean, known to everyone as Pokey, who lived in it for 12 years and financier Raymond Mason, Jr. who purchased the house with his former wife, Meredith, for over a $1 million in 1986. It was the first million-dollar sale ever in Jacksonville, said Pokey’s daughter, Elizabeth (Betsy) Towers, noting that Beverly Brandenburg, a realtor with Manormor Sotheby’s International Realty in San Jose, represented her mother.

A livable castle

Agnes Towers Morrissey and Elizabeth (Betsy) Towers grew up in the Lane-Towers House.

Agnes Towers Morrissey and Elizabeth (Betsy) Towers grew up in the Lane-Towers House.

The Towers bought the house in 1969 when the asking price was $175,000, but paid less, said daughter Agnes Towers Morrissey. At that time the house had six bedrooms including a second-floor maid’s quarters, seven full baths, two half-baths, cedar-lined closets, metal-lined humidors in the library and a walk-in safe where her mother used to store peanut butter so she wouldn’t eat it, recalled Betsy. On the landing was a secret room behind the paneling that could be accessed by putting a bobby pin through a pinhole in the railing, Betsy said. “The paneling would pop open. It was a great hiding place,” Betsy said adding that her mother stored Christmas decorations and suitcases there.

The library on the first floor was identical to the library in Ninah May Holden Cummer’s former home on Riverside Avenue, which was also designed by Marsh and Saxelbye, Betsy said. Mrs. Cummer’s home was torn down to build the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and her library is now the Tudor Room at the Cummer.

“I just remember a lot of laughter and parties and fellowship and joy in that house,” Betsy said. “It was a happy, happy home.”

During their 40-year tenure, the Lanes had also renovated the house to add a breakfast room on the rear as well as a cage-like elevator that went to the second floor, Betsy said. When the Towers repainted the home before moving in, her mother added a gold leaf ceiling to the breakfast room, she said.

We never felt like we were living in a castle, Betsy said. “It was home. It was very livable. When we moved in, Mother said, ‘This house needs to be filled with flowers, children and dogs’ and it was. She wanted it used by people.”

The Towers family ate most meals together in the giant dining room, Betsy recalled. Each of her siblings had their own room and bath. The master bedroom had two separate bathrooms. On the third floor, Betsy had a dark room and Agnes had an art studio. “It had grand rooms, but we really lived in all of them,” she said.

Because her father had grown up in another house on Richmond Street, he was familiar with the house and neighborhood, Betsy said. When he was six years old, he would often sneak down to the Lane’s house and peer through the gate to watch Mr. and Mrs. Lane enjoy coffee served by their butler on the terrace, she said, adding that he and his brother, Charlie, would also sneak oranges off the Lanes’ citrus trees.

“My father loved the house,” Betsy said. But tragedy struck a few months after the Towers family moved into the home in 1972 after completing renovations. When William died in the house from a heart attack, Pokey Towers continued to live there with her family for 12 years after his death.

Unique guests

Believing the house should be shared, Pokey took pleasure allowing charitable functions to be held in the house. Prominent people such as famed billiards player Willie Mosconi, soap opera actress Susan Lucci, and the Moroccan ambassador were guests, Betsy said, recalling that she had never seen Chanel shoes before Lucci’s visit and was “flabbergasted” when the actress left them behind.

Photo used for family holiday card and inspiration for the painting by Jack Moment.

Photo used for family holiday card and inspiration for the painting by Jack Moment.

“We used the house for so many purposes,” Pokey said in a telephone interview. “A lot of organizations used it and friends would ask if they could have their 50th anniversary parties there. Agnes had a big wedding there and Betsy a small one. We had a lot of small weddings, mainly for people in the office. It was nice to see the house used. It was a house that lent itself to so many things. It filled a hole in my heart at the time. Bill had just died, so it kept us busy,” she said.

It was Betsy who decided to list the house in the National Register, taking more than a year to go through the application process. “From a very young age, I could see how quickly things change,” Betsy said. By being listed in the National Register, the house “would always be protected and no one could tear it down,” she said.

Both Betsy and Agnes said they often regarded the house as a “living and breathing” entity with a personality all its own. Something about the house was “magical,” said Betsy, and her sister agreed. “When my dad died, it rocked my world,” said Agnes, who was only 15 when her father suddenly passed away. “It was as if the house wrapped its arms around me. It has such a solid presence. I’ve always felt protected by the house, even if I was there alone,” she said.

In 1985, when Pokey Towers decided to marry Dr. Jim Lyerly, a widowed neurosurgeon with whom she had gone to Lee High School in Riverside, she decided to sell. “He was not interested in living in a big house,” said Agnes. “She wanted to scale down.” The Lyerlys were married in the house before they moved out and now live in Ortega.

Raymond Mason married his former wife, Kim, at the Lane-Towers house in 2000. They raised their two children there and allowed it to be featured in magazines, TV commercials and made-for-TV movies, most notably The Babysitters Seduction, Point Man, a TV series filmed in Jacksonville and Disney’s Summertime Switch.

According to a newspaper article, Mason remodeled the home installing central heat as well as a game room on the third floor, which included a home theater, pool table and dance floor. On the property a tennis court was built as well as a boathouse with multiple lifts and a swimming pool.

1969 sales brochure

1969 sales brochure

Each family that has lived in the house has loved it, Agnes said. Betsy concurred saying, “For Mrs. Lane, it was the creation of the house. For our family, it was the sharing of the house. When we lost Father, we felt it was an extension of him because he had loved it so much and then he was gone. I’m sure it was the same for Raymond, who grew up next to it. Clearly he loved it, too,” Betsy said. “Every family that has lived in the house has had an adoring love for it,” she said expressing appreciation for the Hoves and their desire to preserve the house for all generations. “The integrity of the house is the important thing, the fact that it’s being preserved. We’re so pleased it has come under their stewardship,” said Betsy. “They are pouring so much love into the house when it really needed it.”

Yvonne said love for the house is the main impetus behind their restoration. “One of the reasons John and I want to bring it up to par is because the house had been loved,” she said. “It’s kind of like my child, isn’t it? It has its own life. I’m so glad that John and I found it.”

Next month, The Resident will share specific details of the Hoves’ restoration of this historic Avondale property. 

By Marcia Hodgson
News Editor

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