This post shares a response to Jack Lane’s opinion piece on Winter Park Voice from October 15th.
The author requests anonymity.
I recommend every Winter Park resident read Jack Lane’s opinion and this reaction to it. (Ad Hominem means attacking the character or motivations of someone you disagree with rather than addressing the facts or reasoning underlying their position or argument.)
The only thing that is constant is change.
Professor Jack Lane is a well known, well loved, and obviously brilliant historian and long-time resident of our beloved city of Winter Park. His short essay displays a glimpse of his historical knowledge as he rightfully warns us to beware of some of the darker side of American history, such as those times when certain groups used “tactics of fear” including “misstatement, fabrication, and character assassination” to bully others into conformity. As he says, these “tactics of fear” were employed by many groups throughout our history: from the early Puritans to the McCarthyists and beyond. He then states that these horrible tactics are still used even here in Winter Park by many who now hope to usurp and pervert the Preservation Board.
Unfortunately, for all of Prof. Lane’s brilliance, the arguments of his essay have two serious flaws. The first is that he partakes in the same logical error of ad hominem, or “character abuse”, or arguing against the person or group, about which he lambasts. The second is that, while he is an historian, he makes absolutely no mention of actual Winter Park history, or those facts on the ground which are required to give us the perspective necessary to come together as a community to decide what is best for our city.
Regarding the first major flaw of Prof. Lane’s essay, he spends the first eighty percent of it criticizing historical instances where ad hominem statements and their associated fear mongering were unjustly used. But he then does an about face and uses ad hominem and fear mongering (primarily in the form of hyperbole, e.g. “I have here in my hand the names of 250 card-carrying Historic Preservationists who are still practicing their sorcery throughout our fair city”) for the remaining last fifth of his essay. Strangely, it does not appear that Prof. Lane meant to be ironic. But his whole essay is indeed ironic in that it wholeheartedly employs the same tactics that it spends such verbiage criticizing. Besides being somewhat confusing, an ad hominem argument is logically fallacious. It is an attack on a person or group and not on the actual facts or soundness of the argument. Thus, Prof. Lane’s essay is not an argument at all, but rather simply a lecture about the evils of attacking groups of people, followed by an attack on a group of people.
Regarding the second major flaw of Prof. Lane’s essay, its complete lack of any discussion of the actual course of Winter Park history facilitates the de facto creation of overly-narrow definitions of what is “historical” and worth keeping, as it keeps this knowledge in the hands of a privileged few. This obfuscation of the past thus leads to an inequality of knowledge, narrowing the power of most Winter Park citizens to exercise their rights and opinions in the larger forum. This invariably leads to power concentrated in the hands of a self-selected few – namely, some members of the Historic Preservation Board.
Since Prof. Lane did not do so, it is perhaps prudent to now address some of the details of Winter Park history. Winter Park, like all great cities, has always been in flux. Houses that are considered great and historic today often previously received opprobrium and were derided as the equivalent of what we now call “McMansions built by the uber-rich” when first constructed. Moreover many of these former “McMansions” were built over demolished, older, and more “historic” homes that were at that time loved and cherished.
For instance, our beloved Casa Feliz was built by millionaires who tore down an original beautiful historic home on Interlachen. The home that Casa Feliz replaced was built by one of Winter Park’s founding families, the Ergoods. The Ergood home that was demolished to make way for Casa Feliz was at that time considered to be of great architectural and historical significance. Yet, even with the destruction of the beautiful Ergood estate, it is misplaced animus to therefore vilify the architect James Gamble Rogers for designing, or the Barbour family for financing, Casa Feliz, even though Casa Feliz could have been considered something of a McMansion, or a monument-unto-themselves built by the very rich of the time.
The truth is that in Winter Park’s past, as in its present, as invariably in its future, beloved buildings will come and go to be replaced by other beautiful buildings. This will be met by some with enthusiasm and by others with horror and disdain. Some individuals may say that only certain small concrete block houses (but not others) are the “real Winter Park.” Other individuals may say that certain very large houses with a long architectural lineage (but not others) are the “real Winter Park.”
For those who favor smallness, some of the favorite “historic” homes of this town – the Brewer Estate. the Nelson House, Martin Hall, Sands Cove, Four Winds, Casa Feliz, and many others – would by some of today’s folks be considered a blight to our community.
For those who favor older structures, it might be inconvenient to realize that the Cloisters replaced the historic first Inn of Winter Park and Whispering Waters replaced Lyman’s House, which was built by another one of Winter Park’s founding families. Many of the residents of the Cloisters and Whispering waters are chief among those against anything “new.” Yet they themselves are living in buildings that were once new and demanded the destruction of more historic buildings.
Of course, smallness, bigness, newness, and oldness do not make any building inherently good or bad. Sometimes something new can revitalize and improve an old civic spirit better than something old. For example, over the last forty years, Rollins College has had a tremendous amount of new construction, with many new buildings built and others heavily modified. Rollins has gone to great lengths to maintain classic architectural tropes while improving the quality of their buildings. This is at least partly why Rollins is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States. Likewise, some historical preservationists have argued that the Alfond Inn was going to be an eyesore and blight on our community. However, most people agree it has been a great addition and will likely be considered “historical” in the decades to come.
In conclusion, it should be emphasized that while there are faults with Prof. Lane’s essay as enumerated, he is nonetheless a brilliant historian who is trying to ensure the integrity of the city that he loves. Yet, it is best to argue public policy in a polite and reasoned manner. Lessons of the perils of in-group/out-group thinking and ad hominem logical fallacies do nothing to help us if we then immediately become groupish and use ad hominem hyperbole ourselves. Winter Park has a rich history full of beautiful buildings and one of the chief constants in this history is that there has been change. The only fair way to allow for this change to occur, or not to occur, is to educate ourselves about our rich history and to have a fair system of property laws that applies to everyone equally. This demands that each citizen has the right to have agency within the law. It also demands that other citizens cannot act over and above the law to violate the rights of others because there is a matter of difference of opinion. Thus, education, fairness, and the rule of law applied equally to all is our safest bet to avoid the divisiveness, illogic, and centralization of power that Prof. Lane espouses in his essay.