Located in the community of Howey-in-the-Hills in Lake County sits the architectural gem the Howey Mansion. In 1927, to celebrate the completion of his 20-room 7,200 square foot Howey Mansion, John Howey hosted the entire New York Civic Opera Company of 100 artists. There were 15,000 people with 4,000 automobiles that attended the free outdoor performance. The cost to build the mansion was $250,000 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Who was William John Howey
William John Howey was born in 1876 in Odin, Illinois. At 16, he became a life insurance salesman, and in 1903 he developed real estate in Oklahoma for the railroad. In 1903 and 1905, he opened the Howey Automobile Company in Kansas City and made seven cars. His next move was to Perez, Mexico, where he bought a large tract of land with the hopes of developing pineapple plantations. He remained there until 1907 when the Mexican political situation became unfavorable.
After Mexico, he moved to Winter Haven where he sold citrus groves in what is now known as Dundee, Lake Hamilton, and Star Lake areas. It is believed that his original home is where Bok Tower now stands. At the request of Lake County Sheriff Balton A. Cassidy and Harry Duncan, he moved his operations to the Lake County area.
He purchased land for $10.00 an acre and by 1920 owned 60,000 acres. Developing the land into citrus groves, he then resold the land for $800 to $2,000 an acre. Howey would guarantee the investment plus interest if the buyer would purchase a maintenance contract, that did come with certain time constraints.
For potential investors, he opened the Bougainvillea Hotel in 1917 and replaced it with the Hotel Floridian on Little Lake Harris in 1924.
The town of Howey-in-the-Hills was incorporated in 1925 and Mr. Howey became its mayor. During that same year, he built a Mediterranean Revival mansion known as the Howey House.
With his success from selling citrus, his holding and selling groves to investors, he opened the state’s first plant to bottle citrus juice in 1926. Howey was one of the first to pasteurize fruit juice, and he also experimented with large scale vacuum storage of fruit.
At the same time the Florida land boom was collapsing, and while his sales plummeted, his companies continued to profit. In 1929, with the collapse of the stock market and the discovery of the Mediterranean fruit fly and hurricanes, his business was on the declined. By the depression, his sales and citrus holding were all losing money.
Howey died of a heart attack on June 7, 1938, at the age of 62. After his death, the Supreme Court deemed his real estate sales/maintenance contracts illegal as an “unregistered security.”
How the mansion became abandoned
In 1984, Marvel Zona purchased the home for $400,000 with her husband Jack. With her husband’s failing health, in 1996 the property was put into a trust in Marvel’s name and she took out a $374,000 reverse mortgage. The reverse mortgage paid her a fixed income for the remained of her life. Jack passed away in 2000.
Throughout the years, Marvel opened the mansion to public tours with the profits going to charity. She approached the county in 2003 about turning the home into a museum, but due to the fact it was privately own, it was not eligible for a state historic preservation grant.
In 2006, through advice from would-be buyers, she was convinced to take out an adjustable-rate mortgage of $1.2 million on her North Carolina mansion to pay off the reverse mortgage. The interest rate started and 1.25% and rose to 9.95%. With her monthly income being $1,000 per month and her mortgage payment being $3,000 a month, she lost her North Carolina mansion and the Howey mansion was put into foreclosure in 2008.
Marvel Zona passed away on July 13, 2015, at the 97 and during that year, Nationstar Mortgage of Dallas became the new owner.
The mansion is brought back to life
In 2017, the mansion was purchased by brothers Brad and Clay Cowherd. They are Florida natives and grew up in Winter Park. Coming from a family with a history of the Orlando real estate development, they had long been interested in the then-abandoned and decrepit Howey Mansion.
Their aunt and uncle, on July 14, 2017, began the restoration work. Their first night was spent at the mansion with no air conditioning and boards still on the windows. It took nine months to bring the Howey Mansion back to life.
Today, the Howey Mansion is used for signature weddings, meeting and events, historical tours, and occasionally used to shoot films.