Sisters of St. Joseph Launch Renovation Project

By Lilla Ross

The Sisters of St. Joseph will launch the Villa Flora restoration project at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 18.

Photo credit: Sisters of St. Joseph/Jeanette Ghioto

The 119-year-old Moorish Revival building will get a new roof and structural improvements, its unique yellow brick and coquina façade will be cleaned and repaired, and more than 60 stained glass masterpieces will be restored.

A state historic preservation grant is paying half of the cost of the project, which began in February, and will continue to assist in the preservation and promotion of the historic building.

The project has a team of professionals with significant experience in historic preservation. The architect is Don Crichlow and Associates. A.D. Davis Construction is the General Contractor and Triad Service Group is the owner’s representative/project manager.

A Baptist minister, the Rev. O.A. Weenolsen of Minneapolis, built Villa Flora, 234 St. George St., in 1898 as a winter residence that was known for its gardens.

The building is considered one of the best examples of a residence from the Flagler Era when Florida became popular as a winter destination.

It has the most extensive collection of stained glass of any residence in the city, including a transom over the entrance with the words Villa Flora.

Photo credit: Sisters of St. Joseph/Jeanette Ghioto

It is one of the oldest brick buildings in the city and one of the first to use yellow or sand brick, most likely from Lake Helen, Fla. It also is unusual for its raised basement.

The foundation and garden walls of the building are of coquina construction. Some of the coquina features have lime mortar joints that indicate that Villa Flora was incorporated into an earlier structure.

In 1906 Alanson and Bessie Wood bought the house, which Bessie turned into a small hotel after her husband’s death. By 1934, it was a restaurant called Villa Flora Grill.

The Sisters of St. Joseph bought the property in 1941, using it for classrooms. The top floor was a chapel, home economics was taught on the first floor and kindergarten was in the basement.

More recently it was used as the house of formation for novices and as a retreat house.

The renovations should be completed in about six months.