El Real Retiro: One of Florida’s Finest Homes

Published 90 years ago today in the New Smyrna Daily News.

El Real Retiro One of Florida’s Finest Homes
New Smyrna Daily News June 8, 1928

New Smyrna El Retiro03.jpgOn the shores of the Indian River at New Smyrna, nestling in a beautiful palm grove with numerous varieties of other beautiful trees and shrubs, will be found one of the most picturesque homes in Florida, in fact one of Florida’s show places.

The house of Spanish architecture, was recently built by Robert Handley, who lavished great wealth as well as though in the construction and furnishing of this unique home, all of which is quite in keeping with its beautiful natural surroundings.

The house, which is over 200 feet in length, is constructed of heavy timber with stucco finish and an imported Spanish tile roof which lends immensely to the artistic beauty of the whole.

The interior of the rooms on the south section are tinted stucco finish all having hardwood floors, while those in the north wing are finished with pecky cypress having beamed ceilings and brick floors.

The music room is 60 feet long and 26 feet wide and is furnished with costly antiques and oriental rugs.

In our sauntering through the house we might possibly start in the bedrooms which are all spacious and beautifully furnished. Each room has a connecting bath. The windows are all casement type and each room looks out either over the beautiful front lawn with snatched glimpses of the river beyond, or on the picturesque patio which we will enter later.

The reception and writing rooms were illustrated and described in Vogue Magazine recently as follows: “The writing room in the new home of Robert Handley, Esq., brings exotic flavor of far off lands and untraveled seas with its pecky cypress walls painted lime green, rubbed with lemon yellow and decorated with lime green designs. The pilasters are all white rubbed with faint touches of yellow, blue, and green. The pottery and the Kashmir embroidered felt rugs repeat the color notes.

“The Arabian Nights, with all their glory, contained no more shimmering sight than a passage way of silver. The artist has prepared one room in Chinese silver and painted an intricate design of flowers and foliage, and the color scheme ranges from white through a full scale of green with touches of flame and pink. The floor is in moss green and the woodwork in green-black.”

We descend from the silver room down a slightly winding stone staircase of four steps, into the spacious dining room which is finished in gray stone and is on a level with the patio adjoining. The exquisite antique furniture of this room came from Spain, Italy, and England, some of it being centuries old.

There are two other similar winding staircases leading into this beautiful room, one from the patio itself at the south end of the room and the other from the butler’s service room at the west side, the stairs from the silver room being at the east side.

The paintings on the walls of the library by Robert Locher were illustrated and described in the 1925 issue of the House and Garden Magazine as follows:

“The library shown on these pages with its decorative painted wall and interesting woodwork, is in the home of Robert Handley, Esq., at New Smyrna, Florida. The panoramic design shows important incidents in the history of this section of Florida. One scene is the passing of the first southbound steamer. The contrast to the picturesque sailing ships above (illustrated) a present day ocean liner and a scene of a modern Florida beach. Florida in the 16th century, the time of the landing of Ponce de Leon furnished the inspiration for the designs around the fireplace.

The most decorative of the shipping episodes is the landing of Ponce de Leon. The figures, tropical foliage, and Spanish galleon are in various colors against a brilliant blue background. The view of the library (illustrated) shows the effective beamed ceilings. This and the trim are of cypress colored by a thin wash of blue-green.”

The entire house is abundantly supplied with costly and exquisite tapestries, oriental rugs, antiques, and vases brought from Europe and the Orient. The servants’ quarters and garage are built on the same Spanish type north of the house. The Faulkner Street side of the property has a nine foot stucco wall extending 344 feet across the length of the property. The front of the house faces the Indian River.

The front veranda, in accordance with the Spanish architecture, is roofless, the music room previously described, opening on to it with three sliding French doors. The north and south wings adjoin this piazza, the latter also, opening on to it with a French door.

The trees, oleanders, palms, bamboos, and other beautiful products of Florida, make a bower of beauty of the front yard with the glimpses of the serene old Indian River to be seen through their branches, and at night the stars twinkling overhead making a veritable dreamland of the entire place.

One of the most attractive points of interest is the beautiful patio about 60 feet square and surrounded by a ten foot stucco wall which adjoins the house. The shrubbery, statuary, and tiled walks under the canopy of spreading branches of the majestic oaks and palms with their hanging moss, make one feel that he is in Paradise, especially on a moonlight night.

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Dick Bristley and daughter Genevieve, en route to Palm Beach last January, stopping here to pay a few days visit with friends. So impressed were they with New Smyrna and the climate that they decided to remain the balance of the winder. A few weeks later Mr. Bristley called to see the Handley home of which he had heard so much. As a result negotiations followed and the ownership and title in the Handley estate and its furnishings were transferred to Mr. Bristley.

Many improvements have been made since the new owners have taken possession, and it is their intention to make this their permanent winter home.

Mr. Bristley is a retired official of the Royal Baking Power Company of New York. The significance thereof was the dedication of this home March 15th, at their housewarming as “El Real Retiro” which is Spanish for “The Royal Retreat.”

My New Book Release: New Smyrna Beach (Postcard History Series)

My new book from Arcadia Publishing will be released next week, September 26, 2016!

New Smyrna Beach (Postcard Series)
New Smyrna Beach (Postcard History Series)

You may order copies at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or other online retailers. If you live in the New Smyrna Beach area please feel free to stop at the New Smyrna Museum of History to purchase a signed copy. Your purchase will benefit the museum. You may also order a signed copy directly from me. Copies directly from me will cost $20 including shipping. Please pay by paypal: Robert at robertreddhistorian dot com. Be sure to let me know which book you are ordering (I have three out now and all cost $20 each), how you would like it signed, and where I am sending it to.

In addition, I will be at Renewals: A Bookshop on Friday, October 7 from 11am until 1pm. Stop buy, purchase a book, and browse Debbie’s great shop. Please let me know if you would like to schedule a signing or know of somebody who would. I have two New Smyrna Beach titles and my third book deals with St. Augustine and the Civil War. I would be glad to attend your event!

In the mean time, here’s a trailer that Arcadia has put together. Enjoy!

New Smyrna Beach: Postcard History

I want to provide a couple of updates on my forthcoming book from Arcadia Publishing.

First is that the release date for the book has been set. It will be available September 26, 2016.

Secondly, the book is now available on Amazon for preorder. You can see the details by clicking here. Once published, I will have signed copies available for sale.

To see a PDF of the cover please feel free to click the following link:                    A Postcard History of New Smyrna Beach

Odds and Ends to Catch Up On

My apologies for the lack of posts recently. My book writing has kept me busy as of late. This week I submitted the manuscript and photos for my third book to Arcadia Publishing. This book will be in their Postcard History series and will cover the city of New Smyrna Beach. I found some great cards and I really think people will enjoy seeing the New Smyrna of yesterday. I don’t have a publication date yet but as soon as I do, I will let you, my readers, know.

Click here to see a PDF of the cover: A Postcard History of New Smyrna Beach

In addition, I have scheduled a talk on my recent book, Historic Sites and Landmarks of New Smyrna Beach,   also published by Arcadia. On Saturday, April 16 at 2pm I will be speaking at Debary Hall as part of their Lemonade Lectures series. If you haven’t visited Debary Hall, you have missed a great trip.

I have a conference call scheduled for early next week with acquisitions editors from Arcadia to discuss ideas for my next book. I have put forth several ideas so I am sure we will cover the merits of each, which they find most marketable, and which I prefer to work on. I’m sure the call will be productive.

2016 New Smyrna Beach Balloon & Sky Fest Cancelled

Financial Challenges Ground Balloon & Sky Fest

NEW SMYRNA BEACH – After seven successful years, financial challenges have grounded the New Smyrna Beach Balloon & Sky Fest, causing the cancellation of the 2016 event scheduled for April 1-3.

The Board of Directors of the Balloon& Sky Fest Foundation, organizers and operators of the event, voted Monday at its monthly meeting to call a halt to the popular festival, which annually featured night and day air shows, hot-air balloons, live entertainment, a carnival, and many other attractions, and focused on inspiring young people.  The Foundation’s charities each year included the Boys & Girls Clubs and other area youth organizations.

“This was a very emotional decision,” said Board Chairman Dr. Arlen Stauffer, one of the founders of the event. “There is a very dedicated group of people who poured their hearts and souls into Sky Fest, and it’s painful for it to end this way.” Stauffer said the event has perennially struggled to find enough sponsors and donors to make it financially sustainable, and the Board of Directors finally decided that it would be unwise to continue into next year, as that would create a significant risk of being unable to fulfill the obligations to the 2016 performers, vendors, and suppliers.

“By suspending Balloon & Sky Fest now, we are able to exit without owing any person, business, or organization any money,” Stauffer added.  “That is very important to us.”

The Board’s decision to cancel the event comes less than two weeks after the Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority Board of Directors proposed to cut the event’s funding for out-of-county advertising in half, from $30,000 in 2015 to $15,000 for 2016. “The decision by the SVAA board was a huge blow to us….kind of a final straw,” Stauffer said. “Our annual patron surveys consistently showed that 40% of attendees came from outside Volusia County, and we needed to continue to attract those people for Sky Fest to have the best chance to survive.”

Theresa Perry, Executive Director of the Foundation, said the SVAA decision was just the latest of several threats to the long-term future of Sky Fest. She said the search for sponsors and donors was a constant challenge. “Balloon & Sky Fest was a huge event attracting national attention, but it was held in a small town. As the event grew, it became harder and harder to find sufficient regional and national sponsorship to keep it going.”

Perry said her biggest disappointment is for the volunteer Sky Fest Committee that spent countless hours each year organizing the event, and for the local community that supported the festival. “We had fantastic local support,” she said. “The City of New Smyrna Beach – local leaders, businesses, the public – all loved this event, and Airport Manager Rhonda Walker was fantastic. But the fact of the matter is that it just could not continue financially without more regional and national support.”

The New Smyrna Beach Balloon & Sky Fest began on a Friday night in 2009 when ten hot-air balloons gathered at the city airport and drew a large crowd. During the next six years the event grew to be one of the largest annual festivals in East Central Florida.

Terri Perry

Executive Director

New Smyrna Beach Balloon & Sky Fest

April 1-3, 2016


Balloon & Sky Fest Foundation, Inc.

1982 State Road 44, Suite 324

New Smyrna Beach, FL