Dream breathes new life into blighted area
By Rick Tonyan - SPECIAL TO THE BEACON
Looking back: Alice Bates Wyatt’s father, Glen,
a carpenter, built this house at 216 E. Voorhis Ave. for
his family in 1911. At that time, the neighborhood was filled with
such comfortable middle-class homes.
The neighborhood steadily declined, eventually becoming known as
“Crack Alley.” One man had something
different in mind. The photo above helped provide inspiration for
vision of DeLand’s Garden District.
Bates Wyatt watched in horror as the DeLand neighborhood she grew
up in turned into a crime-ridden slum called “Crack Alley.”
she’s watching with pride and satisfaction as the neighborhood
around her former home at 216 E. Voorhis Ave. comes back from dilapidation.
blight: The two homes above show the conditions of the East
Voorhis Avenue area around Wyatt’s former home before
Arth moved in to begin the renovations.
East Voorhis house was Wyatt’s home for most of her life since
her father, Glen Bates, built it in 1911. At that time, the neighborhood
was filled with single-family homes belonging to middle- and upper-middle-class
had wonderful neighbors in the early days,” Wyatt, now 91,
said. “You never worried about locking your doors. We’d
go North for the summer and not worry about the house while we were
that began to change in the 1960s. The single-family homes were
converted to apartments and duplexes. By the time Wyatt, a retired
schoolteacher, left for another DeLand neighborhood in 1978, crime
became so terribly dangerous,” she said. “It was heartbreaking.”
the neighborhood was called ‘Crack Alley’: Arth,
left, turns a crack pipe, used for smoking crack cocaine, over
to a police officer. Arth found the pipe in a Hayden Avenue
building that was renovated into a home for him, his wife, Maya,
and 2-month-old daughter Sophia Evelyn.
years ago, the neighborhood acquired the nickname “Crack Alley”
because of the amount of drug-dealing in the area. Then, in 2000,
a California artist and contractor named Michael Arth bought 27
buildings, including Wyatt’s old home, in the neighborhood.
is trying to put into practice some of his ideas on urban planning
and neighborhood redevelopment. Buildings that had been scheduled
for demolition by the city have been rehabilitated and renovated
by Arth. Former crack houses have returned to Victorian-style, single-family
dubbed the project the “DeLand Garden District” and
has dreams of eventually creating a neighborhood complete with trendy
restaurants and a fishpond with an artificial waterfall.
Wyatt has been cheering Arth on.
think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s so
heartwarming to see what’s being done there now.”
Alley’: The cluster of East Voorhis Avenue buildings above
are some of seven that — until recently — were havens
for drug dealers and prostitutes. The pay phone in the foreground
was used by dealers to arrange drug sales.
unbeknownst to her, Wyatt has been an inspiration for the contractor.
When she was 5 years old, she was playing with an Easter card she
had been sent. She stuck it in a crack in a baseboard of an upstairs
closet, and it fell down behind the walls of another closet on the
it remained until Arth found it while remodeling the downstairs
closet. The card reminded him of what kind of neighborhood “Crack
Alley” once had been. And it gave him hope he could turn it
back into what Wyatt remembers from her childhood.
was just 5 years old. I think I was playing and just lost the Easter
card,” Wyatt said. “Now it’s turned up. I’m
glad he (Arth) found it. It’s funny how these things turn
Phoenix Court: Above is the same cluster of buildings
after developer Michael Arth
began his rehabilitation project. He named this area Phoenix Court
after the mythical bird
that is reborn from its own ashes after it spontaneously combusts.
Also, the little
street now is lined with Phoenix palm trees.
Vision for a thriving future: Arth created this artificial
waterfall for a fountain in Southern California.
He envisions putting one like it in the middle of Phoenix Court.