Double the memories
Most rooms contain an eclectic mix of furniture and decorative objects. In the living room, a modern coffee table made of mirrored glass is at home with an antique sofa and matching chair that once belonged to Sally’s mother whose portrait hangs over the sofa. ROB DOWNEY PHOTOS
Fort Pierce homeowner recalls growing up along South Indian River Drive
BY JESSICA ARMSTRONG
For 70 years, Twin Oaks has overlooked the blue-green water of the Indian River and its namesake, Indian River Drive. Cabbage palms, mangroves, sea grapes and magenta-colored bougainvillea thrive on the river’s sandy edge. Pelicans, ospreys and ibis hunt for food. On a recent Sunday afternoon, a bottlenose dolphin rolled through the river feeding on mullet.
Taking it all in were Sally and David Richeson as they relaxed on the vast 58-foot veranda of their stately two-story home.
The plantation-style house on South Indian River Drive in Fort Pierce was built in 1947 for Judge John M. Sample, a prominent municipal judge, whose wife, Maggi, named it Twin Oaks. In front are two of the oak trees she planted in the 1940s. Today, their twisted branches nearly span the length of the house.
A sense of community pervades this stretch of Indian River Drive that goes back many generations. Sally grew up on the drive not far from Twin Oaks. Nearby is the house where artist A.E. Backus, famous for his Florida landscapes, also grew up a generation before her.
Sally is the daughter of Joseph William Yates, who in 1935 opened Yates Funeral Home in Fort Pierce, which is still in operation. Her childhood home on Indian River Drive, since demolished, was originally owned by Daniel McCarty, the 31st governor of Florida.
Early local architect William Hatcher — who designed many Fort Pierce landmarks — designed both the McCarty house, as it’s known, as well as Twin Oaks.
The spacious, 58-foot front porch is a favorite spot to enjoy the view of the Indian River. Near the driveway is one of the oak trees Maggi Sample planted soon after the house was constructed.
LOTS OF LOVE
“I’ve always loved this house and I loved Maggi,” Sally recalled, sitting by the fireplace in Twin Oak’s elegantly proportioned living room, its tall windows framing views of the river. “I grew up right down the street, so it was a familiar house. In excellent condition when we bought it so we just added to it.”
Yet never could she imagine that one day she and her husband would own Twin Oaks and raise their daughter there.
“We created something comfortable and peaceful with this house,” Sally said, “and we’ve just enjoyed living here for the past 40 years.”
Their love of old houses runs as deep as the roots of their giant oaks. The couple lived in several old houses before purchasing Twin Oaks in 1979. Sally’s appreciation for old houses also led her to sit on the board of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.
So, it is no surprise that she dove enthusiastically into the renovations and worked closely on the project with the late Robert Terry, a Fort Pierce architect.
CLASSIC, NOT FUSSY
Twin Oaks is a modern take on antebellum architecture. Hatcher designed the residence in the classic plantation-style form — huge pillars, evenly spaced large windows and a center entrance that complements its symmetry. But he reinterpreted it by eliminating fussy ornamentation and using modern materials such as the architectural concrete block exterior.
Built for cross ventilation when houses lacked air conditioning, the main rooms have opposing exterior walls that allow breezes to enter on one side and exit out the other. Tall ceilings and the many large windows also keep the rooms cool.
All of the windows have shutters, which add visual appeal yet are entirely functional. Unlike the decorative-only shutters on countless suburban homes, they provide shade and protection from storms.
“There are a lot of windows on this house, but I’ve never counted just how many,” observed Sally, who had wooden shutters made in Key West to match the original ones.
They have managed to create a home that is warm and welcoming despite its grandeur. And each room is filled with an eclectic collection of furnishings and artwork. The original light-colored hardwood floors were darkened, along with the staircase and banister to match. Above the staircase is a life-size Mexican dance costume of a stylized alligator.
In the master bedroom is a zebra rug the couple purchased in Africa. Off the master bedroom is a bathroom with dual sinks. The shower and the large soaking tub are each in separate rooms.
COMBINING OLD WITH NEW
The living room is painted soft mustard yellow that picks up the dominant color of the room’s oriental rug. An antique sofa with wood carvings and matching chairs that belonged to Sally’s mother is in sharp contrast to the modern mirrored coffee table.
Twelve guests can sit comfortably in the enlarged dining room. Displayed in the dining room on an antique wooden side table is a collection of Seminole pottery by noted artist Martin Cushman of Mount Dora.
A focal point of the expanded kitchen — now 460 square feet — is a glass-top table with the root of a giant tree serving as the base. Chartreuse-colored walls make the kitchen appear even larger, which features a butler’s pantry and wet bar area.
Two small offices were created on the first floor and are painted a cheery coral. A screen porch was enclosed and turned into a Florida room. The second floor originally had a parapet (a low protective wall along the edge of the roof), that was converted into a guest room. This is the only room with wall-to-wall carpeting.
The master suite was enlarged to 600 square feet and offers views of the river. Five windows are in the upstairs master bedroom, which does include an unusual feature — windows in the two master bedroom walk-in, cedar-lined closets. David’s closet contains Western and Native American artwork, as well as mementos of his Texas upbringing.
Double sinks were added to the master bathroom, along with a soaking tub and a shower with extra wide doors.
The three-car garage features a distinctive pickled wood ceiling. Over the garage is a goose weather vane, which flew off during a storm. Uncannily, it flew off again during another storm and migrated to the exact same spot.
Situated on approximately 1.5 acres, the house consists of nearly 4,000 square feet of living space and nearly 6,000 total square feet with 130 feet of water frontage. A 250-foot dock with two boat slips stretches out into the river.
It is difficult to tell the original rooms from those that were added, which was clearly their intention. The front of the house was kept intact and looks as it did in
“We worked hard to make sure nothing looked like an add-on,” David noted. He is a retired attorney and native of Fort Worth, Texas. The couple met in Washington, D.C., where he was working as a legislative assistant.
Except for the two giant oak trees, the front yard has little vegetation to allow for unobstructed river views. The backyard is lush with mature trees and a variety of plants that frame a spacious lawn ideal for entertaining.
The backyard didn’t always resemble a botanical park. Nuisance plants such as Brazilian pepper trees were removed and replaced with cabbage palms, and various trees including magnolia and hickory. Also planted were enough fruit trees to make a tropical salad — mango, guava, banana, lemon, lime and avocado.
All this vegetation helps buffer the trains that run near the back of the house. Susie Kelly, 70, daughter of John and Maggi Sample, remembers how the house would shudder.
“The house is on a sand ridge and when the trains went by it would shake,” Kelly said. “We were used to it, but I had a boyfriend visit and when a train went by he ran out to the front yard. He thought we were having an earthquake.”
Kelly also remembered her mother’s basket chair on one of the oak trees. She would swing and wave to friends driving by, and if it were 5 p.m. invite them in for cocktails.
Barry Goldwater — five-term senator from Arizona and the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 1964 — was a notable visitor at the house, Kelly recalled.
The dining room was enlarged to comfortably seat 12 at the table. The Richesons purchased the Murano glass chandelier in Venice, Italy.
PLENTY OF FUN
Both women agreed that the Indian River Drive of decades past provided an idyllic upbringing. Children played together in this wonderland, fishing off docks or taking their johnboats and sailboats out on the river.
Childhood also involved art lessons from Backus, which Sally and her younger brother, Bill, did in the early 1950s. He charged 50 cents a lesson and she remembered having to pay with a 50-cent piece, not quarters.
“Bill took his first lesson and halfway through it was decided that he had no talent,” she said. “Bill didn’t mind being told that, and he and Bean laughed about it over the years.”
The siblings continued to show up for art lessons with their 50-cent pieces. While Sally learned to paint, her brother went fishing.
Sally also remembered how much Backus loved the picture-perfect Indian River; a place that continues to capture the spirit of bygone Florida. Part of that spirit is Twin Oaks, which still looks out over the river’s blue-green water as it has for seven decades.