The Preservation Foundation

2010 Ballinger Award Given - La Tonteria Wins
Posted Date 12/06/2010


The 2010 Ballinger Award for outstanding restoration and rehabilitation of historic architecture was presented at the Preservation Foundation’s annual membership luncheon held on Monday, December 6th, 2010.  This year, the Foundation awarded the house La Tonteria.  A 1935 Georgian-Colonial Revival, the home’s original design was by John L. Volk for Edward J.S. Donovan.

Foundation Chairman John Mashek presented the Ballinger medal to James Harpel for his restoration of the residence.

James Harpel choose architect Jeffery Smith and his firm Smith Architectural Group to do the restoration and renovation. Besides Jeffery Smith and his project leader Laura DiGregorio as architects on the project, Mario Nievera did the landscape design, and the interior design was handled by Katherine Shenaman.  The industries of John Volk’s own son, John Volk Jr. also contributed to work on the house.

The Foundation’s Co-Directors Janice Owens and Alexander Ives gave a presentation honoring the home, with Owns discussing the history and Ives highlighting the restoration and renovation work.  Over 175 images by professional photographer Stephen Leek detailed the architectural features.

The renovation took nearly 4 years.  By its completion the house was roughly a third bigger than its original size and over 5 times the originally estimated cost had been spent.  In the simplest and perhaps most shocking example every single brick in the building was replaced.  The original bricks distressed each one differently by John Volk to create a sense of age, were individually all removed to be recast and then waterproofed.

The entire site was landscaped with new motorcourt paving and low site walls. The entrance and exit gates and perimeter wall were all reconstructed to match the original John Volk design. All windows and french doors were replaced with hurricane impact rated windows and french doors.

The grade at the east lawn was leveled to alleviate the “bowl” effect that existed previously. Before this renovation-restoration, a rectangular pool had run east to west with the center of the house.  The pool was moved to the west end of the property, made oval and oriented north to south.  The tennis court was resurfaced and a new retaining wall with perimeter chain link fencing put in.

On the southwest end of the building a second story addition of a new guest bedroom, bath and closet was put in above the study-library.  The study-library was nearly doubled in size and a new bow window was built.

On the northwest side of the building had been a pool house added in the 1980s. In its spot now are two floors with a sitting room, a pool cabana trellis room, and second floor guest rooms, beneath all of which is a converted basement wine cellar.

The second floor porch was restored to the original sleeping porch.  French doors replaced infill windows, columns were restored and a new wood picket railing was made. The Master Bedroom Loggia was brought back to the original John Volk design.

The Ballinger award was first presented by the Foundation in 1987 and honors the late Robert I. Ballinger Jr., former chairman of the Palm Beach Landmarks Preservation Commission.  Struck by noted sculptor Edward Grove, the medal itself bears the likeness of a bust of Ballinger that was sculpted by Ballinger’s wife, Didi Ballinger, and, on the reverse, the name of the house being honored and its owners.  Harpel will also receive a special leather-bound photography book dedicated to their home.  The book is made by hand and takes several months to produce.

 All images by Stephen Leek


The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach is one of the strongest and most well established membership-based nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations in South Florida. Intended to bring together like-minded individuals with a genuine interest in preserving, maintaining and honoring the unique architectural and cultural history of Palm Beach, the Foundation and its members have long been identified for their commitment to Palm Beach and their efforts to better the community. Over 30 years, the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach has given millions of dollars for the preservation and restoration of historic properties; worked advocating for the creation of over 250 landmarked properties; recognized numerous architects, owners, and properties with awards; educated hundreds of thousands of children about the architectural, cultural and environmental legacy of Palm Beach; and saved thousands of archival documents in our library among many other accomplishments.