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MARK LANE: Peck Plaza, a '70s landmark, on the comeback

The Daytona Beach News-Journal logo The Daytona Beach News-Journal 10/8/2019 By Mark Lane, The Daytona Beach News-Journal
a large tall tower with a sky background: On the eve of the third anniversary of Hurricane Matthew's arrival in Volusia County, work continues to repair the landmark Peck Plaza condominium in Daytona Beach Shores, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Matthew three years ago. [News-Journal/David Tucker] © News-Journal/David Tucker/The Daytona Beach News-Journal/TNS On the eve of the third anniversary of Hurricane Matthew's arrival in Volusia County, work continues to repair the landmark Peck Plaza condominium in Daytona Beach Shores, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Matthew three years ago. [News-Journal/David Tucker]

Peck Plaza, a building that defined Daytona Beach Shores in the 1970s, is on the mend.

As News-Journal business writer Jim Abbott wrote in Sunday's News-Journal, the building is on track to complete a $14 million restoration project by early next year. Work that's needed to repair the building after Hurricanes Mathew and Irma roughed it up. Nobody's been able to live there and the restaurant atop of the building has been closed for three years.

[READ MORE: Daytona Beach Shores landmark Peck Plaza restoration from Hurricane Matthew could be done in January3/8

The 29-story condominium dominates the south peninsula skyline. When it was built in 1974, developer Edwin Peck Sr. declared it the tallest beachfront building on the east coast of the United States. It was certainly like nothing else the area had seen before. It required state-of-the-art construction techniques and 500 truckloads of cement to pour its foundations in 1972 and remains the tallest building in the county.

Peck was the man who brought Florida's 1970s condo boom to Volusia County's coastline. He arrived here in 1968, intending to build a small, six-unit condo. He bought an oceanfront lot for about $120,000, and the result in 1970, was the 61-unit Surfside Club, also in Daytona Beach Shores. It was first beachfront condo in the area. He would develop 30 more condos by the mid-1980s.

But the cylindrical tower that bears his name is the building for which the 101-year-old Peck is best known. It proclaimed the arrival of the 1970s condo boom, and love it or hate it, it cemented the character of Daytona Beach Shores.

News-Journal City Editor Russ Hoadley looked out from the still uncompleted tower in 1974 and saw the future:

"The old Daytona Beach is behind us. Growth is bursting across the city ... The day is gone forever when a drive down Atlantic finds only two- and three-story mom and pop motels," he wrote.

But no sooner did the condo boom rev up locally than the recession of 1973–75 hit, leaving half-built, never-started and bank-repossessed projects up and down the Florida coastline.

Peck survived the downturn better than others. His tower was completed during the worst economic times in decades, and he pushed on despite unsold units and multiple lawsuits after it opened in the summer of 1974.

But the place eventually thrived and grew with the area. The tower even did a star turn in the 1990 Tom Cruise movie "Days of Thunder." You can see its distinctive circular dining room in the scene where the racers keep their sponsors waiting at a fancy restaurant with an ocean view. Back when the real restaurant was Sophie Kay's Top of Daytona. (And no, the place did not have a revolving bar even though everyone says it did.)

Like 1970s fashion, 1970s architecture generally hasn't aged well. And a lot of the condos that went up fast to flip before market soured again did not stand the tests of time and shifts in tastes. The worst were cement cubes that looked like Soviet Bloc workers' housing only painted pink and advertising an ocean view. Storms, recessions and bank litigation ate up a lot of those properties.

Unlike them, Peck Plaza is coming out storm-tossed but renewed. It has a new paint job — gleaming white, with bold blue stripes and new windows — that turns back the clock on the old building.

The plywood has come down. The look of the place, which in '70s seemed too modern for the neighborhood, now looks kind of retro-cool.

Atlantic Avenue has a lot of unremarkable recent buildings and a lot of gaps where neglected motels and failed condos used to be. This makes it especially good to see an older property coming back to life. One that's still recognizable as the landmark it used be.

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©2019 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.

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