Dedicated Preservationists Fight to Save Central Florida Landmarks

Old world charm is everywhere in Winter Park, Fla, December 2013; Photo by Megan K Hyde/Full Sail University

Old world charm is everywhere in Winter Park, Fla, December 2013; Photo by Megan K Hyde/Full Sail University

In Winter Park, Florida the Capen House, a landmark with long stemming historical significance to the city, is preparing to be split in two, uprooted and transported across the road to a new location. This is a literal different direction the home is taking, due to the outpouring of support that has been developing to save this structure since being put in danger of getting demolished in May of this year.  This is due to new ownership where a want to tear down and build up on the land arose.

One group in particular, Preservation Capen, has led a crusade to raise funds to ensure the outcome of this space is one of rebirth.  The group “plans to transport the 6,000-square-foot house from its current location on Interlachen Avenue to a large lakefront lot on the Polasek Museum property.”  If it sounds like quite a feat to save a structure, it definitely is.

The home, which was built in 1885 by James Seymour Capen, is one of the oldest in Winter Park and holds tremendous value for inhabitants, far beyond the monetary side.  Residents, visitors, and local organizations are rallying to show support for preserving its physical history.

Christine French, Project Manager for Preservation Capen, shared via phone and email the main reasons for preserving this space, starting with how this home signifies “Winter Park Heritage” and “represents the first permanent development in the Winter Park area during the 19th century.”

French shared that once the home is relocated, by the end of 2013, it will “become a community asset where art therapy programs; field trips and camps for youth under served in the arts; music recitals; public events; educational presentations; and corporate retreats and meetings” will occur, just to name a few purposes.

With these dedicated plans in motion, it should provide a comforted feel for those who utilize the space.  In an article by Larry R. Ford entitled Historic Preservation and the Sense of Place, Ford states “the point here is that places are not built, but rather they evolve through usage.  A place is simply not architecture but a congeries of settings both real and legendary.”  This statement applies directly to ongoing historic preservation issues that many communities are facing today.

This video provides a look at some structures in Winter Park which showcase the charm directly related to preservation.

Winter Park Landmarks from Megan Hyde on Vimeo.

One supporter familiar with the possibility of losing a landmark, also in Winter Park, is Betsy Owens.  Owens is the Executive Director of the Friends of Casa Feliz, a group who aims “to protect, operate and maintain the integrity of the Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum and its collections; to educate the public on the life and legacy of noted architect James Gamble Rogers II; and to engage the public through education and advocacy for the purpose of preserving and promoting the community’s rich architectural, historic and cultural heritage.”

Casa Feliz found itself in danger of demolition in 2000.  The Friends came together to save this pioneering space and were successful in doing so by way of lifting the home and moving to its current location.   In the video below Owens shares insight on preservation and Casa Feliz.

Casa Feliz – The Happy House from Megan Hyde on Vimeo.

Historic Preservation is not only on the radar within Central Fla but in many other cities as well.  Interest for this subject often stems from personal belief, professional affiliation, or a mixture of both.  In one article by Thomas M. Parris, titled Historic Preservation, Parris surmises by saying, “However, many of our most important cultural and historical artifacts are firmly embedded in our natural and built environments.”

If places with historic significance continue to be danger of being destroyed, then what will be left to educate through the use of historic, physical creations?  Words and memories of these places only go so far.

Harriet Duncan, a photographer and artist in the Central Florida area, travels through the state capturing photos for this very reason.  As Duncan explains, “When we are young, we don’t see that the past has that much validity or impact on us. We like to think we are the inventors and creators of our lives and often, we reject efforts of preserving the past in order to bring about the new.”

In an article by Deanna Hart from August 2008, A fight for the remains, Hart explains how the historic Lee Kirkland Cemetery of Jacksonville Beach was in danger of becoming nonexistent because of a street alignment project.  Hart details the long history of the cemetery, which dates back to the 1800s, and how residents rallied together to collaborate on an approach to city officials to “help save the historic site, beautify it and memorialize burials for residents and visitors.”  Yet again, when extinction presents itself, communities speak.  This is an integral part of preserving history.

Genuine interest also helps the cause of historic preservation.  Another person, whose passion for preservation began personally in childhood, then grew in adulthood professionally, is Jodi Rubin.   Speaking with Rubin by phone and email, one thing was undeniably clear; Rubin is completely passionate for preservation.  She surmises it best in email herself as “I live, breath, eat and sleep preservation.”

Rubin previously worked for the City of Orlando for 15 years as the Historic Preservation Officer where some of her duties included “administering the preservation program—writing design and demolition standards, writing a historic preservation component of the City’s plan, helping to designate properties as historic, giving guidance to owners and developers and working with my colleagues and elected officials to manage change within the historic districts and to historic landmarks.”  Rubin also taught a historic preservation course at Rollins College for eight years.

Rubin offered acknowledgement for some of the obstacles that are associated with preservation.  Rubin says one struggle is “the need to balance economics with the preservation of the built environment.”

When asked where preservation has been ranked by level of importance, through the city’s eyes, Rubin stated “In Orlando, I think preservation has taken a back seat to economic development. Look at some current examples of buildings in prominent locations that are either being neglected or scheduled to be demolished—the old OUC building, the old Cheney house, the round building downtown, the Amtrak station, the Bob Carr Auditorium, the armory. I think the City of Orlando’s administration has little commitment to preservation, even though the City’s Growth Management Plan encourages the preservation of historic resources.”

The cause of curiosity for how one goes about improving or repairing historic areas is exactly where the city comes into play.  Speaking by phone with Richard Forbes, who is the current Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Orlando, provided a glimpse further.

“This whole preservation program is important for a sense of place, a sense of well-being.  People like going to the older neighborhoods with significant architecture.  It gives that connection to the history of a place,” Forbes said.

He also advised on a point similar to Betsy Owens, from the video above, saying, “Generally people in the neighborhood want to protect the character and other people just don’t want restrictions on their properties.  The main goal is to not have a negative impact on the neighborhood or on the visible historic nature of the house.”  To that point, Forbes also said the biggest obstacle is it is “difficult to get people to agree.”

With certain boards and different organizations in place, all with the commonality of historic preservation on their radars, there are other opportunities that lend a chance to become informed for this subject as well.  Historic centers for a given city are an outlet for resources and ways to become educated for history that many aim to preserve.

The City of Winter Garden has a strong sense of history and keeping it in tact and accessible.  The current building that physically houses many of these resources is merely temporary as this group prepares for a new location.  In the video below Kay Cappleman, Education Director of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, and Jim Crescitelli, a writer and a Collections Curator for the center, share what draws them to the work they do, the importance of it, and more about the foundation:


Winter Garden Heritage Foundation from Megan Hyde on Vimeo.

Duncan takes notice to the upside of maintaining historic areas saying, “It seems that communities that place value on their historical buildings have found ways to bring in more tourist traffic to their communities and have also elevated their community as a place one may want to inhabit, for example Winter Garden has done a great job of preserving their downtown and its history. The community has benefited financially from this effort by increased business and population of their town.”

To corroborate Duncan’s observation, an article titled Getting in Touch with History: The Role of Historic Preservation in Shaping Collective Memories, author Diane Barthel, states “Preservation provides direct benefits to the individuals involved, in terms of cultural capital, professional status, and economic benefits.  In order to gain acceptance as a worthy cause however, the preservation movement has had to claim more widespread public benefits.”

With cities growing rapidly and establishments providing new structures to participate in various activities, where does the lack of resourcefulness come into motion?  Could more emphasis be placed on preserving historic spots to utilize what an area already has?

In one Editorial from 2010, author Martin Carver talks about archaeology and historic preservation in relation to living “in an era of fiscal and economic austerity. At issue is whether archaeology is inherently valuable to society as a whole or is it merely an interesting pastime.  Carver makes a statement saying “our authors dig deep into the human experience, strive to increase our intimacy with the very old.”

With multiple factors considered in regards to preserving historic landmarks, specifically in Central Florida, a great way to get informed and stay involved is to know your area.  One simple guide is to know about historic districts.  “Historic districts are established using criteria from the City’s Land Development Code, which includes citizen involvement, evaluation of the architectural significance of area buildings, and consideration of the neighborhood’s contributions to Orlando’s cultural heritage.”

Orlando's Six Historic Preservation Overlay Districts; Created by Megan K Hyde/Full Sail University; Info via City of Orlando

Orlando’s Six Historic Preservation Overlay Districts; Created by Megan K Hyde/Full Sail University; Info via City of Orlando


With many individuals, organizations, and foundations willing to educate on Historic Preservation in Central Florida, there is an opportunity to get informed and contribute to the cause.  Refer to a landmark that you cherish and imagine a world without it.  Know what laws govern these decisions.