Chapel survives rocky move
A Winter Park couple hopes the historic designation of a local chapel will bring stability to their wedding business, seven months after it was relocated by a local land developer.
The 79-year-old Grant Chapel, at the corner of Lyman and New York avenues, will be up for historic designation by the Winter Park Historic Preservation Board at their meeting next month.
The City Commission would need to give final approval before it became official.
A historic designation would come as a relief for Steve and Suzanne Graffham, who’ve run a wedding business out of the old building since 2009.
“The chapel would then have a longer life and we won’t be as worried about the future,” Suzanne said. “It will be more of a permanent fixture.”
“Even though I know they can still tear it down, it’s going to be harder.”
The old chapel holds a long history in Winter Park. Constructed in 1935, the building housed a black Methodist church in 1943. The congregation resided in the building all the way up until the 1990s when it outgrew the building and moved elsewhere, Steve said.
Today the chapel draws couples from across the globe to exchange vows.
But Steve and Suzanne’s wedding business went through a recent rough patch in the first half of 2014. They endured their business being relocating down the street last December, when property owner Dan Bellows had the building placed on dollies and moved from its original location on New England Avenue to make way for an incoming development.
Bellows spearheaded the effort to have the chapel placed on its new foundation, working alongside local nonprofit Traditional Neighborhoods Inc. to raise money for a brand new garden, fountain and stone walkway.
But the project took far longer than anticipated. Suzanne and Steve said they were told the building would be completed by mid-January, but the construction and refurbishing inside dragged on until late April.
Steve said that 10 to 15 weddings had to be moved to other locations, with some couples having already booked a year in advance.
“From a business standpoint that’s a nightmare,” Steve said. “…When you’re talking to a bride, who’s about to have the most important day of her life, and she’s got her heart set on a certain place and you phone her up and say, ‘It’s not ready.’”
That’s when the surrounding community stepped up to lend a hand. The First Congregation Church, Casa Feliz and the Alfond Inn all stepped forward to serve as replacement locations for the soon-to-be-married couples.
The Graffhams have since started the Winter Park Wedding Company, which they use to host weddings at the three locations in addition to the chapel.
What started as a hectic mess became a lucrative business expansion, Steve said.
“We’re now doing weddings in those three locations as well,” Steve said. “An expanded business has come out of what was a negative of the move. [Suzanne] turned some potential nightmares into positive situations … It was the fact that people in this city pulled together to help us out.”
Meanwhile the fountain, landscaping and the lightning still need to be finished at the Winter Park Wedding Chapel.
Steve and Suzanne are unsure of when the building will be completely finished, but they do know the value of having the chapel’s name in the historic register. It gives a sense of stability not only to them, but to the married couples who return to visit years later.
“It means security really,” Steve said. “It’s so important because it’s a place that’s really etched itself in the hearts of many people that have gotten married here and people who are looking to getting married here in the future.”
“It enters into people’s sentimental side really.”