Winter Park residents came together to support historic preservation last Thursday at the Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden to officially kick off the “Preservation Capen” fundraising project – an effort to move the historic Capen House across Lake Osceola by barge to the grounds of the Winter Park museum.
The historic home that faced the wrecking ball last June can be saved if residents raise $650,000 by Nov. 1, giving movers the minimum two months they need to relocate the house by the end of the year.
Capen House property owners John and Betsy Pokorny gave the green light on the project after receiving a letter of intent in July from Debbie Komanski, executive director of the Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden.
“We’re about to embark on the most important three months in our history,” Komanski said.
The money raised for Preservation Capen would cover the cost of moving the home and installing it on the new property, which is located behind the Polasek Museum in the sculpture garden.
Balloons set at four corners of a clearing near the shore of Lake Osceola marked where the Capen House will be placed. The large back windows and the back porch of the home would have a panoramic view of the museum’s sculpture garden and Lake Osceola.
Co-chairs of the Preservation Capen project — former Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar and Rollins College President Emeritus Thaddeus Seymour — addressed the dozens of Winter Park residents who came to show their support in front of the future location.
“That Capen House ranks at the top of our register for importance,” Lamar said.
“That house is not good because it’s old, it’s old because it’s good.”
Komanski said that the relocation of the Capen House would not only save a historic home, but give the Polasek Museum additional administrative and program space that it desperately needs. The Polasek Museum had plans to construct a new building, but discovered that relocating the Capen House for the museum’s use would be less than half the cost.
The home would be open to the public who visit the museum, no longer a private residence, Komanski said.
“We’re just so happy that we have the ability to accommodate this house and give it brand new life serving our community,” Komanski said.
But this wouldn’t be the first time that history was on the move in Winter Park. Residents came together 12 years ago to save the historic Casa Feliz, which fell under threat of demolition when new property owners sought to build a large mansion in its place.
Together, residents and preservationists stopped the wrecking ball, and the home now serves as a museum and events venue.
Casa Feliz executive director Betsy Owens played a significant role in bringing about awareness of the Capen House’s imminent destruction back in June, and is now spreading the word about the project to save the home.
The city’s success in protecting Casa Feliz in the past motivates residents to contribute to save the Capen House, Owens said.
“We’ve seen it happen once before,” Owens said.
“We have paved the way for something like this.”
Ancestors of the home’s original owner and early settler James Capen had the chance to address the audience at the end of the gathering.
“I believe that old things are sacred,” said Melissa Capen Rolston, who travelled from Kansas City, Mo., to attend the event.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help this happen.”
Melissa Capen Rolston’s sister, Ann Capen Hunt, marveled at the city’s resolve to save the historic treasure.
“This town is remarkable; I’m blown away,” said Hunt, traveling from Eads, Tenn. “I’m completely overwhelmed by the spirit of these people and how engaged they are.”
The sisters are now brainstorming more ways to raise money to move the Capen House. The Galloway Foundation of Winter Park started off the donations with an initial $100,000.
“We’ve gotten off to a good start, but we have 90 days to get to that $650,000,” Komanski said.
The Preservation Capen team reportedly plans on putting the Capen House back on the historic register once it is relocated, said City Manager Randy Knight.
“That house is built of old southern heart pine,” Lamar said. “It’s in great shape, and it will be in great shape for generations to come. This is an investment in the future of our community that we cannot squander.”
“The good news is that this community values its history.”
A donation button is now available on the Polasek Museum’s website at polasek.org