The Capen Caper

By Randy Noles
Capen House, 1895
Capen House, 2013

The Capen House is referred to in news stories regarding its plight as “a 128-year-old home.” That’s technically true, although it was significantly remodeled and its architectural style changed in the 1920s.

But whether this Folk-Victorian-turned-Tudor-Revival charmer belongs more to the Jazz Age or the Victorian Era is beside the point. When it was scheduled for demolition, public reaction was swift and harsh.

Adding to the outrage was the unceremonious way in which the Capen House was dumped from the Winter Park Register of Historic Places following a foreclosure against the former owner.

The city, it seemed, had buckled under pressure from the lender, who wanted the property sold as quickly as possible. Perhaps hoping to avoid a lawsuit, commissioners cleared the way for the wreckers by voting to revoke the same historic designation they had granted less than a year earlier.

The unseemly move struck a raw nerve among those proud of Winter Park’s history and wary of losing it.

Of course, lovely as it is, the Capen House isn’t in the same league as Gamble Rogers’ magical Casa Feliz, which was faced with extinction in 2000 before concerned citizens intervened and paid for the Andalusian-style masonry farmhouse to be relocated.

But the current controversy brought to the forefront an issue larger than the fate of any single property. Winter Park’s older homes — significant and not-so-significant — are being bulldozed daily to make room for new construction. It’s the free market at work; property values in Winter Park are high, and the land is sometimes worth more than the structure sitting on it.

Plus, today’s homebuyers want more open space and all the latest technological bells and whistles. Sometimes, retrofitting an old home to encompass the features of a new home is more expensive than just tearing it down and starting over.

Enter Preservation Capen, headed by the high-powered team of Rollins College President-Emeritus Thaddeus Seymour and former Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar. The organization is attempting to raise $650,000 to float the Capen House across Lake Osceola in a barge and place it on the grounds of the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens.

In the meantime, the city will review ways in which it can preserve property rights while strengthening protections the remaining historic homes in Winter Park. For a compelling, thoughtful commentary on that dilemma, I invite you to visit and read the post entitled “Why Historic Preservation Needs Government.”

Donations to move the Capen House may be made online through or by mailing a check to the Polasek at, 633 Osceola Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789.

But let’s hope this kind of frantic, last-minute effort doesn’t need to happen again. A city so image-conscious that it will ban fast-food eateries from its main commercial thoroughfare ought to be willing to expend the same effort to protect its remaining residential treasures.

My advice, as one whose first home was 100 years old and whose current home is 88 years old, is this: If you don’t love old homes, with all their quirks and annoyances, then please don’t buy one in the first place.

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