It’s been displaced, disassembled and disrespected. But one of Winter Park’s oldest homes has finally gotten a facelift that honors its 130-year heritage and preserves its undeniably eclectic charm.
The story behind Winter Park’s so-called Bonnie Burn house encompasses almost as many twists and turns as the 130-year-old structure has nooks and crannies.
Located on the north shore of Lake Sue in the upscale Sevilla neighborhood, the house is not unlike many flesh-and-blood Central Floridians. It came from somewhere else and has undergone extensive cosmetic surgery.
“We loved the character and craftsmanship,” says Kristi Peterson, who now owns Bonnie Burn with her husband, Bill DeCampli. He’s a pediatric heart surgeon and she’s a pediatric anesthesiologist. The couple moved to the area in 2004 from Morristown, N.J., a charming small city that traces its roots to the Revolutionary War.
“We’ve always liked older properties,” adds Peterson. “And, I have to say, this one pretty much consumed me for two or three years.”
Peterson and DeCampli hired Charles Clayton Construction to remodel Bonnie Burn, which had been significantly altered in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in ways that caused its history-loving owners to cringe.
Clayton’s involvement was somewhat ironic since his family developed Sevilla in the early 1970s and Clayton himself was raised just blocks from Bonnie Burn, which he recalled as a somewhat foreboding place.
“My friends and I used to like to go down to Lake Sue to fish,” Clayton recalls. “We had to sneak through the yard at Bonnie Burn to get down to the water. It was kind of scary for a kid.”
Although the bones of the house date from 1883, it looks absolutely nothing like the rambling, two-story cracker classic built by Chicago snowbird Charles R. Switzer and his wife, Harriett, on 36 wooded acres that ran from Howell Creek to Lake Sue.
The Switzers were prominent Winter Parkers—he was a physician and a Rollins College trustee; she was a musician and civic activist—who entertained frequently and were routinely mentioned in the society pages of the Winter Park Post. They gave the estate its lyrical name, which in Scotland would mean something like “pretty stream” or “pretty brook.”
In 1941, the house and the surrounding acreage, still mostly groves and woods, was bought from the Switzers’ heirs by developer James Jonas “Jimmy” Banks and his wife, Elizabeth. A colorful native of Alabama, Banks had the structure picked up and moved closer to Lake Sue, apparently destroying the second story in the process.
The politically active Banks had run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1930 and lost. Perhaps that explains why he declared that Bonnie Burn’s address was to be “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” the same as that of the White House.
Although the property was bordered on the east by Winter Park’s own Pennsylvania Avenue, the iconic street number upon which Burns insisted was accepted by the U.S. Postal Service. (After the tract was subdivided, the address was changed, officially, to 314 Salvador Square.)
In 1970, Banks sold all but 1.5 acres surrounding the house to Clayton Realty, owned by Charles Clayton Sr. and his cousin, Malcolm. The Claytons carved the site into 63 lots and began developing an exclusive neighborhood they dubbed Sevilla.
According to a history of Sevilla being compiled by real estate broker and resident Deitmar Georg, Banks was a cranky character who once confronted buyers of a lot adjoining Bonnie Burn and demanded, inexplicably since he no longer owned property, that they “come back when it is more convenient to me.”
Banks, clearly not an ideal goodwill ambassador for Sevilla, died in 1971 so was no longer on the scene when stately modern houses began springing up around his once-isolated enclave. His widow, however, continued to live at Bonnie Burn long enough to frighten young Clayton and his boyhood friends.
Subsequent owners built additions not in keeping with the original style, and by 1979 aluminum siding covered the original clapboard. Other major and minor projects were undertaken in a piecemeal fashion until Peterson and DeCompli, whom Clayton describes as “purists,” took a more holistic approach.
Many late 19th-century features remain. Two of the original rooms, now a hallway and a library, are paneled in heart pine and have heart pine floors hewn from trees on the property. The kitchen, which had been remodeled in the 1980s, was remodeled again in a more period-appropriate fashion.
Other highlights include five fireplaces with hand-carved mantles, elegant moldings, high ceilings, antique fixtures and a spacious master suite with five closets and a dressing area. For the most part, the original windows were retained and restored.
Two bedrooms were added upstairs for son Grant, 18, and daughter Elissa, 21. There’s a stained-glass skylight in the upstairs hallway and a second-floor balcony that overlooks a magnificent backyard meandering toward the lake. A state-of-the-art summer kitchen abuts a swimming pool and a pool house.
The 6,500-square-foot house, which encompasses five bedrooms and eight full bathrooms, is filled with a combination of antiques and more modern furnishings and fixtures, from delicate knickknacks to massive wood cabinets and overstuffed chairs and sofas.
The walls are hung with original prints and paintings, some as old as the house and some contemporary works by well-known local artists. “We’ve always collected antiques,” says Peterson. “A lot of it we already had, and a lot of it we bought after we moved to Florida.”
It’s difficult to ascribe a specific architectural style to the exterior, now covered in pale yellow stucco with white trim. Its lines are clean and its facade is relatively unadorned. Due in part to the lush landscaping, it could pass for the great house on a tropical plantation. Without question, Charles Switzer wouldn’t recognize it.
“Working on a house that age, you’re really impressed with the level of workmanship,” says Clayton. “These people were working with hand tools and execution is just masterful.”