Arts & Culture
Winter Park’s Capen House and downtown’s “Round Building” depend on grass-roots support to survive
Meet the people working to save local landmarks from the wrecking ball
Published: August 14, 2013
It can be difficult to decide what to keep and what to throw away, particularly when you have a large collection of structures to choose from. Rollins’ renowned architecture and the aesthetic quality of its campus, for example, is a major reason that students (and parents) fall in love with the place. This 138-year-old school has had to make some hard decisions with growth, and mostly does it right; but recently it quietly demolished Strong Hall, one of the beautiful Spanish Mediterranean dormitories designed by Richard Kiehnel in 1938, significantly diluting the campus’ power and majesty as a special place. As a private institution, Rollins must be trusted to do the right thing, so let’s hope this doesn’t get out of hand.
In cities like Boston, Chicago and New York – hell, even St. Louis – historic preservation is taken seriously; citizens identify strongly with the architectural character of their cities. The decision about what to save is usually made by consensus and is supported by laws and the collective spirit of the people. Here in sunny, developer-friendly Orlando, there is no mandatory waiting period before the bulldozers roll, and the city of Orlando’s list of historic landmarks includes five historic signs (one of which is demolished, but remains on the list in a sort of Chicago-graveyard-vote status), Tinker Field, a pair of gates, a cemetery, a bridge, and some 35 buildings, as well as a house torn down seven years ago. It ain’t much, but it’s about all we’ve got left.
With so few historically significant buildings left, it seems that it would be OK to let us love them, to work around them instead of kicking them to the curb. Even the Capen House move is a mediated victory, because moving a house off its land changes its essential nature; but if the house has a story to tell, then moving it at least gives another generation a chance to listen. The tremendous efforts of people like Owens and Schweizer must bridge the schism between the broad desire of Orlandoans for an authentic, memorable and specific city and the narrower interests of contemporary capitalism. What happens when no one cares? Stuff gets gone, that’s what happens.
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