This summer, Venue 1902 at Preservation Hall hosted elegant weddings, lavish corporate functions, meaningful community relations events and soirees for the ages. Perhaps the most memorable happening, however, took place May 18 when the venue’s owner Lisa Lessard accepted a Historic Preservation Award from the Florida Trust.
“The award validates and recognizes the tremendous team of individuals who tirelessly worked to save and restore this gem of a building that means so much to our Central Florida community,” said Lessard, who plays a day-to-day role in the operations and events of the venue.
Every year the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation recognizes the people and projects protecting the state’s history and heritage at an awards ceremony. This year the awardees became an even greater piece of history as the group celebrated their 40th anniversary.
Venue 1902 received accolades in the “Adaptive Use” award category that acknowledges the proper rehabilitation of a structure to a new use while retaining character-defining historic features.
Before this year, the building was already on Florida’s Trust’s radar, but for a despairing reason. The building was placed on the organization’s “11 Most Endangered Sites” list in 2009 and 2010, which is now called “11 to Save.”
“In less than a decade, the building has gone from being endangered to rehabilitated, and now serves as a successful example of the power of preservation,” Christine Dalton wrote in the summer 2018 issue of My Sanford Magazine. Dalton serves as the historic preservation officer and community planner for the City of Sanford, Fla.
The structure was built in 1902 and first opened its doors as the Sanford High School until 1911. The building then became the Sanford Grammar School in 1911, and operated as such for 73 years. The east and west wings were designed by Seminole County’s only architect at the time, Elton J. Moughton, Sr., and they were added in 1916.
In 1984, the school system reorganized, and the building was no longer used for classes. It became the Seminole County Public Schools (SCPS) Student Museum and Center for Social Studies, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Approximately 6,500 elementary school students visited the Student Museum each year, where they were educated about Florida’s history in a hands-on learning environment.
“Many Seminole County students have fond field trip memories of the museum,” Dalton wrote. “Due to budget constraints, SCPS made the difficult decision to close the museum after 114 years of building stewardship.”
Lessard purchased the building in 2016 and immediately began restoring and revitalizing the building into what it is today… an event venue that honors Florida’s deep heritage and unique history.
The building’s rehabilitation included adding an elevator, fire sprinklers, central heat and air, re-plumbing and rewiring the building, restoration of the original hardwood floors, and build out of nine restrooms.
“The project was financed through private dollars; no public subsidies were provided,” Dalton noted in her news article.
The renovation also restored the interior spaces to the original appearance by removing non-historic aspects like the drop ceilings, carpeting, and drywall partition walls.
“The building’s rehabilitation has had a positive impact on the community, and has introduced many new visitors to Sanford’s beautiful historic district.
“Scores of amazing memories have been created in this building, and its new life as ‘Venue 1902 at Preservation Hall’ ensures that the building will see many more memories in the years to come. The future looks bright indeed,” Dalton concludes the article.
Lessard couldn’t agree more. “Sanford is becoming an attractive destination city with a vibrant downtown, eclectic eateries and one-of-a-kind shops to offer its residents and visitors. We’re so excited to be part of the city’s next chapter. Let’s see where the next century takes us!”