Recently renovated historic Swanner House puts out the welcome mat for special events

The first thing most people notice when they step onto the Swanner House property is the scent of citrus. The event space has a small cluster of lemon and orange trees lined up at the back of the property near the bocce ball court and open land where a future farm is planned.

“All of the trees are still in bloom, and our little lemon and orange trees are giving off that citrus scent,” said Michelle Searles, venue manager at Swanner House.

The two-story Craftsman house sits on 2.5 acres of the Northwest Open Space in San Juan Capistrano, on Camino Capistrano. Southern California developer Almquist, responsible for other projects in San Juan Capistrano including the soon-to-open outdoor retail and dining destination River Street Marketplace, undertook the property’s renovation.

“Almquist acquired the space last March and hit the ground running,” said Searles. “We went full-blown construction mode for the interior, the exterior and poured a lot of love and money into the property to restore it.”

In 1913, Roger Y. Williams and his brother, William, purchased 347 acres of land in north San Juan Capistrano from Judge Richard Egan. With help from another brother, Guy, they initially farmed walnuts on the property, transitioning in the 1920s to oranges as their primary crop.

Roger and Lizzie Swanner Williams built the house, which was referred to then as the Roger Y. Williams House, in 1923, adding a matching garage and a water tower.

The family is often credited with pioneering the citrus industry in San Juan Capistrano, which flourished in the ’30s and ’40s.

Swanner family descendants owned the property until 1991, when the city of San Juan Capistrano bought the land. In 2007, the house, water tower and garage were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In order to preserve its history, Searles said care was taken to keep many of the original details of the home.

“The bones of the structure, of course, are all original. We have got the original window frames, the door frames and the floors,” Searles said.

The Almquist team hired interior designer Helene Johnsen to enhance the interior space with touches that feel modern while still honoring the historical essence of the home. For example, an antique Victrola record player stands in the front room, where Searles wound it up with a few strong turns of the crank.

“This model is from the 1920s, so maybe the Swanners had this in their home,” she said.

It’s easy to picture the Swanner family inside the house but even more so outdoors on the property. Native plants like a large oak tree that can serve as a backdrop for outdoor events, and details like a fire pit modeled after a cast-iron cowboy cauldron can help guests imagine what life might have been like back then. There are plans to enhance the outdoor area even further to match its former use.

“This is all our acreage,” Searles said, motioning to untouched land beyond the manicured lawn. “We are working on getting a farm put out there.”

Sweeping views at the historic Swanner House property in San Juan Capistrano.

Sweeping views at the historic Swanner House property in San Juan Capistrano.

(Kalani Cummins)

The Swanner House is available to rent for events; it hosted its first wedding on March 1. The space currently has about 25 events booked between now and early next year. Searles, who has 15 years of experience in the wedding industry, said she has noticed a trend among engaged couples toward a shorter lead time in reserving their wedding venues.

While for decades it was customary within the wedding industry to start reserving venues more than a year in advance of the big day, today couples are booking just six months to a year ahead, she noted.

“People are still booking for this year; I just signed a contract for October yesterday,” she said.

The Swanner House property is also used for for community events.

“We have already hosted a couple school galas here and we did the first fundraiser for California Republic Leadership Academy, which is a new charter school,” said Searles.

Swanner House also hosted Harbor Point Church’s satellite Easter services this year, and plans are in the works for music festivals, ticketed dinners and brew-tasting events for the future.

“We would love for the Swanner House to be a space for people to want to come and bring their families and have date nights,” said Searles. “The possibilities are endless.”


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