During a 1954 interview on his 92nd birthday, John Martin noted that Winter Park had changed, “but not for the better!” The unconventional John Martin, a socialist lecturer, and his wife, Prestonia Mann Martin, a utopian reformer, were unlikely civic leaders in the 1920s and beyond. Photo courtesy of The Rollins College Archives.

THE FABIAN AND THE HAMMER BOY

During a 1954 interview on his 92nd birthday, John Martin noted that Winter Park had changed, “but not for the better!” The unconventional John Martin, a socialist lecturer, and his wife, Prestonia Mann Martin, a utopian reformer, were unlikely civic leaders in the 1920s and beyond. Photo courtesy of The Rollins College Archives.

Is Winter Park more open-minded today than it was 90 years ago? Consider the case of John and Prestonia Mann Martin. The British-born socialist and his unconventional wife were among the city’s most unlikely power couples from the 1920s through several decades thereafter.

Naturally, the Martins were brought to town by Hamilton Holt, the ninth president of Rollins College, who delighted in collecting out-of-the-ordinary characters and testing the tolerance of conservative locals for exotic freethinkers.

John, whom Holt listed as a conference leader or a visiting lecturer and consultant on foreign affairs, had been active in the London branch of the Fabian Society, an organization whose purpose was to advance the principles of socialism. He offered a lecture series on foreign affairs that became wildly popular in Winter Park.

Prestonia, a writer and social reformer, operated Summer Brook, which was modeled on Brook Farm — a short-lived experiment in communal living started in 1841 by a ragtag band of transcendentalists. 

She had made national headlines with a pamphlet entitled “Prohibiting Poverty,” in which she advocated conscription of everyone between ages 18 and 26 to produce the necessities of life — including food and clothing — which would then be distributed free. 

Eleanor Roosevelt favorably referenced the program in a speech and even passed it along to her husband, who dismissed its premise as simplistic and impractical. 

In 1932, John was the victim of a brutal assault that left him in critical condition. Oliver Johnson Keyes, 23, a former protégé, hitchhiked from Manhattan to Winter Park, where he purchased a hammer and walked through a driving rainstorm to the Martin home. 

Keyes was recognized and welcomed by the Martins. Later, when the couple retired to separate rooms, he followed John upstairs and began beating him with the hammer until Prestonia, hearing the melee, rushed to her husband’s room and screamed.

When the young man momentarily relented, Prestonia called the police, who upon their arrival arrested Keyes on charges of assault with intent to commit premeditated murder. John, barely clinging to life, was transported to the Florida Sanitarium, where he gradually recovered. 

Keyes, meanwhile, calmly admitted to his crime, giving no reason other than that the Martins had “lost interest” in him. “Hammer Boy,” as journalists called him, was adjudicated insane and committed to Bellevue Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Manhattan. 

By the mid-1930s, the John Martin Lecture Series encompassed 10 talks on consecutive Thursday mornings in late January and early March. As audiences grew, the on-campus theater gave way to the larger First Congregational Church of Winter Park. 

In 1944, John decided to retire — more or less. He delivered his final scheduled lecture before a full house at the church sanctuary and received a tearful standing ovation from prominent locals, likely none of whom were socialists or Fabians.

Interviewed on his 90th birthday in 1954, he complained to the Orlando Morning Sentinel that “Winter Park has changed almost beyond recognition — and not for the better!” (Perhaps he was more mainstream than anyone realized.)

Prestonia remained active in civic organizations, but fell ill and died at age 83 on Easter Sunday in 1945. She was eulogized in Winter Park Topics, a seasonal weekly, as “one of Winter Park’s best known and most beloved women.” 

This column makes no overarching point except this: There are thousands of stories in the City of Culture and Heritage, and its history is replete with fascinating characters. We’re here to tell as many stories and profile as many characters as we can. Thanks for reading and for letting us know that you enjoy what we do. 

Randy Noles
CEO/Editor/Publisher
randyn@winterparkpublishing.com

 


Correction
Due to an editor’s error, the professional football league in which Don Jonas, the first coach of the UCF Knights, played was misidentified in last issue’s story “First and Goal.” Jonas played for the Orlando Panthers in the Continental Football League.

Junior philosophers paint a river to be used as an intellectual exercise. They make a choice, then line up on either side of the river and explain how and why they made that choice. They take a position, literally and figuratively, which is, of course, what philosophers do.

A PHILOSOPHY DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Junior philosophers paint a river to be used as an intellectual exercise. They make a choice, then line up on either side of the river and explain how and why they made that choice. They take a position, literally and figuratively, which is, of course, what philosophers do.

Plato (above left) and Aristotle (above right) have plenty to say to children, too. At Hume House, staffers have figured out how to channel those messages and make them meaningful to rambunctious 3- and 4-year-olds.

There’s a small, unassuming, black-and-white photograph of the late Fred Rogers on a hallway wall in Hume House, a preschool and child-development research center on the westernmost edge of the Rollins College campus. 

The 1990 photo was taken during a visit to the center by the beloved Rollins grad, whose revolutionary PBS show for young children, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, represented a one-man crusade to nurture their pilgrim hearts and minds — and to buffer both from the cacophony of the modern world. 

In the photograph, Mr. Rogers sits in a chair encircled by children. He wears one of his trademark cardigans and beams with that front-porch glow of attentive delight the presence of children always inspired in him. 

Something akin to that expression would surely cross his face if he could see what the old neighborhood is up to these days.

Guided by a multidisciplinary research team, Rollins students have been introducing preschoolers to the wisdom of the ancients, using traditional early-education activities to examine concepts that great philosophers sought to bring to early civilization: fairness, bravery, self-control, civility. It’s part of a multitasking enterprise meant to plant thoughtful seeds in both the younger and the older students.

Five years ago, as part of an initiative to incorporate elbow grease into the liberal arts, Rollins philosophy professor Erik Kenyon was asked to add a community outreach component to his classes.

Kenyon, a youngish 38-year-old with striking blue eyes and a preppy haircut, is more likely to be taken for a student rather than a philosophy professor as he rides his bike to and from classes. In truth he is an old soul by association, so thoroughly marinated in ancient and medieval philosophy that a student once described him to me as “Aristotle reincarnated.”

Well, it’s one thing to channel Greek philosophers to a captive classroom audience. It’s another to trot your musty Hellenic homeboys around off campus. The notion seemed idealistic to Kenyon. Or as he put it: “I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do? Save the whales?’” 

Then he remembered the work of colleagues elsewhere who developed the so-called “P4C” educational program. P4C stands for “philosophy for children” and consists of a series of lesson plans that can be used to introduce grade-school students to rudimentary philosophical concepts.  

In 2015, Kenyon began incorporating P4C ideas into classes that called for his students to develop child-oriented philosophy lessons as part of their studies — then take them on the road. Things went smoothly when they worked with students at nearby elementary schools. 

With preschoolers, not so much. Nothing in Augustine’s dialogues or Plato’s pedagogy addresses the existential realities of trying to engage a tribe of rambunctious 3- and 4-year-olds with lesson plans designed for elementary school students. 

Hume House director Diane Terorde-Doyle (left), philosophy professor Eric Kenyon (center) and psychologist Sharon Carnahan (right) devised a program for preschoolers based on P4C (philosophy for children) principles.

“There was a lot of running away and hiding in corners,” says Kenyon, of his team’s first visit to Hume House. “It was a disaster.” He looked to the center’s director, Diane Terorde-Doyle, and Rollins psychology professor and longtime Hume House crusader Sharon Carnahan for help.

“Children at this age think with their bodies,” offered Terorde-Doyle. Yet, added Carnahan, they’re perfectly capable of grasping abstractions: “They’re stone experts on friendship.”

So, hoping to connect with preschoolers on their own turf, the team began developing lesson plans rooted in physical activities; sharpened them to revolve around ethics, the branch of philosophy that addresses relationships and behavior; and focused on questions that addressed daily life from a preschool perspective — such as, “what makes a family?”

An obvious ingredient volunteered by the children in discussions one day was “love.” Then a little girl added a wise-beyond-her-years distinction.  

“I agree that if there is a family, there is love,” she said. “But I disagree that if there is love, it has to be in a family.”

The moment convinced Kenyon the project was on track. “That’s the kind of thing that a college logic course wouldn’t get to around to until week four,” he says. 

Overall, the effort prompted such a shift of perspective at Hume House that, this year, the three researchers published a book about their efforts, Ethics for the Very Young.

The book includes outlines of lesson plans meant to encourage children to “listen, think, and respond” in order to navigate their way through questions such as: What is bravery? What is a friend? What makes something fair or unfair? How do I agree, or disagree, with dignity?

All it takes is a quick visit to a couple of internet chat rooms to see that the culture at large could use a few lesson plans on that last one. 


Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

DUCK/RABBIT

I usually draw a blank whenever anyone asks me where I get my inspiration. But here, I find myself on safe ground. This poem came directly from the “duck/rabbit” drawing by Wittgenstein, the one he used to illustrate for his philosophy students the nature of puns and conundrums, where only one of two aspects can be apprehended at a time. You can see the duck, or you can see the rabbit, but not both simultaneously. My riff on the drawing turned out to be a sonnet, but not the love kind. Quite the opposite.

Duck/Rabbit

The lamb may lie down with the lion,
But they will never be as close as this pair
Who share the very lines
Of their existence, whose overlapping is their raison d’être.
How strange and symbolic the binds
That make one disappear
Whenever the other is spied.
Throw the duck a stare,
And the rabbit hops down his hole.
Give the rabbit the eye,
And the duck waddles off the folio.
Say, these could be our mascots, you and I —

I could look at you forever
And never see the two of us together.


Billy Collins is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College. He served as U.S. Poet Laureate (2001–03) and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. “Duck/Rabbit” originally appeared in Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins © 1998. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Photo by Suzannah Gilman

A VERY AGREEABLE BIG IDEA

The City of Culture and Art, genteel as it may appear, is rife with factions. Much of the rancor plays out over social media and in alarming flyers that appear in mailboxes around election time. In Winter Park, of course, that’s every year.

Disagreements over what should be done — or what should not be done — to keep Winter Park charming, beautiful, unique and family friendly are what prompt everything from heated but informed dialogue (healthy) to propagation of outright conspiracy theories (unhealthy).

Big ideas are usually controversial, especially here. Which is why philanthropist Steve Goldman and his nascent Winter Park Land Trust have already accomplished something improbable but important: They’ve proposed a big idea that virtually everyone seems to support.

In late February, I attended a launch event for the land trust that attracted more than 300 people to the Winter Park Farmers’ Market on New York Avenue. 

There I saw developers and preservationists, politicians and activists, newcomers and old-timers. Some of the people who showed up disagree with one another about almost everything, except this: The Winter Park Land Trust is an idea whose time has come.

The land trust is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is “to plan, finance and manage the acquisition of land and interests in land to be used for the creation, expansion, improvement and connection of parkland and green space within and adjacent to the City of Winter Park.”

Goldman — a committed doer not known for embracing Quixotic or symbolic campaigns — has floated the notion among community members and elected officials for years. Now, he and a diverse volunteer board of trustees have made it a reality.

Such organizations work. There are more than 1,200 similarly structured land trusts across the U.S., and about 20 statewide. The concept, then, isn’t new; it’s just new to Central Florida. 

And its rollout comes on the heels of Winter Park’s 2016 visioning exercise, through which residents indicated that improving, expanding and connecting the city’s urban parks and green space should be a major priority.

But cities — even affluent ones like Winter Park — don’t always have the resources (or the foresight) to acquire and hold land for preservation. That’s why it was significant that Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight spoke at the kickoff event, expressing his enthusiasm for working with the new organization.

Chris Castro, director of sustainability for the City of Orlando and a land trust board member, told the crowd that the organization — if it’s successful — could be the first of many in the region that could collaborate and create a network of parks and protected open space.

Representatives from The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Florida also spoke, as did Winter Park native Hannah Miller, a land trust board member who recalled that the city’s iconic natural places “shaped my childhood and who I am today — and they define the quality of life in our community.”

Goldman says the land trust will make an impact if enough people care and get involved. “It’s our hope that word will spread, and many residents will become members,” he said.

Consider the word spread. It’s well worth your while to visit winterparklandtrust.org and find out how you can help. Certainly, we can agree on that much.

Randy Noles
CEO/Editor/Publisher
randyn@winterparkpublishing.com

 


 

Collins, shown here on the front porch of Osceola Lodge, home to the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College, thinks of his “writing self” as an altogether different person. That self, he notes, is “monastic, detached, doesn’t have a job — he drinks tea and I drink coffee.”

I’m pleased to announce that Billy Collins has joined us as a contributor. Wait, did I just write that sentence? Yes, I did — and it’s true. The bestselling author, former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate, member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College has agreed to mine his catalogue of poetry, share his favorites and discuss their inspiration in a column called “The Poem.” I always thought Winter Park Magazine could say it had truly arrived only when Billy’s byline appeared somewhere in its pages. And now it does.

Speaking of contributors, some of my favorite Winter Park Magazine covers have been painted by the incomparable Henry Peter. This issue’s cover is an image that Henry shared last year. I wanted to use it, but it was vertically shaped and would have required cropping. Most artists, understandably, don’t care for cropping. Recently, I gave Cap’n Dan’s Boat Tour another look and couldn’t resist. I decided to ask for Henry’s permission to tinker. “OK, you can crop it,” Henry said. “But if you do, please run the full image inside the magazine so people can see the original.” Done: Here’s the painting as it looked before being altered to fit the cover. I think you’ll agree that it’s a perfect spring image either way.

Cap’n Dan’s Boat Tour by Henry Peter

Photo by Suzannah Gilman

THE BLUES

When I showed this poem to a friend, he said I should have stopped after the fourth line. I suppose that would have made a point, but I wanted the poem to continue so it could develop the way a blues song does: the repetition, the wait, then the resolution in the last two lines. Many fans have favorites when it comes to blues lines; these days I like, “Nobody loves me but my mother, and she might be jiving too.”

THE BLUES

Much of what is said here
must be said twice,
a reminder that no one
takes an immediate interest in the pain of others.

Nobody will listen, it would seem,
if you simply admit
your baby left you this morning
and didn’t even stop to say good-bye.

But if you sing it again
with the help of the band
which will now lift you to a higher,
more ardent, and beseeching chord,

people will not only listen;
they will shift to the empathetic
edges of their chairs,
moved to such acute anticipation

by that chord and the delay that follows,
they will not be able to sleep
unless you release with one finger
a scream from the throat of your guitar,

turn your head back to the microphone,
and let them know
you’re a hard-hearted man
but that woman’s sure to make you cry.


Billy Collins is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College. He served as U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-03) and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. “The Blues” originally appeared in The Art of Drowning by Billy Collins, © 1995. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Photo by Suzannah Gilman

A major expansion at Enzian was scuttled due to parking issues, But that disappointment won’t prevent the Florida Film Festival, an Oscar-qualifying, 180-film extravaganza, from having another stellar year.

ARTS EVENTS PUT A SPRING IN MY STEP

A major expansion at Enzian was scuttled due to parking issues, But that disappointment won’t prevent the Florida Film Festival, an Oscar-qualifying, 180-film extravaganza, from having another stellar year.

Don’t get me wrong: Spring is great. I assume people who live in other latitudes are still writing poems about it. So it’s not spring, it’s me. Once I moved to Florida, things between us went south. 

It was, after all, a love-hate relationship: The more I hated winter, the more I fantasized about spring. Now we have a healthier arrangement. I don’t long for the season, I look forward to it, and not out of desperation but because of four sensible circles on my calendar.

Spring brings the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival, the Orlando Museum of Art’s Florida Prize in Contemporary Art exhibition and, my personal favorite, the Florida Film Festival.

The art festival, which finished up last month, turns Park Avenue into a curated, open-air celebration of what can happen when paint, clay, fiber, glass, wood, metal, digital wizardry and various other mediums meet up with the imagination of artists from all over the country.  

The Fringe, a two week-long throwback to traveling-minstrel days, brings dozens of solitary performers and small theatrical troupes from Central Florida and around the world to Loch Haven Park and several nearby venues. This year’s edition of the wildest and wooliest event on the cultural calendar is May 14-27.

The newcomer on my list, in its sixth year, is OMA’s Florida Prize (May 31-August 18), which takes advantage of the impressive array of great contemporary artists in this state. It provides a cash prize and a much-needed showcase for their creations as well as an aesthetic booster-shot for a once-stodgy museum. 

But I’m a sucker, most of all, for the Florida Film Festival, an Oscar-qualifying 10-day, 180-film extravaganza headquartered at the charming Enzian Theater, an iconic Central Florida institution at 1300 Orlando Avenue. 

It has been a tough year for the cabaret-style art-cinema house and outdoor bar. Hidden away on a leafy enclave just beneath the southwest shore of Lake Maitland, it’s the next best thing to a living room filled with intelligent friends and a wide-screen TV tuned to a station worth watching.

The nonprofit theater’s owners had hoped for years to expand the venue from one screen to three to bring in more films and film-buff events. But the plan had to be scrapped, not for lack of enthusiasm and funding, but because of a strategic issue involving parking. 

Discouraging? Of course. But something tells me that the 28th annual festival, slated April 12-21, will represent a memorable rebound for Enzian and its legions of fans. The film schedule and celebrity guests hadn’t been announced at press time, but presumably by now you are suitably wowed.

I’ve always wondered why no one has ever made a film about how the place came to be. It would make a great entry in the festival’s documentary category. 

Enzian owes its existence to the Tiedtke family, whose scion, the late John Tiedtke, held numerous posts at Rollins College as a teacher, administrator and trustee. 

He was also a patron of virtually every arts organization in Central Florida, and best friends with another powerhouse arts cultivator and colleague, Hugh McKean, president of the college and co-founder, with his wife Jeannette Genius McKean, of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.

Tiedtke’s wife was straight out of a fairy tale. Her name was Sylvia Southard, and she was the stepdaughter of an Austrian Prince, Alfred Hohenlohe. She grew up shuttling back and forth between Vienna and the family’s castle, Schloss Friedstein, high in the Austrian Alps. 

In February 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close, her family sent her away to a German city that they hoped would be a safe haven: 

Dresden. Sylvia’s train arrived in the city just as the infamous Allied carpet bombing of the city began. Tens of thousands died. 

Sylvia was buried beneath wreckage but miraculously survived. She met her future husband after the war, while visiting relatives in Winter Park. The couple married in 1948 and had two children, Philip and Tina, who enjoyed childhood visits to the castle that was part of their mother’s inheritance.

In 1985, when Tina took up the cause of creating an alternative movie house for Orlando, her father gave her the seed money for it. But her mother’s heritage is celebrated everywhere you look.

A fountain near the entrance is a reproduction of one that’s in the courtyard at Schloss Friedstein. The Eden Bar, next to the lobby, is named after an exclusive nightspot in Vienna. And the theater itself is named after an Alpine flower.

It’s a beautiful bloom, though not as widely known as its cousin, edelweiss. It’s also something of a rarity — just like my favorite movie theater.  


For more information about the Florida Film Festival, visit floridafilmfestival.com. Michael McLeod (mmcleod@floridamedia.com) is an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College. 

Steve Goldman has spent the past two years recruiting a board of teachers, writers, civic leaders and environmentalists to form the Winter Park Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Keeping the ‘Park’ in Winter Park.”

A LAND TRUST, NATURALLY

Steve Goldman has spent the past two years recruiting a board of teachers, writers, civic leaders and environmentalists to form the Winter Park Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Keeping the ‘Park’ in Winter Park.” Photo by Rafael Tongol

As a writer I’m usually the one asking the questions, which is my excuse for being so flat-footed when local philanthropist Steve Goldman flipped the tables last time I saw him, wondering: “If you wanted to have a picnic in Winter Park, where would you go?”

My half-hearted answer — “Maybe find a spot at Rollins College?” — only served to make his point: Winter Park, aside from Mead Garden, doesn’t have enough natural places for a picnic basket, a couple of folding chairs, and a measure of peace and quiet for thee and me.  

It’s a vacuum Goldman means to address. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t successful. 

I’ve written so many stories about Goldman’s philanthropic efforts on behalf of arts, science and education that we’ve become friends. An inventor at heart, he made his fortune designing technology that accelerates disc drives. In 2000 he sold his company and began devoting his time to addressing worthy causes.

The annual National Young Composers Challenge he created brings teenaged prodigies from all over the country to Orlando to glean feedback about their creative efforts and hear their compositions played by a professional orchestra.

The more than 100 free “Why U” animated on-line tutorials he scripted help students around the world develop a deeper understanding of math and science.

Now he’s turning his attention to wide-open spaces — or, rather, their dearth. 

Goldman has spent the past two years recruiting a board — to which I belong — of teachers, writers, civic leaders and environmentalists to form the Winter Park Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Keeping the ‘Park’ in Winter Park.”

A kickoff party for both members and anyone who’s interested in the effort will be held at the Winter Park Farmers’ Market on February 28 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

Public land trusts help to identify, acquire and preserve land for the common good. The notion of forming one in Winter Park has been germinating in Goldman’s mind for quite some time now. 

Blame San Francisco. 

Goldman lived there for years and developed a love affair with the city’s sprawling Golden Gate Park — which, at roughly three miles long and a half-mile wide, is even bigger than New York City’s Central Park. The peace and quiet the park offered — the enrichment of the area’s quality of life — made an indelible impression on him.

I need to recalibrate my own mental disc drive pretty much every time I have a conversation with Goldman, as I did when this land trust idea first started coming up and he was suddenly talking about how great it would be if Orlando Executive Airport could be turned into a park.

I’m thinking like that will ever happen while he’s calmly explaining that as the city continues to grow there may well be a time when three miles east of downtown Orlando is no longer an optimum location for an airport. Combined with other city-owned properties in the area it could give way to a 1,200-acre park — larger than either Golden Gate or Central Park.

Imagine it.

“That’s one of the reasons you need a land trust,” says Goldman. “It’s to get people thinking long-term. If you have a long enough horizon, you can accomplish a lot.”

He continues: “There aren’t a lot of land trusts in Florida. There are a lot of conservation efforts in the state based on scientific arguments about protecting the environment. You can make those arguments pretty easily. But no one ever seems to focus on quality of life. That’s something you can’t put a number on.”

It is, however, something you can start talking about. And there’s some land in Winter Park that Goldman would like to bring into the conversation right away. 

It’s a rambling swath surrounding Howell Creek just north of Howell Branch Road, where the city is in the process of buying sections of wetlands, clearing debris and rehabilitating the ecosystem. Goldman sees potential for linking adjacent stretches to expand 10.4-acre Howell Branch Preserve. 

Apart from providing a forum to discuss possibilities such as that, he says a land trust can provide peace of mind to private citizens who would like to bequeath property for park space to the community:  

“Sometimes people are hesitant to leave their property to the city because priorities can change. That’s where a land trust comes in. That’s what that word means — trust.’’

Something else you can’t put a number on. 

Plan to come to the kickoff event and check out winterparklandtrust.org for more information. 


Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

Illustration by Dana Summers

THE MILLION-DOLLAR MILE

Illustration by Dana Summers

My family’s first night in Winter Park, 52 years ago this summer, was at a Holiday Inn at the corner of Lee Road and U.S. 17-92. The furniture for our house in Dommerich Estates hadn’t arrive yet, so we checked in and dined at Lum’s, a hot dog chain across the street, where Boston Market now stands. 

The three-year-old Winter Park Mall — only the fourth air-conditioned indoor mall in Florida, anchored by J.C. Penny’s and Ivey’s — was across the street. Even more than a half-century ago, I don’t recall that stretch of U.S. 17-92 being called the Million-Dollar Mile very often.

But in the 1930s and 1940s, middle-class families were flocking to more modest accommodations — including dozens of tourist cottages — along the stretch of highway that now boasts Trader Joe’s and dozens of other upscale shopping centers, some of which back up to a well-hidden Lake Killarney.

And by the 1950s, Winter Park was home to the swank and swinging Langford Resort Hotel, where the Empire Room supper club epitomized Rat Pack culture.

So it was a stroll down Memory Lane, if not the Million-Dollar Mile, when I visited the Winter Park History Museum to conduct interviews for an in-depth story on its current exhibition, Wish You Were Here: The Hotels & Motels of Winter Park. It runs through March of 2020, and the story runs in the next issue of Winter Park Magazine.

The cozy museum space, tucked into the old depot where the Farmers’ Market is now held — is packed with sometimes-kitschy ephemera from the city’s classic motels — including a re-created 1950s-style guest room using authentic furnishings, right down to the matchbooks and the Gideon Bible in the end-table drawer. 

Also examined are the luxurious resort hotels that attracted monied Northerners to Winter Park in the late 1880s. There’s even a re-imagined Victorian-era children’s playroom of the sort where guests of the posh Seminole Hotel or Alabama Hotel might have stashed their youngsters while they were out boating.

A nostalgic highlight of the exhibition is the original piano from the Empire Room as well as the hotel’s poolside bar from which untold gallons of tropical drinks were served. And take time to read the wall panels, which are dense with vintage photographs and meticulously researched descriptions.

Linda Kulmann, the museum’s archivist and past board president, wrote the panels, which range from histories of early boarding houses to a locator map of mom-and-pop motels once located along the Million-Dollar Mile. 

“There was a lively cultural and arts scene that seemed to attract people here,” says Kulmann when asked why visitors would choose a small inland city instead of heading to the beach. “But also, families from up north built long-term relationships with the motel owners and just kept coming back. Some of it was probably familiarity.”

Susan Skolfield, the museum’s executive director, says artifacts on display for the exhibition were donated or loaned. The Langford piano, for example, was loaned by the family that purchased it at auction when the hotel closed.

“Because our space is small, every item must mean something,” adds Skolfield, who says more than 20 volunteers began scouting for materials a year in advance of the exhibition’s opening. “We’re always creating as we go along.” 

Kudos all around. The exhibition is wonderful and reinforces my impression that the Winter Park History Museum does more with fewer resources — the considerable talents of Skolfield and the museum’s legion of volunteers notwithstanding — than just about any organization in town.

Individually owned motels became cookie-cutter corporate properties designed to resemble downtown hotels. Holiday Inn, where we stayed decades ago, was an early example of such a franchise. Quality standards may have become more predictable, but the quirky charm of motel architecture from the 1920s through the 1950s was lost forever. 

The Langford, located at the corner of New England and Interlachen avenues, was closed in 2000 and demolished in 2003. The upscale Alfond Inn, developed by Rollins College, now occupies this choice real estate.

These developments, along with the construction of Interstate 4 and the arrival of Disney World — which spurred construction of countless hotels on and around the attraction — led to the decline and, by the 1990s, the demise of motor courts along U.S. Highway 17-92. 

“The small, family-owned motels, where friends meet on vacations and return year after year to the same kitchenettes and swimming pools, may soon go the way of downtown grocery stores and 35-cent gas,” wrote the Orlando Sentinel in 1979. “For the remaining ‘ma and pa’ motels along U.S. Highway 17-92 in Winter Park, the future appears bleak.”

When the iconic Mount Vernon Inn (110 South Orlando Avenue) was razed in 2015, Winter Park lost the last remnant of motel culture along the Million-Dollar Mile.

Today, the seven-figure moniker is more appropriate, although the dollar amount would need to increase by orders of magnitude to remain accurate. But Wish You Were Here does what the museum does best — it picks important but often-overlooked aspects of the city’s history and tells it like it was.

For a place that bills itself as the City of Culture and Heritage, the City of Winter Park’s support of the “heritage” part of the equation is minimal. Luckily, we have visionary people — we’ve always had people like that — who make certain we remember that Winter Park has always been special.

Although growth and change are inevitable, reminders of days gone by, like Wish You Were Here, are reminders that it’s up to us to keep it that way. 

Randy Noles,
CEO/Editor/Publisher
randyn@winterparkpublishing.com

 

Illustration by Dana Summers

A Stylish Biography

A lifelong fashionista and a legendary philanthropist, Harriett Lake died at age 96, just a few weeks before the Florida Historical Society published Kristina Tollefson and Jodi Ozimek’s lively account of a life well lived.

Eleven years ago, Kristina Tollefson set out to investigate an urban legend. Nothing like, say, a Yeti being sighted in Mead Botanical Garden. Tollefson’s specialty is costuming, not creepiness, and she was intrigued by stories she’d heard of a wealthy fashionista in her 80s who had hoarded every article of clothing she’d ever owned — all of it stashed away in a fabled, oversized closet in her Longwood mansion.  

Tollefson is an associate professor and resident costume and makeup designer at the University of Central Florida’s School of Performing Arts. The fashionista was Harriett Lake, a flamboyant matriarch beloved for her brassy, larger-than life personality, renowned for her generosity to charities, and envied for both her gaudy, extensive wardrobe and her oversized closet — make that “closets” — including one so jampacked that it was equipped with a dry-cleaner conveyor-belt system.

What Tollefson had in mind was the chance to meet Lake and study her collection for costuming ideas. What happened instead was that she became a regular visitor to the fabled closets — and a friend, biographer and ad hoc wardrobe assistant to their proprietor. 

“I’d get voicemails from her — I actually have a couple of them saved — that said, ‘Call Harriett! I need your help!’ When I called her back, she’d say, ‘Oh, thank God! Do you know where that black satin skirt with the wide waistband and the crinoline underneath is?’ Or, ‘I can’t find that black fabric flower. That one I usually wear with the Ferragamo cape.’ Or, ‘You know that blouse and skirt I wear under the peach Adrienne Landau? I can’t find them anywhere!’” 

And so it went until June, when Lake died at the age of 96, just a few weeks before the Florida Historical Society published Too Much Is Not Enough: The History in Harriett’s Closet. 

It’s a lavishly illustrated, 550-page tribute by Tollefson and co-author Jodi Ozimek that encompasses both the evolution of Lake’s sense of style and the roots of her passion for humanitarian causes, which she shared with her husband, Orlando developer and entrepreneur Hymen Lake, who died in 2010. 

Sections of the book, which carries a cover price of $95, are devoted to full-page photos of signature designer ensembles from the ’60s through the ’90s, mined from the closets, styled under their owner’s watchful eye and accompanied by a typically laconic Lake quote. (One tart example, printed alongside a photo of a delicately ruffled white satin dress: “Harriett’s Fashion Week in Winter Park. How did that start? They needed money. Isn’t that how everything starts?”)

But the best part of the book is the biography. Tollefson had indeed stumbled onto a legend — and found herself caught up in the enterprise of separating myth from reality, fiction from fact. A few examples:

No, Lake did not hoard every stitch of clothing she ever owned. She did, however, have more than 5,000 hanging items, 1,600 hats and 450 pairs of shoes — nearly all of which she donated to be sold off for charities before she died.

No, although he did wear an inexpensive Kmart-purchased watch instead of a bejeweled Rolex, as his wife would have preferred, Hymen Lake wasn’t a cheapskate, as many had whispered. When it came to social causes, his spirit of generosity paralleled hers.  

He had grown up in poverty. Many of his neighbors in the Chicago tenement where his family lived were black. After building the residential development in south Orlando that would make him a fortune in the ’60s, he became one of the first to sell a home to an African-American family at a time when few of his cohorts had the moral courage to risk “white flight” from their subdivisions.

No, Harriett wasn’t just a showoff. Quite the contrary, she was afraid of attracting too much attention. That’s why so many things she funded — playgrounds, boutiques for woman recovering from breast surgery, the new home for the Orlando Ballet, the lavish ladies’ bathroom at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts  — are simply known by her first name, at her request. 

No, she did not track down Coco Chanel and cut backroom deals for first dibs on prime ensembles (I’d heard that rumor myself).  She did, however, once approach a total stranger who was carrying an Anne-Marie Champagne Bucket handbag and offer to buy it from her on the spot. Its owner declined — at first. 

“I’ll give you a thousand dollars for it,” said Lake.

Replied the woman: “Let’s find a shopping bag I can dump all my stuff into.”


Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

Illustration by Dana Summers

The Quality Revolutionary

From his home base in Winter Park, Philip B. Crosby impacted businesses all over the world. Each week, hundreds of corporate bigwigs traveled here to learn about his approach to quality improvement, which he described in 1979’s Quality is Free.

When Winter Park Publishing Company LLC moved its offices last year, we found ourselves occupying a building in which I had worked 35 years before — for perhaps the most interesting and impactful small business that ever hung out a shingle in this town.

If memory serves, although the interior of 201 West Canton Avenue has been reconfigured, I’m now sitting in the former office of my erstwhile boss — a man whom I count as a personal hero, and whose philosophy has for decades guided how I approach work.

The business was Philip Crosby Associates (PCA). In the company’s heyday, when major American manufacturers were fighting to overcome the perception — the reality, in fact — that their products were inferior to those made overseas, it was Crosby, an internationally known business philosopher, whose guidance was sought by beleaguered executives.

Each week, hundreds of corporate bigwigs from around the country — and around the world — traveled to Winter Park to attend Crosby’s “Quality College” for five days of lectures from and discussions with the man who had written the 1979 business bestseller Quality is Free and had invented the concept of “zero defects” in manufacturing.

Crosby was entertaining and inspirational — although he despised comparisons to motivational speakers. One trade publication described him as “the fun uncle of the quality revolution,” which was a clever if incomplete descriptor. This fun uncle had been worldwide vice president for quality at ITT.

 As PCA grew, and bright young acolytes were trained to teach his concepts, Crosby began holding impromptu confabs with Quality College attendees, for whom he was something of a rock star. “Quality can’t be controlled,” Crosby would proclaim. “It has to be caused, starting at the top.”  

This was important stuff for American industry. But it was also important for Winter Park. First, it showcased the city to countless influencers, many of whom undoubtedly returned for more leisurely visits with their families. 

Every day, Quality College attendees lunched en masse at Park Avenue restaurants. Rooms at the Mount Vernon Inn were booked solid for months in advance. Crosby — who looked like Teddy Roosevelt in a power suit — lavished patronage on hundreds of local vendors, all of whom were proud to be selected by a company synonymous with the best of everything.

Of course, the word “quality” meant something different to Crosby than it did to most of us. To him, quality meant simply conformance to requirements — whatever those requirements might be. A Chevette that met all the requirements of a Chevette was every bit as much a quality car as a Cadillac that met all the requirements of a Cadillac.

Further, he preached, it was always cheaper to “do it right the first time” than to assume, as most American companies did, that errors would invariably occur. The expense of implementing a zero-defects policy would always be recouped, he contended, by eliminating waste and do-overs.

PCA eventually came to employ some 300 people, all of them well paid and even pampered. Top executives drove company Cadillacs (General Motors was a major client) and everyone from the custodian to the COO believed that they were performing both a job and a patriotic service.

But, when I joined, PCA hadn’t yet reached those heights. I had written a story about Crosby for a local newspaper, and he seemed impressed that I appeared to understand his message. Would I be interested in coming to work for him and starting a company newspaper?

Not a newsletter, he emphasized. A real weekly newspaper, like a small city would have, with stories about the company and its people. I thought about it — for about 10 seconds. A few weeks later, I was editor of This Week at PCA — a tabloid with an initial press run of about 45 copies. The boss even gave me a nickname: “Scoop.”

PCA had a remarkable run, surviving economic downturns and flavor-of-the-month management trends. But it couldn’t survive Alexander Proudfoot PLC, a U.K.-based consultancy that bought the company in 1989 and ran it into the ground. 

Crosby rescued the company’s remnants in 1997. But he died at age 75 in 2001, before he could complete his reclamation project.

There’s still a Philip Crosby Associates in Boston, but the latest iteration seemingly has no website and several calls succeeded only in reaching an automated voicemail service.

I like to think Phil would enjoy Winter Park Magazine. I expect he would appreciate the fact we strive (not always successfully) to eliminate defects and do it right the first time.

Randy Noles
CEO/Editor/Publisher
randyn@winterparkpublishing.com

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