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Florida's Hidden Gem
by Kimberly Button
YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW much about Lakeland. Located halfway between Tampa and Orlando, the city tends to get overshadowed by its big city neighbors. But this charming central Florida city is full of stellar, if not little-known, attractions, making it a destination all of its own.
From your first glimpse of Lakeland, youll recognize that this city is intent on improving
the quality of life for its residents, not for passersby that will only stay for a few short days. However, that doesnt mean that its not a fabulous tourist destination! Visitors will be pampered and treated like one of Lakelands own in this family-oriented city that has a surprisingly diverse array of arts and cultural attractions, creating a memorable getaway thats loaded with fun and blissfully free of large tourist crowds.
The Wright Stuff
Unbeknownst, it seems, to just about everyone outside of Lakeland is the fact that the city is the surprising home to the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world.
In 1938, Frank Lloyd Wright came to Lakeland at the request of Dr. Ludd Spivey, president of Florida Southern College. Spivey wanted to create a great education temple in Florida, and Wright responded with designs for the Child of the Sun collection built on the colleges campus. Twelve of the originally designed structures were built as classroom buildings, chapels or other structures designed for student and faculty use, including a massive water dome and covered walkways. In fact, these buildings are still in use by students at the college today, though for how long, no one knows. The Wright structures have been placed on the World Monument Fund Watch List of the worlds 100 Most Endangered Sites, in large part because of deterioration of building materials due to Floridas climate and modernization attempts that altered Wrights original designs.
FLORIDA SOUTHERN COLLEGE
High Flying History
While Lakeland is home to the worlds largest collection of Wright architecture, its also the surprising home of another world-class collection about a well-known figure in American history Howard Hughes.
The Howard Hughes Aviation Collection is just one of the displays at The Florida Air Museum, the states official aviation museum and education center. Beating out major universities who also competed for the more than 8,000 items in Hughes personal collection, the Florida Air Museums mission was to ensure that these pieces so closely related to the nations aviation history were accessible to the public.
The Hughes Collection is just a small part of the many displays at this user-friendly museum where guests can get up close and personal with more than 50 aircraft spanning the history of flight. With no ropes or barricades blocking your view, you can peek into the cockpit and imagine what it must have been like to fly these unique planes.
Were a little unique that way, not having any ropes around the aircraft, said Ernie Sanborn, Manager of The Florida Air Museum. We want people to feel as if theyre walking through someones hangar.
Once a year, The Florida Air Museum, which is located in a complex called Sun n Fun, is in the middle of the nations second largest air show, known appropriately as Sun n Fun Fly-In, and the areas small regional airport suddenly becomes the busiest airport in the world during the event. Aviation people know us a lot better than the people of Lakeland, jokes Sanborn.
Regardless of when you visit The Florida Air Museum, youre sure to enjoy a unique encounter with aviation history and aircraft preservation thats not routinely found around the country anymore.
FLORIDA AIR MUSEUM
More one-of-a-kind masterpieces can be discovered at the Polk Museum of Art, located in downtown Lakeland. This small but mighty museum showcases art throughout the ages in eight galleries and a sculpture garden which feature Pre-Columbian, Asian, African and Modern and Contemporary art.
A fun way to buy an original and affordable piece of art at the Polk Museum of Art is through their Art-o-mat. These unique, old-fashioned cigarette vending machines have been repurposed into art vending machines that sell original pieces of art that are tiny enough to fit in a small vending machine box, from canvases and sculpture to dolls and jewlery. Theres only five Art-o-mats in Florida and its great fun to choose an artist, put your coin in the machine and see what comes out.
POLK MUSEUM OF ART
For a real treat, catch a performance at the Polk Theatre, one of only three atmospheric theaters still left in the state and one of only 25 in the country.
The Polk Theatre was originally opened in 1928 as a vaudeville and movie palace. Walking into the historic theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, youll feel as if youre stepping into an Italian Mediterranean village. With a towering façade of beautifully recreated Italian buildings encompassing the stage, the décor is just as fascinating as the show youve come to watch. But wait, theres more. Look up to the ceiling painted a brilliant shade of blue and be captivated by the twinkling stars, aimlessly drifting clouds and sunrise/sunset effects. Sitting in the 1,400 seat Polk Theatre, you know youve stepped back in time to a grander era, reaffirmed when an organist starts playing classic favorites on a 1926 Robert Morgan organ before the show begins.
The Polk Theatre features an eclectic mix of performances, from first-run and classic movies to concerts and other special events. Were trying to appeal to all ages, said Dale Anderson, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Polk Theatre. We want to offer a clean, respectable, good time. Its worth planning your visit to Lakeland around a performance that youd like to see just to be able to experience the grandeur and historical charm of the Polk Theatre.
If youre staying at The Terrace Hotel, then its just a short walk across the street to Hollis Garden, a 1.2 acre formal garden perched on the edge of Lake Mirror. This spectacularly beautiful city-owned garden has 16 distinctive rooms, all with a unique landscaping theme. Especially interesting is the Trees of Americana room, showcasing trees that are descendants of trees in historically significant locations.
From a lily pond and butterfly garden, to a secret hidden grotto and a vegetable garden, theres something for everyone in this tranquil retreat thats open for free to the public.
Just like its well-loved swans that have become a symbol of the city, Lakeland exudes a grace and charm that makes it distinctively unique. After a visit to Lakeland, youll feel like youve discovered a hidden treasure, and thats exactly what this gracious city strives to offer to its welcomed guests.
from the March-April 2011 issue
Florida Southern College chapel
designed by Frank Lloyd Wright