The Golden Age of Hotels
Loring Chase and Oliver Chapman knew that it was of great importance to build hotels to attract the wealthy, winter trade from the northeast. It was hoped that when the vacationers arrived by train, viewed the beautiful surroundings and enjoyed the moderate weather, they might also want to purchase Winter Park property and become invested in the city’s future. To that end the founders set aside three elevated, five-acre lakefront lots for large first-class hotels: the Virginia Inn, Seminole Hotel and the Alabama.
Rogers House – Virginia Inn
As with the settlement of many towns, the train station was the first city building. The second building constructed in Winter Park was the Rogers House, a boarding house located on the southeast corner of Morse and Interlachen on Lake Osceola. The hotel opened with a gala dinner party attended by seven guests. Mr. Chase considered this meal on April 8, 1882 to be the official beginning of Winter Park and this “founding” date was adopted by the city as well.
In 1904, Mr. Charles Hosmer Morse purchased the Rogers House for $7000 and renamed it the Seminole Inn. The Inn was again enlarged with the addition of steam heat and electric lighting. A description of the Inn from that era states: “Three minutes walk from the depot — surrounded by piney woods and orange groves, light, airy rooms commanding magnificent lake views, pure spring water and a lake full of fish. You will not be disappointed.”
In 1915 it was sold for $20,000 and renamed the Virginia Inn. It remained an inn until 1966 when the building was torn down to build the Cloisters Condominiums.
The Seminole Hotel was built in 1886 at the eastern end of New England Avenue on Lake Osceola. The hotel was a five-story, 200-room structure and cost $150,000 to build and furnish. When completed, the Seminole was the largest hotel in Florida. A mule-drawn trolley line down the middle of New England Avenue was used to transport hotel guests from the train depot. The Seminole Hotel boasted “That more millionaires and beauties were gathered on its piazzas than any other space in Florida.” More than 400 people attended the grand opening banquet and ball gala on January 1, 1886. That first winter season there were more than 2300 registered guests. The hotel offered croquet grounds, tennis courts, billiard room, bowling alley, an orchestra, fishing, rowboats, sailboats and two steam yachts.
In 1889, visitors included H. M. Flagler, William Rockefeller, and President Grover Cleveland. In 1890, the hotel celebrated Washington’s birthday by featuring a greased pig race, a slow mule race and a climbing contest of a greased pole suspended over Lake Osceola.
On September 18, 1902, a fire started in the kitchen annex and quickly spread throughout the hotel. Since the hotel was not yet open for the season, there were few people around but extensive damage resulted as the caretaker couldn’t work the firehoses. The one fire fatality was a west Winter Park man who perished attempting to rescue furnishings from the hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel was underinsured and a decision was made not to rebuild on this property. Instead, the property was sold for residential lots.
A new Seminole Hotel was built on the western shore of Lake Osceola in 1913. The hotel was situated on the eastern end of Webster Avenue that is now Kiwi Circle. The hotel sold for $250,000 in 1970 and was torn down to make way for residential development.
Investors for the Alabama Hotel found the perfect hotel spot but there was a residence already built there. So the hotel owners bought the property from Mr. W. C. Temple and moved his home down the street.
The Alabama Hotel was built in 1921 on a hill overlooking Lake Maitland on Alabama Drive. It was built in the California Mission style and featured a private beach, boats, phones in the rooms and steam heat. It was renowned for its excellent cuisine and service. In 1979, the Alabama Hotel was converted into condominiums.
The Alabama remains today as well as the W.C. Temple home and out buildings at 1700 Alabama Drive, including the original barn, garage and refectory. As a side note, Mr. Temple was part owner of the Pittsburg Pirates baseball team and the famous Temple orange, developed in Winter Park, is named after him.
The Hamilton Hotel is the only hotel situated on Park Avenue and was built in the 1920s. It was the first hotel in Winter Park to have a bathroom with each guest room. The price of a room in 1941 was $2.50 a day. It exists now as the Park Plaza Hotel, a European style boutique hotel with 27 rooms. The hotel received the Winter Park Beautification Award for its 1932 balcony.
The Langford Resort Hotel
The 200-room Langford Resort Hotel opened in January of 1956 and was located on East New England Avenue. It was built by Robert Langford, whose family was in the hotel business in Chicago, Illinois. The Langford was Central Florida’s first air-conditioned hotel. The modern design of the hotel included the Empire Room, a famed supper club that featured nightclub acts from around the country and the Tree Top Room used for dances and banquets. The Langford also featured a 75-foot swimming pool that was a favorite gathering spot of local residents as well as hotel guests. Surrounding the pool was lush foliage, a petting zoo and a variety of tropical birds.
Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy spent their 25th wedding anniversary at the Langford. Eleanor Roosevelt was also a hotelguest. Mamie Eisenhower visited several times and needed an entire floor to accommodate the 17-person Secret Service detail. Walt Disney was a guest in the 1960s while scouting the area for a location for his theme park.
The Langford Hotel closed on May 30, 2000, with a farewell party sponsored by the Winter Park Historical Association. It was attended by Robert Langford. Mr. Langford died on March 31, 2001, at age 88. He played tennis every other day at noon until three years before his death. In addition to providing Winter Park with an outstanding hotel, Robert Langford donated land for the both the construction of the Winter Park Library and for the campus of the University of Central Florida.