Monday, June 18, 2012

More than the Mouse

I've been thinking about Orlando history quite a bit, as I've been inspired by a new Historic Orlando group on Facebook where wonderful images of the City Beautiful are being posted on a daily basis. A recent derogatory comment about Orlando on the Old Florida page also inspired me to do a mini-photo safari on my bike, to look for local history in my own backyard. So these images aren't up to my normal standards as often times I shot directly into the sun, and I rarely got of my bike to take a picture.

The lion of Lake Como

I started in the Lake Como area because I've always admired this house that was built in 1910 according to the County Appraiser's office. I'm sure when it was completed it was surrounded by orange groves or pasture land for dairy cows.

This house nearby on Lake Arnold also is much older than the houses surrounding it. I have been told it predates the great freeze of 1894. More research needed here.

My next stop was the Executive Airport near Lake Underhill. The airport used to be the Orlando Air Base during WWII. Between the airport and the 408 lies Kittinger Park, named after Orlando resident and aviation pioneer Col. Joe Kittinger.

Col. Kittinger's record-setting parachute jump the edge of space from 76,400 feet in 1959.

Next I peddled to Orlando's vintage bowling alley, Colonial Lanes. I've seen a photo of the great neon sign that used to be out front, now in someone's personal collection. The bar here is quite campy with a pretty awesome selection of classic country hits on the jukebox.

Nearby is a great vintage movie theater that now is a concert venue, the Plaza Theater. The wonderful diamond shaped sign is lit and spins on nights when there is a concert.

Nearby is the "Milk District", recently renamed because of the presence of Central Florida's largest dairy, T.G. Lee. Processing 230,000 gallons of milk a day, the company started with a single cow in 1925.

Across from the dairy, a block of bars and restaurant add a little grooviness to the district. The re-branding of this area has added creativity and youthful energy to an area that was starting to get a little run down.

Bicycle rack made of old skateboard wheels

Shuffleboard outside Sportstown Billiards (not regulation size)

I love it when people decide to move the road instead of removing the tree
Located adjacent to Dickson Azalea Park, the rustic Girl Scout House has been in constant use since 1940. The best example of authentic "Parkitecture"in Orlando.
The grounds of what is now Carl Langford Park, just South of Dickson Azalea Park, were once used as a Tin Can Tourist Camp. I've been told that this church was built to serve the campers' spiritual needs.

Note the stucco siding on the side – the aluminum siding on the front is a contemporary addition.
Tin Can Tourist Camp, State Archives of Florida
From Langford Park I continued towards the 408 to South Street, where the Reeves Terrace housing project is named after Orlando Reeves. Legend has it that Reeves was killed during one of the Seminole Indian Wars in the area, and the town bears his name.  Army rosters of the period, however,  show no soldiers of that name in the area. A more likely explanation for the city's name is that it was taken from a character in a play by Shakespeare.

The commercial archaeologist in me has often wondered if this non-descript brown building was once a drive-thru dairy in the 1950s or '60s. I've recently been told that it was in fact Roberts Dairy Land. Here's a link to see some drive thru dairies in North Florida.

Back on Bumby Avenue, this historic plaque tells the history of one of Orlando's earliest families.

All these sites are a short bike ride away for me, and I'm saving the second half of my ride for another post. There are many things I don't love about about Orlando. I wish it wasn't such a transient community, with people coming and going constantly. I wish there was less traffic.  But those who are so frequently critical of O-town haven't really looked beyond Disney's boundaries to see a beautiful city, with lots of charm and it's own unique history. It's my belief that once you start to learn about a place's history, the more it comes alive for you and before you know it you care about it more. I wish I could make this happen for everyone.

Note: I was also inspired by Jim Crescitelli's bike-riding, photo history blog seen here. Check out his posts featuring great photos and information about lesser known Central Florida history.


  1. Love your post. I live in Downtown Orlando myself— Copeland Park. Our house is a Historic home, a Tudor built in 1925. We are a block off of Orange Avenue by the Hospital. I've lived Downtown since 1995 in several different locations and love it. Very unique. I agree, it's more than just the Mouse, although I love the mouse too. Thanks for sharing your bike tour!

  2. Thanks Melanie- I like your blogs quite a bit!