A Walking Tour of Downtown Winter Park – Orlando’s Lake District

Just a few minutes north of downtown Orlando awaits Winter Park, a charming picturesque suburb steeped in history. After my excursion on the Scenic Boat Tour, my local expert Wanda Salerno took me on a little walk through town past beautiful historic neighbourhoods.

Mansion in Winter Park

With is origins as a citrus growing region, Winter Park became a major destination for wealthy northerners during the early 1900s, who came into town by train to reach their elegant winter retreats, seeking shelter from the cold winters of the north. Elegant mansions and and stately old oak trees draped with Spanish moss bear witness to this historic era.

Shops along downtown Park Avenue

Wanda then took me through some of Winter Park’s hidden courtyards, which are filled with specialty retail stores and galleries. Winter Park features a large variety of galleries and I had a chance to sample three of them, all of which carried vastly different artwork:

Scott Laurent Collections
Native Visions Gallery

Secret courtyards in Winter Park

Our walk took us out on to Winter Park’s main street, Park Avenue, which houses 10 blocks of specialty retailers, galleries and ecclectic restaurants. Park Avenue is flanked on its west side by Central Park which offers a welcome sanctuary of relaxation with its graceful fountain, walking paths and shaded benches.

We then went on to explore Casa Feliz (“Happy House” in Spanish), the signature residential work of renowned architect James Gamble Rogers II.

Casa Feliz

In 1932 Robert Bruce Barbour, a chemical engineer from Massachusetts, commissioned Rogers to design a home on Lake Osceola, which turned out to be the Andalusian-style masonry farmhouse that we see today. This home was not only cherished by Barbour, but by the community as well. Throughout its history, it has hosted garden club tours, symphony orchestra concerts, poetry social meetings and a dinner for author Sinclair Lewis.

Archway at Casa Feliz

In 2001, in order to prevent the house from demolition, Casa Feliz was moved across Interlachen Avenue to its present location on Park Avenue. This move was one of the most dramatic events in Winter Park’s history. Casa Feliz was transported on 20 pneumatically levelled dollies, and an elaborate pulley system moved the house about 75 feet per hour. After the house was in position at its new location, skilled craftsmen worked on restoring it to its original 1933 condition. A special landscape design was commissioned to reflect the style of the era.

Today, Casa Feliz is available to rent for weddings, parties, business meetings and events. Its unique features provide the perfect backdrop for a truly memorable event.

Interior view of Casa Feliz

As a centre of local culture, Winter Park also features three well-known museums:

– the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American art, which holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including Tiffany’s 1893 Chapel. The museum also features paintings, furniture and other works primarily from the late 19th and 20th centuries.

– the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden: 3 acres of gardens, featuring sculptures and painters by Albin Polasek. The museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

– the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, which focuses on western world art of the 20th century and includes paintings, drawings, sculptures and other art from America and Europe. This museum is located at Rollins College, one of the top rated liberal arts colleges in the country.

Flowers adorning Park Avenue

The Winter Park Historical Museum examines various historic time periods, interchanging exhibits and rotating displays highlight some of the changes that have occurred in central Florida.

While I explored the town my husband actually played a round of golf at the 9-hole Winter Park Country Club, which is nestled beautifully inside Winter Park’s historic neighbourhood. The WPCC is the second oldest golf club in the Central Florida area and makes its way through the downtown Winter Park area and provides a challenge to even the most experienced golfer. He enjoyed his outing, and a cost of $12, it was an extremely affordable outing on a well-maintained golf course.

Fountain in Central Park

We capped off our excursion with an enjoyable dinner at a restaurant called 310 Park Avenue, right on Winter Park’s main strip. While a good portion of the Orlando area is very new, Winter Park is a welcome oasis of history and ambience that is perfect for a day of exploring.

For more information on Winter Park contact the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, www.winterpark.org.

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