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By Robin Gibson
Contributing Writer 

Olmsted Heritage: Unrealized Asset

 
Series: Lake Wales Renaissance | Story 12

Last updated 10/7/2020 at 4:17pm

This is the twelfth installment in the Lake Wales Renaissance series. Lake Wales City Commissioner Robin Gibson serves as Deputy Mayor and Chairman of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. is recognized as the founder of the profession of landscape architecture. In the late 1800s he set a standard of excellence that continues to influence landscape architecture today.

His two sons carried on and expanded the legendary work of the Olmsted firm well into the 1900s.

In 1915, the firm did the community plan and landscape design for the Mountain Lake community. In the 1920s and 30s, fellow landscape architect and Olmsted employee, William Lyman Phillips, took up residence in Lake Wales during the firm's creation of what is now known as Bok Tower Gardens. Lesser known is the fact that during that time, the Olmsted firm was also retained to create a landscape plan for the City of Lake Wales.

True to Olmsted principles, the City's design designates neighborhoods by the use of specific plantings and promotes a hierarchy of streets by distinguishing between thoroughfares and local streets. The roads with vistas leading down to the lake are specified with palms while, groupings of oaks are called for around open spaces to create a feel of natural plantings. (A notable example of the quality of the Olmsted work is the design of what is today the Town Clock located in the Marketplace Mall in the center of town.)

The City's effort to implement its plan came to an abrupt halt with the economic impact of the Great Depression in the late 1930s. Nonetheless, the Olmsted documents have been preserved and the plan is available for implementation. Fortunately, events are now coming together to breathe life into the effort.

In the Spring of 2002, Lake Wales' own Alexis Winters, as a senior landscape architecture student at the University of Florida, devoted her Senior Independent Project to bringing the Olmsted plan for Lake Wales into reality. Her dissertation, entitled "Restoring Olmsted's Lake Wales," is based on the original Olmsted documents and remains as an inspiration for completion of Olmsted's vision.

Alexis Winters

Photo of Tillman Avenue, one of the few Lake Wales streets planted according to the Olmsted vision.

Recently, Lake Wales Main Street stepped up to help finance the City's retention of the Dover Kohl & Partners town planning firm for the revitalization of the City's historic core. Dover-Kohl readily incorporated the Olmsted design as part of its overall plan entitled "Lake Wales Connected." The Olmsted segment of the plan also has a significant ally. Lake Wales Heritage Inc. is a 501(c)(3)-qualified corporation composed of competent and talented Lake Wales citizens. Its primary purpose is to fund the restoration and maintenance of the original Olmsted landscape.

Once completed, the Olmsted plan will take its place as part of the Mountain Lake/Bok Tower/Lake Wales triumvirate of Olmsted designs in Central Florida. It will also be recognized among the Olmsted designs in the country, including Central Park in New York City, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, the campus at the University of California, Berkeley, and many others.

Not bad for a small town in Central Florida, not bad at all.

The next installment: Building the Increment; Lifeblood of the Project

 

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