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By Tom Paulson
City Editor 

Lake Wales Receives National Recognition as "Cultural Landscape"

Annual Landslide Report Cites Olmsted Work Here as Basis of Status

 

Last updated 11/5/2022 at 11:03am

Courtesy Library of Congress

Olmsted's vision for the City of Lake Wales, conceived some fifteen years after its founding, included zoning, design standards, and extensive landscape work to create "a city in a garden," Much of the work was never realized due to the onset of the Great Depression.

The City of Lake Wales has been cited as a significant cultural landscape in the 2022 Landslide report issued by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF). According to the national organization, the city's origins and Olmsted patrimony place

it among the cultural treasures recognized in the annual report.

The report, which was distributed to national media this week, salutes the work of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who "completed a comprehensive plan for...Lake Wales, envisioning a "city in a garden" with streets bordered by single or double rows of palms and understory trees." It cites the threats to Lake Wales landscapes as "deferred maintenance and increasingly severe storms."

Hundreds of trees from the original plantings have been lost over the ensuing 90-plus years, including well over 100 of the towering Washingtonia palms that lined Tillman Avenue. The report recognizes that those threats are now being mitigated by the current actions of the city and a private non-profit.

According the TCLF, the Landslide program was established in 2003 to raise "awareness about threatened and at-risk landscapes and works of landscape architecture."

Olmsted, among the world's most famous landscape architects, created the plan for Lake Wales shortly after completing the design of Bok Tower Gardens. It was Edward Bok who quietly retained Olmsted to expand the designs to encompass the entire city. Olmsted was also deeply engaged in landscaping the Mountain Lake residential community at that time.

The Landslide report described Lake Wales in much detail, stating that "Olmsted Brothers was asked by Bok to improve the parks and streets of Lake Wales, with the firm eventually developing a codified master plan for the town planning board in 1931. The Olmsted firm's 48-page plan set forth a vision for a "city in a garden," with guidelines for setbacks, street widths, grading, and connectivity, including improved access to nearby Mountain Lake, recommendations to further develop the town's existing park system, and detailed tree and planting plans for the community's twenty miles of streets. They additionally designed a distinctive clock tower.

"As was the case with most subdivision plans by the Olmsted firm, considerable attention was devoted to guiding and enhancing "the appearance of the city." Here, the collective importance of such details as the character of street poles, signage, and curbs, the tonality of brick and masonry, and the neatness of street trees, medians, and lawns were all addressed. Above all, the plan stressed the importance of continued maintenance, or "municipal housekeeping," declaring that "planning does not so much pretend to create beauty as to lay a good foundation for it."

The report goes on to cite the work of Dover Kohl and Partners in creating the Lake Wales Connected plans which draw heavily from Olmsted's concepts to create a reinvigorated and beautified city center. Implementation of those plans is slated to begin in coming months.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 1998 "to connect people to places." The city was nominated for the TCLF recognition by the board of directors of Lake Wales Heritage, a local non-profit deeply involved in educating the public and replanting the thousands of trees missing from the original Olmsted designs.

"An endangered landscape" Tillman Avenue once featured more than 175 Washingtonia palms. About 130 have been lost to storms and human actions.

"We are greatly honored, not only as an organization but as a city, to be recognized for the cultural significance of the landscapes created here through the wisdom of the city's founders and the masterful contributions of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.," said Lake Wales Heritage president Robert Connors in response to the Landslide report. "It is our mission to see that this community's inspiring patrimony is recognized, treasured, restored, and maintained."

TCLF educates and engages the public to make our shared landscape heritage more visible, identify its value, and empower its stewards. Through its website, publishing, lectures, and other events, TCLF broadens support and understanding for cultural landscapes. TCLF is also home to the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize.

 

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