23 May DR. PATRICK’S POSTCARD ROADSIDE: The Rise of Modernism in Florida’s Tourist Towers
The Rise of MODERNISM in FLORIDA’S TOURIST TOWERS
The Bok Tower was designed to be a sculptural set piece in a garden, an architectural folly housing a carillon. You cannot get up it for a view of the countryside; it is the view.
The Gothic-Moderne pile of pink and gray marble and coquina stone is mirrored in its own reflecting pool framed by Florida-exotic trees, flowers and originally, flamingos, but winters on the Lake Wales Ridge proved too harsh for them. Edward Bok commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to design his gardens in the romantic landscape style pioneered by Olmsted’s father. The Bok Mountain Sanctuary and Singing Tower opened in 1929.
Florida Citrus Tower’s clean, stark lines, functionalist design and sheer megastructural bigness screamed Modern to passing tourists on US 27, itself a modern, 4-lane highway built down the Lake Wales Ridge spine of Central Florida in 1949 sidestepping every town and village as latest high-speed link between the Midwest and Miami. Opened in 1956, the 22-story Citrus Tower gave tourists an unmatched panoramic view of the surrounding orange groves, now crimped by frost and development. Unlike the garden setting of the Singing Tower, sedate and contemplative, the Citrus Tower rose from a sprawling gift shop surrounded by a parking lot announced by an unmissable, neon-lit arrow sign.
The Lake Placid Tower rose above the tourist traffic on US 27 100 miles south of the Citrus Tower in 1961. Made of concrete block faced with limestone, the tower was decidedly Modern with just a hint of Neo-Gothic in its observation deck openings. Slightly taller than the Citrus Tower, the Lake Placid Tower was not nearly as well located. It was as if Miami-bound tourists had already been captured by the more famous tower among the orange groves and were over it and anxious to get to the beach by the time they got to Lake Placid. The towering attraction limped along until 1982 when it was closed for unpaid back taxes. Reopened to the public from 1986 to 2003, it has been closed ever since and operating as a cell phone tower.
Three of Florida’s tourist towers line up along the Orange Blossom Trail marked out among the kart springs and freshwater lakes along the Lake Wales Ridge in 1934. Central Florida’s sandy set of low rolling hills were a chain of islands millions of years ago when the rest of the state was under water. The Orange Blossom Trail replaced the faded identity of the meandering Dixie Highway as the main tourist route to Miami from the Midwest. Originally signed with a variety of state and federal route numbers, the OBT was rebuilt and identified with the US 27 shield in 1949.
Bazaar International’s Trylon Tower was built as the soaring, three-legged centerpiece of an ultra-Modern, outdoor shopping center. Like the Bok Tower, the Trylon Tower was paired with a reflecting pool but without the romantic garden; straight and sidewalk-lined with a World’s Fair Tomorrowland vibe. Rising above US 1 in Riviera Beach, the reinforced concrete tower’s legs were joined with a lattice breeze screen. The tower was built a tad taller than the Citrus Tower (but eclipsed by the Lake Placid Tower a year later) and advertised as “Florida’s Tallest Attraction” with clear-day views out across the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Bahamas. Its popularity lasted as long as the shopping center’s, which was brought down by the opening of nearby enclosed malls. The Port of Palm Beach bought the abandoned Bazaar International and its Trylon Tower in 1992 and the entire complex was demolished six years later to make way for the Route 1 Skypass over the port’s industrial back lots.