PhotoBike Tour 4: Winter and Thornton Parks

Well, you’d think after a Saturday that involved a drive to Cocoa Beach for lunch, a walk along the edge of the ocean (you can see France from there), a Netflix session, and a supper of vegetarian faux meat, that I’d be beat and want to lay comatose all day Sunday, right? You’d think! Something compelled me to get back onto the bicycle, and I think I know what it is: my waistline.  While not rapidly expanding, it nonetheless has stabilized, but still insists on speaking to me. It’s its own entity, separate from my whole being, with a mind of its own. It wants cheese– but I want it to be 32 inches.  We argue, back and forth; and I win because the rest of me is bigger and what I say goes.

So we went on my bike again, this time to the West (just like Mother Cabrini). Once I cross Semoran Boulevard, which is a stupidly-designed major throughway slicing its way through living neighborhoods, I can thread my way through the Winter Woods subdivision and, in just a few minutes, I’m in the rarefied atmosphere of Winter Park. This is a view from Kraft Azalea Gardens. The Winter Park Boat Tour travels through this lake, part of a chain, and the guides love to dispenses juicy little tidbits about the houses and residents. It’s basically a social tour of Winter Park, at least when I took it in the eighties, and I hope it hasn’t changed.


Riddled with lakes, Winter Park prides itself on its many large estate homes, many of which are too large to fit nicely onto their lots. Standard properties, nicely treed and almost pastoral, in many cases have been scraped clean of flora so that a two-story mansion can be set there, surrounded by fussy, trucked-in landscaping.  It’s like the original lot was designed to feature Melanie Wilkes but, instead, Belle Watling moved in. You’ve got your giant front doors; fat columns; balustrades; complex cornices; mullioned windows; and towers– and that’s just the garage. No matter. They’re fun to look at but I think I’d prefer a smaller steamship deco model. But here’s a house that works; I love this house and could easily live here, having coffee on the upstairs balcony every morning as I yell at the maids:

Bike 2

You know how when you’re biking that little voice in your head keeps saying “just one more yard… one more block… one more mile?” Okay, so maybe the little voice in YOUR head is transmitting directives from Venus, as mine usually does, but this day it cooperated and steered me towards the downtown Orlando neighborhoods.

I love Colonialtown North, those leafy blocks that skirt Ferncreek and Hampton Avenues. The houses are, for the most part, preserved and sit very naturally and comfortably on their lots. It’s a comfortable, soothing neighborhood to explore. Some years ago a realty company advertised it as “Orlando’s Key West,” and I got mad and wrote a column about that. My rant focused on the fact that Orlando should advertise itself as something uniquely Orlando, not just a copy of somewhere else. Besides, Orlando could never be Key West because there aren’t flocks of chickens running around.

Here’s one of my favorite houses in Colonialtown North; its color is perfect– I call it Flamingo– and it rambles and speaks to passersby in a friendly drawl:

Bike 3

Here’s another favorite– the proportions of that glassed, columned room are perfect, though I wish they’d remove the bush from the column at the left:. When I took the picture, two large dogs began barking at me from inside (you can see them) and it seemed like the owner was about to appear. Though my natural innocence still gets me through any situation, I am still careful. I mean, dogs are dogs; they don’t stop to ask questions as they decide whether or not to rip your throat out.

Bike 5

And here’s a rather ancient vernacular cottage which I would have no problem living in:

Bike 4

I got down as far as the bookstore in Thornton Park, had a soda and a chat, and then wended my way back towards home. It was nice to bike the streets near where I work, because there were lots of little streets I always wanted to explore. I’m amazed at how the neighborhood has changed, as so many of those perfectly-proportioned little houses have been beautifully restored, with much more consideration that, say, twenty years ago. In the eighties, a lot of these dignified little houses were gimcracked into embarrassment, festooned with non-period touches and furbelows. I wrote an opinion piece for The Orlando Sentinel about that, and generated many letters from people who yelled and yelled at me to stay out of the neighborhood. The life of a journalist is one fraught with drama!

In the neighborhood south of Lake Sue, back in Winter Park, I noticed this sign:

Bike 6

The Conch Republic is a popular name for Key West, which symbolically closed its borders and seceded from the nation due to time-consuming and pointless vehicle searches by police on U.S. Highway 1. A flag was designed, and everybody drank to the occasion. They’re still drinking, and still conching. It was odd to see this sign in Winter Park– doesn’t it belong in Colonialtown North?

Here is Spring Lane on Winter Park Road as you bike north of Corinne towards Glenwood:

Bike 7

It’s filled with little houses buried in the trees, but when you come to the end and turn right, you are confronted with blocks of parapets and balustrades and portcullises and battlements. “A man’s home is his castle” has been taken and applied literally.

There’s nothing like a bicycle for prying into people’s yards, both front and back. Where will Mother Cabrini take me next?


4 responses

  1. I did this same virtual bike tour years ago – wish I could track down the photos and scan them in. I think the highlights were the Rollins College campus, the old Alabama hotel, the park by Winter Park’s Park Ave and nearby Palm cemetary, Lew Gardens, various lake scattered throughout Maitland, WP and Orlando including Lake Eola, Thornton Park, the little Statue of Liberty at Magnolia & Orange and of course lots of beautiful homes. As a long-time avid cyclist, it was always nice to be able to thread my way through the city’s backstreets and get in a good 15 or 25 mile ride while never having to leave the metro area and avoiding most of the major thoroughfares. Lot’s of good scenic routes to be found – just be careful on those brick roads, especially if your bike has tires the width of a pencil, like mine…

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