PhotoBike Tour 16– Knowles Avenue in Winter Park (and Offsides)

I have all these negatives of photos I took back in the late 70s and early 80s of a Winter Park that’s largely vanished. I’m still trying to identify some of the sites, but occasionally something “clicks” and I remember exactly where the photo had been taken.

SIDEBAR: I do regret NOT taking photos of the Alabama Hotel before it went condo; my friend Donald and I walked there from my apartment at the Plantation in Maitland, and wandered the halls, the lobbies, the public rooms, the library… it was for sale and everything was open to inspection. It was magical, like being in a time warp: Kleenex boxes in each bedroom, with one leaf of tissue popping from each and every box, just waiting for a sneeze. It was like we were walking through a dream. The Alabama is a condo now. and doesn’t seem to hold the same ambience. What can I say?

The venerable Alabama. It used to be a resort hotel– one of FOUR giant hotels that used to be located on the Winter Park chain of lakes.

After looking through negatives this past week, and tooling around on Google Earth and then looking up Winter Park history, I realized I’d never really explored Knowles Avenue from top to bottom. It just sort of slipped away under my radar while I was bicycling in the past, or else– while in the car– it’s byzantine system on one-way signs precluded any 4-wheel exploration. This morning, before I knew the humidity was going to soar, I set out to see what I’d missed.

I approach Winter Park from the east. I have to cross 436, go north to the light, and then thread my way through the Winter Woods subdivision; we call it “the Wilhelm’s” because of the grammatically-incorrect sign that fronted one of the houses. I always wanted to ring the bell and tell them “it should say ‘the Wilhelms,’ but I never did. I’m surprised.

Then I wend my way south along Lake Howell Road, checking to see if there’s a way to get across the watery culvert over to Arbor Park Drive (there still isn’t), and so I usually go west on Pine Avenue. Incidentally, the name Arbor park Drive is relatively new– we still know it as the southern extension of Lakemont Avenue, south of the cemetery. I’m just saying.

Palmer Avenue is just a few blocks away, the site of my second-favorite house in Winter Park:

It used to have a sign out front– Lulworth– and was built by a Mrs. Mizener ion the 1930s. She insisted that there be no shutters on the windows because she didn’t want to have to bother painting them. (A woman after my own heart.) The house was designed by James Gamble Rogers II, and believe me– he didn’t have those Greek columns up front; his were slimmer and fit the facade better. The new owners didn’t consult with me when they redid the place… can you imagine?

Before heading into downtown Winter Park I remembered that I wanted to photograph a neighborhood marker– specifically, one that noted the historic African-American west side of Winter Park known as Hannibal Square. It’s been yuppified and gentrified into something very NOT Hannibal Square, but I did find the marker on Denning Drive– inexplicably knocked over; I think I’ll let the city know that this needs to be righted.

Knowles Avenue branches from Chapman, which is a little street that branches off Fairbanks; you don’t see Chapman much because you are driving past Rollins College while, at the same trying, trying not to hit students (and professors) who decide to cross the road while checking their eMail. You go through a parking garage– wave hello to the ticket lady– and then you are on Knowles Avenue, which stretches all the way north from Lyman Avenue to Casa Feliz on Whipple Avenue. And it’s rife with architectural gems.

The first gem you encounter is the facade of the former Lincoln Apartments, now preserved and nicely incorporated into the First United Methodist Family Life Center. That was thoughtful! I always wanted to go into the Lincoln and knock on doors. Who would I encounter– former Ziegfeld girls? Forgotten chanteuses who headlined in smoky Omaha boites? Jimmy Hoffa? I’ll never know.

Okay. You have to go a block east, to Interlachen Avenue, to see Osceola Lodge, a beautiful home built by the Knowles family in 1888. But behind it– on Knowles– is a cottage that was used by visitors to the larger Knowles house. I don’t recall ever seeing this cottage, though I have tons of photos of Osceola Lodge.

Here’s the Lodge:

And here’s the cottage just to the west of it, on the same large lot, but facing Knowles Avenue:

Then I went down the path to the left of that cottage and took this shot of the Lodge’s rear; I can easily picture myself living upstairs right. You?

Across the street on Knowles is yet another cottage built by Knowles, now the home of Architects Design Group– this is truly OLD Winter Park, ladies and gentlemen…

A third Knowles “cottage” has been transformed into a firm as well, but it’s unrecognizable as a cottage:

Near the north end of Knowles, just where it meets the golf course, the city has placed some old cement posts noting the names of streets. I don’t know ho wold these are, and they’re faded, but I did have some old negatives in my collection. These denote Something Road, Fitzwalter Drive, and Harmon Avenue; the last two denote streets at extreme opposite ends of one another.

Just off Knowles, actually at Interlachen Avenue, is a series of ancient-looking apartments which evoke Key West. This is my favorite…

Who lives here? An artist, a writer, a milkmaid? A woman with cats? A candlemaker, a surgeon, a bell-ringer?

At the very north end of Knowles, hugging the golf course, is Casa Feliz. It used to be on Interlachen Avenue, but was moved when the newest property owner decided he might tear it down. people rallied and had it moved to its present spot– a rarity in Winter Park, but enough people cared deeply to have this 1932 James Gamble Rogers II gem saved.

The front.

The rear.

Here are the Barbour Apartments on very north Knowles, built in 1933 and designed by our man james Gamble Rogers II. Everyone who moved to Winter Park used to want to live here. Of course, that was back in the 70s and 80s; now they want to live… where? I have no idea.

Leaving Knowles Avenue and returning home via Interlachen Avenue, I noticed this sign planted in the road.

The Red Pepper Garden Club… can you even?! It’s probably not as rollicking as the name would have you believe. I picture officious club women with pointy eyeglasses, prow-busted and powdered,  their sensible Enna Jetticks heavily decorated with rhinestones. They meet once a month at the Woman’s Club (sic) down on Interlachen Avenue, where cucumber-based refreshments bedeck a series of card tables situated at the front of the room. After an hour’s worth of apologies, explanations and general catching up, the ladies are called to order by Madame la President, who fixes them all with a gimlet eye, and intones:

“So… who is responsible for the dying aspidistra in front of the library?”

I began this trek at 10:30 in the morning and by 12:30 was blistered by heat. It was time to return, though I have a feeling I’ll be back: there are streets called Greentree, Bonita, Temple Grove and Elizabeth which deserve some prowling… join me!

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6 responses

  1. Pingback: A Bike Ride Down Knowles Avenue in Winter Park (and Offsides) - City-Data Forum

  2. Did you know that Karen Blumenthal runs the Red Pepper Press? Not sure if there’s a connection, but she is a Winter Park gem, and her husband Arthur recently retired from running the Cornell Museum at Rollins. Now they globe-trot, writing and looking at art.

  3. I was born & raised in Winter Park. Lived off north Park Ave. Graduated from WPHS in 70. Loved the photos and miss the old ambiance of the time. Been many years since we have been there. Thanks!

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