How Lakeland has changed: Then and now in photos

We dug through Florida’s archived photos and postcards to see how much Lakeland has changed since it was first founded in 1885 — you might be surprised.

A side-by-side image showing an old lakeshore view of Lake Morton next to a current one.

Hold your horses, this was Lake Morton?

Postcard via Florida Memory, photo by LALtoday

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Much has changed in Lakeland’s 138-year history. We’ve scoured through the Lakeland Public Library, State Library, and Archives of Florida to find postcards and photos of the Lakeland of yore. Let’s take a look into the past to see how far we’ve come.

Lake Morton

At one point, it might have been more likely to see a horse around Lake Morton than a swan. Lakeland’s royal swans didn’t arrive until 1957, and the earliest records of swans on the lake date back to only 1923.

Bryant Block

The Bryant Block in downtown Lakeland circa 1990 compared to today.

The corner spot that houses Harry’s Seafood used to house Fat Catz — did you ever dine there?

Left photo via City of Lakeland Public Library, right photo via LALtoday

This corner building home to Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille is known for its Neo-Georgian façades, truncated corner entrance, and red brick + cast iron exterior. Built in 1904 after a fire decimated an entire block east of Munn Park, the building has housed several businesses, drugstores, and restaurants like Fat Catz. Next door, downtown shoppers could grab necessities from a five-and-dime store in the Kress Building and a corner drug store.

Clonts Building

The Clonts Building in Lakeland then and now

This red brick round tower is a staple of downtown Lakeland.

Left photo via City of Lakeland Public Library, right photo by LALtoday

One of Lakeland’s more picturesque downtown buildings has housed dry goods businesses, a cigar company, a sporting goods store, salons, and more. Over a century later, the 1903 Richardsonian Romanesque-style Clonts Building still houses several businesses. Stop by to see its iconic arched windows and round tower.

Bowyer Building

The Bowyer Building in Lakeland then and now.

Find the Bowyer Building across Kentucky Avenue from the Clonts Building.

Left photo via City of Lakeland Public Library, right photo by LALtoday

The Bowyer Building is Lakeland’s oldest standing commercial building, built in 1902 by a former Lakeland mayor. In 1907, it housed the Electric Theatre, Lakeland’s first movie house. Today, you can stop by this piece of Lakeland history to shop for apparel and accessories from Amelia Paige Boutique.

The Orange Blossom Hotel

The Orange Blossom Hotel then and now.

The Orange Blossom Hotel housed Lakeland’s railroad workers.

Left photo via City of Lakeland Public Library, right photo by LALtoday

Did you know Lakeland’s last standing railroad hotel can be found on North Kentucky Avenue? Identify the 1916 construction by its tin roof and wide, covered porches. You can be completely sure you’ve found the right place if you can find the exterior wash house still standing on the building’s east side.

Joker Marchant Stadium

A side-by-side image showing a postcard of Henley Field next to a photo of Joker Marchant Stadium.

Henley Field is now used by Florida Southern College’s baseball team.

Postcard via Florida Memory, photo by @lkdflyingtigers

Our relationship with the Detroit Tigers is the longest-standing in MLB history. The team first started spring training in Lakeland in 1934, playing at Henley Field, pictured above. Joker Marchant Stadium opened in 1966, holding just 4,900 fans — it now holds 8,500.

Hotel Thelma

Side-by-side comparison of the Hotel Thelma and the street corner it used to stand on.

Hotel Thelma’s successor, the Terrace Hotel, stands in the distance.

Left photo via Florida Memory, right photo by LALtoday

Just down the street once stood Hotel Thelma, the first modern hotel in Lakeland built in 1913. It played host to famous visitors like Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Edison, but shuttered in 1962. Since then, the site has been rebuilt to hold eateries like Frescos Southern Kitchen & Bar and Taco Bus.

Magnolia Building

A side-by-side comparison of the Lakeland Tourist Center and the Magnolia Building.

You can learn to ballroom dance here on Thursday nights.

Postcard via Florida Memory, photo by LALtoday

This city-owned building on Lake Mirror is now an event center — you may have attended a wedding or community gathering there — but did you know it used to be the Lakeland Community Tourist Center? It was built in 1938 and held the Lakeland Tourist Club until 1998. You can take a tour of the Frances Langford Promenade to learn more about historic Lakeland stories like this.