The hotel before the apartments: The New Florida

Department of Commerce Collection

The New Florida Hotel (left) alongside The Terrace Hotel (right), c. 1959 | Photo via Florida Memory

State Archives of Florida/State Archives of Florida

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, Lakeland has a rich history full of historic hotels from the Tremont House Hotel and Hotel Thelma, to The Terrace and its neighbor, the New Florida Hotel.

Perhaps due to the city’s central location or close proximity to bustling neighbors like Tampa and Orlando, Lakeland was privy to a luxury hotel or two, and the New Florida Hotel was no exception. If you’ll remember why the Tremont House Hotel + Hotel Thema failed, you might recall their inability to keep up with the previously mentioned competitors, especially the New Florida Hotel.

This new high-rise hotel, originally known as The Florida, joined the skyline alongside The Terrace in 1926 at 130 S. Massachusetts Ave. and was. It was referred to as The New Florida Hotel at its official opening date in September.

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Construction on the New Florida Hotel, c. 1920 | Photo via Florida Memory

The hotel’s high-rise silhouette was designed by Avery and Round out of St. Pete, and faced initial struggles off the bat with a modification, leaving the interior incomplete upon its grand opening. The exterior of the hotel was inspired by the Spanish Mission style, popular in California and Colorado, specifically between 1900-1930. In terms of appearance, the style features gabled walls, which typically accompany a pitched roof, and boasts a plastered or smooth stucco finish.

The hotel was no exception with its bell tower, red tile roof, and what’s called a cloistered entrance — a covered walkway with beams typically found within a church, monastery, or college.

After its opening, the hotel faced a tumultuous few weeks, and initially closed that same year due to the collapse of Florida’s land boom + the Great Depression. Fast forward almost a decade, it was reopened by the Railway Conductors Association in 1935 and began to take off.

Now with a fresh reopening, the hotel served as the hub for the Detroit Tigers and saw guests like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Drew Pearson, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The optimism soon dwindled and the hotel began to pass hands and businesses throughout the next 50 years.

The following are just some of the different hats this historic building wore:

  • It was the original home to Lakeland’s first radio station, WLAK, on the top floor in 1936.
  • Just four years later it was sold to John E. Ballenger in 1940.
  • WLAK relocated in 1951 to its own building on Lake Hunter Drive.
  • The building was sold again in 1962 to a local family, the Levine’s, and acted as the Florida Retirement Residence Hotel.
  • Roughly 15 years later in the late 1970s, it was listed as a historic place by Historic Lakeland.
  • The retirement hotel was renamed Regency Tower in 1980, where it operated for almost 20 years.
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Lake Mirror Tower today | Photo via the LALtoday team

After closing in 1996, the hotel was purchased by the City of Lakeland in the early 2000s, where it was opened as Lake Mirror Tower Apartments in 2005, featuring 70+ apartments. Today, the apartment building is still operational and offers over 20 floor plans ranging in size and price.

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