Welcome to the Hotel Jacaranda
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel Jacaranda
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here” Adapted from chorus of Eagles hit “Hotel California.”
While in Florida this season, we have joined a small group of friends for lunch or dinner on Thursdays usually followed by game night at the Porter’s. As a group we have eaten at a variety of restaurants in the area ranging from the local original fish camp experience at Cherry Pockets to well known chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday. A new one every week because before we joined in, someone had the bright idea of putting names of establishments in a jar and drawing the next dining location from a jar. Occasionally we deviate from the drawing results. Last night was one of those nights. I really wanted to go to the Hotel Jacaranda in Avon Park, because I had heard a little about this hotel which is on the National Registry of Historic Places as a part of a site listing. What little I knew intrigued me.
Let me just say, “I was not disappointed.”
Tucked away on the tree lined Main Street of Avon Park, FL, the Hotel Jacaranda reminded me of a movie set. Were there no modern vehicles parked out front, one might expect to see a parade of the glamorous folks who have stayed there including Babe Ruth, Clark Gable, George Burns and Gracie Allen, the walls of the restuarant display some of the more prominent guests of the Hotel J.
In 1923 John Raab and Harry Winters, furniture manufacturers from Grand Rapids, MI financed the building of the Jacaranda choosing William Heim, a local architect to design the building. In order to build the hotel a 150 year old Jacaranda tree with a 14 foot trunk had to be felled. The Hotel was named in honor of that tree. In 1926 the hotel opened its doors to the public. Both Raab and Winters lost all of their wealth during the stock market crash of 1929 and in the depression years that followed, dying destitute. Since then the hotel has been owned by seven persons or organizations and since 1988 by South Florida State College Foundation.
Since opening in 1926, the hotel and restuarant have been in continuous operation, housing baseball players during spring training and military pilots during World War II while they trained nearby as well as a plethora of ordinary folks. In spite of the well known inefficiency of high ceilings for heating and cooling, the structure and architectural integrity of the building has been maintained. The Lobby features a library area, an area for the current art on exhibition, and to truly set the right atmosphere a piano player.
I could have probably wandered around more, wondering about the stories the walls could tell if walls could talk. Standing near the front entrance, staring out on Main Street, I tried to imagine it lined with cars from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, the lobby bustling with film stars, baseball players and future war heroes. I thought about the dreams of the men who had built it, how their lives ended in poverty. A 150 year old tree died to build a functional life structure that has survived depression, war, the whims of owners and the ravages of time. I should look so good when I am 89 years old.
The hotel and hotel restuarant serves as a classroom for culinary arts and hotel/restuarant management students as well as providing a home for The Artist’s Group, a community of artists who are developing talents while sharing their knowledge and expertise with others, by conducting classes throughout the year.
We went for the food not just the atmosphere. I was not disappointed with either. The Dinner Buffet was reasonably priced, well stocked with appropriately heated and cooled delicious food. I had chicken noodle soup, a hot roll from the bun warmer, fresh fruit, the pineapple was outstanding, a green salad, hot vegetables, chicken, and Key Lime pie for dessert.
I am already planning to go back. I hope to plan enough time, maybe for lunch next time, to browse the Art of the Tag Studio and Gallery in the hotel.
The Hotel Jacaranda heralds a time when buildings were works of art.
“ Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity. ”
– Daniel Barenboim
Certainly, the Hotel Jacaranda stands as a testament to the past and a vision for the future. Besides it is a fun place to visit and dine.