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Take A Walk In Historic Dowtown Orlando

Jan 18, 2008
There is a lot to do in Orlando, but instead of only going to the famous theme parks, why don't you try something different on your next Orlando vacation. A walk in the city's downtown historic district area brings you face to face with the history of this important city.

Your walking tour can be concentrated in the eight blocks of buildings which were designated in 1980 by the City of Orlando as an historical district. The district is a cohesive collection of buildings that reflects the commercial and governmental history of Orlando.

The district is composed of buildings constructed from the 1880s until the early 1940s. Surrounded by modern skyscrapers, approximately 60 historic buildings in this district offer a glimpse into the city's past. The historic district designation has helped preserve buildings that might otherwise have been demolished due to the rapid rate of growth and demand for commercial space in this booming city.

Orlando's first historic district demonstrates the economic and political growth of the city for over six decades. The district contains historic structures such as the depot, the courthouse, banking, office and retail buildings. The variety of building styles and sizes reflects the evolution of architecture and construction in downtown.

The styles represented in the district are Queen Anne, Twentieth Century Commercial Style, the Beaux-Arts, Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco and Art Moderne. Nearly all of the buildings are of masonry construction due to a series of fires in the late 1800s that destroyed many wood structures and prompted the City to pass new building standards.

Here are some of the sites on this 2.5 mile tour.

1. Well'sbuilt Hotel, 511 West South Street

Dr. William Monroe Wells constructed this hotel in 1926. It provided lodging to African Americans during segregation when rooms were not available to them in other areas. Many famous entertainers and athletes stayed here. Next-door was Dr. Wells' South Street Casino, where many of the entertainers performed for the African American community. The Well'sbuilt Museum of African American History is located here now.

2. Dr. William Monroe Wells House, 519 West South Street

Dr. William Monroe Wells built this Foursquare style house on a lot one block to the east in 1924. He was known as one of Orlando's longest practicing African American doctors and was involved in the commercial and cultural life of the community with the Well'sbuilt Hotel and the South Street Casino.

3. Victorian House & Cottage, 541 West South Street

The Victorian House and Cottage are among the only remaining Folk Victorian structures left in the city. The level of detail found in the original turned columns, railings and carved fretwork is not found in any other
buildings in Orlando.

4. Hankins Building, 647 West South Street

Dr. I.S. Hankins constructed this Art Deco commercial building in 1947. Hankins was an early African American physician and civic leader. He was an active participant in the Washington Shores development, which provided opportunities for new home ownership for Orlando's African Americans.

5. Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, 701 West South Street

This African American church was organized in 1919 and met in various locations until land was finally purchased. Church members made the rusticated concrete blocks that were used for construction of the walls. The Gothic style church opened in 1921.

6. Ebenezer Methodist Church, 596 West Church Street

As early as 1892, this congregation had a wooden church on this site. It was the first African American Methodist church in Orlando. Starting in 1922, the members built this Gothic style brick church.

7. Slemons Department Store, 129 West Church Street

This dry goods store was constructed in 1924 for William Slemons. He first came to Orlando in 1886. Slemons and his sons owned a number of stores in downtown Orlando from the 1880's well into the middle of the twentieth century.

Each building has its own story and the buildings listed above are only a small portion of the tour. You can download the whole tour on a pdf, complete with map at http://www.cityoforlando.net/planning/cityplanning/Walk_Tour04.pdf or you can visit an online site for more information about the history of Orlando and the latest information about its downtown area: www.cityoforlando.net/historic www.downtownorlando.com .

So, make sure you take some time to see the historical sites of Orlando on your next visit to the area.
About the Author
Mark Whichard is a frequent writer on Orlando Tourism. Mark and his wife Susan are the proprietors of Disney Home Rentals, an agency that rents vacation homes near Disney World. Visit their website: http://www.disneyhomerentals.com for more information.
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