Historic Lakeland, Inc. (“HLI”) was the idea of Jean Bunch and Mildred Grizzard, who had grown frustrated with the regular loss of significant historic buildings in Lakeland during the 1970s. Jean had recently completed the restoration of their farm house in Highland City and was passionate about historic preservation. She enlisted her friend Mildred, who had a wealth of local connections and an attorney son, Bob, who handled the incorporating of the new non-profit organization. Jean was a member of the Junior League and devoted her volunteer service to a “creative placement,” organizing HLI. Knowing that a movement was taking place to compile a plan for revitalizing downtown, Jean was pleasantly surprised to encounter Jim Edwards and Wayne Dewhirst, who were already well into the task of documenting each historic structure in what would become the Munn Park Historic District. By September, 1979, HLI was incorporated. Its first task was to advocate to the Lakeland City Commission for matching funds for a state grant to cover the cost of a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Lake Mirror Promenade, now known as the Frances Langford Promenade at Lake Mirror. Jim Edwards and Tom Cloud were enlisted to author this important document, “Make No Little Plans – The Development of Lakeland’s First Civic Center,” which demonstrated the historic significance of this landmark and led to the development of detailed restoration plans.
Around this same time John White had returned to Lakeland and begun practicing architecture with a local firm, Jim Studiale had been hired by the City to author a new master plan for Lakeland and Jim Edwards left graduate school and joined a Tampa firm that authored the first redevelopment plan for Downtown Lakeland (PBS&J; A Framework for Action, 1980). HLI became the primary advocate for more emphasis on Lakeland’s history and historic buildings, and participated in the development of both documents. HLI also began advocating with the Lakeland City Commission for implementation of the recommendations of those plans including a City of Lakeland Historic Preservation Board [HPB]. Soon, an ad-hoc committee was appointed by the City Commission. Larry Durrence, then a history/political science professor at Florida Southern College, was asked to chair the committee and work with Studiale and David Cardwell, the City Attorney, to draft an ordinance to establish an HPB and consider a downtown historic district. Steve Fulghum, who had been Bunch’s mentor in the farm house renovation, donated hundreds of hours of research and drawings tracing the building history of Lakeland’s downtown.
Contributed by Jean Bunch, Jim Edwards, and Jim Studiale.
Historic Lakeland, Inc. is a not-for-profit, nonaffiliated organization dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of Lakeland, Florida's unique history and character, and using the heritage to shape the community's growth and development.