Historic Lakeland, Inc. ("HLI") is a private, non-profit organization whose purpose is to recognize Lakeland’s unique history and encourage through education and advocacy the preservation of this rich history. While HLI provides education about Lakeland’s architectural history, it is not a ‘historical society’ in terms of its general function, as it does not house historical archives or exhibits.
The City of Lakeland Historic Preservation Board (“HPB”) was created at the urging of HLI but is a completely separate institution. It is one of the many City of Lakeland Boards and Committees comprised of citizens, who are appointed to the HPB by City Commission. Its members have an interest or experience in history, architecture, and urban design and as a group have the responsibility to encourage historic preservation and to provide direction to the City in the development of a comprehensive historic preservation program. A sub-group of the HPB is the Design Review Committee (“DRC”), whose role is to receive recommendations from a professional city staff and make decisions on changes to or demolition of structures located within Lakelands seven historic districts, as well as review of new structures or additions to existing structures.
In its early years, HLI sponsored a tour of homes but no longer does so. HLI chose different historic neighborhoods to highlight the wide variety of buildings within them and to educate the public about the exceptional architecture and value of Lakeland’s large collections of historic homes. Some of these neighborhoods, which later became historic districts, now conduct a Tour of Homes event. The Lake Morton Neighborhood Association currently hosts an annual Home and Garden Tour.
To become a historic district, a survey must be completed that documents a large concentration of historic buildings in concise geographical area. The survey documents the area’s structures, history, and importance to Lakeland (and sometimes state and national significance). Lakeland’s first historic district was Munn Park which is the given name for downtown Lakeland’s first subdivision, platted by Abraham Godwin Munn. It was professionally surveyed and designated by the City and later approved by state and federal agencies. The creation of the Historic District made renovations to contributing buildings in the area eligible for generous federal tax credits. These tax credits have been a major factor in incentivizing new development activity in downtown beginning in the mid-1980s and continuing to today.
South Lake Morton became the second historic district and the first of six residential historic districts designated by the City. South Lake Morton’s survey of over 800 homes was completed by volunteers. This was organized by HLI and became known as the “Thursday Lunch Survey Crew” completing a dozen or more surveys each week. Subsequently, other neighborhoods were surveyed and submitted for Historic District designation. Steve Fulghum, a retired architect contributed countless surveys to the City in his assistance with this work. At the time, Lake Morton was a declining neighborhood but benefited greatly by a Neighborhood Plan completed by the City (Lake Morton Neighborhood Plan; 1988 by Jim Edwards) which called for downzoning, enhanced code enforcement, as well as physical improvements such as historic street lights and better maintenance of alleys and brick streets.
HLI created and marketed these ornaments for many years to broaden appreciation of Lakeland’s historic buildings and raise funds. The original glass ornaments have become collector’s items and featured the designated landmark buildings such as the Terrace Hotel, New Florida Hotel, and Polk Theatre. HLI no longer produces Christmas Ornaments. The ornament program was primarily the work of Juanita Black who was also the chair of the Lake Mirror fund-raising effort. Juanita was a powerful voice for HLI and accomplished much, both with fund raising and in her convincing testimony on the value of older buildings and Lakeland’s unique place in Florida’s History. Due to the impact Juanita had on HLI’s early successes and her service to Lakeland she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by HLI in 2007.