Frank Lloyd Wright-Designed Buildings Abound on Campus of Florida Southern College

This life-sized statue of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright stands in front of the Sharp Family Tourism and Educational Center next to the Usonian House on what Wright called “The Child to the Sun” campus project he designed. Photos by Jeff Orenstein

By Jeff and Virginia Orenstein

Note: We recommend that travelers follow CDC guidelines and check with each mode of transportation and specific venue of interest for current information before traveling.
Before You Go: 
The largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world is located on the picturesque campus of Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. From 1930 through 1958, 12 structures were built with Wright’s guidance on the campus.
Wright was contacted by the college president, Ludd Spivey, and after a Wright campus visit in 1938, they agreed that Wright would design the new campus and Spivey would raise the funds to build it. A dozen buildings were erected out of the 18 Wright designed and a 13th, the Usonian House, was built in the 21st century, using Wright’s design.
The Wright buildings on campus are available for public tours. If you are in central Florida, it is well worth your time to drive to Lakeland to tour this pretty little campus. To accommodate visitors, the college opened the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center in 2013. It is located next to the Usonian House, which serves as a tour center and houses guides and a gift shop. Parking is available across the street.
The E.T. Roux Library building (no longer serving as the campus library but converted into other campus uses) is a typical Wright structure with clerestory windows and light-channeling features.

Getting There:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center on the campus of Florida Southern College can be reached by highway, air or train. A car is recommended to reach the campus.
By car, the campus is off the U.S. 98 exit of Interstate 4.
By air, Tampa International Airport (TPA) is 37 miles distant, Lakeland Linder International (LAL) is 6 miles away and Orlando International (MCO) is 57 miles away.
By train, Amtrak serves Lakeland. The station is a mile away.
The nearest cruise port is in Tampa, 33 miles to the west. Port Canaveral is 106 miles to the east.
The gorgeous reading room of the E.T. Roux Library building is now used for classroom lectures. The desks and some furnishings are original.

Must-Sees and Dos for a Short Trip:

Reserve tickets at the Sharp Family Tourism Center (863-680-4597), and tour the Wright buildings on the campus with a knowledgeable guide.
Take a drive around scenic Lake Hollingsworth, adjacent to the campus.
If You Have Several Days:
Orlando and its theme parks are a major nearby attraction.
Explore Tampa’s museums and attractions, 35 miles distant.
The Gulf beaches in Clearwater Beach are 68 miles away.
Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way:
This is not a resort. Resort casual dress for the tour and dining and touring afterward are fine.
Esplanades, or covered walkways, link the entire complex of Wright buildings on the campus. Totaling more than a mile in length, their supports and trimmings were specified by Wright to mimic the orange grove that originally stood here.

This Destination at a Glance: 

Over 50 Advantage: Beautiful campus, leisurely walking, impressive architecture.
Mobility Level: Low and accessible except for a couple of buildings that have stairs leading to them.
When To Go: Year-round. As for most of Florida, May through September are hot and sticky but a bit less crowded. Winters are glorious, especially November through March. January can have some cool days.
Where to Stay: Lakeland has many good hotel choices.
Special Travel Interests: Wright architecture.
The impressive skylight as seen from the interior of the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel is a prominent feature of this large building.

Jewish Lakeland
Although Florida Southern College is nominally a Methodist-affiliated institution, it has students of many creeds, including some Jews. Since it is located in Lakeland, Jews associated with or visiting the campus can find Jewish life in Lakeland and Tampa.

While a few Jews may have lived in and around Polk County before 1900, the current community traces its roots to Cy Wolfson’s arrival in 1909. In the following decades, Lakeland developed a small but active Jewish community that continues to function today.
By the mid-1920s, local Jews began to hold prayer services, first in private homes and then in rented facilities, and they began to organize religious school classes not long after. While lay members led most religious services, they received monthly visits from Rabbi L. Elliot Grafman of Tampa, who also assisted with religious education. As Jews continued to migrate to the area, Lakeland emerged as the regional center of Jewish life. Between 1932 and 1934, a small group of 16 families purchased a small building and formally organized as the Lakeland Jewish Alliance.
The Jewish community of Lakeland and Polk County grew and become more organized in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The alliance changed its name to Temple Emanuel and began the search for a full-time rabbi, hiring Rabbi Jack Friedman in 1943. World War II brought several Jewish military service members to the area.
The Usonian House was designed to be a typical faculty home for the campus. One was built in 2013 using Wright’s plans. The built-in furniture and thousands of translucent colored glass plugs in the walls are typical Wright signatures.

The Jewish community of Lakeland and Polk County was, for the most part, well accepted in the mid-20th century, but local Jews did face social barriers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Temple Emanuel’s run as the sole synagogue in Polk County ended in 1982 when a handful of young Jewish families organized Temple Beth Shalom, a Reform congregation based in Winter Haven.

Polk County’s Jewish population did not sustain its mid-20th-century growth into the 1970s. Whereas Temple Emanuel had approximately 250 member families in 1956, a 1979 newspaper article referred to a membership of “about 200” households.
Despite changes, Polk County’s Jewish population remained relatively stable, with an estimated 1,000 Jews in the area in the mid-1990s. As of 2019, both Temple Emanuel and Beth Shalom hold regular services, and there is also a Chabad Center.
Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida. 


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