Avon Park’s Hotel Jacaranda

Hotel Jacaranda 10-10-2013When I did a travel piece on driving U.S. 27 from start to finish in Florida in 1990, reporter Gayle Pallesen and I stopped to take a look at the Hotel Jacaranda on the square in Avon Park. It was in the early stages of restoration. I’m a sucker for cheap accommodations, so I snagged a huge suite for about $35. It was rough, but clean.

When Friend Shari and I drove that route headed back to Cape in October, I told her we had to swing by to see how the project went. She used to rehab old buildings for a living and likes to see ones that have been done right. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

Hotel opened in 1926

Hotel Jacaranda 10-10-2013The hotel’s website says, “As a true example of living history, The Hotel Jacaranda is one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in Highlands County. When the Jac opened in 1926, it took its name from a 150-year-old jacaranda tree that had been removed to make way for the hotel. Among its first guests were members of the St. Louis Cardinals, who came to Avon Park for spring training from 1927 to 1929.

Guests included Al Capone and Babe Ruth

Hotel Jacaranda 10-10-2013Photos of its famous guests, from Babe Ruth to Hollywood celebrities George Burns and Gracie Allen, adorn its dining room. During World War II, the grand hotel played a hand in the war effort by housing hundreds of servicemen who had come to the area to train as military pilots.

Restoration started in 1988

Hotel Jacaranda 10-10-2013In 1988, the South Florida State College Foundation, Inc., purchased the Jac with an eye toward preserving its historic character. As part of that ongoing effort, the Foundation has undertaken a major restorative project that is returning a street-level business mall to its original design

 Kitchen used by culinary students

Hotel Jacaranda 10-10-2013Through a partnership with South Florida State College, culinary students perfect their talents by training in the Jac’s modern kitchen.

Original elevator still works

Hotel Jacaranda 10-10-2013Guests can still ride the old elevator.

Still an impressive building

Hotel Jacaranda 10-10-2013Avon Park, with a population of less than 9,000, has done a remarkable job of making the downtown area attractive. Hotel Jacaranda is only one of several buildings that have been restored.

Plenty of books available

Hotel Jacaranda 10-10-2013If you want to put aside your digital diversions, the hotel’s library has plenty of books to borrow.

There’s always Reed’s Motel

Reed's MotelOf course, if you prefer a more 1950’s look, you could stay on U.S. 27 and check into Reed’s Motel, where this swimmer has been diving for at least half a century.

Picking a Motel

Canal Point gator 10-10-2013It’s always a challenge figuring out where to stop for the night when you are traveling with new folks. I’m not overly picky: I’m looking for somewhere clean and cheap.

I made the mistake of letting Friend Jan pick a place in Louisville on our trip this winter. Bad Move.

Friend Anne didn’t mind playing the role of spatting newlywed to win a discount in Lake City.

I tried to show Friend Shari alligators around Lake O, but they must have been federal alligators laid off because of the government’s shutdown. We spotted one little one at the Canal Point locks, but he wouldn’t have made a slipper, let along a set of shoes.

We were getting hungry and were going to be too late to get to Roy’s in Steinhatchee, so we opted for the always great buffet at the Golden Corral in Okeechobee.

Hotel Jacaranda

Hotel Jacaranda 10-10-2013The meal was so large, that Shari immediately passed out. She came to when we passed through historic downtown Sebring. She REALLY came alive when we got to historic Avon Park and the Hotel Jacaranda. I’ll have more pix of it when I’m not so sleepy. Unlike Shari, I didn’t get a nap.

I DID shoot some pictures of the diving woman in front of Reed’s Motel. I shot her in 1990 when I did a story on U.S. 27 between Little Havana in Miami and Havana, FL, on the Georgia line.

By the time we got to Ocala, my passenger was whining that it was six hours past her bedtime. Instead of a place to lay my head, though, she wanted to find a Starbucks joint so she could steal my van and get a jolt before I had hit my snooze alarm for the third time in the morning.

Smoking rooms harder to find

Reed's MotelTHEN we went looking for a motel. She’s a smoker, so that eliminated most of the more modern, upscale places. She wanted a Mom and Pop with loose standards.

She picked the first one because it was named after a long-legged bird she is fond of. Let’s just leave it at that. It was a 1950’s place that rented by the week. I got a little worried when I noticed that the windows in almost all of the rooms were open. So were a lot of the doors. In one of the doors was a guy who was busily scratching parts that itched. I suggested we go to the next place listed on the GPS.

It was a fancy bed and breakfast. I don’t like them because I don’t want to be warm and fuzzy with the owners. I want a good, anonymous room where I can throw a wet towel on the bathroom floor and not feel guilty.

We can’t afford a place with “grounds”

Candidate three was eliminated because it was too fancy:  it had “grounds.” “We can’t afford anyplace that has grounds,” she said.

Candidate four was similar to Candidate One except that the windows were closed. All but one of them. When our headlights played across the rooms, a guy carefully pulled  back a corner of the curtain and stared at us. It wasn’t clear if he was expecting someone to be making a pickup or a delivery, and I don’t think he had pizza on his mind.

We finally came up with a place that was minimally acceptable. (If we wanted a microwave or a fridge, it would cost $5 extra.)

When the desk clerk asked if we would like adjoining rooms, I said, “Nah, she’s a smoker. If she sets her bed on fire, I’d be happy to have her in a different building. He took me at my word. She’s not only in a different building, I’m pretty sure she’s in a different area code.

I’LL find the room tomorrow night.