It never hurts a city to take the time to recognize its accomplishments and 2008 is the prime time to rededicate one of Lakeland’s jewels. Lake Mirror celebrates two milestones this year as the promenade turns 80, and reaches its 25th anniversary on the National Register of Historic Places.
Downtown Lakeland’s history for the last 100 years is reflected in the developing story of Lake Mirror. The work to make Lake Mirror a downtown destination started early in the 20th Century. Not long after the promenade’s 1928 dedication, National Geographic said of the area around the lake, “Like an ornate entrance to some vast Venetian palace looms the Civic Center of Lakeland. “
The Great Depression affected not only our standard of living, but our civic pride. By the time Lakeland make it through the Depression and World War II, the city was looking for chances to trumpet Downtown. In March 1946, the walkway around Lake Mirror was dedicated as the Frances Langford Promenade, after one of our city’s residents who had found stardom in radio and movies.
In the 1950’s Lakeland was busy community on the move. The city leaders made a decision to open traffic by routing Lemon Street around the South of the lake. Some would come to believe that decision almost killed the park.
Storms and improper cleaning would damage the seawall in the 1960s. In 1973, The Ledger wrote that the lighting was failing and should be replaced. By April 1974, the Tampa Tribune would decry the downfall of the area in an article entitled, “Once-Beautiful Seawall, Civic Center in Decay.”
In an article in the March 1979 Ledger, a reporter wrote “At one time the loggia, under Main Street, housed restrooms, benches, and a grotto. But the traffic around the lake increased so much that there were seldom pedestrians in the area and finally the loggia was closed, bared and locked. Today the city’s electric and water department use the loggia to store equipment.”
The time was ripe for a small group of citizens to reverse the damage and force a change. Historic Lakeland formed with the goal of rebuilding Lake Mirror. By 1983, they successfully petitioned to have the area added to the National Registry of Historic Places. By 1987, the city rededicated a repaired and refreshed Lake Mirror.
Since the late 80s, there have been many more improvements: Lemon Street south of the park is closed, Hollis Gardens sits on the Southern shore, the old Dixie Highway landing now sports Albert Paley’s “Tribute to Volunteerism.”
Well, maybe every move wasn’t always a step forward.
In 2008, the city could throw a celebration at the lake. Call it an 80th birthday party and recognize the 25th anniversary of making the registry. Primarily make it a celebration of what residents can achieve when they work to better the community. It brings a city together to celebrate its achievements. Coming together is builds civic pride. Maybe in 80 years there’ll be a celebration of what we created when faced with the CSX problem.
This wasn’t intended to be anything more than a taste of the history of Lake Mirror. You can find out so much more at the Lakeland Library Special Collections Department.
You may have noticed how I skirted around naming the area around the lake. Most people seem to simply call it the Lake Mirror Promenade. I don’t believe that is precisely correct since the Frances Langford Promenade dedication was never officially rescinded. Reading through years of newspaper articles and other papers I found numerous variations Lake Mirror, Promenade, Frances Langford, Civic Center, Loggia, and more to name the area.
In one article, Historic Lakeland member, and Ledger history columnist, Martha Sawyer called it “The Lake Mirror Center and Promenade,” and “Lake Mirror seawall and Frances Langford Promenade.”
I like the latter’s precise approach. Simply calling it the “Lake Mirror Promenade” is restricting — and incorrect. If we had another dedication I’d suggest “Lake Mirror Park” which would include the Main Street Loggia and Boat Landing, the Lemon Street Stairway, the South Boat Landing and Amphitheater, the Dixie Highway Landing, the Lake Mirror Seawall, Hollis Garden, Barnett Children’s Park, and, yes, the Frances Langford Promenade. Keeping the original and dedicated names of the features would acknowledge the history of Lakeland’s “ornate entrance.”