Some things are fabled right from the beginning. So is the case of the beloved town of Winter Park, Florida and its many storybook wonders.
Did you know that Winter Park, Florida, is a place of many firsts? The first Europeans to inhabit our town arrived in 1858 when David Mizell, Jr. purchased eight acres and called the settlement Lake View. In 1870, the territory became known as Osceola and boasted its first post office. A decade later, the area became the very first residential planned community in Florida, when two New Englanders purchased 600 acres bordering a necklace of lakes — what we now know as Lakes Virginia, Osceola, Maitland and Killarney.
Established in 1881, Winter Park was designed around a central park, a main street (Park Avenue) and a railroad station, with plans for homes, hotels, churches, schools and parks. Town leaders marketed to northerners wishing to flee harsh winters. Winter Park also became the location of Florida’s first four-year college, Rollins College.
Time went by, the world encroached upon our enclave, and a new set of firsts emerged. The year was 1960. Cassius Clay won Olympic gold for boxing, America sent troops to Vietnam, and Hugh Hefner opened his first Playboy Club in Chicago.
Closer to home, NASA launched from Cape Canaveral the first successful weather satellite, and Category 4 Hurricane Donna decimated everything in her path, including $300 million of Florida’s citrus crops. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” published, and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” premiered, starring former Rollins College student Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. The Etch A Sketch sold for $2.99, gas cost 25 cents a gallon, and a loaf of (probably Merita) bread was 20 cents.
The Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival debuted in 1960, and a savvy syndicate of visionaries developed Florida’s first condominium in Winter Park.
Second to None
Back then, banks did not have a method for financing or selling units in a multi-residential complex in Florida or anywhere else east of Chicago. Making the Winter Park project a reality began with sophisticated funding, urban planning and land acquisition.
The law firm of Gurney and Kafer represented the début project and worked with residential property owners to orchestrate land deals and rezoning permissions. Three properties were eventually acquired to expand the original concept of 32 units to 75 units with a lush, sprawling landscape.
A local newspaper quoted Kafer, who revealed that “this is the first time that the multiple-unit method of building a co-operative ownership apartment development has been used in Florida. It is in wide use in California and Arizona, however, and we are now concluding negotiations with an organization which we believe to the best qualified in the country for this type of project.”
The firm soon announced Lionel V. Mayell as the developer and James Gamble Rogers II as the architect. The trendy co-op complex was named Whispering Waters and to be built on Lake Osceola at the corner of Morse Boulevard and Interlachen Avenue.
Pioneer of Condominiums
Lionel V. Mayell is known as the father of the modern condominium. Mr. Mayell had successfully introduced the “own-your-own” apartment concept (a.k.a. condominiums) in California in the 1920s and later in Arizona. Now, he would bring it to the Sunshine State. (Read more about Mayell here).
Mayell’s subsequent condominium communities shared distinct midcentury modern architecture and lavish appointments of the times. He envisioned expansive glass windows, balconies the length of the units, lush landscaping and pools, and common laundry facilities. Blocks from Park Avenue and adjacent to the Scenic Boat Tour, Whispering Waters was considered “the ultimate in luxury, elegance, security and freedom from work and worry.” A sister property resides in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Gamble on Design
In this town of firsts, of course, the original designer for the project was none other than James Gamble Rogers II. One of Winter Park’s most famous, award-winning architects, JGRII, is responsible for such enduring projects as Casa Feliz and the Rollins’ Olin Library. While known most readily for his suave Spanish and Mediterranean Revival work, JGRII also had a knack for Art Deco and midcentury modern.
JGRII, of the firm of Rogers, Lovelock & Fritz, A.I.A., had submitted a preliminary sketch of the co-op apartments to the city zoning commission. The drawings showed a two-story design elevated above the lake with underground parking facilities. When the project was expanded, so were the architectural blueprints.
From Storied Start to Savvy Senior Living
It’s been sixty years since Whispering Waters’ storied start. When the development began selling units, the newish concept of affordable luxury promoted the value of shared amenities. In went the kidney-shaped swimming pool, underground parking garages, sleek elevators to each building, and the lakefront terrace to enjoy communal cocktails. All the units would be air-conditioned and soundproofed.
Another big attraction was — and still is — the condominium’s proximity to conveniences, shopping and restaurants.
Current resident Karin Ingoglia concurs. “My husband and I moved to Whispering Waters for its walkability to our favorite restaurants, the post office and the bank. We had grown tired of long commutes and endless traffic. Now, we only need one car and it’s a short walk to the SunRail Winter Park Amtrak station.”
Whispering Waters is now registered as a 55-and-over senior living complex. Over the years, residents have included former industry titans and public figures, renowned architects and artists, and all sorts of interesting folks. Intent on maintaining its midcentury charm, Whispering Waters’ iconic gold scrollwork stairs still gleam in the sunshine, and a few units might boast original pink or butter-yellow bathroom tiles.
With Covid-19 continuing to loiter, any anniversary plans have been postponed. Hopefully, Whispering Waters residents will soon be gathering again at the lakefront terrace to enjoy the communal spirit of condo living in Winter Park.
Special Note of Thanks
Special thanks to Rachel Simmons, Archivist at the Winter Park Library, and Karin Ingoglia, Whispering Waters resident, for their time and interest in bringing this history to light.
ZQ Taylor is a native Winter Parker.