Abandoned Florida: The Dixie Walesbilt Hotel

Situated in the heart of Central Florida, the City of Lake Wales is a place known for a variety of things. From the Legend of Spook Hill and Bok Tower to the being the home of Florida's Natural massive citrus juice production plant, growing up in nearby Winter Haven, I've always found it to be quite intriguing. With that said, not many know that this Polk County community of 16,000 residents is also the site of one of the state's most impressive skyscrapers built during the 1920s Florida Land Boom. Courtesy of Abadoned Florida's Bullet, here's a look into the rise, fall and the pending restoration of the Dixie Walesbilt Hotel.

In March 1994, the hotel closed due to multiple code violations and was to remain closed until a new fire sprinkler system was installed. To reopen, the fire escapes and elevator, which did not function, would have to be repaired as well. In 1995, the hotel was auctioned off to a redevelopment firm, which dismantled part of the interior for reconstruction, which was never completed.

Since then, the hotel has deteriorated, becoming an eyesore to many of the residents of Lake Wales and nicknamed “The Green Monster” for the greenish color it has acquired from over the years. In 1995, it was even jokingly mentioned to become a sacrifice to “the bomb”, an economic boom that occurred in parts of Florida where movie production companies would pay cities to blow up buildings for their movies. In 2007, the city foreclosed on the structure for more than $700,000 in unpaid code fines, with hopes in finding someone to restore it.

Development firm, Dixie-Walesbilt LLC announced plans to restore the hotel, signing into an agreement with the city of Lake Wales in February 2010. By the agreement, the city would retain ownership of the building until a defined amount of work had been accomplished. The work must be completed within 16 months and the amount of money invested must succeed at least $1.5 million. The building would then be handed off the Dixie Walesbilt LLC, where they may continue with private funding or other methods to for debt funding.

Ray Brown, President of Dixie Walesbilt LLC, planned to invest $6 million into the renovation, with original plans to put retail stores on the ground floor and using the upper floors for as many as 40 condominiums.

On June 2, 2011, the city of Lake Wales agreed to deed the building off to Ray Brown in a 4-1 vote, after meeting the requirements of the redevelopment agreement. Though Brown submitted a list of costs to the city totaling $1.66 million, Mayor Mike Carter wasn’t satisfied with the results so far, pointing out that Brown failed to repair the windows and repaint the building. Previous owners had put tar on the building and then painted over it, so much of Brown’s investment went to stripping the tar off the exterior walls.

To repaint the building, Brown would also have to resurface the hotel with hydrated lime to replicate the original skin as well as the window frames would need to be constructed of Douglas fir, red cedar and gulf cypress. According to Brown, previous owners who renovated the building rarely removed the building original elements. They carpeted over intricate tile flooring, stuck tar paper above skylights and placed modern drinking fountains in front of the originals. He estimated about 98 percent of the building is still in it’s original form.

Restoration of the building’s exterior began in January 2015 and included surface repair, pressure washing, paint removal, chemical treatment, and a comprehensive resurfacing of the exterior.

While the original plans were for turning the building into condominiums, that has since changed and current plans call for operating the building as a boutique hotel. The hotel will feature geothermal cooling as opposed to traditional air conditioning, a permanent art gallery as well as theme gallery showings throughout the year, and the best WiFi/internet in the city. The project is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months.

For updates on its restoration, please feel free to visit, like and share the Walesbilt Hotel on Facebook.

Originally posted by Bullet at Abandoned Florida.

Interior photographs courtesy of Bullet at Abandoned Florida. Article introduction by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com

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