APA FL's People's Choice Winner: Downtown Winter Haven

One element that all downtowns have in common is that their character will change over the course of time. Downtown Winter Haven, APA Florida's 2019 Great Places in Florida People's Choice Winner, is an example of this phenomenon.

Central Avenue

Central Avenue serves as Downtown Winter Haven’s historic main street. Hit hard by the development of retail centers such as Northgate Shopping Center, Southgate Shopping Center and Winter Haven Mall during the mid-20th century, Central Avenue is now known for its mix of restaurants, bars and boutique retail shops and services.

The streets of downtown have been transformed to be very end user friendly with the inclusion of modern technology. Here, touch screen digital directories serve as an easy to use mapping system for pedestrians seeking the location of various businesses, parks and other destinations within the downtown core.

Founded by Henry Wigington Snell, the Snell National Bank building was constructed in 1911. Now known as the Times Square Building, its cluster of ground floor restaurants, bars and entertainment venues serves as a major anchor where Central Park and Central Avenue come together.

Originally known as the Williamson Theatre, the Ritz Theatre was constructed in 1925 for vauderville and silent movies.

In 1940, this building on Central Avenue opened as a larger replacement for the first Publix grocery store a few blocks west. It is recognized as the first “food palace” or modern-day supermarket built by Publix.

The six-story structure built in 1926 by DeWitt Taylor is the tallest historic building on Central Avenue within the business district. Currently vacant, there are plans by the Tom Wolf Company to restore the structure into a high-end 75-room boutique hotel called The Taylor Hotel.

This building is near and dear to this writer’s heart. It’s the former Social Security Administration building where my mother was employed for years. Undergoing a dramatic makeover by Six/Ten LLC., the faux two-story building now features an arcade of shops anchored by a self pouring beer hall called the Union Taproom.

The former Social Security Administration building in May 2018 prior to its recent renovation by Six/Ten LLC. (Google Streetview)

Inspired by the architectural work of Mid-Century Modernist Architect Gene Leedy, RainGarden Townhouse Apartments were designed by Miami-based architect Max Strang in 2015. At the time, the project was the first residential development constructed in the downtown area in 25 years.


Article by Ennis Davis, AICP who grew up in Winter Haven and graduated from Winter Haven High School before attending college. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com