Spring has begun, Easter and Passover were once again and brought a season that often meant a Sunday afternoon on the streets of Central Florida in my childhood.
During these years, I've been particularly busy with the radio adventures of the Lone Ranger, so it's no surprise that my favorite spot on the local roadside scenery was the Motel Wigwam Village.
No matter that these big tepees sang a western piece that never existed. Their lure was inevitable: 27 gigantic concrete cones arranged in a horseshoe opposite the highway. Four more were added, including a mothership tepee that towered above the others and originally housed a restaurant.
Orlando's Wigwam Village was a cousin of six other motels across the country, three of which survive – in Holbrook, Arizona (on US Route 66), Cave City, Kentucky, and San Bernardino, California. All three are registered in the national register of historical places.
But most of it was the lost Wigwam Village in Orlando. It stood at 700 S. Orange Blossom Trail until 1973, when the Sentinel reported on February 15 its demolition. We know from its beginnings thanks to the research of the historian Orlando Tana Porter: The founder of the motel, A.B. Waggener received on July 28, 1947 a permit for a building that cost $ 100,000. Waggener came from Kentucky, where the history of the American wigwam villages begins.
Around 1930, an editor named Frank Redford returned from a California trip to Horse Cave, Ky., In the Mammoth Cave area, where in 1931 he opened a wigwam grill and petrol station by a tipi-shaped restaurant in Long Beach were inspired, Calif.
In 1933, Redford had already added 15 tepee cabins for travelers in Horse Cave, and in 1937 he patented his "wigwam" design with stucco walls over a steel frame – a fantasy translation of a Sioux tipi.
In a sort of early franchise agreement, Redford granted his tepee design to people like Waggener who wanted to open their own wigwam villages. Of the seven Orlando finally built, No. 4 was.
Since the motels were designed by Redford, it is likely that a description of the survivor in Cave City also applies to the cousin in Orlando. The central tipi in Cave City is 52 feet high and contains 38 tons of concrete and 13 tons of steel. That's a solid bunch of history.
The builder of the Orlando version, Jerry Kinsley, recently died in December 2018 at the age of 101. Kinsley was Mayor of Edgewood for 17 years; His company also oversaw the construction of Winter Park Pines and other large projects.
After the Wigwam Village was demolished in 1973 to make room for a Days Inn, a former official from the Days Inn told the Sentinel that the company had tried to rescue some of the tepees. but they were too heavy to move. (The motel on the property is now the vacation lodge.)
The big tipis did not give up so easily. It took about a week to crush them into a huge pile of concrete and steel that was probably on a landfill.
It's fun to still spot Wigwam Village here on the trail, between Carter Street and the East-West Expressway to the north and the Jones High School campus to the south. On the drive to Orlando to the east and west, we would see this huge horseshoe of gleaming white tipis. They would be a treasure from America's street history, like their cousins in Kentucky and the West.
"Wigwams, oranges and dinosaurs"
On Tuesday, April 23, Rick Kilby and I will talk about our shared fascination for Florida's street architecture in a program at Casa Feliz in Winter Park. The title "Wigwams, Oranges and Dinosaurs: A Brief History of Florida's Street Architecture" is available from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm. and is free; Call 407-628-8200 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a seat (Casa Feliz programs are sometimes full).
You can reach Joy Wallace Dickinson at email@example.com, FindingJoyinFlorida.com or by sending a good old-fashioned letter to Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.
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