The Floridabilt: A New Orlando Venue Inspired by Its Historic Predecessors
Before the Magic put a spell on us, before the Lions roared, before the Pride championed, before the Rails zoomed past us, before the big arenas and stadiums, and congested one-way streets took over…there were the ‘Bilts. The Angebilt, The Wells’ Built Hotel, Church Street Station, and now…the Floridabilt.
How did all of this start? What’s the history behind it all? We’re diving in to share a slice of downtown Orlando’s history as we prepare to open the city’s newest venue, the Floridabilt.
Once dubbed “The Jewel of Downtown Orlando,” the Angebilt Hotel was a legend of its own. Construction for the 11-story Angebilt Hotel began in 1921 when Joseph Fenner Ange funded the hotel for one million dollars. The building was considered to be one of the first skyscrapers in Orlando. Harry H. Gardiner, “The Human Fly,” even scaled the Angebilt twice in the 1920s.
After two years of construction, the Angebilt Hotel opened on March 14, 1923. Two months later, Mr. Ange filed for bankruptcy and left the Angebilt Hotel. The Hotel later reopened after being bought at a public auction in 1924. As the Great Depression hit the country, the Angebilt Hotel remained open, welcoming guests.
The hotel offered an upscale atmosphere with a lobby, lounge, dining room, beauty salon, barber shop, drug store, coffee shop, cocktail lounge, and more. Mosaic-tiled floors, silky curtains, and Mezzanine table lamps with Tiffany glass filled the hotel with personality. The Angebilt was modeled after New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel, and served as an example of Twentieth Century Commercial style by Murry S. King, the first registered architect in Florida.
Once the tallest building in Orlando and Hollywood elites’ go-to stay, the 10th floor was known as “The Height of Hospitality.” The hotel boasted great views of Lake Eola with its roof-top sky deck.
The Angebilt is also known for famous guests stopping by. In 1923, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison all stayed at the Angebilt Hotel on the way to Edison’s home in Ft. Myers.
Another familiar face, Pepsi-Cola board member Joan Crawford Steele attended a reception in the Angebilt ballroom when the company opened a new bottling plant in Orlando in 1961.
Probably the most famous face, but not famous at the time, was Buddy Ebsen. Ebsen was an actor, most commonly remembered for his Jed Clampett character from the TV Show, The Beverly Hillbillies. Before he was famous, Buddy worked first as a waiter, then as a soda jerk in the soda fountain in the Angebilt to make money to go to College.
The top two floors caught fire on February 27, 1983. The hotel closed for a year, bringing $9 million to renovate. This marked the end of the Angebilt Hotel era and welcomed a new beginning for other opportunities.
The Angebilt building was renovated throughout the rest of the decade, later becoming the Orange County Courthouse annex in 1988. Once the courthouse moved up the street, the Angebilt served as a home for restaurants and offices, now including Finnhenry’s and Subway.
On January 3, 2019, Novel Coworking LLC purchased the Angebilt building for $13.7 million to rent office space to local entrepreneurs.
The Wells' Built
Next up is the Wells’ Built Hotel, courtesy of Dr. William Monroe Wells. Dr. Wells was a local African-American physician and one of Orlando’s first black doctors. He delivered more than 5,000 Orlando babies, and treated patients from a range of illnesses. He has given so much to the community in times of need, even treating patients when they could not afford his fees.
Dr. Wells built the hotel and the entertainment venue, South Street Casino, for African Americans visiting Orlando during the segregation era.~
Famous African-American performers stayed at the hotel and played at the South Street Casino, including household names such as Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Count Basie, Ivory Joe Hunter, Guitar Slim, and Cab Calloway. Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall are also among the list of well-known names who visited the hotel. Guests stayed at the hotel until the late 1980s when the hotel became abandoned for decades.
Today, the historic hotel now serves as The Wells’ Built Museum of African American History and Culture on West South Street. The museum opened in June 2009, featuring rooms with unique memorabilia from Central Florida’s African-American community. The restored section of the hotel is part museum, part office space for rent. Visitors may learn from displays on the Civil Rights Movement in Orlando and African art on loan for local collectors.
The Train Station
In 1889, the South Florida Railroad built the famous Church Street Station. Richard Forbes, historic preservation office for the City of Orlando, stated in an Orlando Sentinel article, “Arguably, this is a more important building from that era, significant because it’s why everybody came here, and it’s how they got here.”
Preceding the glorious station we know today, there were two small, wooden train stations. The construction cost of the new station was $18,000, which would be around $487,700 today. The Plant System, named after Henry Plant, later bought the South Florida Railroad in 1893.
Prior to Church Street Station’s construction, there were only 200 people in Orlando. 10 years later, thousands of people entered the city per year. The population went on to double and triple every few years after that.
However, retail departed from downtown in the late 60s and early 70s when department retail moved out to set up strip malls around town. There was a brief revitalization when Bob Snow came in and created the Church Street Station Complex, which brought downtown back to life. But since that era ended in the late 90s, there hasn't been much of a reason to come downtown anymore.
The station’s exterior now serves as a transporter with the SunRail commuter rail. Guests can travel as far south as Poinciana and as far north as DeBary, including a stop right in the heart of downtown Orlando.
Mosquito County Tours Meets Church Street Station
Mandy Longo started Mosquito County Tours a little more than a year ago. She named the tour company after the original county name, Mosquito County, which included present-day Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, Seminole, Osceola, Orange, Lake, Polk, and Palm Beach counties.
On Mandy’s Historic Downtown Orlando Walking Tour, she passed by Church Street Station, which was vacant and surrounded by a fence. Her heart sank each time she walked past to tell her guests the history of this iconic building. Every day, she dreamed of bringing the station back to life.
During the walking tours, one point of conversation that guests always inquired about is -- why is nobody here at the station?
Finding the Real Orlando
Mandy and her guests usually see empty streets in the daytime, with the occasional worker heading to a meeting or stepping out for lunch. There is no one in downtown anymore - and rightfully so - what is there to do??
That's what she used to think, anyway, as do most locals. Many people who live around town believe the only thing there is to do is to come out at night to go to a game or a bar. Most tourists don't even realize that Orlando has a thriving downtown area.
Mandy also found that most locals aren’t aware of Orlando’s history. When she takes locals on a tour, they’re shocked at what they learn about a city they have lived in for so long. Many tourists also believe that nothing happened here "pre-Mouse," but believe me - there is a lot to learn.
Orlando has the highest amount of money spent in tourism dollars than any other city in America...but very few of those tourists ever come to the REAL Orlando. They are all headed to theme parks.
The Floridabilt: Downtown Orlando’s Newest Venue
Mandy wants to wake up downtown Orlando and bring it back to life. She wants everyone - locals and tourists alike, to come see all that downtown has to offer. She also wants to celebrate and preserve Orlando's history.
The Floridabilt, Mandy’s latest project, is a new venue in downtown Orlando located inside the historic Church Street Station. This iconic building, with all of its history, is going to be a central location in the heart of downtown that is the hub of all things Orlando and Florida History.
Mandy named the venue the Floridabilt, as you may have already guessed, as a nod to her predecessors, Joseph Ange and Dr. Wells, who named their buildings in the same way.
In addition, this train station had a significant impact on Orlando being "built" as the railroad brought so many people to Florida and into Orlando.
Bringing Local Spirit to Floridabilt Visitors
Mandy is working to renovate the inside to feel like you are stepping back in time to the turn of the century. She wants to help restore the building to its original glory. The vibe inside will be that of a General Store from years gone by.
Everything inside the Floridabilt will celebrate all-things-local. Guests may feast on a Florida-themed menu from Artisan's Table – a local favorite in downtown Orlando. Visitors can enjoy Florida beer on tap and a variety of goods from local artisans and makers for sale.
In the evenings there will be all kinds of entertainment, including interactive theater experiences, live music, floor shows, historic movies, and guest speakers on Orlando-centric topics.
Guests will have plenty of tour and event options at the Floridabilt. Locals and out-of-town guests can visit with a local expert to learn about and experience Orlando in a new way. There will be everything from historic walking tours, to private cooking experiences in a local kitchen, to central Florida excursions, and even the option to rent out the venue for private parties.
Mandy knows the Floridabilt is what downtown Orlando has been waiting for. She’s ready to wake up the city and show them what downtown is all about, no matter what time of day it is.
The official opening date of The Floridabilt has not been announced yet. Be sure to follow along on our brand new social media channels for The Floridabilt to hear the latest information and announcements!