Shirley Jones visits Avon Park

Life Beyond the Partridge Family
There is actual life outside of Disney and once in a while it takes on a whole new level of expectation.
Sometimes a great show is missed because it hardly ever garners attention from the Orlando market. The South Florida Community College puts on world class shows and they are less then 45 minutes south of here.
Typical example :

We visited the Night Shirley Jones came to town.

Historic theatre in a historic town. How many of us have ever been there?
This show sells for half what you would pay for it in Orlando.
Well we did it. The drive to Avon Park took an hour and it is not like anywhere else we’ve seen in Florida. The concert hall was spectacular. A pleasant surprise as we were the second show in this brand new concert hall. The restored Performing and Arts centre cost $12 million dollars. For such a private college this was no small accomplishment. Phenomenal acoustics, brand new padded seats and at least 25 opera style balconies. Shirley Jones delivered a wonderful Night at the Oscars show with the Hollywood Concert Orchestra. She and a few other singers belted out two hours of songs that brought a smile to your face. It was a sold out crowd and it seemed that we were the youngest in the crowd. The average age had to be well in to the 70’s.

Once the concert was over we decided to treat ourselves to a unique experience by checking in the Hotel Jacaranda in downtown Avon Park. This 1920’s hotel is so authentic you feel you are going back in time. A grand entrance ,large lobby with over sized plush lounge chairs and music in the background from days long ago. Even the elevator is the old birdcage style with the porter requiring he operate it to get you to your floor. Hotel Jacaranda is also owned by the South Florida Community college as part of their hotel culinary and management program. Half of it is dormitories for enrolled students while the other half open to the public

Free Breakfast is included in your stay and we were pleasantly surprised how bountiful it was. .There are two open restaurants in the Palm Room and Citrus Room located off the main lobby. No fast food served here. The Sunday Grand Buffet attracts locals from far and wide. . The hotel has a large heated pool and Jacuzzi. It is located at the center of oak tree lined downtown of Avon Park. This town is not for anyone seeking excitement. By Saturday afternoon at 3 Pm all the shops are closed till Monday. It was not surprising to see older couples strolling hand in hand down the main street window shopping. The hotel is peaceful and quiet. The rooms are typical for the style of the 1920’s. Very high ceilings, large extra firm beds and antique furniture. The patrons are predominantly senior citizens although the majority of the staff are younger college students. There was a TV in every bedroom and high speed internet on the third floor only and in the library. We almost felt guilty turning on the TV as there was many a guest in the main lobby willing to engage you in a game of checkers or cards or some quiet conversation. Everyone kept asking us where we lived and when we said Kissimmee they seemed perplexed we’d drive 50 miles to stay in their village. From November through May, pianist Jeff Klein entertains each evening with his musical favorites and special requests and show tunes on his restored Steinway. The walls lined with autographed pictures of celebrities that used to stay there long ago. Everyone from Babe Ruth to Al Capone. George and Gracie Burns to Clark Gable. This hotel literally makes you feel you are going back in time. The room costs us $67 for the room. Balconies facing out on the main street add $5 more per night. My main indulgence was enjoying steamy hot shower with powerful water from the basement boilers .The water rushed out of those large ancient pipes and I could have stood there for hours. Once it bed we were lulled to sleep by the distant whistle of trains roaring through the western edge of town .By 11 PM everyone was already asleep.

It just shows that you don’t have to go that far to enjoy a whole different life in Florida. Avon Park and neighboring Sebring are two magical towns that are very much part of life in Florida 60 years ago.

Allan N.Oakley
Kissimmee, Florida

( Updated  Memoir May 2017 )

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