WINTER PARK, Fla. - One of the more interesting "hidden gems" in the Orlando area is a place you may see quite often, yet know little about. It’s the historic Park Plaza Hotel on Park Avenue in Winter Park, a European-style hotel with 28 guest rooms.
You may recognize it as the building at the intersection of New England Avenue with the fern-lined balconies that looks like an upscale getaway right in the middle of it all, but that is not the way it started out.
"The hotel is a hundred years old this year, and it was built originally to house the railroad workers that built the main line coming in through Winter Park," said Pia Brenan, the hotel’s general manager. "It was actually built by the Orlando & Winter Park Railway in 1922 and was originally known as the Hamilton Hotel. Once construction was done, it became the Park Plaza. And then after that, their idea was to house basically Northeasterners that came down here to winter."
The hotel was perfectly located for the people from the Northeast to take the train to Central Florida for a nice vacation, along with being a perfect place to stay for families visiting their children at Rollins College.
Inside, the historic building has undergone some changes over the past 100 years but still has the feel of Old Florida. As you approach the front doors, you notice a small shop on either side of the entrance that is perfect for browsing. But those stores used to be a place of relaxation for guests.
"Well, in the old days when the Northeasterners came down, they used these rooms for sunning," said Brenan. "They would come down, read their books, do their knitting, whatever, and sit in there. When the sunning rooms were converted to shops, an interesting touch was added. Eventually, we closed them in. All of that ironwork came from an old theater in New York that they were dismantling."
There is also an elevator inside that has a bit of history as well. Brenan says, "The elevator was added in the 70’s, and it actually is from the Jacksonville Elevator Company." It’s a manually operated elevator, so it sometimes confuses the guests.
"So you have to a lot of guests just stand here and sort of wait, but you actually have to open the door," said Brenan. "Once inside the cage, then you can make your way up to the guest rooms on the second floor. Many of those rooms now have balconies, which is what you can see from Park Avenue. The original building had a balcony on the front, but not on the side. And then in the 70s, when the Spang family took over, they extended the balcony out, and they built one on the side."
Brenan says this may be the best place in all of Central Florida to relax and enjoy Florida, in the best way possible.
"But it is very special because the front rooms and the side rooms have that balcony access individually. They can either look out over the park or they look out over Park Avenue, and they can people watch."