The Intriguing History of the Cherry Plaza Hotel, Part 1

WOB

The Eola Plaza in the early 50’s and the shores of Lake Eola 60 years later.

From Eola Plaza to the Cherry Plaza Hotel

This is story of apartment building (Eola Plaza) turned hotel (Cherry Plaza Hotel) and then turned back to apartments (Post Parkside).   In 1950, a new, modern high-rise dominated the shores of Lake Eola.   That year, Eola Plaza opened as one of the tallest buildings in the area and one of the first built with poured concrete.    The surrounding area was largely two-story homes at the time.  That soon changed as many of which became shops and inns when tourism and traffic increased.

Eola Plaza offered more than just apartments, but brought commerce to the area.  Storefronts were on the street level of Eola Plaza.   In a 2000 piece in the Orlando Sentinel, Joy Wallace Dickinson listed those early 1950’s businesses as being Eola Pharmacy, Plaza Petites, the Eola Plaza Flower Shop, Jeanne Elkins Dress Shop, Markham’s Restaurant, the Mary Bradshaw Beauty Salon, and The Eola Plaza Bamboo Room, a night club.

In the mid 50’s, William Cherry, chairman of Cherry Broadcasting company, owned radio stations WDBO-FM and WDBO-AM and WDBO-TV (currently Channel 6).  He added this building to his portfolio, and the Eola Plaza became the Cherry Plaza Hotel.   A 1200 seat convention facility, which included the Egyptian Room, was added making the hotel an attractive location for out of town groups and local community events.

Its time as the Cherry Plaza was the hotel’s most interesting.  In the 60’s the hotel was in its prime and important guests visited and the many notable events were held in the Egyptian Room.  One of these events could be considered Day One of Orlando becoming the world’s family vacation capital.

  • Long before Walt Disney World was planned, the New York Times wrote about growing tourism in Orlando.  Noting that over a quarter of a million people flew into Orlando in 1959, a 26% increase from the year prior.  The number of hotel rooms in town had doubled in two years to over 1800.   The Times wrote that more hotel rooms were added to Orlando when, during the conversion to Cherry Plaza, some Eola Plaza apartments were divided into multiple hotel rooms.
  • President Johnson was the first U.S. President to spend the night in Orlando while in office, and he stayed at the Cherry Plaza in 1964.  The Jones High School Band were part of the welcoming festivities.   Greeted with a large crowd in front of the hotel, LBJ climbed onto the hood of a police cruiser to announce how happy he was to be in Orlando.
  • That visit wasn’t LBJ’s first visit here.  As a senator and a Vice Presidential candidate running with John F. Kennedy, he hosted Democratic campaign workers at a luncheon at the Cherry Plaza about five years earlier.
  • http://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/232405

    Walt Disney walking into the Cherry Plaza to make an announcement that would forever change Orlando.
    Source: floridamemory.com

    In 1966, actor Danny Thomas hosted a reception in the Egyptian Room at the Cherry Plaza.   Thomas was one of the original owners of the Miami Dolphins and had the players in Orlando for an event.  He was in town building excitement about the new Dolphins, Florida’s first professional football team.

  • The event with the greatest impact on Orlando was a November 1965 press conference also held in the Egyptian Room at the Cherry Plaza that included  Walt Disney, his brother Roy, and the Governor of Florida, Haydon Burns.   This was Walt’s only public appearance in Orlando.  After secretly purchasing land in Central Florida, he announced plans for Disney World.  He promised attendees that it would be grander than Disneyland and would employ 4000 people.  Disney died a little over a year later without seeing the growth his announcement brought to this community.
  • For a few years in the 1970’s, there was a Columbia Restaurant, part of the oldest restaurant in Florida, located in the Cherry Plaza.    The family that owned the now 105 year old restaurant said a church objected to liquor sales and forced is closure.   Later, Lee’s Lakeside opened in the same restaurant space overlooking Lake Eola.  Restaurateur Lee Rose ran this local favorite for over 20 years.  Lee’s Lakeside closed in 2005 not long after her death.

The Cherry Plaza Hotel’s story was too much for one blog post.  The next post to Orlando Retro will be about the Cherry Plaza Hotel’s role in a part of Orlando history that is remembered with less delight than Uncle Walt’s visit.

_________________________________

  • Orlando Sentinel, 2/11/1992; 2/21/2010; 2/2/2000; 10/13/1985
  • New York Times, 1/3/1960
  • Daytona Beach Morning Journal, 2/27/1966
  • Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando, By Richard E. Foglesong
Categories: Post Card Stories | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “The Intriguing History of the Cherry Plaza Hotel, Part 1

  1. Pingback: The Intriguing History of the Cherry Plaza Hotel, Part 2 | orlando retro blog

  2. Pingback: One Last Stop at the Cherry Plaza Hotel | orlando retro blog

  3. My grandparent’s home was a block away to the SE, at 613 Pine St. For LBJ’s 1965 visit, some of us (I cannot tell you which of my family members except my mom were there) walked over to see him arrive. I was 9 and got separated by just a few feet from her, and was caught up in the crush toward the President.
    While bigger than most 9 YO’s, I was dwarfed by the adults around me, and I remember very clearly the inexorable press of people pushing me in, and the steely grips of the Secret Service as they linked forearms to try to create a little bit of space around him. In retrospect, I think how much of a nightmare that must have been for those guys, worrying about losing another chief executive to a sweaty crowd of Floridians on a cobblestone street.
    There’s one picture I found of him in that crowd, and there’s a burr headed haircut on a young boy down below shoulder level that I know is me.

  4. Aron

    Amazing! I live in Post Parkside now and was very curious about its history. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Joseph A Boyle

    My father, Garry A Boyle, was the architect who designed the Eola Plaza. I remember his telling me that it was the first, therefore only, monolithic concrete building in Florida at the time. This project was built before Interstate-4 was, and the commute between Tampa and Orlando was considerably longer. My Dad was a hands-on architect, who always had written into his contract that he would supervise the construction to ensure that it was built just as he designed it. So for a while he would spend the week in Orlando and commute home for weekends.

    I believe that the building was built by Paul Smith Construction Co. Paul Smith and my Dad were good friends and collaborated on many projects in the Tampa area.

    There was some kind of a grand opening ceremony when the building was ready. I vaguely recall being there for that. However I attended many such gatherings over the years, and I may be confusing some other building with the Eola Plaza.

  6. Pamela Wilson Honeywell

    In the mid to later 50s there was a children’s shop called Polly Rowanne’s where my mother bought All of the clothes for the six of us! Wonderful lady, beautiful shop!

  7. Pingback: A Few Orlando Retro Updates | orlando retro blog

  8. Pingback: The Minnesota Twins and the Cherry Plaza Hotel | Twinstrivia.com

  9. Charlie Carlson

    My Great Aunt Olga Carlson lived there in the early 1970’s after she retired from her job as executive assistant to the president of the L&N Railroad. Unfortunately, she killed herself in 1972 in her living room at the hotel.

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