For over 80 years, the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp was located on a plot of land between Orange Blossom Trail and Rock Lake. It has seen life as an early Central Florida tourist attraction, a residential trailer park, and a lakeside timeshare resort. It had such a colorful history it was even the subject of a comedy theatrical production.
Orange groves were south of Rock Lake in the late 1800’s. Postcards as early as 1906 featured a scenic palm tree-lined lakeshore. As Orlando developed, Kentucky Avenue soon ran adjacent to the eastern shore, where in 1935 a man named Jonathan Moon purchased 10 acres on Rock Lake. Kentucky Avenue would later be called Orange Blossom Trail, a more descriptive and appealing name to Central Florida travelers.
On his new property Mr. Moon opened Moon’s Tourist Camp making it one of a couple of tourist camps in the area. People visited to enjoy the Central Florida sun along the beaches of the inland freshwater lake. Entertainment during the early days of the Carolina Moon included a dance hall and roller skating.
While the tourist camps may have been popular with visitors, residents of the nearby Spring Lake Terrace neighborhood were not as welcoming. In 1937, over 50 home owners from one of Orlando’s early prominent neighborhoods fought city hall to rid the area of the camps. Likely in response, the city ordered the trailer camps to close or relocate. Mr. Moon was alleged to have opened his camp without proper permits and this lead to a lengthy legal battle. However, the trailer camp survived and remained with Moon as owner until 1945.
For the decades to come, a neon sign along Orange Blossom Trail identified the property as the “Carolina Moon Cottages.” In 1963 when motor lodges were still a draw, the Parliament House chain built a large hotel next door. The Carolina Moon was left to age beside a new modern facility.
However, only a few years later Walt Disney made his famous announcement (Retro Link: Walt’s Announcement) and tourists’ interest quickly shifted away from scenic Rock Lake.
By 1975, Parliament House was in decline and no longer part of a national chain. That year it reinvented itself as gay hotel and entertainment complex. With virtually nothing else like it in the country it brought new traffic and flavor to the area.
By this time, the Carolina Moon Trailer Park was residential. Full Moon Saloon later opened on the northern side of the Carolina Moon. Residents made up a cast of characters that didn’t mind the traffic of late-night bar hoppers making their way across the property.
The 80s and 90s were slightly seedier years for the Carolina Moon, the rooms of the original motel hosted a variety of tenants and merchants. Shops like Twisted Palms sold leather wear and specialty clothing while other stores offered everything from adult video rentals to gay-themed tchotchkes. In 1990 Boca Raton News told the story of a makeshift clinic operating in one of the rooms. During the peak of the AIDS crisis, this rogue clinic provided experimental therapies for the disease.
In the 2000’s, new owners of the Parliament House removed the trailer homes to develop the property into a gay timeshare resort, The Gardens. This unlikely end to the Carolina Moon’s story was the basis for local playwright Michael Wanzie’s, “Carolina Moon: A Campy Trailer Trash Tragedy.” His comedy production told the story of the displaced “eclectic mix of residents at Carolina Moon, ranging from old-time southern crackers and Tupperware ladies to leather daddies and disco twinks.”
Only one of several planned buildings were constructed since The Gardens’ 2005 opening. Much of the land between it and the Parliament House is vacant. Today, a single stretch of rooms along Orange Blossom Trail is the last remnant of the Carolina Moon.
It’s quite unlikely in the 1930’s Mr. Moon had any idea the colorful history that Moon’s Tourist Camp would create.
Slideshow of the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp: