Posts Tagged With: restaurants

Fried Chicken in College Park

Fried Chicken on the Drive

When Orlandoans were in the mood for “Coup de Maitre” Fried Chicken and Prime Shrimp Dinners in the 1940’s, they could stop at the Shell Station on Edgewater.  Based on the street address, this was located where Jersey Mike’s Subs is located today.

Petri Wine was a poplular nationally distributed wine in the 1940’s.

Putting “Coup de Maitre” at the top of the advertisements suggested they were serving better-than-average gas station fried chicken.   The perfect accompaniment would be a California wine from the now defunct wineries, Cresta Blance and Petri.   Nearly 70 years later and the Shell Station long gone, tasty fried chicken is still just across the street at Publix.

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Orlando Retro Advertisement: 1967 — Uncle John’s Pancake House


In the sixties, you could find 20 kinds of pancakes at Uncle John’s Pancake House on East Colonial.   You could also find a late night bites with hours until 3:00 a.m.  That’s according to this ad that appeared in a 1967 copy of “The Attractions of Orlando and Winter Park.”

Today, you’ll need to drive a little further down Highway 50 to the IHOP for your pancake craving.  Uncle John’s is long gone and the restaurant has been repurposed for decades.  Simply delicious coffee?  Not here anymore.  It’s now the home of a medical office provide chiropractic and alternative medicine.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 8.12.35 AM

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The Intriguing History of the Cherry Plaza Hotel, Part 2

Twins Cover

Cherry Plaza Hotel, Part 1

Cherry Plaza Hotel, Part 2: 

Old postcard images can give an idealized view of the past.  Looking back at the 63 year history of the former Cherry Plaza Hotel, events like Walt Disney’s press conference and LBJ’s visit are most often remembered.  Many Orlandoans still have fond memories of pool parties,  dancing in the night club, or dinners at Lee’s Lakeside.    But the Cherry Plaza’s story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the role it played in one of final chapters of discrimination in professional baseball.

Segregation and Spring Training in Orlando

There may be little evidence of it today, but Orlando has a long history with baseball.   Tinker Field was built in 1914, and was the spring training site for the Washington Senators as far back as 1936.  In 1960, the Senators became the Minnesota Twins when owner Calvin Griffith moved them to Minnesota.   After the transition, the Twins remained in Orlando for Spring Training.   Yet Orlando was not the multicultural city it is today, and the lack of racial equality here brought major challenges for the new Twins.

Tinker Field was the site of spring training for the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins from the 30's until 1990.

Tinker Field was the site of spring training for the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins from the 30’s until 1990.

Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier for baseball in 1947, and by 1959 all teams were integrated.  But spring training was another story, because into the early 1960’s many teams did not house  black and white players together during spring training.  Most spring training was in Florida or Arizona.  Teams training in Arizona largely accommodated players in the same facilities, while most teams training in Florida had to house black players separately in different hotels or private homes.   This was the situation in Orlando: the Twin’s spring training headquarters were at the Cherry Plaza Hotel, but the  African-American players were provided rooms at the Sadler Hotel on West Church Street.

The team had been promised integrated, first class hotel facilities would be available, but such accommodations were not available by 1961.  The first year of spring training as the Twins, there was little controversy over the segregated facilities.  Most baseball teams training in Florida were separating their players that year, although this would quickly change.   By 1962, as other teams were integrating their spring training accommodations, the public and state officials back in Minnesota began to push the team into fixing the inequality.  The Cherry Plaza would not allow black players to stay there.

Concerned with his state’s reputation, Minnesota Governor Elmer Anderson became personally involved in encouraging change.  It was important to him to separate Minnesota from the racial discrimination occurring in the South.  He not only put pressure on team owner Calvin Griffith to find appropriate accommodations,  he also exchanged a series of letters with the manager of the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Orlando.  Frank Flynn, hotel manager, wrote the Governor in return.  His letters were mostly evasive about the hotel’s segregation policies, but were firm in stating the hotel’s contract was with the team and not the State of Minnesota.  After a few letters, Flynn attempted to write the disagreement off as difference of opinion.  To which Governor Anderson replied, “This is not a matter of opinion… Questions of discrimination are not of limited private concern.”    The  governor’s letters made no progress.

Sadler Hotel - Henry Sadler built and operated this hotel to serve the African-American community.  Ray Charles and James Brown were once guests here.  Sadler had a long history with the hotel business in Orlando.   He worked for as a bellman at the hotel San Juan from 1929-1972, operated the Sadler Hotel until 1983, and then worked guest relations at the Court of Flags until the late 1990s.

Sadler Hotel – Henry Sadler built and operated this hotel to serve the African-American community. Ray Charles and James Brown were once guests here. Sadler had a long history with the hotel business in Orlando. He worked as a bellman at the San Juan Hotel from 1929-1972, operated the Sadler Hotel until 1983, and then worked guest relations at the Court of Flags until the late 1990s.

In Minnesota, publicity and negative public opinion was growing, but the Twins organization reported Orlando had no hotels other than the Cherry Plaza to accommodate the team.   Discrimination complaints were filed within the Minnesota state government, yet none of the efforts were resulting in change.    Fewer and fewer teams were segregating their players.  In fact by spring of 1963, the Twins were one of only five teams left not integrated.

The Sadler Hotel, where the black players stayed, was operated by Henry Sadler.  Sadler had financial backing from Twins Owner Griffith in building a hotel to serve Orlando’s African-American community.  Earl Battey was one of the African-American players on the team during this time.   He spoke out to some degree about the need for integrated housing, but was aware an unintended consequence of integration was that African-American businesses could be hurt.  Battey made a point to speak highly of local African-American businesses.  He was quoted as saying that the need for integration was, “no reflection on Henry Sadler’s business.  The Sadler has a good coffee shop and there are three or four good restaurants for Negroes in Orlando.”

The public outrage in Minnesota peaked as 1964 Spring Training approached.  The Twins by this time were the only team not providing their players with integrated accommodations.  Future U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale was Minnesota Attorney General then and spoke out publicly at the team’s lack of progress.   The NAACP began organizing a protest to be held at the team’s season opener.   This was enough for the Twins to finally take action.

The four-year controversy came to an end — not with cooperation from the Cherry Plaza — but by relocating the spring training headquarters.  In 1964 the Twins put out a statement.  “Effective March 4, the spring training headquarters of the Minnesota Twins will be the Downtowner Motel in Orlando, Fla.”  And with that the team moved to the newly built Downtowner where all players were welcomed.

Downtowner Motel welcomed all players in 1964

Downtowner Motel welcomed all players in 1964

Stories about inequality and discrimination are usually complex.  A final anecdote to this story involves Frank Flynn, the Cherry Plaza Hotel manager who could not be persuaded to allow African-Americans into his hotel.  In 1963, one the most tragic events of the civil rights movement was the church bombing in Birmingham that killed four young girls.   It was Flynn who, with two other businessmen, set up an interfaith response to assist the victims of the bombing.    A fund was collected from area churches for the Birmingham families.  As Flynn upheld policies of discrimination at his hotel, he took action and led the community in displaying compassion to those hurt by the racial unrest of the times.


  • “Bigotry is Bad for Business: The Desegregation of Spring Training Camps in the Minnesota Twins Organization, 1960-1964” by Charles Betthauser, Fall 2007, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
  • Orlando Sentinel, 2/11/1992; 2/21/2010; 9/28/2000
  • Cool of the Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins, By Jim Thielman
  • Twins Journal: Year by Year & Day by Day with the Minnesota Twins Since 1961, By John Snyder
  • Swinging for the Fences: Black Baseball in Minnesota, by Steven R. Hoffbeck
  • New York Times, 1/19/1961
  • Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal, 3/4/1964
  • Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/17/1963
Categories: In Depth Story | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Intriguing History of the Cherry Plaza Hotel, Part 1


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.

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

    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: , , , , | 19 Comments

French Fried Jumbo Shrimp at Gary’s Duck Inn

Gary's Postcard

Top: Gary’s Duck Inn and
the hovering platter of shrimp
Bottom: Gary’s is long

Gary’s Duck Inn Gary's Napkin

The postcard features one of the six remodeled versions of Gary’s Duck Inn. Above it, hovers a platter of fried shrimp. For very close to 50 years, Gary’s Duck Inn was an Orlando restaurant institution and served up their popular fried shrimp on Orange Blossom Trail. It would be an understatement to say that Orange Blossom Trail was a very different stretch of road when Gary’s Duck Inn opened in 1945.
At the time, this was a scenic stretch of road for those traveling north and south through Orlando. For many, a motor inn on Highway 441 was a destination itself. When the restaurant opened, it opened small with seating for 15 people.   The popularity of the restaurant over the decades led to 6 different remodels,grew to a capacity of 400 seats, employed 90 people, and served celebrities such as Dolly Parton and Bob Hope.

Gary Starling started the restaurant and operated it for about 20 years. It catered to a loyal customer base of locals and tourists. The menu of reasonable priced seafood was a hit during the era before chain restaurants were common. In 1963, Mr. Starling sold Gary’s Duck Inn to investors that included Bill Darden and Charlie Woodsby. Five year’s later, Gary’s Duck Inn was the
inspiration Darden and Woodsby used to create Red Lobster restaurants. After inspiring a national chain restaurant, Gary’s Duck Inn continued to operate for another three decades.

As the years went by, fewer and fewer tourist (and locals for that matter) traveled down the Orange Blossom Trail. The area was in decline and became better known for stripper bars than a good plate of fried seafood. David Siegel of timeshare and “Queen of Versailles” fame made an attempt to purchase the restaurant for $375,000 and even attempted to recreate Gary’s by opening a restaurant called Fisherman’s Cove with some of the managers from Gary’s. Neither was successful, Gary’s Duck Inn shut its doors in 1994. Along OBT, there are still several weathered reminders of its past days as a tourist destination.  Sadly, Gary’s Duck Inn is not one of them. Demolished long ago, on the site today sits a 7-11 and a Dollar General.

Gary's Duck Inn as it looked in the 90's

Gary’s Duck Inn as it looked in the 90’s

Categories: Post Card Stories | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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