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Florida’s forgotten tourist tower

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The Placid Tower, located in Lake Placid, is a forgotten piece of Florida tourism. Despite the lettering on the side of the tower, it is no longer open to visitors.
The Placid Tower, located in Lake Placid, is a forgotten piece of Florida tourism. Despite the lettering on the side of the tower, it is no longer open to visitors.

The Placid Tower is one of Florida’s many tourist towers.

The tower is located off U.S. 27 in Lake Placid, a sleepy town known as the “caladium capital of the world,” because it contains many elephant ear plants. The tower was built like its counterpart Citrus Tower, but the Citrus Tower is located 90 miles to the north, to capitalize on the massive influx of visitors from Northern states during the winter months.

Built during 1960 by Sebring-based Ridge Builders, the tower opened to the public on Jan. 1, 1960. The structure cost $350,000, which, due to inflation, translates to $2.7 million today.

The residents of Lake Placid celebrated the opening of the tower with great fanfare. The Tower View restaurant #still open to this day# allowed visitors to grab a meal while visiting, and those who reached the top of the tower were encouraged to phone home on “Florida’s highest pay phone.”

The tower is the southernmost of three tourist towers built on the Central Florida ridge. When it was open, visitors to the observation deck could see up to 40 miles away.

The tower was billed as a real estate agent’s dream, as it was “a great way to check out your future neighbor’s backyard without the awkward introductions.” It also offered spectacular views of the surrounding lakes, caladium fields and countryside.

At 270 feet high, the tower, made up of roughly 90,000 blocks imported from a mine in Texas, was the tallest concrete-block structure in the world at the time of its opening. It was designed by A. Wyatt Howell of Lakeland, who designed many Central Florida civic structures.

However, the tower’s popularity never matched up to that of its more popular counterparts farther up the highway, the Bok Tower in Lake Wales and the Citrus Tower in Clermont. The Bok Tower, built in 1929, was intended as a peaceful sanctuary for contemplation, while the Citrus Tower was closer to a large-population center.

In the late 1960s, the tower’s name was changed to “The Happiness Tower” in order to lure visitors. They branded the tower as providing visitors a state of bliss when looking out from the top. Simultaneously, the tower was also known as “The Tower of Peace,” further adding to the tourist’s confusion. However, ticket sales declined and ultimately the tower was closed in 1982 when its owner refused to pay the IRS taxes on the property.

The tower reopened in 1986, but still faced the same attendance issues that plagued it from the onset. A handful of owners, however, managed to keep the tower and accompanying restaurant open until the early 2000s. A testament to its lack of popularity both statewide and locally, no one has been able to pinpoint when exactly the structure closed.

The city briefly considered reopening the tower in conjunction with the current property owner back in 2008, using the Citrus Tower as a model. But that plan dissipated by the end of the year.

Today, the tower sits closed in an abandoned plaza just east of U.S. 27. Drivers approaching the town on the highway can see the tower miles in the distance and know that they are about to arrive in Lake Placid. Contrary to what is painted in big red letters on the north and south sides of the tower’s top, the Placid Tower is not open to the public anymore.

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