Florida is known for its tourist attractions. Many of these attractions evoke the environment and culture of Florida at a certain time period. Architecture also highlights certain characteristics from different cultures.
Edward W. Bok, an editor for Ladies Home Journal, and his wife decided to create a bird sanctuary in Lake Wales in 1921. With the help of leading architect, Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., the hilly and sandy landscape was transformed into an oasis. It included 1,000 live oaks, 10,000 azaleas, 100 sabal palms, 300 magnolias, 500 gordonias, and much more. There is a reflecting pool in front of the singing tower. A brass door leads into the tower on the highest point of the landscape. The tower is made of pink Etowah marble, gray Creole marble and coquina stone. The singing tower is the focal point of the landscape, which is surrounded by botanical gardens. The carillon fills the upper third of the tower. A carillon is an array of bells arranged on a musical scale and played on a keyboard. The Bok carillon consists of 60 bells ranging in weight from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons. The bell chamber holds recitals daily. There are four carillons in Florida, nearly 200 in North America and about 400 in Europe.
The Ponce de Leon Hotel was completed in 1888 in St. Augustine by architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings. It was funded by multimillionaire railroad developer Henry M. Flagler. The architecture was influenced by Spanish Renaissance style. The Spanish heritage is reflected on the narrow streets over-arched with balconies and overgrown moss covering the coquina walls. The paintings on the walls and ceilings were done by George W. Maynard and Virgilio Tojetti. It was initially wired for electricity. The entrance of the wall has linings of plaques honoring the Greek gods of youth, beauty, and festivity. The twin towers of the hotel hold 8,000 gallons of water each. Part of the rotunda is held up by sculptures of Spanish maidens; in the words of Thomas Hastings, "....they were Spanish dancing maidens who weren't aware of the burden they had."
The Tampa Bay Hotel was completed in 1891. It initially consisted of 511 rooms and cost 3 billion dollars to build. It was influenced by Moorish and Victorian styles. The hotel was built by railroad mogul Henry B. Plant with leading architect J.A. Wood. Plant was the first in Florida to install a working elevator in his hotel. The exterior of the hotel had six minarets, four cupolas, and three domes. The onion-domed minarets were an unusual and exotic touch to the hotel, borrowed from Moorish architecture and uncommon in the United States at the time. In the early 1990s, all minarets were restored to their original stainless steel form after sustaining weather damage. There were also Victorian touches added to the hotel, such as the sculptures purchased by Mrs. Plant during a trip to France. She also purchased table porcelain from the best ceramic artists in Europe. During the Gilded Era when the hotel opened, many well-known dignitaries visited, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Sarah Bernhardt, and Babe Ruth. Plant promoted agricultural ventures with his railroad system along the western peninsula. The Tampa Bay Hotel is now part of the University of Tampa campus.
These developers had money to invest into building these lavish hotels. It became a competition between Plant and Flagler to outdo each other. They both had connections with high class society, which helped in promoting their hotels. Plant spent more money in building his hotel than Flagler, since Plant felt that the Tampa accommodations had to be bigger and more luxurious. The hotels were on opposite coasts. The Ponce de Leon Hotel did have more visitors due to its location on the east coast, but the Tampa Bay Hotel became famous during the Spanish American War, since Tampa was the port of embarkation for the invasion of Cuba. The Tampa Bay Hotel did not have as much financial success as the Ponce de Leon Hotel.
Later on, these hotels underwent unique adaptations and their structures were a tremendous selling feature for universities, given the private-school image, the small student-to-teacher ratio and high-cost prestige enhanced by the historical image of these buildings. The financial situations of the two schools also became a key to the restorations of these buildings.