Dixie Walesbilt Hotel

The Dixie Walesbilt Hotel, known as the Grand Hotel in later years, is one of a small number of skyscrapers built in the 1920s that still stand today and is a prime example of how optimistic people were during the Florida land boom. Built in 1926, it found financing through a stock-sale campaign in the local business community, costing $500,000 after it was completed(which equates to about $6 million today.)

The building architecture, masonry vernacular with hints of Mediterranean revival, is also a good example of the time is was built. It was designed by two well-known architects at the time, Fred Bishop who designed the Byrd Theatre in Virginia, and D.J. Phipps, whose designed both the Wyoming County Courthouse and Jail and the Colonial Hotel in Virginia.

The hotel was constructed using the “three-part vertical block” method, which became the dominant pattern in tall buildings during the 1920s. Three-part buildings are composed of a base, shaft and a cap, all noticeably visible.

The hotel opened as the “Walesbilt” in January 1927, shortly after the land boom had started to collapse and two years before the Great Depression began. It’s also best to note that the hotel opened around the same time the Floridan Hotel in Tampa opened, another hotel built during the Florida land boom.

In 1972, the hotel was purchased by Anderson Sun State and renamed the “Groveland Motor Inn”. The firm completely renovated the hotel and used it to host visitors to the area who were interested in Green Swamp, land sectioned off for land development. At the time there was heavy speculation in the land because of it’s close proximity to Walt Disney World and were selling for around $5,000 an acre at the time. That ended after a state cabinet designation of the swamp as an area of critical state concern, placing the land off-limits to any large land developments. The firm filed for foreclosure and the hotel was auctioned off in 1974. Despite RCI Electric purchasing the hotel, it remained empty for many years afterwards.

Dixie Walesbilt Hotel - Postcard from the 1970s
A postcard of the Groveland Motor Inn sometime during it’s two years of operations under that name.

In 1978, the hotel was signed over to the Agape Players, a nationally known religious music and drama group, who would assume the mortgage and would pay the costs to make improvements to meet city fire and safety standards. The hotel was renamed the “Royal Walesbilt” and after extensive improvements were made, it became the headquarters for the Agape Players; using it as a teaching facility and the base from which the group launched their tours. In addition, they operated a restaurant, an ice cream parlor on the lobby floor and a “Christian hotel” on the upper floors, catering mostly to groups. The Agape Players disbanded in 1985 and put the property up for sale.

Victor Khubani, a property investor from New York acquired the property and renamed the hotel “Grand”. The hotel closed briefly in December 1988, due to a variety of code violations and causing the owner to later pay $14,000 in fines. On August 31, 1990 it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, possibly for tax exemption reasons. In October 1991, The State Fire Marshall’s Office gave the owner one year to install a new sprinkler system and in May 1993, the code enforcement board gave Khubani until March to complete the work.

In March 1994, the hotel closed due to multiple code violations and was to remain closed until a new fire sprinkler system was installed. To reopen, the fire escapes and elevator, which did not function, would have to be repaired as well. In 1995, the hotel was auctioned off to a redevelopment firm, which dismantled part of the interior for reconstruction, which was never completed.

Since then, the hotel has deteriorated, becoming an eyesore to many of the residents of Lake Wales and nicknamed “The Green Monster” for the greenish color it has acquired from over the years. In 1995, it was even jokingly mentioned to become a sacrifice to “the bomb”, an economic boom that occurred in parts of Florida where movie production companies would pay cities to blow up buildings for their movies. In 2007, the city foreclosed on the structure for more than $700,000 in unpaid code fines, with hopes in finding someone to restore it.

Dixie Walesbilt Hotel | Photo © 2016 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Development firm, Dixie-Walesbilt LLC announced plans to restore the hotel, signing into an agreement with the city of Lake Wales in February 2010. By the agreement, the city would retain ownership of the building until a defined amount of work had been accomplished. The work must be completed within 16 months and the amount of money invested must succeed at least $1.5 million. The building would then be handed off the Dixie Walesbilt LLC, where they may continue with private funding or other methods to for debt funding.

Ray Brown, President of Dixie Walesbilt LLC, planned to invest $6 million into the renovation, with original plans to put retail stores on the ground floor and using the upper floors for as many as 40 condominiums.

On June 2, 2011, the city of Lake Wales agreed to deed the building off to Ray Brown in a 4-1 vote, after meeting the requirements of the redevelopment agreement. Though Brown submitted a list of costs to the city totaling $1.66 million, Mayor Mike Carter wasn’t satisfied with the results so far, pointing out that Brown failed to repair the windows and repaint the building. Previous owners had put tar on the building and then painted over it, so much of Brown’s investment went to stripping the tar off the exterior walls.

Dixie Walesbilt Hotel | Photo © 2016 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

To repaint the building, Brown would also have to resurface the hotel with hydrated lime to replicate the original skin as well as the window frames would need to be constructed of Douglas fir, red cedar and gulf cypress. According to Brown, previous owners who renovated the building rarely removed the building original elements. They carpeted over intricate tile flooring, stuck tar paper above skylights and placed modern drinking fountains in front of the originals. He estimated about 98 percent of the building is still in it’s original form.

Restoration of the building’s exterior began in January 2015 and included surface repair, pressure washing, paint removal, chemical treatment, and a comprehensive resurfacing of the exterior.

While the original plans were for turning the building into condominiums, that has since changed and current plans call for operating the building as a boutique hotel. The hotel will feature geothermal cooling as opposed to traditional air conditioning, a permanent art gallery as well as theme gallery showings throughout the year, and the best WiFi/internet in the city. The project is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months.

For updates on its restoration, please feel free to visit, like and share the Walesbilt Hotel on Facebook.







32 Comments

  1. This is one of my favorite. Geat photos.

  2. This building has been empty since I was a child, and is a landmark in Lake Wales. It used to have an ice cream parlor on the first floor when I was a kid 20+ years ago, but hadn’t operated as a hotel for MANY years before that (I seem to remember the story was that there was a fire code issue related to no having enough egress and fire escapes). Anyway, I found out it is being refurbished again, and there are plans to open the lobby in it’s fully restored state along with a pizzaria on the first floor. Hooray, this beautiful historic structure is being given a new life!

  3. I am the founder of Ghost GIrls Inc we are a not for profit organization that does paranormal study and reasearch on historical properties. I am a fourth generation Lake Wales resident. My family came here in 1918 and we are still here. As a child I loved the Hotel. It was magical. Now as an adult it is a dream of mine to investigate the hotel for paranormal evidence. I have the latest in technology and experience. We are a group of respected professionals in our community. If anyone knows how I can get in touch with the right people to be able to do this. I would so very greatful. I hope that they restore it to it’s past beauty and make it a place that my children will take thier children to one day.

    • A couple of friends and I went in 1994 or 5 and went on a trip to the Hotel from Ft Lauderdale. One friend was a History Buff and antique/Historical arcetectural Buff who talked the other two of us to take a ride and “explore”.
      It was VERY CREEPY,We went up a few floors,found the higher we went,the more Dilapedated it became,plus,it looked like some squatters had makde this thier home with evidence of recent “occupancy”,food bags,cans,bottles,candles,etc,we went back down to the lobby,took pictures,it was very interesting that you could walk right in,without being stopped by anyone,although we started to go into the basement to look around,and heard a television,and a makeshift wiring setup,a childs tricycle and toys,clothes on a clothesline,so,we had thought there was possibly a caretaker there,we immedeately,knowing we werent alone,went into “STEALTH” mode,not wanting to scare anyone or be SHOT ourselves for trespassing,or at least arrested is discovered. We passed the hallway leading to to “occupied” room,went through a large dining room,where there was a BEAUTIFUL Wooden china cabinet about 1o feet long,and through a kitchen,where it looked like a part was being used by the downstairs occupant,found a back stairwell leading downstairs,at this time becoming dark out,and turned our flashlights on and went downstairs. Restauranunt equipment,furniture,dishes,etc,were all stored downstairs,along with hallways to other rooms. We went to work our way back to the rear of the basement and as if on que,ALL THREE of our Flaslights went out and we heard Heavy footsteps coming toward us from the matress lined hallway leading to the very rear. We could NOT see our hands in front of our faces,the Girl we went with started to scream saying someone tugged on her ponytail and we turned and ran,bumping into everything possible as we were basically blind and scared out of our wits. we saw the dim light from the stairwell we walked down,grabbed our female friend by the arms,and ran down the hall,through the basement,up the stairwell,and Out of the eside entryway we came in on off one of the side streets.We caught our breath,gained our composure,and got into my pickup and left for home. It was Truly Errie ,not only the hotel itself,but the surrounding area,as if it was a “Ghost Town”,though streetlights were lit,and you could see other areas lokking like it was part of town that was still open for business,As long as I live,I’ll NEVER Forget our little sightseeing adventure that turned into a Ghost Hunter Episode! I just happened to think about that night today and figured I’d look for any “Grand hotel” listings for Mid Florida,and remembered it the minute I saw the pictures of the building,and Lake Wales being the location. THANK YOU for the memory through this post. It was really a day/night to remember!

    • Joley:
      Hi…I am Bob Kyle, and live down in LaBelle. I work in Lake Wales during the week and would LOVE to get insode this place. I do a lot of amateur photography and would love to shoot some B&W here. As additional info, I grew up in West Virginia and lived about 60 miles south of the famous West Virginia State Penitentary which I am sure u have heard of in your paranormal activities. Would love to hook up and see if we can make both of our ambitions happen!
      Bob

    • I have been in Chicago for about 7 years after leaving Lake wales and now coming back to Frostproof later this month or early November, I remember seeing the hotel, which was and is lovely, however, something odd radiates from that place. I’m 47 now, but remember ” picking up” energy and seeing activity with my Mother when I was younger at a few places as well as the hotel. Anyway, would love to help if ever you need an extra hand…..Sincerely Lisa

    • I hate to break it to you but; ghosts, superstitious, supernatural, paranormal, metaphysical, mythological, magical, mystical, fairy tale nonsense is just that; nonsense. It is like “faith”, it is complete and total bs. That building is crumbling to pieces. I can`t wait till they reopen it. Peace and good luck! :-D

  4. Was going thru some boxes in my attic this afternoon and came across an invoice for a nights stay at The Walesbilt. Finding it interesting I found this site. The night of the stay was February 20, 1954 and cost $12.00 with tax of $.36 totaling $12.36 for a family of four. I sincerely hope this project is finished at some point. I live in Alabama and was in Lake Wales a few months ago. I wish I had looked up The Walesbilt so that someday I can take a trip and see it.

  5. any body know anything about the Agape Players?

  6. This the ‘bomb’ we are a group of 28 people and are interested in helping to restore the building. We are located in Frostproof,Florida. Pleased forward my email information to whoever is in charge,please?!?!?!????
    Ray Brown got some help if he would notify us asap-I hope he is not discouraged by what onlookers are saying or what they’re thinking. Hold up the light –Help is on the way!!!
    Respectfully,
    Shelia

  7. Thanks, Susan. I will head to facebook.

  8. I just saw the building for the fist time today when I was on my way to a softball game. I think that the building is really pretty and it makes me feel like I wanted to live when it first opened so I could see it in full Restoration. I really wish that they would restore it so I could go inside! I really want to go inside anyway, not up in the floors, but just in the lobby. I really wish it was up and running today.

    Also, does anybody know where the stair case right in the front leads to? Does it lead to a broken elevator or a Pool maybe? I would really like to know.

    • The lobby was planned to open by the end of 2011…. I didn’t think it would happen and expected it to open sometime in 2012. But it’s been 2 years now and people keep telling it’s still closed. What a bummer.

      Also, it’s looks like the staircase leads to a side door from the parking lot.

  9. It was a beautiful childhood memory. Still an eyesore – not refurbished yet! Enjoyed the history of my hometown & the hotel. Love the postcards too.

  10. Carole Lassiter

    My Mom and I came down to Florida by bus, about 1956. We stayed in St. Pete, and took a side bus trip to Cypress Gardens, Bok Tower, and tThe Passion Play. We stayed at least one night at the Walesbilt Hotel. Now, my husband and I have come down, and we stayed at Lake Wales. I too, am fascinated by the old hotel–so many memories. Wish it could be restored.

  11. My husband and I went there for our 5th anniversary {wedding } and the building then, was in very good shape because 1] there were the agape players there and there c ared for the building nite and day. The brocade on top of the ceiling in the lobby was beatuiful and the elevators were so back in time it felt like the Titantic years. To some of you it may be a eyesore toothers and us it is memories and beautystanding still ; we need more of that . If does shut down for good it break our hearts, I still remember th bridal suite on the very top floor. I never forget it!!!!!!! Please restore it do not build condos{ who needs ’em!!!}

  12. Oh! another staement. My mother and Step-dad help with finishing touches ; he was carpenter and she was interior decorater plus a nurse for the guys working. She said what they were handling, carrying nailing was dangerous stuff, back then there were no scaffolds,cranes,etc… everything for the hotel were carrie by hand , that’s why it took so long to build. After it was all done they stood back in awe!! Don’t tear it down!!!!!!!!

  13. Mr. Brown:

    Please check the email you gave for my response to you, Sir. Continued success.

    Respectfully

  14. I was with the Agape Players from 1976-1979. I remember spending the night in the hotel before we began refurbishing it. We were supposed to “watch” it for some reason. Hmmmm. Me and a friend named Corky were dropped off one evening and told would be picked up the next morning. With no power or water, many many sounds come from a “dead” building! Anyway I had the privilege of being one of the original Agape Players that worked at the Royal Walesbuilt. I sang in the Barbershop Quartet in Daiseys Icecream Parlor, played with the old style elevator (a lot). The hotel was a lot of fun!!! Just many many memories.

  15. A White Elephant-to be sure.

  16. Hello. I need for the person in charge here to contact me ASAP PLEASE. MY name Is Kristina. I have a question on a photo . I need to discuss it in an email or something. Thank you. ( re: asking permission for sharing a photo)

  17. We had our Wedding reception in the ballroom and stayed the night there November 12,1988, i remember the elevator being kinda creepy but the rest of the place was beautiful.

  18. Hi I saw on Facebook….so probably not real. That a movie is using the image of the hotel or being shot there. It is very vague on details. The movie is called Corkscrew. I was wondering if there is any truth or not. I would definitely love to check it out if true but despite many efforts to verify the post online I only have the one source from a screen shot from brandaid. Can anyone tell me if this is a real thing?

    • According to them, they have permission to shoot the movie there and tagged the owner in the post. So I’m assuming it’s true.

  19. Is the property owned or abandoned? (Do you need permission to do photography?)