The Langford Hotel
In 1934, Robert E. Langford's grandmother saw the moss-covered oak trees of Winter Park and said, "This is the place." So began the legacy of the Langford's in Winter Park. They purchased a house at 716 Interlachen Avenue in August, 1934, for $12,000.
It would not be until after World War II, however, that Robert Langford would start his first project in Winter Park, the Langford Apartments. They were the first "modern" apartments to be built in Central Florida. The 24-apartment units, opened December 2, 1950, were constructed in a manner to blend with the scenic beauty of the residential area on Interlachen Ave.
Having been raised in the hotel business, Langford wanted to build a hotel. He realized with the advent of air conditioning and air travel, Central Florida was ripe for development. At that time there were no fine hotels in the area. He began buying land directly across the street from the apartment complex as the future site for his hotel.
In the early 1950's as he was purchasing property on East New England Avenue, Langford began planning and visiting hotels looking for things that work, and avoiding those things that didn't work. He choose William Harvard of St. Petersburg, and B.E. Jolly, of Chicago as his architects. He choose James Mann Construction Company of Orlando as his contractor to build his hotel.
In the March 3, 1955, issue of the Winter Park Sun newspaper, a featured article pictured a scale model of "the new $1 million Langford Hotel which goes under construction next week." It also quoted Langford as saying "the goal for opening the hotel would be January 1, 1956."
Thursday, January 12, 1956, the Winter Park Sun announced "the long-awaited formal opening of the new $1 million Hotel Langford will be held Saturday evening with a dinner dance for the members of the exclusive Town Club, in the Tree Top Room on the fifth floor of the hotel, at 9 o'clock." Winter Park Mayor-Commissioner, Raymond Greene, officially welcomed Hotel Langford by saying how the community had been "hotel room short" for many years and Mr. Langford's idea of a year-round hotel will meet the demands of many families. Mayor Greene went on to say " Winter Park appreciates the opening of the Hotel Langford with all its advantages because it will please a clientele that has for many years been hoping some energetic hotel specialist, who would have enough faith in Winter Park to build an 82-room hotel, would finally decide to make such an investment."
The editorial column of the Winter Park Sun, January 12, 1956, congratulated Mr. Langford by saying "All Winter Park joins this week in congratulating Robert Langford on completion of the Hotel Langford which will be one of the show places of Winter Park for many years to come." It goes on to say "This newspaper would like to give a special word of praise to Mr. Langford for the wise conservation of trees on the hotel grounds, which were saved at great expense. The resultant beauty of the grounds has made the sacrifice well worth while. The grapefruit trees around the swimming pool will add tropical interest for the northern tourist, and the giant oaks make a beautiful background for the tree-top room on the hotel's fifth floor."
Langford, his wife and four children, were living in the Chicago area while he commuted to Winter Park during this phase of his career. In 1961 the family moved to Winter Park. Mr. Charles E. Wessels, General Manager of the Langford Hotel, had moved to Winter Park from Chicago only a few months before the Langfords.
In November of 1971 national attention was attracted to the Langford Hotel as a seven-story, 70-unit hotel addition was added to the hotel in "six days." Each pre-cast modular unit, weight 32 tons, was produced in San Antonio, Texas by H.B. Zachry & Co., shipped by railroad box car and were bolted together completing the addition. Winter Park architect Ray Bennett said the entire construction project would take three months - including 20 working days at the San Antonio plant, four days loading it onto a train, the 1600 hundred mile trip to Winter Park, six days "stacking" the units in place, and a month for finishing touches. The units came from the factory complete with wall-to-wall carpeting, vinyl wallpaper, built-in cabinets, dressing tables, and bathroom fixtures. Langford and Bennett said that the $750,000 project is a construction record for Florida despite earlier use of steel modular units at Walt Disney World motels. The Langford project differs from Disney's because the units are of reinforced concrete that can be stacked up to 40 stories high without building steel framework, if cranes can be found to lift them that high. Seven years later, 1978, a $300,000 renovation of the lobby area was undertaken, expanding the lobby 40-feet and redecorating. The theme included American Indian, Mexican Aztec, and added Mexican tile, cedar beams and wall coverings.
The next renovation project came in 1986 with a $750,000 re-decoration and upgrade. The decor changed from contemporary to the "island look." New furniture for the rooms included the rattan/wicker look, and each room received new carpet and an air conditioning upgrade. Other renovations included new kitchen equipment, new outdoor canopies above main entrances, and the "Anchor Room" changed names to become the "Bamboo Room."
Asked by a reporter in an interview in early 1990, "What makes the Langford Hotel successful?" Bob Langford replied, "The buck stops here." To illustrate he told of many European tour operators initially shunned the Langford when they learned that the hotel was not part of an American hotel chain. But they learned that a promise made by him was one that was kept. Another way he keeps his word to his guests is by depending on his family. "There is always a Langford here," he says. Working in the family business is daughter Gerry Liff, General Manager, and son Robert Jr., Vice President.
Over the years some very special guests have stayed at the Langford. A sampling of names include: Lillian Gish, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, (who spent their 25th wedding anniversary at the Langford and invited Bob Langford to join them for dinner), Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, George McGovern, Charlton Heston, Louis Rukeyser, The Platters, and Professor Edward Teller to name a few.
In the fall of 1995, Robert Langford was inducted into the Florida Hotel & Motel Association's hall of fame and awarded the President's Special Award. As the name suggests, the FH & MA President's Special Award is given only on special occasions to recognize worthy individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in the hospitality and service industry. Langford's hard work and perseverance have made him a distinguished leader in the lodging community. Langford's family name is synonymous with more than 100 years of steady leadership, integrity, and success.
In 1996 the Langford Hotel celebrated its 40th year of business in Winter Park. Winter Park Mayor Gary Brewer and Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary presented to Robert Langford a plaque recognizing this accomplishment. The plaque read in part, "1956-1996 in appreciation to the Langford Resort Hotel and Family for service ... Thanks for 40 Years!"
As the 1990's were coming to a close so too was the Langford Hotel. News of it being sold shocked and saddened the Central Florida community. In early 2000 the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce named Robert E. Langford, Sr. as the 2000 Outstanding Citizen of the Year at their annual awards luncheon, February 9, 2000.
May 17, 2000 the Langford Farewell Banquet, "End Of An Era" was held at the Langford Hotel. More than 200 friends, neighbors, and guests came to bid farewell to the Langford. Guests were treated to a poolside cocktail party, a banquet room dinner, ceremony and entertainment. "It is appropriate that we, the citizens of Winter Park, recognize and pay tribute to the Langford family as we bid a fond farewell to the Langford Hotel, a landmark of long standing in our community," said Guy Colado, vice president of the Winter Park Historical Association. Master of ceremonies for the evening was Thaddeus Seymour, Rollins College president from 1978 to 1990.
After the festivities, a champagne toast was given by Winter Park Mayor Terry Hotard and former mayor, Joe Terranova. After they toasted the Langfords and the "glorious history of the hotel," everyone lifted their glasses for one last toast to the hotel's "illustrious days."
The Langford Resort Hotel closed its doors May 30, 2000. Robert E. Langford, Sr. died on Saturday, March 31, 2001, of heart failure at the age of 88. The "End Of An Era".
This article was written by former archivist, Barbara White, MLIS.