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CHILD OF THE SUN: FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT AND FLORIDA SOUTHERN COLLEGE

Historical Note


Florida Southen College @1920's

Florida Southern College was a small Methodist college nestled in the orange groves bordering Lake Hollingsworth in Lakeland, Florida when renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright first visited the campus in 1938. There was no hint then among the scent of orange blossoms that the campus itself would one day blossom into Wright's "Child of the Sun," the site of the single largest collection of buildings designed by America's foremost architect.

That Florida Southern College existed at all as a canvas on which Wright could work his architectural magic was something of a wonder in itself. Though the college traced its founding to 1883 in Orlando, it had moved frequently and had nearly closed its doors on a number of occasions. It had moved from Orlando to Leesburg to Sutherland to Clearwater Beach and finally, to Lakeland in 1922. It had weathered storms, fires, floods, flu epidemics, and economic depression. It had survived several name changes over the years. Due in large part to Ludd Spivey, who had been appointed president in 1925, the college persevered.

This was the Florida Southern College that greeted Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938, an institution with little money and a president who dreamed big dreams. On April 11, 1938, Spivey sent Wright what is probably the most famous telegram in Florida Southern College history. It said simply, "Desire conference with you concerning plans for great education temple in Florida." (Rogers, 7) Wright visited the campus a month later and told an audience there of his vision of a "real Florida form." He said, "We ought to help the indoors to go outdoors and the outdoors to come inside." (Rogers, 8)

Wright began work on a campus master plan shortly after his 1938 visit. He envisioned the "construction of an integrated complex of eighteen separate buildings...a circular pool or waterdome...and a network of 'esplanades' or covered walkways connecting the independent components of the plan." (Rogers, 10-11)

The foundation for the first building, the chapel, was laid by November 1938. Construction lagged, however, due to shortages of money and skilled labor, and it wasn't until March 1941 that the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel was formally dedicated. It was the first Wright designed building to be completed on the Florida Southern campus. It was followed later the same year by the Carter, Wallbridge, and Hawkins Buildings, known collectively as the Seminars. These were a series of one story combination office and classroom buildings connected by interior courtyards.

President Spivey had hoped that the completion of the first Wright designed buildings would spur fundraising efforts and permit the rapid completion of Wright's master plan for the campus. Those hopes were dashed, however, by the U. S. entry into World War II. Construction slowed dramatically after completion of the Seminars. Although the foundation for what was to become the first Roux Library was laid in the spring of 1942, war induced shortages of labor and materials delayed its completion and dedication until 1946.

The Roux Library (now the Buckner Building) was followed over the next several years by the Administration (Watson-Fine) Building in 1949, the Industrial Arts (Ordway) Building in 1952, and the Danforth Chapel in 1955. A Wright designed waterdome was also completed in 1948 and the esplanades were extended as more buildings were completed. The final Wright designed building constructed on the campus was the Polk County Science Building, dedicated in 1958.

Several other structures included in Wright's master plan for the campus were never built. Among them were an amphitheater, a music building, and a fine arts building. Wright devised plans for each of these structures, but they were never realized due in part to tight budgets and in part to the retirement of Florida Southern President Ludd Spivey in 1957. Spivey had been the driving force behind the Wright designed campus and, with his retirement and Wright's death in 1959, the college administration began to move away from Wright' s master plan.

Despite the failure to complete Wright's vision for the Florida Southern College campus, his legacy remains an integral part of Florida Southern's identity.

Take a moment to follow the links to the left to view images of Frank Lloyd Wright on the Florida Southern campus and to view images of the magnificent structures that he designed for it.