If Oz had gone for a slightly more feminine touch of pink in its all-green colour scheme, you might very well mistake this for the end of the yellow brick road. Perched on one of the highest points of peninsular Florida, surrounded by hundreds of acres of orange groves, palm trees, ferns, great oaks and a 15 feet deep moat is this rather stunning centrepiece, a soaring 200 foot pink marble tower…
The great brass door, the tower’s only door and entrance, is closed to the public at all times. No one is allowed in unless they hold a coveted membership…
We’re at Bok Tower Gardens, the historic gardens founded in 1921 when a Dutch immigrant, Edward W. Bok, editor of the popular women’s magazine Ladies Home Journal was spending his winter at the nearby Lake Wales Ridge and thought it would be the perfect place to create a bird sanctuary on its highest hill. So he went and had the gardens designed by the same guy who designed central park in NYC. The Gothic Revival and Art Deco tower was added as the cherry on the cake later in 1927, designed by Milton B. Medary and named The Singing Tower.
The tower (pictured above more than 80 years ago during construction) is covered in intricate renderings of flamingos, however you won’t find any pin around here. Attempts were made to introduce flamingos to the sanctuary several times, but efforts proved unsuccessful because the birds couldn’t survive the colder winters of central Florida. Instead, swans swim around the tower’s moat today.
But what is really behind that great brass door?
Oh, just a secret library on the top floor … a library dedicated entirely to the subject of bells. Yep, a library all about bells! The Anton Brees Carillon Library is located on the fifth floor of the Singing Tower and is often considered to be the one of the largest carillon-related material collections in the world.
Then of course there’s the bell chamber which houses a clavier, or keyboard, that is used for playing its set of 60 carillon bells. Recitals are given daily, hence, “The Singing Tower”.
On the ground floor, you’ve got The Founder’s Room with a grand a fireplace, looking a bit like some secret masonic meeting place. A 211-step wrought-iron and steel staircase begins on this floor and an original Otis electric elevator is still in operation today. Quite a few marriage proposals have taken place in the tower, although that privilege is of course reserved only for members.
Also on this dreamy property is the Pinewood Estate, a twenty-room Mediterranean Revival mansion built between 1930-1932 by a steel tycoon as a winter residence. This beautiful mansion is open to the public for guided tours and various events. There’s a café/ restaurant on the grounds but I couldn’t think of anything better than a picnic lunch in the orange groves with a view of the tower in the distance. Best of all, you won’t need to share your lunch with the local wildlife because the grounds of Bok tower gardens have peanut dispensers that allow you to feed squirrels by hand.
It does seem however, that the Bok Tower Gardens remains largely overlooked as one of Florida’s or even America’s most impressive and beautiful sites, dismissed as “old Florida”, while the likes of sexy South Beach and Universal Studios get all the attention. But leave the crowds to their tourist hubs and have America’s Pink Tower of Oz all to yourself …
Plan your visit to Bok Tower Gardens here.
All images unless indicated via Bok Tower Gardens Flickr.