PHOTOGRAPHED BY TINA SARGEANT
The elegance and charm of Spanish Revival style architecture was introduced to us in the early 1900s, but it has quickly become a timeless demand in the Lakeland housing market. Innovation from early developers, such as Henry Flagler, have affected the way we appreciate and view Spanish culture in our city to this day. Learn more about the history of this romanticized idea while taking a peek into the Hults’ beloved and vibrant casita.
For anyone who has had the privilege of calling Lakeland home like me for close to a lifetime, we have recognized how our city is surrounded by charming buildings that are rich in history and abundant in multicultural influence. One piece of history I’ve driven by numerous times and may never get tired of appreciating is our very own Lakeland Country Club (formerly the Lakeland Yacht Club) –– a Spanish-inspired architectural beauty that has housed club luncheons, elaborate weddings, and private events for almost 100 years. I remember walking through the doors for the first time and feeling as though I had stepped back in time into an exquisite, European hall. Every indentation on the wall felt like a cherished story –– nostalgic in every sense of the word.
With curved roof tiles and rounded arches, its remarkable detail introduced Spanish Colonial Revival style to our community in the mid-1900s as the architectural style swept across the Southwestern states. Everyone from local government officials to actors and film producers were in complete awe of the romantic layout and whimsical interpretation of Spanish culture. While we know Florida’s cultural influence traces back to early Spanish settlements, its Mediterranean flare continues to hold a high demand in the Lakeland market.
WHEN INNOVATION MEETS HISTORY
Spanish casita architecture debuted in the early 19th century as a romanticized idea from American architects and developers of the Latin-American culture. They took influence out of old, Spanish colonization to create an American-made idea that would eventually become an architectural legacy in the United States. Architects and developers sought to affect the people’s interpretation of the Latino way of living by picking and choosing from the designs of old, traditional Spanish missions. Although the noteworthy features of Spanish Revival buildings are not an authentic homage to Hispanic native lands, they have quickly become a part of who we are and how we live.
Although the noteworthy features of Spanish Revival buildings are not an authentic homage to Hispanic native lands, they have quickly become a part of who we are and how we live.
During our early development as a nation, states like California, Oklahoma, and Texas cultivated beautiful homes that highlighted both Mission and Spanish tiles, meticulously sculpted doors, and helical columns. In the process of construction, developers customized the architectural style to be practical according to the nature of the weather in each state. At the beginning of Spanish Colonial Revival style, many buildings were purposely developed to replicate some characteristics noted in historical Spanish Mission buildings from early settlers. The Alamo, a distinct landmark in the heart of Texas, illustrates this aesthetic and was constructed by early Spanish friars who desired to build a local church. Although the Mission style gave a distinct, aesthetic appeal, the style of roof was not favorable for the seasons of rain experienced in the state of Florida and parts of California, which sparked a desire to improve the construction of Spanish Revival style homes.
THE TURNING POINT FOR SPANISH REVIVAL STYLE
When the Panama California Exposition of 1915 came about, which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, several celebrities and social influencers––including Florida’s Thomas Edison––came to marvel at the new Spanish Revival-inspired structures. Its bridge, towering buildings, and adorned courtyard area were constructed to display a new way of Spanish Revival style that focused on highlighting more distinguished architectural features. It rapidly became prominent in Florida when American architect, Frederick Trimble, proudly introduced the style of architecture that was customized to suit Floridian weather. During the 1900s, Trimble’s incredible creativity led to the first blueprint layout for what would become Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Although he was unable to move forward with his original design, Frank Lloyd Wright would pioneer the project by using some inspiration from Trimble.
Henry Morrison Flagler was another American architect who introduced Spanish Revival style to Florida with the construction of several extraordinary buildings, including the prestigious Ponce de Leon Hotel and the world-renowned Flagler College in St. Augustine. Although Flagler made a lasting impression in our state of Florida, he was originally a native from Hopewell, New York. As a businessman, Flagler pursued a career in salt, grain, and standard oil mining; but to our Floridian heritage, his creativity paved the way for our Spanish-Mediterranean inspired infrastructures. Architects and visionaries like Flagler began to push Spanish casita architecture during Florida’s early years with hopes of enhancing tourism and creating a whole new experience that would affect how visitors perceived our state’s beauty. Developers desired to paint Florida as a new, thriving frontier that combined the uniqueness of its location with a nostalgic European-esque attraction.
HIGH DEMAND IN THE HOUSING MARKET
In combining the elegance of history with the leisure of the wide-open courtyards, this historic architectural style gives an allusion of Spanish hospitality that brings a warm welcome to all who enter the home.
In addition to the yacht club, Lakelanders have given a high demand for Spanish Revival style homes as they have become quite exclusive and rare. Many of the homes in our town that highlight this architectural style feature high-rounded arches and stucco-imprinted interior walls. The flat roofs and aesthetic appeal fit perfectly with the Spanish influence found in our Floridian culture. In a 2017 article from The Washington Post, Michelle Lerner reported that the national rise of casita-built historic homes appeals to “the interest in an informal lifestyle focused on entertaining in the open kitchen and extending into the outdoors.” By living in more informal and relaxed environments, such as the Spanish Revival style homes, families connect with the space as an opportunity to host and entertain loved ones, while resting in the infrastructure’s stillness. In combining the elegance of history with the leisure of the wide-open courtyards, this historic architectural style gives an allusion of Spanish hospitality that brings a warm welcome to all who enter the home.
Local artist and graphic designer Elizabeth Hults is one Lakelander who has discovered a deep love for the architecture, as she became the owner of a 1900s-built Spanish casita this past year. Being someone who finds fulfillment in visual perspectives, Hults was initially fascinated by the home’s interior.
A DISTINCT FONDNESS
“The first thing that captured my attention was the light,” Hults recalls. “The long arches and gate-arched windows allow the light to dance in every corner of the house at every time of day.” As she walked through the steps of what would become her cozy, Spanish casita, she shares how she fell in love at first sight. Back when she and her husband were just becoming friends, they ended up in front of this house during a long walk. “I waxed poetic about what a dream it would be to live here one day and fill it with all of our friends. That was eight years ago,” says Hults.
And it was all thanks to a friend from the community, JP Phillips, who sold the home to Hults and her husband after they were convinced this was their home-to-be. Although Spanish casitas are becoming sparse, they have somehow been established by first-time home-buyers as a romantic must-have, which continues to increase their popularity in today’s housing market. When asked to describe the architectural feel of her home, Hults defines her beautiful bungalow as “a cross between a Spanish and Mediterranean Revival” combination that “drips with romance.” Very suitable for such a vibrant space.
When asked why Hults believes it’s important for Lakeland to still have and honor the design elements of Spanish Revival style, she says, “Spanish culture is so full of life. There’s an undercurrent of passion which transforms every ordinary act of life into one that is colorful and exciting. I think that’s why it’s so important to honor the design elements of the style and period. These spaces can remind us to live slowly. To live in love.”
As we can see small remnants of the Spanish culture in our casita architectures, it is important to honor the style as a pioneering act of innovation from early American visionaries who sought to draw more people into this country that they loved so much. But they could not have done this without the brilliance of other cultures, other perspectives, and other ways of life. Buildings are more than just their intricate, architectural designs. They are works of art that depict a way of living through someone else’s eyes. Buildings have become a place for us all to find belonging, meaning, and purpose, outside of just the physical appeal. They tell us a story every day.
In the Hispanic culture that I’m so honored to be born into, we know that home, our casita, isn’t a physical place –– although we do take much pride in the way we decorate it and the way we host in it –– but rather, home is a warm feeling that can be felt with the people we love the most. Home is the welcome of intentional conversations at the dinner table, over a hot meal. Home is the seconds spent in deep laughter with loved ones. It’s our history, it’s our heritage, and it’s everything we discover in between. If architecture can bring us together to appreciate beauty, it also reminds us of the importance of admiring the beauty in each other. To live slowly and to live in love.