Nearly half a century before the Walt Disney Company awakened sleepy central Florida by erecting the vacation wonderland, Walt Disney World, Calvin Coolidge traveled to Mountain Lake (now Lake Wales), about a half-hour drive southwest of Orlando, to dedicate the beautiful Bird Sanctuary and Singing Tower (now Bok Tower Gardens) that philanthropist Edward T. Bok had bequeathed to the nation.
The 250 acre area, a National Historic Landmark, today comprises the meandering botanical gardens originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the Singing Tower with its carillon, the Pine Ridge Nature Preserve and Trail, and the mediterranean-style Pinewood Estate mansion. The Gothic revival Singing Tower, begun in 1927 and finished in time for the Feb. 1, 1929 dedication by president Coolidge, is the 205-ft. tall centerpiece of the Gardens and contains 60 bells. Bok Tower Gardens is also the venue for many exhibits, festivals and concerts.
The Dutch-born Bok, a self-made publisher, author, and philanthropist, died less than a year after the garden’s dedication, and was buried at the base of the tower.
Coolidge biographer Claude Fuess briefly reports on the dedication, noting that at the height of the speculative boom, the president counseled the American people to devote more attention to moral and spiritual values. The complete address can be read here, at the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation website. Not giving away his sources, Fuess also records one Mrs. Ashurst, wife of the Arizona Senator, remarking to Coolidge at dinner, “Mr. President, you have been very fortunate in your administration – no wars, no strikes, no panics.” Coolidge stared thoughtfully at his plate and then replied, “I never thought of it that way. I did my duty as I saw it.”
PS: Make sure you read Jim Cooke’s comment, with a funny Coolidge quote regarding the Singing Tower!