Park Places

we celebrate 5 communities that share a surname and a multitude of enviable charms.

College Park

By Joseph Hayes
This neighborhood grew more or less organically, multi-room lakeside mansions sharing brick streets with tiny bungalows just a few blocks away. It’s that diversity, the old-town feel, that makes College Park so attractive. It officially spreads east to Orange Avenue and north to Fairbanks Avenue, but its lifeline runs along Edgewater Drive.

Walking to everything. It’s a pleasing idea to think that you can walk the two miles to downtown and smirk self-righteously while strolling under overcrowded and unmoving Interstate 4. It might be the brick streets, but a daily promenade to Publix (built in 1950) for that evening’s supper fixings or a hike for breakfast croissants feels decidedly European. Joggers around Lake Ivanhoe are as familiar a sight as the people who walk to the College Park Citgo with coffee cups in hand to get their morning brew.

Trees. The back way to College Park from the theme parks leads from John Young Parkway to the west end of Princeton Street, and the change from state road to overhanging trees is a calming and green welcome home. When 2004’s hurricanes ripped through Orlando, tall oaks littered the streets, and after the all-clear, many residents walked to Clouser Avenue to check the massive centuries-old tree that hovers over the house where Jack Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums in 1957. It was still there.

The Underground Population. Although it’s not unusual to run into friends at Publix, shop-strewn Edgewater Drive isn’t exactly a pedestrian hotspot. However, thousands of locals appear as if by magic when the thoroughfare is shut down for the annual Jazz Fest and “Dancing on the Drive.” It’s no longer surprising to discover that a vast majority of the musicians, artists and actors in town end up being residents of the neighborhood. Even Mayor Buddy Dyer lives here.
Individuality. This isn’t the most bohemian part of Orlando, but there’s a slightly quirky, small-town independent vibe. Unusual teas and vegan repast at Infusion Tea; burgers on the verandah at The Tap Room at Dubsdread; the usually never-worn and always interesting vintage clothing at Dechoes Resale; impactful community and grower-to-cup coffee at Downtown Credo; an award-winning chef (Kevin Fonzo at K Restaurant) and a metalsmith (Suzanne Grantham at Metalworks Gallery).

Sounds. It’s a sonic blessing to open the windows in spring and fall. Band practice at Edgewater High School, the music streaming from Dartmouth Park every March for Sunday in the Park, the winsome hoot of the 12:55 a.m. Amtrak train, even the crystalline jangle of empty wine bottles from the restaurant around the corner—all form the music that says “neighborhood.”

What’s in a name?
College Park sprang up from groves and farms (including a pineapple plantation) in an area once home to troops settling after service at Fort Gatlin as early as 1849. The name grew from a previous subdivision, Rosemere; when real estate boomed in 1925, developers took advantage of the already existing Princeton, Harvard, Cornell and Yale streets and expanded from there.

Thornton Park

By Darlyn Finch Kuhn
Orlando’s nightlife is an easy walk west, but Thornton Park has a quieter community feel. Whether you’re enjoying the work of local artists at the Second Thursday Art and Wine Stroll or live music at the Sunday morning Farmer’s Market on the east side of Lake Eola, you’ll see friendly, familiar faces. 

Walks to remember. Thornton Park folks strap on their tennis shoes mid-afternoon to trek around Lake Eola. The obvious delights of swans and swan boats, the fountain with colored lights and pint-sized playmates squealing on the playground make it a pleasant walk. But folks in the know stroll east along Central Boulevard to the hidden garden known as Dickson Azalea Park, where a nondescript leaf-strewn path leads to a tropical wonderland complete with a babbling brook and a trail under the historic Washington Street Bridge. Another not-to-be-missed feature to take in during your walks: the roundabout fountain in the middle of the intersection at Washington Street and Hyer Avenue.

Food for every mood. Thornton Park residents can start the day with breakfast at Benjamin French Bakery & Café, owned by Benjamin and Nathalie Coquillou, with crepes, croissants and canneles to die for. Blues and barbecue at WildSide or trendy sandwiches at Dexter’s make a tasty lunch, leaving dinner wide open for seafood at CityFish, sushi at Shari or Italian cuisine at Anthony’s Pizza. Graffiti Junktion’s hot dogs go great with game-watching on big-screen TVs.

Think! again. For many folks who traveled to Thornton Park from 2001 to 2009, the Urban Think! Bookstore was a main attraction. Going the way of most independent bookstores, it closed, before reopening sans stacks, as Urban ReThink, a co-working space for freelance professionals. Urban ReThink proceeds support the Urban Think! Foundation’s programs, including Page 15, which promotes children’s literacy in Central Florida. The “resident creatives” include writers, consultants, filmmakers, artists, an “inner scientist” and a “resident wizard.”

Dog daze. Plentiful outdoor dining—with pet dishes of water on the sidewalks—make this a dog-lovers’ paradise. Walk two matching dogs on leashes if you want to fit in, although we can be thankful that the fellow who recently allowed his mellow Great Dane to stretch full-length on the banquette at Hue had only one pony-sized pooch with him for cocktail hour. Hate to leave Fido at home while you get your hair done? Lambs Eat Ivy is a pet-friendly salon.

What’s in a Name?
The subdivision plat for Thornton Park was recorded in 1913 by Dr. Albert J. Taylor and James Thornton. The original borders were Robinson Street, Central Boulevard, Mills Avenue and Hyer Avenue. Today, the Thornton Park District has expanded to include Thornton Park Central, a retail/restaurant/condominium complex and parts of South Eola and Fern Creek.

Audubon Park

By Brad Kuhn
Home to some of the area’s most-tattooed and full-bearded entrepreneurs, Audubon Park is a great place to let your freak flag fly. It’s a bit scruffy compared with tony “park” neighbors—Winter, Baldwin and even College—but it’s arguably the most genuine.

Hipster havens. With places like Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour, Park Ave CDs, Taps From Scratch and Stardust Video & Coffee, no one can question Audubon Park’s street cred. The grow-your-own culture is in full effect Monday nights at the Audubon Park Community Market outside Stardust.

Bunkers and bungalows. Cinderblock and terrazzo give the neighborhood’s 900 or so homes a quaint 1950s feel—even to the point where you’d expect a Tupperware party to break out any minute. No McMansions here. And, in a tip of the hat to the area’s history as off-base housing for the former Orlando Naval Training Center, shops along Corrine Drive were built to handle rooftop helicopter evacuations in the event of a nuclear attack.

Bicycles. Although Corrine Drive is badly in need of resurfacing, Audubon Park is a popular stop on one of Orlando’s most-traveled bicycling corridors connecting the Orlando Fashion Square trailhead on the Cady Way Trail to Winter Park and Maitland via Mead Garden. Winter Park Cycles recently opened next to Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux, home to tasty meals and daily rides that begin and end at the restaurant.

Baseball. The official neighborhood gathering place would have to be the friendly confines of the North Orlando Kiwanis Little League. Founded in 1953, the league claims to be the longest continuous-running Little League in the country. And after a game you’re likely to find the players with their parents at Rainbow Sno-Cones, a community favorite.

Beer. Before craft beer was cool, Stardust Video & Coffee was serving obscure brews to poets and artists in lieu of absinthe. Redlight Redlight, with its 23 rotating taps, cask-conditioned ales and 250-bottle selection, is the new brew master. But even Big Daddy’s Roadhouse, the smoky neighborhood karaoke dive, offers some impressive selections including Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale and Lefthand Milk Stout. Hippest of hops: Taps From Scratch, a home-brew hangout directly across the street from Stardust.

What’s in a name?
Audubon Park was originally known as Lakewood Estates. The how and when of the transition have been lost to time, but the official history attributes the change to the naming of several streets for birds—similar to the way nearby College Park reflects its various streets named for institutions of higher learning.

Baldwin Park

By Peter M. Gordon
The neighborhood on the site of the old Orlando Naval Training Center exemplifies New Urbanism, emphasizing traditional home designs, walkable streets and expansive public spaces. More than 200 acres of parks-within-the-Park encourage residents to live an outdoor lifestyle.

Blue jacket Park. The park’s name pays homage to the Navy “Blue Jackets,” or recruits who once populated the training center. Blue Jacket Park has lacrosse, soccer and baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts and lots of open, grassy spaces for Frisbee, kite flying, and just running around. On any afternoon, you can find people playing catch or soccer and even practice-casting their fishing rods.

Bicycling and walking trails. Cady Way Trail borders the east side of Baldwin Park while Lake Baldwin Trail circles the lake and is a magnet for bikers, rollerbladers, strolling families, joggers and race walkers. No homes were built directly in front of the lake; Baldwin Park’s designers planted native trees and plants so that the lake’s shoreline would look as authentic as it did in the 1800s.

Outdoor cafes. Brick-paved New Broad Street between Meeting Street and Lake Baldwin is the heart of downtown. Several cafés and bars line the boulevard, offering residents the chance to see and be seen. Gathering spots range from sports-themed CaddyShanks to the quieter Wine Styles. A smattering of ethnic restaurants add diversity to the dining choices. Residents and visitors also can take their food or desserts one block to the lake to enjoy the sunset or watch others pedaling or walking the trail.

Cool Dog park. Fleet Peeples Park straddles Baldwin Park and Winter Park and includes one of the largest dog parks in the Orlando area. Dogs can run off leash on most of its fenced 23 acres. Canines and their people have access to a sandy beach, trails throughout the woods and open space to romp and play together. There’s a section where smaller dogs can play without worrying about possible challenges by their larger friends.

Vest pocket parks and pools. Each building lot was shrunk by a few yards to create room for the many parks and green spaces that dot the neighborhood. Every home is within easy walking distance of some type of green space containing a variety of amenities, from playgrounds to fountains. Baldwin Park also has five public pools and several gym facilities, providing a fun, fit lifestyle available even for apartment dwellers. 

What’s in a Name?
From 1940 to 1968, the land on which Baldwin Park stands was a military air base. In 1966, Undersecretary of the Navy Robert H.B. Baldwin announced it would become the Orlando Naval Training Center. The lake that bordered the base was renamed Lake Baldwin. When Orlando took possession of the land after the base was closed in 1999, a new neighborhood was formed, dubbed Baldwin Park.

Winter Park

By Roger Moore
For decades, when developers pitched their planned Florida communities to elected officials, what they inevitably wound up promising is “a lot like Winter Park.” The tree-lined brick streets, walkable shopping and dining districts, the sense of community that this somewhat upscale small town in the center of Central Florida generates almost in spite of itself is to be envied—copied, but never bested.

The Main Street. Park Avenue is the centerpiece of Winter Park, half a dozen blocks of destination restaurants (Luma, Bosphorus), casual restaurants (Briarpatch, Nelore, Matilda’s) and a rabbit warren (by design) of specialty shops offering everything from “Cigarz” to chocolates. It’s a great weekend stroll, with street musicians, festivals in Central Park (Enzian shows movies outdoors there, one night a month). Park Avenue has the frisson of Old World sophistication balanced with laid-back, small-town Southern charm.

Fresh Fare. Located in and around an old brick freight depot just across the railroad tracks from Park Avenue, the Winter Park Farmers Market is just what you’d expect: plenty of fresh produce, cut flowers and potted plants. But there’s also somebody selling crepes off a grill wagon and all manner of exotic food truck/vendor snacks, all irresistible to the well-heeled Winter Park clientele who mingle here on Saturday mornings, often arriving by bicycle.

Culture. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is recognized around the world as the place to go to admire the Art Nouveau/Art Deco works of Louis Comfort Tiffany. This is where the smart set bring out of town guests when they visit from “the provinces.” The focus is narrow, the setting intimate, but dropping in here, or the nearby Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College or the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, makes you realize that Manhattan’s Upper East Side has nothing on this Florida neighborhood.

Rollins College. It gives Winter Park the flavor of a small college town. The lovely Spanish Mediterranean-style campus is not just a top-ranked small college, academically. It’s a vital part of the cultural life of Central Florida. Guest speakers, from Jane Goodall to Oliver Stone, a consistently entertaining college theater, classical music (the Bach Festival) and the Cornell Museum show that there is nothing like having an exclusive, smart liberal arts college in your neighborhood.

What’s in a Name?
Winter Park took its name from the efforts of two men, Oliver Everett Chapman and Loring A. Chase, to develop a residential community of winter homes for wealthy Northerners. In 1881, they bought 600 acres along lakes Maitland and Osceola. The city of Winter Park was incorporated six years later.

Categories: Features