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Florida’s Forgotten Tourist Tower - The Placid Tower

1 January 2015

The Placid Tower, in Lake Placid, is another one of Florida’s many Tourist Towers. Located on U.S. 27, the tower was built, like its counterpart Citrus Tower, 90 miles to the north, to capitalize on the massive influx of travelers from the north during the winter months.

Built during 1960 by Sebring-based Ridge Builders, the tower opened to the public on January 1, 1960, to great fanfare. The structure cost 350,000 dollars, roughly 2.7 million today. 

The citizens of Lake Placid, a sleepy town known as the “Caladium capital of the world” - celebrated as a new landmark opened for business. The Tower View restaurant offered fare for the traveler, and visitors to the top were encouraged to phone home on “Florida’s highest pay phone." 

The southernmost of three tourist towers built on the central Florida ridge, when it was open, visitors to the observation deck could see up to 40 miles away.

Ever since it opened, the tower was billed as a real estate broker’s dream, as it was  "a great way to check out your future neighbor’s backyard without the awkward introductions.” Additionally, it offered spectacular views of the surrounding lakes, Caladium fields, and countryside. 

At 270 feet high, the tower was the tallest concrete-block structure in the world at the time of its opening. Roughly 90,000 blocks were used in the structure and were imported from a mine in Texas. It was designed by A. Wyatt Howell of Lakeland, who designed many central Florida civic structures.

However, the tower’s popularity never matched up to that of its more popular counterparts further up the highway, Bok Tower in Lake Wales and the Citrus Tower in Clermont. Bok Tower, built in 1929, was intended as a peaceful sanctuary for contemplation, while the Citrus Tower was closer to a large population center. 

In the late 1960’s, the tower’s name was changed to “The Happiness Tower” in order to lure visitors in to a state of bliss that one would feel when looking out from the top. Simultaneously, the tower was also known as “The Tower of Peace” further adding to the tourist’s confusion. However, ticket sales declined and ultimately the tower was closed in 1982 when its owner refused to pay the IRS taxes on the property.

When it reopened in 1986, the Tower still faced the same attendance issues that plagued it from the onset. However, a handful of owners managed to keep the tower and accompanying restaurant open until the early 2000’s. A testament to its lack of popularity both state-wide and locally, no one has been able to pinpoint for sure when exactly the structure closed.

The city briefly considered reopening the Tower in conjunction with the current property owner back in 2008, using the Citrus Tower as a model. However, that plan dissipated by the end of the year.

Today, the tower sits closed in an abandoned plaza just east of U.S. 27. Drivers approaching the town on the highway can see the tower miles in the distance, and know that they are about to arrive in Lake Placed. However, contrary to what is painted in big red letters on the North and South sides of the tower’s top, the Placid Tower is not OPEN to the public anymore.

The first picture, at top, I took when visiting the tower on January 1st, 2015. The other two are undated postcards, likely from the mid 1960’s.