It’s been awhile since I wrote about off-the-beaten-path Florida spots and I wanted to start these posts up again. In doing so, I plan to take you on fun day trips to highlight some wonderful Florida sites of interest, as well as places to grab a tasty bite to eat. Perhaps my travels will inspire you to also plan your own little trips to check out authentic Florida!
Today, I invite you to come along with me on a pictorial tour of Christmastime at Pinewood Estate, a historic Mediterranean-style mansion sitting on 7 1/2-acres within Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, FL.
If you happen to be visiting the Central Florida area this holiday season, there’s still time to head to Polk County (about an hour south of Orlando) to enjoy the festivities at the Gardens and Estate. Now through January 8, 2017, you can partake in the events noted HERE. Bok Tower Gardens is open 365 days a year.
In the coming weeks, I’ll also write up a detailed post about visiting Bok Tower Gardens, sans Christmas. It’s a true Central Florida gem. The Gardens are large and have many unique areas to explore and if I included too many details within this Christmas-themed post, it just wouldn’t do it justice.
That, and I’d bombard you with 101 photos all at once. 😉
(NOTE: I’ll still give you a short overview just in case you have never heard of Bok Tower Gardens.)
Bok Tower Gardens was founded by Edward W. Bok, a Netherlands immigrant. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, humanitarian, and editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal (he even married the founder and publisher’s daughter). Under his oversight, LHJ became the first magazine in the world to reach 1 million subscribers.
Bok’s main residence at the time was his home in Pennsylvania, and he would head south to visit Lake Wales’ Iron Mountain during the winter months.
Iron Mountain (admittedly, not much of a “mountain” by the usual standards) is 298 feet above sea level – one of the highest points in the state of Florida – and provides dramatic vistas and a place to watch colorful sunsets.
Upon being inspired by this area, he decided to build a place to serve as a bird sanctuary with lush gardens and eventually include the focal point, the Singing Tower. With the help of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who was commissioned to turn the sandhill into an oasis of fertile and abundantly colorful subtropical gardens, I think he succeeded!
The 205-foot neo-Gothic and art deco Singing Tower – the focal point of the Gardens – is built of marble from North Georgia and coquina from St. Augustine. It was designed by architect Milton B. Medary and crafted by sculptor Lee Lawrie (of Atlas of NYC’s Rockefeller Center fame, among others).
The carillon in the tower (one of only a handful in Florida) was built by the John Taylor Bellfoundry of England (still in business today!), and it rings on the hour. It consists of 60 bells ranging from 16 pounds to 12 tons, and the full-time carillonneur, Geert D’hollander, gives two concerts daily.
Bok presented his gift to the American people on February 1, 1929 as a thank you for all that the country had given him, and a dedication ceremony was led by President Calvin Coolidge.
Bok died a year later – within sight of the Singing Tower – and is buried at the foot of the Great Brass Door of the Tower surrounded by lovely blooming flowers and a 15-foot moat filled with the largest koi fish you will ever see.
Now that you’ve got a brief introduction to the gardens (or not so brief? I admit, I like taking photos while I’m there), it’s onto to Christmas at Pinewood Estate. 🙂
This beautiful home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s a part of the Bok Tower Gardens’ property.
For being 12,900-square-feet, this enchanting 20-room Mediterranean Revival mansion actually feels quite cozy as it sits nestled among lush orange and lemon trees, tall pines, live oaks, palms, and the ubiquitous Spanish moss.
Built between 1930-1932, Pinewood Estate was the winter residence of Bethlehem Steel Company executive C. Austin Buck.
He originally called it “El Retiro,” and it was later renamed Pinewood Estate when Bok Tower Gardens acquired it in 1970.
Pinewood Estate is especially magical this time of year as it closes for one full month in the fall to prepare for Christmas. Completely restored to its original appearance (including original furniture, fixtures, and floors), it comes alive during the holidays with a new theme each year.
This year’s theme is to imagine yourself as a houseguest of Mr. Buck’s family in the post-war 1940s.
(Note that the Estate is also available for guided tours throughout the year for a small additional fee, with less of a cost for members.)
“His” and “Her” coat racks upon entering the home.
Christmas music played softly in the background as the self-guided tour started in the Kitchen, a place where the smell of freshly baked bread and slow-cooked meats wafted through the air.
The turkey, desserts, breads, and vegetables in these photos are props. Luckily, however, my visit was on a day when the adjoining (and unseen) commercial kitchen was being used for catering a private outdoor Christmas party and they were busily responsible for all of the good smells traveling through the air.
It added to the festive ambiance for sure!
There was also a little scavenger hunt that you could participate in (kids and kids at heart, alike) where you had to track down the plush squirrels hidden in each room.
I think I found one here! 😉
Next, onto the Dining Room where, per our tour theme, the Buck family is hosting a private celebratory dinner for the holidays.
Below is the Round Room where they’d gather with guests before dinner for wines, cheese, fruits, and caviar (and yes, sadly, these were all props too). 😉
The Loggia, pictured below, is where they’d relax after their morning filled with horseback riding and quail hunting.
So says the nifty pamphlet the Estate’s volunteers give you upon entering the home.
Just so you know, that’s a giant plush dog laying by the chair. 😉
Next is the enormous Living Room. Really, it’s one part sitting area and one part music room, collectively housing a massive fireplace, lovely holiday trimmings, oversized nutcrackers, lots of toys from Santa, a breathtaking, twinkling Christmas tree, delicious treats (display only, again!), and a concert grand piano (a volunteer plays it often).
Again, for as large as the room is, the soft lighting, low ceilings, and dark wood make for a cozy atmosphere.
Neat bit of history: Edward Bok is actually credited with coining the term “living room.”
These nutcrackers are taller than me…and must have cost a pretty penny. They’re fabulous.
Foiled again. 😉
Next is the West Porch where we’re told that warm pretzels and fresh-squeezed orange juice was served to the children on Christmas morning. I could have happily lived in this room alone!
Upstairs you’ll find four lavishly decorated bedrooms. I’ve included three for you here!
The first is Mr. Buck’s room.
This one is for Mr. Buck’s grandchildren. His daughter Lucy and son-in-law Ned’s three pre-teen daughters enjoy this festively decorated room.
Lucy and Ned stay in this warm and inviting room, cited in the pamphlet as being “laced with organic elements.” Really lovely!
Back downstairs we go, amidst a staircase paying homage to the signature fruit of our state.
Traveling throughout Polk County, you’re sure to find groves and groves of luscious oranges ever-present.
On our way out of the Estate, we pass through the Morning Room that looks like it’s set up to prepare for a fun horseback riding adventure.
Exiting the Morning Room and back outside to the Estate’s Courtyard and Gardens, you’ll find lush subtropical plants with enormous handmade hanging poinsettias.
For a quick treat after your Estate tour (this time the food choices are edible!), there’s a little spot attached to the house where you can purchase hot coffee, wine, and water, as well as scrumptious cookies, muffins, and other treats. You can even pick up a souvenir or two from this area.
This was a nice touch to end the experience of Pinewood Estate at Christmastime.
A hot coffee and soft, gooey chocolate chip cookie certainly helped warm me up on that cold winter day in Florida.
It was 70 degrees. 😉
There’s another squirrel! 🙂
Thanks for “touring” the Estate with me. Hope you enjoyed it!
Merry Christmas! 🙂
NOTE: I am not affiliated with Bok Tower Gardens, nor was I asked to write this post on their behalf as a marketing tool or for monetary compensation. I am simply a member of the Gardens and wanted to share this experience with you!