Recently a small group of us had the distinct honor and privilege of touring the Grand (Walesbilt) Hotel with its owner and chief renovation architect, Mr. Ray Brown.
The first impression one gains upon entering the building is the enormous scope of the project at hand. The fact that the hotel was closed for a long time, coupled with the realization that much vandalism occurred, means that even assessing what needs to be done was an enormous task in itself. So far Mr. Brown has accomplished much in that area. It would be simpler, but foolish, to think that one could just “splash on a coat of paint to make it look pretty.”
Mr. Brown has a vast knowledge, not only of the architectural status and needs for the renovation, but also of the history of the hotel and, as a matter of fact, the Lake Wales area in general. His passion for this project is palpable. We were impressed with his determination to address the infrastructure needs of the building first and, in fact, much has already been accomplished in the basement. Dealing with the plumbing (imagine the pipes and fixtures in 100 hotel bathrooms!), upgrading electric capacity to today’s needs, and repairing structural deficiencies before even tackling the aesthetic features could easily overwhelm the average person.
Standing in the huge lobby, it is possible to imagine what it would look like restored to its magnificent grandeur- what a vision! If ever there were an example of “you can’t tell a book by its cover,” this is it.
The Walesbilt Hotel has the potential to be a gem right in downtown Lake Wales, and attract visitors from far and wide. Mr. Brown deserves the gratitude and support of the community for all of his efforts. We all know that these projects take time, but that funding is the key to allow progress to take place. As the economy improves, we hope that this will happen.