Courtesy of Historical Society of Avon Park The Bandstand in Avon Park as it was in 1912.
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published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Avon Park bandstand: A heart-warming symbol of the past
Special to the News-Sun
AVON PARK - Bandstands were most popular across the country during the late 1800s and early-mid-1900s - and Avon Park was no exception. Local residents craved music and that's what bandstands provided in those early days.
Many of the original bandstands have either disappeared, fallen into disrepair, or been removed because they stood in the way of progress. The Avon Park bandstand, built in 1897 in front of the Hotel Verona (near what is now Donaldson Park), is nothing if it's not a survivor. It's still standing, still surviving as an Avon Park landmark.
The bandstand served as the hub for a variety of downtown activities. Along with those concerts, you'd find political rallies, auctions, PTA-sponsored cake-walks, civic events, Halloween carnivals and Christmas programs. As local attorney David Lanier, who grew up in Avon Park, put it, "It seems like every holiday was an excuse to have a celebration in town."
The hotel was the center of social life for the young town. Local residents and guests would gather on the porch of the hotel in the evenings to listen to music and play a card game (probably "Whist" - an early form of bridge). The music was often provided by the Avon Park Concert Band.
In 1912, the Ladies Civic League agreed to move the bandstand from the hotel to a vacant lot near Main Street to make it more convenient for the townspeople. When Main Street was divided around 1920, the bandstand was then moved to its present location on the Mall and again became a gathering spot for the townspeople. The bandstand also served as the city police headquarters for several years.
For many years after World War II, the bandstand fell into disrepair. The city was divided between those who wanted the bandstand demolished and those who wanted it restored.
At a city council meeting to discuss the future of the bandstand, Cliff Thomas, representing the Old Settlers Association (forerunner to the Historical Society of Avon Park), said, "We need to save it; it is part of our history," and he asked the council for support in restoring the bandstand. He was told the only money the city would spend was for tearing it down - but the council did allow time for funds to be raised. The association took on the job. Some folks gave money, others donated materials and men from the local prison did the work.
The bandstand was restored to its original condition and the newly built bandstand was rededicated May 27, 1971. In its coverage of the re-dedication, the Avon Park Sun recalled the many residents who in the evenings would grab their lanterns, walk down to the bandstand and stand around while listening to the concert band perform. Afterwards, they'd light their lanterns and head home.
The Avon Park bandstand is reported to be one of America's oldest surviving bandstands. In fact, the bandstand has been part of our history for 116 years. Let's hope it's also part of our future.
Editor's Note: The above is a preview of the PowerPoint presentation (called "Then and Now") to be offered by Depot Museum volunteer and Historical Society board member James Deal at the society's annual banquet, set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hotel Jacaranda.
Tickets, at $25 each, are available at the hotel and the Depot Museum. For more information, call 453-3525 or 385-8618.
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