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Downtown’s christmas star shines bright

Visitors to Downtown Orlando this holiday season may notice a large, yellow star high above Orange Avenue at Central Boulevard. The 600-pound star has a long history Downtown, dating back to the 1950s. In 1955, two department stores, Ivey’s and Dickson & Ives, hung a star between their stores across Orange Avenue to mark the beginning of the holiday season. But in 1998, city officials decided to retire the star because of costly repairs. The late Jack Kazanzas, a local who had grown up around Downtown, raised enough money to save the star and, in 2010, Orlando officially named it after him. To learn more about this holiday icon and its long history in Downtown Orlando, read the Orlando Sentinel’s article.

Tall Tales

Office towers have long dominated Downtown Orlando’s skyline, with those carrying the monikers of financial services consistently among the tallest. And, at 441 feet, SunTrust Center remains No. 1 in height. But a close second is not a bank or even an office building. It’s The Vue at Lake Eola, a residential tower that stands 426 feet. And, if you’re counting number of floors rather than number of vertical feet, The Vue turns out to be tops – with 35 stories. SunTrust has 30.

Underground Orlando

Underground Orlando: Built in 1921, the Beacham Theatre on Orange Avenue was once the place to be entertained in Downtown Orlando, especially during the heyday of vaudeville. Big-name acts, such as the Ziegfeld Follies and bandmaster John Philip Sousa, would stay just across the street in the Angebilt Hotel, once considered the finest inn in town. Legend is some performers would use a tunnel – yes, a tunnel – to avoid adoring crowds along the street. But it was far from a red-carpeted entrance. According to “A Guide to Historic Orlando” by Steve Rajtar (The History Press, 2006), the highest point in the tunnel was about 5 feet; the lowest, 3 feet. The Beacham was turned into a movie house in the late 1930s and later a nightclub (now Tabu).

Lady Liberty Lite

Yes, that is a Statue of Liberty welcoming visitors Downtown on the south shore of Lake Ivanhoe. The statue, all of 8 feet tall, was donated in 1953 by the Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America. It was quite the upgrade, replacing a large orange, concrete ball built as a Works Progress Administration project in the mid-1930s, according to “A Guide to Historic Orlando” by Steve Rajtar (The History Press, 2006). The ball, by the way, was moved to a fruit stand in Maitland and later destroyed.

Why an orange ball? Before a miniature Statue of Liberty was erected at Orange and Magnolia avenues on the north end of Downtown, a giant orange, concrete ball towered over the area. Why? Perhaps because Downtown Orlando’s main boulevard, Orange Avenue, originally ended at an orange grove at about the location of the statue.

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