Today’s meeting attendees love local lore, and fortunately, Florida boasts a host of venues that provide a mountain of historical charm.
The state’s rich history has been shaped by a number of explorers, including Osceola, one of the most influential leaders of the Seminole Indians, and Spanish explorers Pedro Menendez de Aviles and Ponce de Leon. However, other noted figures, such as Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, Henry Flagler and Walt Disney, also contributed to Florida’s rich history.
Florida is also home to the Castillo de San Marcos, one of the most important monuments in the state’s history. Meanwhile, Florida’s Cape Canaveral is that iconic spot that launched men to the moon. And for more recent history, Walt Disney World Resort opened in the 1970s and is one of the most visited resorts in the world.
In St. Augustine alongside miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches, horse-drawn carriages rumble over cobblestone streets, rolling past charming, centuries-old Spanish colonial architecture. Dozens of impressive museums, monuments and beloved attractions await.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Villa Zorayda Museum was originally built in 1883 as a private home by eccentric millionaire Franklin Smith. Groups start with a museum tour featuring extensive antique collections of paintings, furniture, hand-pierced brass lamps, custom-made porcelain china and of particular note, the “Sacred Cat Rug,” now over 2,400 years old and made from the hairs of ancient cats that roamed the Nile River.
A stunning backdrop for private events, this Gilded-Age home is a miniaturized version of a Moorish castle, the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Amid elegant columns and stunning horseshoe arches, the central court is ideal for receptions of up to 80 attendees, with the adjoining room perfect for sit-down dinners of up to 40 people.
The Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens in the Winter Park area of Orlando is the gift of Czech-American sculptor Albin Polasek to his adoptive country. His magnificent works of art are set among the bucolic gardens, available for event rentals. Groups can tour the ever-changing exhibition gallery and delight at the classical sculptures. The museum offers 5,000 square feet of meeting space, and receptions can accommodate up to 500 standing and 350 seated in the gardens.
In late 2013, the Polasek Museum saved one of the oldest homes in Winter Park from the wrecking ball. The Capen-Showalter House, occupied by the Capen family from 1885-1898, was transported by barge over the Osceola Lake and placed on the Polasek grounds.
With more than 2,500 square feet of event space and tenting capabilities, it is truly the perfect backdrop for any event, particularly outdoor functions where attendees can overlook the Winter Park chain of lakes. An expansive lakefront patio provides 900 square feet of space for an additional 80 guests; the lawn can accommodate about 120. Groups can also charter boats with Winter Park’s Scenic Boat Tour from downtown Winter Park to the museum for an added treat.
“Groups love to book here is because we are a unique lakefront venue that offers old-world charm with modern amenities,” said Kim Ruffer, event coordinator. “Though we are easily accessible and located in the heart of Winter Park, we give the feel of being miles away. With two outdoor sites on Lake Osceola, groups can host events in a setting of natural beauty in our lush sculpture gardens.”
The historic Capen House provides an indoor space for up to 125, with restrooms, a kitchen for catering prep and a TV for PowerPoint presentations.
“One fun fact is that James Seymour Capen and Albin Polasek were friends,” Ruffer said.
Dating back to 1910, Armature Works was once the storage facility for Tampa’s electric streetcars. Today it promises spectacular views of the Hillsborough River and downtown Tampa and has been totally reimagined with event space and a dozen innovative restaurants and bars.
Situated in the Tampa Heights neighborhood, the space is massive and includes options such as The Gathering, featuring more than 10,000 square feet of space with seating for up to 700. Two riverfront lawns work well for open-air events, offering an incredible sunset view each night. Dock access by water allows guests to come and go by boat or water taxi.
Located in Riverwalk Park, Broward County’s oldest hotel building, the New River Inn Museum of History, part of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society campus, dates back to 1905. It is highlighted by a charming all-white exterior and nearby gazebo.
“We have a six-building campus where we can do everything from a full IT package to a historic tea indoors,” said Patricia Zeiler, executive director of the Historical Society. “Outdoors, we’ve had as many as 10,000 people on the full grounds. We once picked up a group of about 80 Greek scholars and gave them a historic boat tour, pointing out the major area architecture sites on the water. They disembarked in front of our main building right on the New River and enjoyed a buffet dinner on the front lawn.”
Housed in one of Jacksonville’s architectural treasures at the former Haydon Burns Library, built in 1965, the Jessie Ball duPont Center provides a unique gathering place. The conference center offers a stunning selection of flexible meeting space for groups of every size. The crown jewel is the third-floor Roof Garden, with roughly 3,000 square feet of open-air garden and reception space for up to 150 people.
In Tallahassee, the 1830s-era Goodwood, originally a 2,400-acre cotton plantation, was built for the Hardy Croom family of North Carolina. Today, the Goodwood Museum & Gardens is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now sitting on 20 acres of land with centuries-old live oaks and sprawling gardens, the main house, now a museum, features original family furnishings, including porcelain, textiles and art. The Carriage House seats 280 inside with surrounding brick terraces and walkways for receptions and outdoor events.
Other options include the Jubilee Cottage, which seats 50 indoors, and the Laundry Cottage, which seats up to 20 for board meetings and other smaller events.
Located just minutes from downtown Miami, Villa Woodbine was built in the 1930s for paper company owner Charles Boyd and his wife of Appleton, Wis., as their winter residence. The area where the house was erected was known then as Millionaire’s Row. The Woolworths lived next door.
Cuban design, including Cuban tile in the dining room, can be seen throughout the house. Cuban craftsmen handcrafted much of the furniture and some of these pieces still remain today.
“The house is perfect for intimate dinners for as few as 10 persons, with the outdoor garden seating as many as 230 and up to 300 for a reception under a canopy of oaks,” said the Villa’s exclusive caterer, Bill Hansen of Bill Hansen Catering. “There is additional indoor seating in four covered spaces surrounding an open courtyard for approximately 75 guests.”
Florida meets Japan at the Morikami Museum & Gardens in Delray Beach, first opened in 1977 thanks to a donation of land to Palm Beach County by George Sukeji Morikami, who came to the area in the early 1900s to farm the land. Morikami donated the land with the hope that it would become a park for all to enjoy.
The museum has been a cultural hub featuring rotating exhibitions and monthly tea sessions in the Seishin-an Tea House. This center of Japanese art and culture offers attendees 12,000 square feet of meeting space, including receptions for 600, seating for 450 and an outdoor terrace that seats 180 in banquet rounds, with a 600-square-foot area for tenting.
Click here to view more of the 2018 Meetings Today Florida supplement.