An urban pioneer uncovered a big surprise when she started converting a commercial building on Munn Park into her residence: The white plaster in her spacious living room had been hiding a well-preserved Coca-Cola sign that was painted on a brick wall more than 100 years ago. There was a Bull Durham tobacco sign, too.
Pat Landreth got another surprise last month: Her work to preserve the past at 115 N. Kentucky Ave., a building constructed in 1905, was recognized by Historic Lakeland Inc. with a preservation award.
“I’m surprised because I didn’t build it for the city. I just built it for me,” Landreth told the audience gathered at the Polk Theatre for the awards ceremony May 22. “When people asked why I wanted to live downtown, they asked me (whispering conspiratorially), ‘Why? There … are … homeless … people.’ “
But Landreth loves having a balcony over Munn Park (“This is my mini-Manhattan and that’s my Central Park”) and living in a place where she can walk pretty much everywhere she goes. A psychiatrist, she uses her car mostly to get to work at Lakeland Regional Health.
“I have loved that building. I saved everything I could for its history,” she said at the awards ceremony. “It’s great living downtown and it’s great to be recognized for investing in downtown, because not a lot of people have done it yet, but I think they will.”
The large Coca-Cola and Bull Durham signs required no restoration, just sealing. The commercial signs have become the focal centerpiece of an open living space that blends early 20th Century and ultra-modern.
Landreth says she laughs when people ask her for the name of the style or who she used as a decorator. She just uses things she likes and arranges them according to her minimalist sensibility, she said.
She bought the building in 2013 after seeing an article in The Ledger saying Arts on the Park was trying to sell it because upkeep costs had become too great.
“By noon I was in the building and by the next day I had made an offer,” she said at the awards ceremony. The purchase closed a month later — August 2013 — with a pricetag of $220,000, according to the Polk Property Appraiser’s Office.
Landreth renovated the second floor into her home and built a three-story addition in the rear that includes a garage and roof-level garden and patio. After renovations, the 20-foot-wide home reached 187 feet in depth.
The records are hazy as to when the signs that dominate the second story were painted and why they were covered, but Lakeland history professionals Jim Edwards and Emily Foster offer the same theory:
After a 1904 fire destroyed the wooden buildings just east of Munn Park, they were replaced with sturdier brick structures. Most likely the building just north of Landreth’s house was built first. When rail agent and real estate mogul Salvedo Raymondo built Landreth’s building in 1905, he apparently attached directly onto his neighbor’s building and plastered over the then-new signs.
Raymondo’s building originally included four storefronts opening onto Kentucky Avenue, but three of them were torn down in the 1920s to make room for the S.H. Kress building, which now houses Explorations V Children’s Museum.