A College Hotel? From The Langford to The Alfond (1956–2023)

This blog post has been guest authored by Rollins College senior and history major Liam Taylor King ’24.

While many attribute Central Florida’s tourist economy to the Disneyworld parks, which opened in 1971, the ground was laid for local tourism many years beforehand. As early as 1882, the Rogers House Inn opened its doors. It would later be known as the Seminole Inn and the Virginia Inn before its demolition in 1966. The larger and grander Seminole Hotel opened a year after the College was founded (1886). With as many as 250 guest rooms in a prime location on scenic Lake Osceola, this luxurious hotel hosted wealthy vacationers of all kinds including famous politicians and celebrities. However, the all-pine structure burned to the ground in 1902, and while it was rebuilt in a more modest fashion in 1912, it was finally torn down for good in 1970.

Fig. 1: The iconic sign of the Langford Hotel. For more information and a visual history of the Langford Hotel, see this documentary from 2013 by Dr. Eduard Gfeller.

In 1956, while the historic hotels of Winter Park became even more decrepit, an industrious Winter Park local gave birth to the city’s exciting future – at least in terms of the local hospitality industry. Inspired by the tradition of high end Winter Park resorts, Robert Langford Sr. viewed himself as more than a hotel-builder — he was a visionary. In the end, it turns out that the world cannot accommodate all great visions, or at least not forever; the dream Langford set out to construct eventually fell to ruin just like the Rogers Inn and the Seminole Hotel. Rollins College was a witness and a player in this epic rise and fall, and the story of the Langford Hotel has most definitely shaped campus history and culture. This blog post introduces the history of the Langford Hotel and positions it within the larger landscape of Rollins History.

Following victory in World War II, the entire United States underwent an economic boom. Thirty-seven-year-old Robert E. Langford cut his teeth in this milieu and had much success. In 1950, he opened a set of apartments on Interlachen Avenue, his first foray into development work in Winter Park, which turned out to be a nearly immediate financial win. From this moment on, Robert E. Langford began to see even greater potential in Winter Park and devoted much of his time, energy, and money into making Winter Park an extravagant destination for Florida tourists once again. Importantly, the end of World War II wrought another critical change to Central Florida: air conditioning.[1] This life-altering technology inspired Langford, and many others, to see even more potential for Central Florida, since it could now be “more than a sweltering swamp.” Thus, Langford’s next project would be a hotel. And not just any hotel.

Fig. 2: Memo to President Hugh McKean shows an early Rollins-Langford interaction.

Even in these early moments, Rollins was becoming a part of the Langford’s history. Initially, the Winter Park City Commission declined Langford’s request for a liquor license on the future-hotel property because of its close proximity to churches. Not to be delayed by such bureaucracy, Langford wrote to Rollins President Hugh McKean (1951–1969) for his intervention on the Commission. While McKean, as President of Rollins, would have significant sway over such local affairs, he stayed completely out of the dispute, leaving it to be determined by local city officials. A 1954 memo sent to McKean from his assistant Mary Royle Howard read, “Am I right in assuming that you cannot take up a position either way in cases like these?” to which McKean handwrote “Yes, perfectly” (See Fig. 2).[2]

Fig. 3: This vintage map of Winter Park (c. 1965) shows the layout of Winter Park, with the location of the Langford marked by a yellow star.

Eventually, Robert Langford got his liquor license, and in 1956, the Langford Resort Hotel was opened by at 300 East New England Avenue, at the intersection of New England and Interlachen. The hotel promoted itself as a swanky destination resort for Central Florida’s nascent tourist demographic. The project was truly visionary in its time — imagining a tourist industry in suburban Central Florida fifteen years before the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971 was somewhat of a stretch in the eyes of many. But, as it turned out, the hotel’s reputation extended even beyond Central Florida, and with much acclaim. According to Robert Langford, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan spent their twenty-fifth anniversary in 1976 at the Langford! [3] Its shiny, modern, midcentury aesthetic and the close proximity to campus made it the ideal location for college guests and visiting families to stay as well. And the relationship between Rollins and the Langford was of course symbiotic. Over the years, during the Langford’s heyday, Rollins hosted a number of events and conferences at the Langford Hotel. The two Winter Park hubs became intimately interlinked.

Fig. 4: This promotional pamphlet from 1965 shows the glamorous atmosphere advertised by the Langford in its heyday.

However, The Langford’s glamour and prestige dwindled over the next quarter-century. The hotel’s swanky mid-century aesthetic failed to last through the new wave of flashy design and entertainment in the 1980s and 1990s. Even having undergone more than one million dollars’ worth of renovation between 1978 and 1987, including a change from “contemporary to tropical,” the Langford failed to keep up with updates and innovations in the hospitality industry; talks of its sale began in 1999.[4] As the twentieth century drew to a close, so too did the story of the Langford. 

Fig. 5: This advertisement from the Orlando Sentinel (September 29, 1974) shows how the resort became a local hotspot.

After a dynamic forty years of operation, the Langford closed its doors permanently in 2000. The hotel housed 213 rooms in its final year.[5] The hope was to find a developer to demolish the original Langford facility and replace it with an even more prestigious hotel brand. Robert Langford, Sr., the hotel’s founder passed away shortly after the hotel’s closure, in 2001.[6] The land then went to Coral Hospitality, a property management company based out of Naples, FL, with the intent of massive renovation and modernization. But, following the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the hotel business became less profitable and Coral Hospitality lost interest in redeveloping the property. The land then changed hands to Jim Heistand, CEO of Eola Capital (a local real estate investment firm). In December 2002, the structure that was once the Langford Hotel was demolished.[7] 

Over the next decade, two proposals (one by Regent International and the other by Marriott) attempted to develop another hotel on the property but both hit troubled coffers due to the worldwide financial difficulties of the 2008 recession, in addition to major political difficulties in working with the Winter Park City Commission.[8] After many failed development attempts, one final developer approached the land at the intersection of East New England Avenue and Interlachen: Rollins College. In 2009 Rollins College purchased the plot for $10 million and in 2011 began construction on a new hotel that would be, in many ways, the first of its kind.[9] The plan, funded by a $12.5 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation, was to construct a college-owned hotel and direct net income toward student scholarships.[10] 

Fig. 6: Construction of the Alfond Inn wraps up in August of 2013. Image courtesy of photographer, Scott Cook.

In 2013, the Alfond Inn opened its doors to guests looking to stay in one of its 112 rooms.[11] The purpose of the Alfond was two-fold: establish a site for college guests and local tourists to stay (not to mention hosting conferences and other events) and create scholarship funding for students.[12] Guests flocked to the Alfond Inn in higher-than-expected numbers, with “an average occupancy rate of 88.6 percent versus the industry standard of 64 percent.”[13] In its first year of operation, the hotel generated more than $4 million for student scholarships, more than doubling projected income.[14] These funds support a cohort of students referred to as the “Alfond Scholars,” selected for their impressive high-school academic achievements. Now in its tenth year of success, the Alfond Inn recently completed an expansion and renovation, adding 71 more rooms, a spa, communal coffee shop, and new bookable meeting spaces for groups.[15] 

When viewing the Alfond Inn as the Langford’s successor, an intricate history of town and gown emerges. The Aflond serves as a kind of legacy symbol, demonstrating Rollins’ impact on the Winter Park tourism and commerce. What once was a renowned resort and hotel for movie stars and future-Presidents has morphed into something else that is both quite different and equally exciting. In the Langford’s place is a nonprofit hotel like no other — this award winning resort acts as social enterprise with profits that finance liberal arts learning. While the cherished Langford is now just rubble beneath the Alfond’s shiny floors, one can see the critical foundation it laid for the future of Winter Park and Rollins.

Liam Taylor King ’24 is a history major at Rollins College. He is a Ginsburg Fellow, a Bonner Scholar, and a Board Member for the LGBTQ History Museum of Central Florida. Liam is also a contributor to the soon-to-be-published, co-authored book about the history of Rollins College from the perspective of Rollins students. Personally, he is passionate about Joan Didion’s writing, vintage fashion, local history, and underground music.

Find out more about Liam at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/liamtking/.

[1] Barbara White, “The Langford Hotel,” Winter Park Library Archive, accessed July 20, 2023, https://omeka.wppl.librarymarket.com/exhibits/show/histbisref/the-langford-hotel.

[2] Memo to Hugh McKean from Mary Royle Howard, October 4, 1954, Hotels: Langford, Winter Park Photo File, Rollins College Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, FL. (Hereafter ARC). 

[3] Dick Marlowe, “Reaping Rewards of Perseverance,” Orlando Sentinel, February 24, 1988.

[4] “Langford Hotel Gets $300,000 Renovation,” Little Sentinel, May 31, 1978; “Neighborhood Notebook: Langford Renovations,” Orlando Sentinel, October 25, 1987; Sherri M. Owens, “Langford Sale Would Bring Major Changes,” Orlando Sentinel, September 29,1999.

[5] Martin E. Comas, “Neighborhood News to Note,” Orlando Sentinel, September 20, 2001.

[6] “Obituaries: Robert E. Langford,” Orlando Sentinel, April 2, 2001.

[7] Sandra Carr, “The Alfond Inn: A Family Gives Again to Rollins,” Winter Park Magazine,

[8] Christopher Sherman, “Developers of Posh Hotel Reproach Winter Park,” Orlando Sentinel, November 29, 2007. 

[9] Daphne Sashin, “Rollins College Buys Langford Hotel Land,” Orlando Sentinel, April 30, 2009; Carr, “The Alfond Inn,” Winter Park Magazine.

[10] Press release titled “Rollins Receives $12.5 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation,” December 8, 2010, Folder: Alfond Inn, Box: Alfond Inn, Building Files, ARC.

[11] David Breen, “Rollins College Unveils Its Own Hotel, the Alfond Inn,” Orlando Sentinel, August 13, 2013.

[12] E-mail from Lewis Duncan to Rollins Faculty and Staff, December 8, 2010, Folder: Alfond Inn, Box: Alfond Inn, Building Files, ARC.

[13] Julie Bourbon, “Going All In for the Alfond Inn: How One Board Helped Bring a Big Idea to Fruition,” Trusteeship, September/October 2014, 26.

[14] Jim Stratton, “New Alfond Inn in Winter Park Gets 4-Diamond Rating from AAA,” Orlando Sentinel, April 14, 2014; Bourbon, “Going All In for the Alfond Inn,” Trusteeship, September/October 2014, 22–26.

[15] Tim Freed, “Alfond Inn Expansion Earns Winter Park P&Z Approval,” Winter Park/Maitland Observer, February 8, 2019.

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