And so it began, the first contact between Florida Southern College and Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a trip to Europe by then college president Dr. Ludd Spivey and the viewing of a war memorial that inspired the educator to return to the U.S. with the vision of constructing a campus in the orange groves. Even more inspiring to him was the autobiography of Frank Lloyd Wright.
When Dr. Spivey flew to Taliesin at Spring Green, Wisconsin, he approached Wright with his dream saying, "I have no money with which to build the modern American campus, but if youll design the buildings, Ill work night and day to raise the means."
Wright was 70 years of age upon his first visit to Lakeland. As he toured the orange grove area he envisioned the buildings rising "out of the ground, into the light and into the sun." His master plan called for 18 buildings using the following basic materials: steel for strength; sand because it was native to Florida; and glass to bring Gods outdoors into mans indoors.
The first ground breaking ceremony was held May 24, 1938 for the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. Dedication of the building took place March 9, 1941.
Following the completion of the Chapel, the three seminar units were built. As word got out about Wrights creations, more and more people visited the campus to see his work. In 1942, ground was broken for the circular E.T. Roux Library, but steel and manpower shortages slowed the construction. These first buildings (Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, The Seminar Buildings, and the E.T. Roux Library) were built with student labor. Dr. Spivey arranged with the students that their tuition could be paid with manual assistance in the construction of the buildings. Dedication for the Roux Library was held in 1945.
Next up were the Emile E. Watson- Benjamin Fine Administration Buildings, the first to be built by an outside construction firm, followed by the J. Edgar Wall Waterdome in 1948. The construction of the 1.5 miles of esplanades began at the same time the first phase connecting the library and the administration building. The Ordway Arts Building was next to be constructed and the esplanades were extended from the seminars to the Ordway Building and then back to the chapel, forming the quadrangle.
Danforth Chapel went up in the shadow of Annie Pfeiffer Chapel as the foundations were laid for the Polk County Science Building.
Wright visited the campus often during his twenty years of work at Florida Southern. Lakeland residents would turn out to see him in his preferred attire which often included a flowing cape, beret or pork pie hat, and carrying his walking stick, but few would engage him in conversation.