The Bok Tower Gardens celebrated their 85th anniversary Saturday with Tomas Bok, the great grandson of the man who created the facility, talking about the past and future of the Lake Wales landmark.
“This is a sandy hill that is fairly unremarkable,” Bok told a large crowd during the ceremony. “It is hard to imagine my great grandfather traipsing around and conceiving this.”
The tower and gardens were opened in 1929 and since then has attracted 23 million visitors. The 205-foot tower with a 60-bell carillon is surrounded by acres of beautiful gardens with natural vegetation.
“Today, Bok Tower stands as a monument to one man’s vision,” said former U.S. Sen. and Florida governor Bob Graham.
“The tower and garden have helped us change the definition of Florida. Florida is a special place.”
The facility opened to a crowd estimated at 50,000 people with President Calvin Coolidge the main speaker for that ceremony.
“This is an American Taj Mahal,” Graham claimed. “I was taken with the magic of this place the first time I saw it. It has been a special place for ions.”
On a wet, drizzly morning, the sun broke through just before the start of the services for the first time in three days. The tower and gardens seemed to sparkle in the light. “There are plants here found no other place, not only in our state but in our nation,” Graham noted.
The day included rare greenhouse tours, several carillon concerts, a concert by Japanese drummers, songs by the Dundee Ridge Middle School Select Choir and a conservation tour. Admission to the public was free for the occasion. The Tower Brass Ensemble opened the ceremony and Amelia Updike sang America the Beautiful.
David Price, president of Bok Tower Gardens, explained that over the years, the facility has undergone five strategic plans and is beginning its sixth.
“We have a 25-year plan and it is our most ambitious one,” he said.
Cindy Alexander, vice chair of the board of directors, said that the current plans will cost $12 million.
“We have raised $7.7 million so far,” she stated.
“This place is no lucky accident,” Price commented. “Edward Bok created a sanctuary for both men and birds. Few businesses have survived over 85 years. This is a day of celebration for the people who have cared for this garden.’’
Bok praised the determination his ancestor had in created the tower and gardens. “He defied all naysayers. He transformed beauty where there wasn’t beauty before. There are no limits to my great grandfather’s dreams.”