Hotel Forrest Lake/New Tribes Mission
The Mediterranean Palace style building at 1000 East 1st Street in Sanford, Florida has seen its share of owners since the 1920’s land boom. It was first named the Hotel Forrest Lake after the mayor of Sanford who had it built with some partners for $500 million. The problem was, hardly anyone came. After it failed in 1927 it was renamed the Mayfair Inn. The New York Giants Baseball Club owned it for a while, then it changed hands once again to become the Sanford Naval Academy. It now serves as the international headquarters of the New Tribes Mission, an organization that distributes bibles to third world remote villages in their native tongue. This building has a limited written history about it. The land boom in Florida began to slow down, right before the Great Depression, but the city of Sanford also went bankrupt before that for another reason. The culprit for this was none other than the mayor of Sanford and Seminole County Bank president Forrest Lake himself. As a significant contribution to the development of the city of Sanford, the building also became a symbol of political corruption and greed which financially ruined not only Sanford, but the newly formed Seminole County as well. The main focus of the history of this building is Forrest Lake, and his corrupt political impact on all of Seminole County, Florida. Forrest Lake moved to Sanford from South Carolina at age 17. Seven years later he was elected Mayor for the first of 11 non-consecutive terms. After the freeze of the late 1890’s destroyed the citrus industry for a time, the city switched over from citrus to celery. In 1898, after the Spanish-American War, Lake went to Santiago, Cuba to learn more about ice and the preservation of vegetables to open an ice house. After returning to Sanford he was elected mayor again. During this time Lake, Bob Holley, editor of the Sanford Herald at the time, and other prominent Sanford businessmen wanted to break off from Orange County to be their own autonomous county and be the county seat. Lake was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1910 and made sure he was appointed to the County Division Committee, joining his friend State Senator Donegan from Osceola County. During the election of 1912, the Orlando Sentinel got word of a possible separation from Orange County and confronted the two committee members. Both Lake and Donegan denied support of any such split, yet secretly nudged a bill through Congress. With no opposition, the Governor routinely signed it in 1913. The outraged Orlando Sentinel then published an article about Forrest Lake being a liar and a cheap politician unfit for office. It was common for newly formed counties to have a county bank, so while in the state legislature, Lake applied for and was granted a charter to create the Seminole County Bank. Having accomplished what he set out to do he returned to Sanford and was appointed bank president by a board of businessmen and was also elected mayor again. The trust given to Lake was about to corrupt him. Political corruption was not uncommon for developing communities all throughout Florida. Bank failures were happening all over the state due to too many communities relying on one industry or crop, not enough bank regulation and restrictions, and poor management. During Lake’s first few years as mayor there were some improvements such as a seawall, and paved roads and the hotel he built for himself with unsecured loans to himself from his bank. Loans were made unsecured to land owners with little or no collateral. Lake claimed to finance all this by selling bonds to New York investors at 95 cents on the dollar. This was discovered to be actually less than 90 cents on the dollar. In June 1927 a principle and interest payment of $270,000 was due on the bonds. The bank only had a little over $80,000. A group called the Taxpayers League got involved and Lake was eventually convicted on 19 counts of embezzlement and theft of over $353,000 dollars. The city was left bankrupt with $1,000,000 in debt, right before the Great Depression. Sentenced to 14-16 years hard labor, all of his convictions were overturned by appeal because of faulty jury selection except one which he served almost 4 years beginning in 1931. After prison he returned to Sanford, hated and living on the streets with others struggling during the 1930’s. He died 5 years later in the very hospital he promised to build with those bonds, with a few small lines in the Sanford Herald about “Forrest Lake, businessman dies”. A few businesses closed for the day…… In 1971, the city of Sanford finally paid off the “Lake bonds”.
Forrest Lake: The infamous mayor of Sanford in the roaring 20’s; www.cmfmedia .org
2013 Speech by Professor Dan Gilmartin of Seminole State College; Seminole County Historical Museum archives
The Mayfair Inn; RICHES of Central Florida website; www.richesmi.cah.ucf.edu