As you finish our tour, imagine how from humble beginnings as an only child in Isaban, West Virginia, the young Gene Leedy was impressed by an engineer who came to construct a building in the cold coal town. He was wearing a Humphrey Bogart hat and trench coat. Leedy remarked to his father C.H., a supervisor for the coal company, "I want to be just like that man." His mother, Ethel, the local school principal, encouraged Gene to dream.
And Leedy wasted no time making his dreams come true when he began his inventive and innovative building career at age nine. Inspired to build a log cabin on his own, he “borrowed” nearby roofing material from an unsuspecting uncle. Despite chastising the young architect for the purloined supplies, Gene’s sturdy log cabin was admired by his father. To this day, Leedy continues to successfully build for the climate by employing local materials. Our present cultural ecology is returning to more energy efficient designs. Leedy never departed from that school of thought.
Not long after his somewhat controversial debut on the architectural scene in Isaban, he entered the University of Florida on his 16th birthday. He graduated with a degree in architecture, moved to Sarasota, and began working under the tutelage of Paul Rudolph. At 24 years of age he was called to serve in the military during the Korean War, as an engineer in New York. Afterwards he returned to Sarasota and continued working toward his architectural goals. We are fortunate indeed that he found his way to us here in Winter Haven, where he continues to build his architectural legacy in our midst.
Main Street Winter Haven and the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation thank you for joining us on the Leedy Lifetime Works Tour. The city's dedication to the preservation of Leedy’s architecture was inspired by Gene’s steadfast commitment to his work and by the support of his many friends and clients, and family. If you would like to to hear interesting conversations with some of these people and Gene Leedy himself, or see more photographs and information on Gene’s work, you will find it here on this website.
You have seen for yourself the impact that his work has on this city. But it may be better heard from one of its citizens and a former client turned friend, Carl Strang, Jr.:
“People of this town tend to lose sight of how their lives are touched by Gene Leedy and his genius. I used to say that I lived in a Gene Leedy house, I worked in a Gene Leedy bank, and then later I had a Gene Leedy office. I went to City Hall to pay taxes in a Gene Leedy designed City Hall. My wife went to visit two doctors in a two Gene Leedy designed doctor's offices. We went to social functions in the Gene Leedy designed Garden Center, and we attended meetings and receptions in a City Hall designed by Gene Leedy. This guy's artistic genius is just everyday occurrences to us.
“There was a movement afoot at one time. We lived on Lake Otis, one of the lakes in Winter Haven, when the sixth house built by Gene Leedy was built on Lake Otis. There was a movement afoot to change the name from Lake Otis to Lake Leedy, and I still think that would be a good idea. But it takes an act of congress to do something like that.
“We all realize that Winter Haven would not be the town it is and the beautiful place it is without the creative genius of our friend, "The Ace," Gene Leedy.”