Blumberg treasured her Winter Springs country oasis for nearly 50 years

Lewis and Juanita Blumberg

Juanita and Lewis Blumberg sure led an exciting life! “Lew” moved to Orlando in 1933 and served in the army during World War 2. He earned Distinguished Flying Cross, Silver Star, 8x Air Medal, and a Purple Heart. After the war, he became an entrepreneur, owning Acme Glass Company in downtown Orlando.

Lewis married a young wife, Juanita, in the late 1950s. They built Acme into a thriving business and sold it for a handsome profit. The new owners struggled, though, and the Blumbergs re-acquired the business, brought it back to profitability, and then sold it again!

Lewis encouraged Juanita to learn to fly. At first, Juanita joined Lewis in the cockpit as his co-pilot, but soon she was flying solo. Figuring competition is healthy for a marriage, they began to compete in endurance flight races. Before long, she consistently beat her husband, including a $10,000 grand prize victory in 1981. Juanita became a prominent leader in hobby pilot groups for decades.

The city life in Orlando was tiring, so they decided that a slower lifestyle in the country was more their speed. The couple searched for properties available in the countryside. In 1973, Juanita saw an eight-acre tract available in the village of North Orlando (renamed Winter Springs shortly after that).

Back then, “downtown” Winter Springs was centered between Moss and Edgemon. The only thing you’d find east of 419 was a few farms until you got to Oviedo. Highway 434 was a two-lane road with sharp curves. Tuskawilla Road was a dirt path. There was no neighborhood, golf course, or country club in Tuskawilla yet. The closest convenience store was Longwood or Oviedo.

Juanita took her mother along to inspect the land, which could be best described as “in the boondocks.” The advertisement showed it could be accessed via 1st Street and 2nd Street. However, when they arrived, there was a big problem: the roads were on the plat map, but they weren’t there in real life!

The two women trudged through thick brush and overgrown orange groves (some dating back to the 1870s) to explore the acreage. It was full of beautiful ancient oaks, dogwood, and hickory trees. For Juanita, it was love at first sight; however, Lewis took some convincing!

She eventually won the battle, as women usually do, and they signed the paperwork soon after. Their next challenge was building a home. How do you get the materials and crew to construct a house without a road leading there?

Aerial view of Winter Springs in 1974. The yellow highlight shows the road The Blumbergs illegally cut to access their property.
The current location of the Blumberg driveway and roughly their original eight-acre footprint.

Juanita stopped by the old Village Hall (today it is Richard’s Barber Shop), which had only one full-time staff member. She asked for guidance. The mayor gave her excellent advice: “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” So without any permits, they hired a bulldozer to cut a path from State Road 434 to their property line and cleared enough space to break ground on the house.

Lewis used his skill with glass to make the most of their beautiful surroundings. They built an impressive house from dark cedar, with vaulted ceilings and massive windows throughout the home — including one that opened in front of their bathtub. They didn’t even bother the hang drapes; out in the middle of nowhere and with trees at every angle, there wasn’t much concern about peepers.

Juanita became an exquisite gardener. She painstakingly manicured what could only be described as their personal botanical gardens all around their home. Magazine caliber! They considered their little island among the virgin wilderness their own little Eden.

Initially, Juanita wanted to clear some land and keep horses on the property, but she couldn’t bear the thought of tearing down any more trees than she needed to. She still got her horses, though. They stayed at the stables down Tuskawilla Road.

Winter Springs, in 1980, expanded to just under 30 acres. Also, notice the severe angle 434 takes at the “Wagner Curve.”

They acquired neighboring properties over the next decade to further insulate their solitude. The estate spanned 30 acres bounded by Brantley Avenue (Tuskawilla Rd) to the east, the railroad tracks (Cross-Seminole Trail) to the north, and Blumberg Boulevard to the south. It included today’s RiZE Apartments and some Winter Springs High School athletic fields.

Two years after settling in, they got neighbors when the Kingsbury family moved in on the south side of the Blumberg property. The Kingsburys owned what became the Winter Springs Town Center.

The Blumbergs sold the first large parcel of their property (4.25 acres) to the county in 1994 to construct part of Winter Springs High School (which opened in 1996). The development writing was already on the wall by then, with the adjacent City Hall complex opened in 1986 and next door Central Winds Park in 1992.

Lew died in 2003 at 87, leaving Juanita (25 years his junior) to maintain the property and its legacy by herself. The Blumbergs made many attempts to will the remainder of their property to the city as a trust, stipulating that it would be maintained as a public park and botanical garden.

Winter Springs Master Plan for the Blumberg Property, developing the north side into a neighborhood but saving the home and south side as a public park and gardens.

When the city released its Winter Springs Town Center Master Plan, the Blumberg property was a prime section. The plan called for the northern parcel to be converted into a neighborhood called Hickory Grove, which was named for a former hickory tree stand. The home and southern half of the estate were to be maintained for public recreation as Hickory Grove Park. The southeastern portion was reserved for a library or other civic use.

Unfortunately, these plans fell through, and likely the City did not want to be responsible for maintaining the gardens. Not to mention, the additional urbanization provides an extra tax base and fuel to the business community.

Fountain in the City Park in the median of Blumberg Boulevard, which hosts many festivals

The Blumbergs donated five acres bordering Bear Springs Drive to Forever Florida, which is set aside as a small oasis of greenspace that can never be built on. An additional two linear acres contributed by the Blumbergs make up the City Park in the median of Blumberg Boulevard, a popular jogging spot regularly used for festivals. This Blumberg Boulevard section was eight acres in all, counting the roadway.

RiZE Apartments was once part of the Blumberg Property

In 2004, Juanita sold a 4.5-acre tract fronting State Road 434 to a group that built the towering residential complex: RiZE Apartments.

Map of the Hickory Grove neighborhood from the presentation deck.
Artist rendering of the townhomes

When Juanita reached 81 in 2022, the remaining 12 acres she had left had become too much for her to maintain. She still longed to get out into her garden sanctuary, but her health had taken a turn for the worse. She knew she had to sell.

Her beloved land sold for a cool $7.2 million in June 2022. Plans called for 28 two-story townhomes with 132 units. Early in 2023, the bulldozers plowed down the dense trees and vegetation that shielded the home from view since 1973. As of April 2023, the home can now be seen in the distance, standing defiantly — for now.

In the summer of 2022, I visited Juanita at her new home on a two-acre lot in Tuskawilla. She is a charming 81-year-old woman, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. Despite some current health challenges that had made it difficult to get around the past few months, she was on her feet again and has restarted the garden at her new place (with some help). It is already off to a great start!

Juanita wishes more could have been done to preserve her once-country paradise but is happy that some of her lands have been set aside for a park. While she misses the old days and considers herself an environmentalist, Juanita says she’s a realist and doesn’t shun development. She accepts that urbanization is inevitable and only hopes that we can balance the needs of the influx of people with preservation and smart growth.

Looking back at her life, Juanita can’t help but smile. She and Lewis had a great life together, filled with many adventures, built and sold a great business (twice), and enjoyed the hell out of their lives in Winter Springs.

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