In 1957, W. L. and Ruth Bennett constructed a roadside hotel on US Highway 27 in Avon Park. They called it the Bennett Motel. In the days before interstates, Highway 27 was a primary artery for folks traveling to South Florida. The small hotel was one of the last stops of civilization before multi-hour stretch of virtual nothingness past Lake Placid. So it stayed busy with a nightly rate of $4 or $5
Harold and Betty Reed purhcased it from the Bennetts in 1959 for $145,000 in 1959. It was considered one of the newest and most modern hotels in Avon Park at the time. A year later the hotel was gutted by a terrible fire doing over $50,000 in damage. 14 of the 19 units were destroyed. The Reeds repaired the damage and invested in substantial upgrades.
They rebranded as the Reed’s Motel with the iconic neon sign of the diving girl. She highlighted the motel’s then-modern features like a swimming pool, air conditioning, and (years later) cable television. She originally sported a more conservative one-piece suit, but in later decades it became a bikini.
Lorine Ladwig purchased the hotel in 1966. She ran it for the next five decades. The sign was crumpled by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, the last of three hurricanes to directly impact Highlands County that year. Ladwig had it repaired and she shone on for nighttime travelers of US Highway 27 for another 14 years.
Sadly, the landmark he sign was removed in February 2018. The hotel was rebranded the generic Budget Inn. The diving lady now resides in the museum at South Florida State College.