ABOVE: An old photo of the Mardi Gras building before the wrought iron was added and before the Donnelly Park building was added across the street.
By Susan Myers Mount Dora Buzz Historical Columnist
Referred to as the father of Mount Dora, J.P. Donnelly did his part to improve and promote the city. He even constructed a large building in the front yard of his ornate home on the corner of Donnelly Street and Fifth Avenue. He originally planned it as a small store, but the project turned into a larger structure that would include a fraternal hall for the Masonic Lodge on the second floor.
With the oversight of Tom Potter, a friend of Donnelly, the building's design had a druggist downstairs, rooms for other businesses next to it, and apartments overhead.
In 1922, construction was nearing completion when a fire destroyed three-fourths of the downtown buildings on the east side of Donnelly Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. That fire took with it the town's leading grocery store, Baldwin-Shay.
In haste, Donnelly had a local carpenter assemble a temporary store in his unfinished building, with meager shelving and chicken-wired counters, so Baldwin-Shay could be back in business within two days. That was the unexpected opening of the Donnelly Building, referred to today as the Mardi Gras Building, on the northwest corner of Donnelly Street and Fifth Avenue. Stokley's Pharmacy, which eventually became Lake View Pharmacy, later occupied the corner space as initially intended. The second floor of the building became the fraternal hall for the Masonic Lodge #238 and the Mount Dora Temple, No. 12, Pythian Sisters. In the 1930s, winter visitors such as Mabel Parker from Portland, Maine, returned each winter to live in the upstairs apartments.
The Piggly Wiggly grocery store replaced the druggist in 1937 with a complete line of groceries, meats, and produce. By 1947 W.M. Kennedy's law office and A.C. Quixley's Real Estate office were located on the second floor.
The headquarters of the Golden Triangle Lodge, No. 874, Loyal Order of Moose, was located in the building in the 1950s, as were several medical practices: Dr. Robert Walker, a chiropractor, A.M. Cleary, a dental technician, and Dr. Glenn Mummaw, a chiropractor who replaced Dr. Robert Wells, DDS.
The Lake County Eisenhower Club opened its "Florida for Eisenhower" office in 1952. Meanwhile, a popular women's apparel boutique known as Sally Dress Shop, relocated into the spot vacated by Piggly Wiggly. That shop endured for several decades, was the “'go-to” store for the latest fashions.
The building was also home to two of Mount Dora's most popular restaurants. Charlie Bradford opened Charlie's grill, which included a pool room in the back and a bowling alley on the side of the building. Waitress Nell Corral concocted a hamburger containing chopped hot peppers. It became known as the "Nell burger," and locals still reminisce about that famous burger.
In 1971 The Cubbyhole Corporation purchased the 13,592 square-foot building and renovated the exterior to include the New Orleans-style wrought iron detailing seen today. Will Smathers, the majority shareholder, remodeled Charlie's restaurant space, which reopened as a fine dining establishment known as The Lamp Post in 1970. This restaurant and bar, located on the second floor, was a popular venue that featured entertainment by some famous bands of the 1970s such as Rare Earth, Leon Russell, Pat Travers Band, The Grass Roots, and others.
The business sold in 1991 and The Lamp Post became Lampu, Mount Dora's first Japanese steakhouse. In 1993, that business sold to become Kobe Japanese Steakhouse and in 1994 it sold again to a new owner, John McKinney, who returned it to the name Lampu.
That was hardly the last transition for the iconic building. It changed hands again in 1996 for $1 million while it housed three restaurants: Lampu, Juliana Restaurant, and The Sandcastle upstairs. Reportedly, the restaurants weren't part of the new buyers' vision for the large structure, but that vision ended relatively quickly when the building transitioned again in 1997 to its current owner, Mardi Gras of Mount Dora, Inc. and fetched another $1 million purchase price, according to the Lake County Property Appraiser. It has been largely vacant since, but has recently undergone renovations and added an elevator on its south side.
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