On Nov. 1, the Parliament House held its “Last Dance on OBT.” Days before, however, the new owners of the property had already filled out the paperwork to have the 1962 motel property demolished.
For the LGBTQ community, the closure of the Parliament House was a huge loss. The roadside motel became a gay resort in 1975 providing a place for people to be themselves and meet one another. During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the Parliament House held fundraisers and provided services to those most impacted, from providing food to covering living expenses. In the 1990s, the courtyard was enclosed and became a venue for concerts featuring everyone from Belinda Carlisle to Macy Gray to LeAnn Rimes.
The Parliament House’s influence on the gay community is probably its most impactful legacy, but it’s also part of classic Americana. During America’s post-World War II economic growth, highway travel took people around the country. The campsites and trailer parks that had started popping up in the 1920s soon gave way to the “motor hotels” that exploded in popularity beginning in the 1950s. Giant, bright neon signs highlighting amenities like air conditioning and swimming pools drew in visitors from America’s highways and byways.
Florida had already long been a tourist destination bringing visitors to its beautiful beaches, but the inland part of the state began to see a rise in its own popularity. The Orange Blossom Trail was billed as “Central Florida’s scenic highway” through groves of citrus trees. Brownie Wise, who helped make Tupperware a household name, asked for the Orange Blossom Trail Association to distribute tens of thousands of maps across the country.
Minute Maid, at the time the world’s largest manufacturer of concentrated citrus juices, located its headquarters at the corner of Orange Blossom Trail and Colonial Drive in a mid-century modern building. Just south of that stood the cottages of the Tour-O-Tel. On Rock Lake, the Carolina Moon Trailer Camp, which once featured a dance hall and roller skating, was soon to be outdone by a modern new neighbor. The Parliament House Motor Inn, complete with a swimming pool, restaurant, and lounge, opened in 1962.
The property was almost doomed from the beginning. Travelers wanted more convenient lodging off the newly completed interstate highway system. The opening of Walt Disney World moved Orlando visitors down to International Drive and the Orange Blossom Trail found itself in decline. The citrus groves disappeared. The mid-century developments fell out of favor and were slowly demolished over the years. Motels closed; the Minute Maid headquarters became a Wawa; but the Parliament House endured with its giant neon sign welcoming throngs of people nightly to the property.