Moving back to our old neighborhood has brought about many fond memories. When first we lived here, in the ‘70’s, I was working at the ad agency with several clients living in the same close-knit community. Now, during morning walks I am awash in memories of a time when I was “the girl” at the front desk, greeting high rollers in Orlando real estate.
Most of those clients have moved or passed on, but one special woman still resides here at the age of 96! Back when real estate dealings were underway for Disney to purchase tons of property off Interstate 4, my boss worked with several of the major players involved. One of them was Hy Lake, a developer who built the subdivision Sky Lake, one of the first racially integrated communities in Florida. Hy was well aware of discrimination as he was a target as the result of his Jewish faith. He passed several years ago but his wife, Harriett carries on their shared legacy. Together they became philanthropists, contributing to the arts and medical facilities in the area, giving away millions of dollars over the years.
Harriett was interviewed, as part of a series called Orlando Memory, The Stories of Orlando, Told by its People. Her 2014 narrative tells a story of love, commitment and giving back to the community with gratitude. Among her many adventures include a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, during World War II.
One might say Harriet went from rags to riches, but, if all she had were rags to deal with, she’d turn them into silk scarves. Harriet has shared her wealth with donations to the arts…opera, ballet, philharmonic and theater. She even has a ladies’ lounge named after her in the Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts. Playing a major part in the design of the room, she chose pink, her favorite color, including chandeliers and showcasing a selection of her many hats.
Even though poor as a young woman, she surrounded herself with beautiful clothes, making her own in the early days. Her obsession with clothing started as a coverup for, what she thought, was her homely appearance. (Looking at her younger pictures, she was totally wrong about that.) Over the decades Harriett collected so many purses, shoes, coats, suits, etc., that she outgrew her closets and needed to add rooms to her home to accommodate them. Eventually, she built a huge closet with conveyor belts to move the colorful clothing into view.
Harriett admits to being a hoarder; she has a collection of hundreds of Judith Leiber bags, many of which are on display each year at the Orlando Museum of Art’s Festival of Trees. Several years ago she and her daughter crafted Harriett’s Closet, a way to sell her beautiful collection and donate even more to the arts community.
Her daughter, Shelley Lake, an accomplished photographer and artist, helps her mother with the operations of Harriett’s Closet and schedules special event/sales from time to time. (A side note…Maxine, of the restaurant, Maxine’s on Shine, is a fan and, on any given day, you might find her sporting a vintage outfit, from head to toe, from Harriett’s collection.)
Harriett not only gives to the arts in our community but helps fund cancer research and trauma centers in the area. She is a wonderful example to all of how to give back to the community in which you live. That old saying, “You can’t take it with you,” rings true as Harriett Lake is making sure others enjoy what she, one day, will leave behind.