Downtown Orlando holocaust center reveals new name, design

Published Orlando Sentinel May 4th, 2018

Noting a recent surge in hate crimes throughout the nation, Central Florida leaders on Wednesday unveiled plans for a new and “spectacular” Holocaust Museum for Hope & Humanity to be built at the northern end of downtown Orlando — a $24 million creation that supporters said will serve as a symbol of the city’s diversity and acceptance.

“I think it’s a perfect fit, not only for our community, but a perfect fit to be in downtown Orlando,” Mayor Buddy Dyer told a private gathering of supporters. “Being on the north end, it will be one of the gateway features to downtown … It’ll be one of the first things people see. And I think it’s a perfect time, certainly with everything our community has experienced” — an apparent reference to the Pulse massacre.

The building, at 75 S. Ivanhoe Blvd., was most recently the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, which moved out last fall. Renovations will take an estimated four years.

The city of Orlando is leasing the property to the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center, which has outgrown its current 7,000-square-foot facility in Maitland, for 50 years at $1 per year. The new center — along with its new name — will continue the legacy of center founder Tess Wise, a Holocaust survivor who launched the organization in 1986. It was the first Holocaust museum in the southeastern U.S. and one of the first in the nation.

“We need to make it known to the community that we exist,” said Wise, now in her early 90s. “Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done … If you have not lived it, as I did, it is not the same.”

Wise’s daughter, Ellen Lang, is now president of the Holocaust center board, which is overseeing the plans for the new home.

“We have a lot of artifacts and memorabilia that simply haven’t been able to see the light of day” because there wasn’t enough space, Lang noted. “We feel the need to share those stories and to teach the lessons of the Holocaust itself to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening anywhere to anyone.”

The renovated building will offer 40,000 square feet of space, two floors, an outdoor courtyard and possibly a rooftop terrace with a view of Lake Ivanhoe.

Maurizio Maso of HuntonBrady Architects — who previously worked on the UCF College of Medicine, Mennello Museum expansion and Seminole State College Center at Heathrow — said his design for the new museum will incorporate large panels of glass representing light amid darkness and hope amid despair.

Builders also will consult with the Orlando Police Department and security experts to bolster the center’s safety protections, Lang said.

City Commissioner Robert Stuart called the project an opportunity for Orlando to “show that it is different.”

“It’s a chance for us to stand up for diversity in our community, to value every soul,” he said.

For Lang, it is also a chance to fulfill a vision her mother first held nearly four decades ago.

“She and my dad were the driving forces behind making the center a reality, along with Valencia College and the Jewish Federation,” Lang said. “So, to see it graduate to this level of prominence is really an affirmation of what she always wanted to see happen — that the community at large take responsibility to ensure that no more [holocausts] take place.” or 407-420-5503. Follow @katesantich on Twitter.