$250,000 Grant to Help Restore World’s Only Frank Lloyd Wright Planetarium

Aug 21, 2020

by Greg Williams
Publications Editor

The Polk Science Building Planetarium — the world’s only planetarium designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, on the campus of Florida Southern College — will receive a $250,000 restoration grant administered by the National Park Service (NPS) of the U.S Department of the Interior.

Awarded Aug. 20, funding for the planetarium project is supported through a grant from the Save America’s Treasures program. Overall, a total of $12.8 million in matching grants will fund 42 projects to preserve nationally historic properties and collections in 26 states.

Interlachen photo
Florida Southern's 1959 Interlachen yearbook published this photograph showing the planetarium dome on the roof of the recently constructed Polk Science Building.

“This is phenomenal news, and Florida Southern greatly appreciates the funding to help preserve and restore this Frank Lloyd Wright global treasure,” said FSC President Anne Kerr. “Combined with a significant gift from Lakeland’s own historic preservationist and philanthropist Gregory Fancelli, the future is bright for this magnificent one-of-its-kind planetarium. Scholars from around the world are eager to come and study this gem of world-class architecture at Florida Southern College.”

This project is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Historical Resources and the State of Florida.

Construction of the Polk Science Building was completed in 1958. It is the largest of the Wright-designed buildings on campus and the last to be completed within the architect’s lifetime. In all, 13 of Wright’s proposed structures were funded and built, giving Florida Southern the world’s largest single-site collection of the architect’s work and his only executed design for a college campus.

The planned two-year restoration project calls for repair, replacement, and physical upgrades to the planetarium facility’s infrastructure and interior features, addressing damage caused by aging as well as water infiltration accelerated by several hurricanes. Together with a separately funded restoration of the building’s exterior, the project’s aim is to allow the resumption of educational programs for the benefit of FSC students and the Lakeland-area community.

Restoration work will include repairing damage to the facility’s unique “textile-block” walls, a construction system that weaves together concrete blocks reinforced by steel bars. Damage to ceilings, windows, floors, doors, and other hardware will also be addressed, in addition to the off-site refurbishment of the planetarium’s original, Wright-designed wooden seating and upholstery.

Funding for the Save America’s Treasures program was appropriated by Congress in 2019 from the Historic Preservation Fund to provide preservation assistance which does not come from tax dollars but instead uses revenue from federal oil leases. The program requires applicants to match grant money, dollar-for-dollar, from other funding sources — bringing FSC a total of $500,000 in funding for the planetarium’s interior restoration.

FSC’s application for public funding to restore the planetarium’s interior received endorsements and letters of support from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, The Getty Foundation, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and Ross Spano, member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Florida Southern College Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2012.

Polk Science
The Polk Science Building is the last Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structure on the FSC campus to be completed within the architect’s lifetime.