‘I’m dedicated to keeping the arts alive’: Harriett Lake dies at 96

By : Layla Ferris
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Harriett Lake, a philanthropic lover of Orlando’s arts scene, died July 10. She was 96.

With the establishment of Harriett’s Charitable Trust, Lake has given millions of dollars to organizations that help keep Orlando’s art world alive.

“Of course, it’s always easy to raise money for kids who have no socks and underwear, but it’s very difficult to raise money for the arts,” Lake said in a 2014 interview for the Orange County Library System’s Orlando Memory project, a digital collection of local history created by the community.

Lake, who was a Longwood resident, died at Florida Hospital-Altamonte.

Lake and her now-deceased husband Hymen came to Orlando in 1962, a time before Mickey Mouse reigned supreme. More than 50 years later, her impact has been cemented in Central Florida through her philanthropy and vibrancy.

“I mean the opera, the philharmonic, the ballet and all the Shakespeare, the Mad Cow, they’re all on my list, and I’m dedicated to keeping the arts alive, because somebody has to do it and I consider it now my job,” Lake said.

Her legacy lives on at spots such as Harriett’s Ladies Lounge — a lavish bathroom that features ornate chandeliers — in the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando.

Theatergoers can order craft beer, wine and snacks at Harriett’s Bar at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center.

Her death resounded across Central Florida organizations and community members, such as Blue Star, a multifaceted performer and owner of The Venue.

Lake was also dedicated to the ballet.

“I refuse to die until I have a place for the ballet to rehearse and practice… and that will be the last thing I probably do,” Lake said.

In May, Lake made a $5 million contribution to Orlando Ballet’s new facility in Loch Haven Park, which will be named Harriett’s Orlando Ballet Centre.

Her recognition reaches Maitland at the Harriett & Hymen Lake Cultural Auditorium at the Jewish Community Center. She’s honored at Harriett’s KidsTown Theatre at the Orlando Science Center, a children’s space for performance and story time.

Though her name is associated with the arts, she’s widely known for something else — fashion.

Her love for fashion began when she was growing up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. With the help of designer hand-me-downs from two girls who lived across the street, Lake’s style flourished.

“And, of course it’s been like that the rest of my life,” Lake said. “I could never get enough clothes.”

She discovered the sewing machine at 13 years old and began creating and accumulating clothes for the rest of her life.

“And that’s why I had to move out of my first house in Orlando because I outgrew the closets and the rooms,” Lake said.

She was a collector of vintage clothes, bags and “thousands” of hats. Her collection became so extensive that professors at the University of Central Florida helped write a book on it, “Too Much is Not Enough: The History in Harriett Lake’s Closet.”

For charity’s sake, Lake parted with some of her personal collection for the creation of Harriett’s Closet, which sells high-end jewelry, Chanel purses and nearly 100 Judith Leiber handbags. All proceeds go to more than 150 charities.

Lake was also a supporter of local hospitals, especially trauma centers.

In 2015, a Harriett’s Closet Warehouse Sale raised more than $40,000 for the trauma center at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Lake merged her love of fashion and charity yet again with Harriett’s: Cancer Boutique at Orlando’s UF Health Center. Cancer patients are welcome to an array of free scarves, wigs, hats and more at the boutique.

“And as long as I live I will continue doing [philanthropy],” Lake said. “I have a list. It’s my job. That’s what it comes down to. Somebody has to do it.”

Photo courtesy of Harriett’s Closet’s website

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