Local Couple Shares Lakelands History Through Documentary On Historic Homes

LAKELAND, FL. – Lakeland, Florida, is home to countless historical buildings. According to the City of Lakeland, there are seven local historic districts protecting more than 1,600 historic buildings and 13 individual landmarks in town. Many of these buildings are historic homes.

Throughout the city, you can find buildings designed by well-known architects like Frank Loyd Wright and Donovan Dean. 

If you wanted to tell a story about Lakeland, it would make sense to use these historical buildings and, more specifically, historic homes to do so. That is exactly what Paige Wagner, Chase Wagner, and The Collection Media are setting out to do in their new documentary, The People Who Live There. The historic Polk Theater will be hosting the premier of the documentary on October 1st at 7:00 pm.  

“Lakeland is just full of beautiful historic homes,” said Paige Wagner when talking about the initial inspiration behind the documentary. “These homes hold so much of the city’s history, and they are a piece of art.” 

Wagner started working in Lakeland real estate in 2014, where she came to appreciate the vast number of historic homes in the community. Out of her preference, Paige Wagner started to focus more on selling and showing historic homes. Wagner started a historic home tour in Lakeland where she would open up six to eight homes in town but this was halted due to COVID-19. 

“Hundreds of people walking through people’s homes during a pandemic did not seem appropriate,” said Paige Wagner. “We had this idea though: what if we took the model of this tour and put it in media form?”

Paige Wagner and her husband Chase Wagner set out to make The People Who Live There from this idea. The couple teamed up with The Collection Media which is made up of director Connor O’Brien and cinematographer Campbell Rice. 

“It was great working with Connor and Campbell,” said Chase Wagner. “They have a great eye and style.”

Over the course of making the documentary, they all found that the documentary was about more than just the historic homes. 

“It has definitely evolved,” said Paige Wagner in regards to what is at the center of the film. “You have an idea of what it will be, but Interviewing people really shapes what it is about. The story is really about the change and renaissance that Lakeland is going through. The homes are a vehicle to do that.” 

The couple moved to Lakeland in 2012. They felt like they had to defend Lakeland when they moved almost ten years ago. Paige Wagner pointed out that Lakeland is one of the fastest-growing cities in America. In a recent population census estimate, the Lakeland-Winter Haven Metro area had a population growth of 2.7% from July 2019 to July 2020. This growth was the second largest in the United States.

Creative endeavors are not something new to Chase Wagner. The couple moved to Lakeland when Chase Wagner took a job as the worship director at Southeastern University. Chase spent five years working at SEU before getting the opportunity to help plant Grace City Church in Lakeland. The documentary is unique for the couple, as they were able to work on their first creative project together. 

“We got to do something creative together,” said Chase Wagner. “It was really fun for us to come together to work on this project. We were able to combine our interests.” 

Donations from numerous members of the community helped fund the documentary and many of the people Paige Wagner had met over the years working locally in real estate.

“It would not be as special of a project for a city without the city getting behind it,” said Paige Wagner. “We felt very supported.”

The film will be premiering at Polk Theater which is a historic site itself built in 1928. Lakeland had a population of about 15,000 people at the time of the Polk Theater’s original opening. In order to keep the theater open in 1982, a non-profit group was formed to preserve the theater.

The theater was purchased for $300,000 and now operates as a non-profit. To the Wagner’s, this made it the perfect venue to host their premier. 

“For me there was no other option for where it should premiere than in Lakeland’s oldest theater,” said Paige Wagner. “The Polk theater has been a great support and we are excited for people to see it (The People Who Live There) for the first time at Polk Theater.”

Over the last ten months of making this film, Paige Wagner, Chase Wagner, and The Collection Media want their message to resonate with more people than just those interested in historic homes. They hope their documentary inspires people to make their community better and ultimately want their message to be hopeful.  

“We want to show that you do not always have to go to a big city to become who you are,” said Paige Wagner “You can stay rooted and make the city you are from great.”

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