Friday, July 4, 2014

Freedom Ride 4

As has become my personal tradition, July 4th is the day I jump on my bike and ride around Orlando looking for interesting stuff to photograph. There is little traffic, so it makes it possible to attempt to photograph places in the city which would be more difficult to access on other days. And for me nothing feels more free than riding around taking pictures. The pursuit of happiness at it is finest.

Happy Independence Day!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Florida's Quadricentennial in St. Augustine: Crosses to Bear

In 1513 Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed somewhere on our states’s coast and christened it “La Florida.” To help commemorate the 500th anniversary of this event, last year the state celebrated with a program called Viva Florida 500.  Consisting of mostly cultural and historical programming, the promotion was considered successful enough be continued into 2014 as Viva Florida.

Florida’s Quadricentennial Celebration took place fifty years ago from 1959 to 1965. The Florida Legislature established a state Quadricentennial Commission that oversaw a six-year celebration marking the 400th anniversaries of both Pensacola (1959) and St. Augustine in 1965. Warm Mineral Springs participated with a celebration in 1960.

In Pensacola, 1959 marked the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Tristan de Luna's 1559 expedition that established the city as the first European settlement within the current United States. DeLuna's settlement was abandoned in 1562, and while another attempt was made to settle the site a few years later, it was not until 1696 that a colony was permanently established.

1559 Landing of Tristan de Luna at Pensacola

Herbert Rudeen, 1959 from the Pensacola Historical Society

The statewide celebration of the Quadricentennial seems to have been driven by the leaders of St. Augustine, who saw it is an opportunity to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. St. Augustine, the nation's oldest continuously occupied city, is preparing to embark on the commemoration of the 450 anniversary of Menéndez's landing next year.

The Kennedy administration established a National Quadricentennial Commission in 1963 and the US postal service marked the occasion of St. Augustine’s anniversary with a special postage stamp. The amount of federal money dedicated to the Quadricentennial was relatively small compared to the amount raised locally, said to be over $6 million dollars. The main federal contribution was the Park Service's reconstruction of the defense line or Cubo constructed of earthworks and logs extending from the fort to the city gates.

Reinventing the City

A number of building and restoration projects were undertaken in anticipation of the Quadricentennial are some of St. Augustine's most notable landmarks. According to a 2013 article in the St. Augustine Record, many buildings in the historic colonial center of the city were restored or reconstructed. Over 70 structures were preserved or reconstructed.

At the spot where Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was said to have placed a small wooden cross in Florida’s soil marking the beginnings of Christianity in the new world, a 208 foot tall stainless steel cross was erected.  The Great Cross at the Mission of Nombre de Dios would not be completed until 1966, but the top portion was dedicated during an interfaith prayer service in 1965. The mid-century modern Prince of Peace Votive Church and nearby bridge were also completed at this time.

Prince of Peace Votive Church
The 208-ft. tall Great Cross
Perhaps the most significant structure built for the Quadricentennial was the St. Augustine Ampitheatre completed in 1965. The 2,000 seats in the ampitheatre came from the Polo Grounds in New York when the New York Giants football team left the stadium.

State Archives of Florida
State Archives of Florida

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Dr. Paul Green created a play dubbed “Cross and Sword” to be performed in the amphitheatre for the celebration. Proclaimed the official state play of Florida by the state legislature, the plot was about the Spanish colonization of the St. Augustine by Menéndez and drew visitors for years before finally closing in 1996. According to Wikipedia, it was written as a "symphonic drama" blending music, dance, pantomime, and poetic dialogue into a larger-than-life historical play. 

The Movement begins
The St. Augustine Civil Rights movement began in 1963 when civil rights leaders sent letters to then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson, (who was to speak in St. Augustine), and other members of the Kennedy administration protested the fact that there was no African American representation in the Quadricentennial activities. Jim Crow segregation laws were prevalent in 1963 St. Augustine, and the city's Slave Market still stood as a visible symbol of the slavery era in the South. Civil rights leaders asked that President Kennedy withhold any federal funding appropriated for the Quadricentennial  because they said this money would be used "to celebrate 400 years of slavery and segregation in America's oldest city."

The Slave Market, Library of Congress

After a number of newspapers and magazines reprinted the letters to the administration, President Johnson, who was invited to St. Augustine, responded that he would not attend any Quadricentennial events that were not integrated. When Johnson arrived in St. Augustine to swear in the members of the all-white Quadricentennial Commission, a dozen African Americans were allowed to sit in an out-of-the-way alcove at the event held in the grand Hotel Ponce de Leon. It was said that this was the first time that African Americans were allowed onto the property as guests and not working staff.

Despite negotiations between the local NAACP, reluctant city leaders, and the Kennedy administration, St. Augustine's remained thoroughly segregated. In 1963 protests were organized at the Woolworth's on King Street across from the slave market. Thorough timelines of the events of the civil rights movement in St. Augustine can be found here and here.

Photo submitted to Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth's Guest Book
Later Martin Luther King, Jr. came to St. Augustine and was arrested for trying to eat lunch at the Monson Motor Lodge restaurant. Police were involved in clashes between protesters and segregationists during attempts to integrate St. Augustine's beaches and the swimming pool at the Monson Motor Lodge.  Dramatic images were captured on film when the hotel owner poured acid into the demonstrator-filled pool. Still photos and film footage of confrontations between protesters and segregationists provoked national outrage.

Protest at the Monson Motor Lodge
State Archives of Florida

Motel manager pours acid in the pool of the Monson Motor Lodge
State Archives of Florida

Segregationists respond to an attempt to integrate St. Augustine Beach
State Archives of Florida

Protest in front of the Slave Market, AP Photo by Harold Valentine
Martin Luther King, Jr. in a St. Augustine Police car, AP Photo

Working on getting it right
The St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement of 1963–1964 that was sparked by planned events for the city’s 400th anniversary focused national attention to the effects of segregation in Florida and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

This year in an effort to honor the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the City of St. Augustine opened an exhibition called Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience highlighting the region’s important African-American sites like Fort Mose and historic events like the city’s civil rights movement. There is also a self-guided historical trail called the ACCORD Freedom Trail. And a St. Augustine Civil Rights Museum will be opening in the near future. 

I was born after the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Growing up just an hour and half from St. Augustine we visited the city often. But I grew up in complete ignorance of what transpired in the nation's oldest city in 1963 and '64. In 2009 when I learned of the civil rights movement that occurred there, I was shocked. My memories of the city were exploring the fort with my brother, eating chocolate fudge on St. George Street, or in more recent years walking around the streets of the colonial quarter soaking up the historic architecture. I only learned of the connection to the Quadricentennial when researching a paper intended to be about the cyclorama at Warm Mineral Springs. The effect of the commemoration of  the anniversary of Menendez's landing in St. Augustine not only permanently changed the physical landscape of the city, it changed the social fabric of the entire nation. I'm glad to see that a place that normally focuses on history that is centuries old is now turning its attention to the important events that occurred there a mere fifty years ago.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ulele Spring 2.0

When Ulele Spring was "re-discovered" next to the Tampa's old Water Works in 2006, Tom Ries had to see it for himself. Hacking through dense growth that had gone unchecked for years, Tom discovered the spring boil just feet off North Highland Avenue near the heavy traffic of I-275. The spring dropped into a lower pool full of lily pads that surrounded a small island of palm trees and then the water disappeared. Marching in a straight line from where the run ended to the Hillsborough River, Tom found a pipe where the outflow entered the river. He looked down at the river, and he saw a manatee looking up, drawn by the crisp, clear water flowing from the spring. And that's when Tom started working on a plan to restore the spring, located within shouting distance of downtown Tampa.

It's ironic that I would get to re-visit Ulele Spring the same week as the Florida legislature decides on the future of the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act. While lawmakers in our state capitol sat idle allowing the health of our springs to decline, Tom Ries got busy saving a spring. His ambitious plan required cobbling together a half dozen grants in order to make it happen. The restored spring is positioned between a new restaurant in the old Water Works building and a brand new city park, marking the terminus of a Riverwalk that stretches more than two miles to the Tampa Bay History Center. The invasive undergrowth has been removed and replanted with native foliage, and the passage to the river will be opened up, creating a new basin that should be large enough for wintering manatees. Two bridges over the spring run will connect Tampa's new Water Works Park and the restaurant site. A statue commissioned by the restaurant's owner will immortalize the fictitious Indian maiden for the whom the spring was re-named: Ulele (it was originally called Magbee Spring.) The restaurant also bears her name, and is owned by the same group that owns Florida's legendary Columbia Restaurant.

I was able to see the spring during the construction phase because my friend and colleague John Moran had connected with Tom and he volunteered to give us a tour. It been just over a year since my first visit to the spring and I was impressed with the how much had happened in such a short period of time. The spring restoration should be done soon and the park is scheduled to be open in time for a concert on the 4th of July. Tom walked us through the site, explaining how he found another small spring on a map from 1888 and discovered it under the water works building being piped into Tampa Bay. It's now being piped into the Ulele run and it should add to the overall flow. He also explained that every year between 300,000 and 400,000 people flock to the power plant south of Tampa to see manatees in winter. If the Ulele Spring project is successful in bringing manatees to its man made basin, the park and project are guaranteed to be a favorite destination for residents of the Tampa Bay area. In my mind it's already a hit. Maybe if we can find 1,000 more motivated individuals like Tom, and they each adopt a spring, create a restoration plan, and line up funding, we can save all of our springs!

Tampa Water Works, 1918
Burgert Bros. Photography Collection
at the Tampa Hillsborough County Public Library

Al Severson and Maudie in boat at Tampa Water Works Park, 1925
Burgert Bros. Photography Collection
at the Tampa Hillsborough County Public Library

Al Severson and Maudie in boat at Tampa Water Works Park, 1925
Burgert Bros. Photography Collection
at the Tampa Hillsborough County Public Library

Elise Frank School of Art students painting at Water Works Park, 1948
Burgert Bros. Photography Collection
at the Tampa Hillsborough County Public Library
1888 map showing the original location of Ulele Spring
across the street and a second spring to the north

Looking towards the Hillsborough River
Lilies survive from the early days of Water Works Park
John Moran scouting new photo opportunities for his upcoming "Springs Eternal' book
The rocks around the spring basin were a new addition since my previous visit

John Moran and Tom Ries discuss the history of the restoration, years in the making
This will be the new basin that will hopefully attract manatees and snook

An overview with the Tampa skyline on the right and the Hillsborough River on the left
Today the spring bubbles up on the opposite side of the road from the original boil

The opposite side reads: "Prior to 1907 Ulele Spring was part of a beautiful stretch of Florida's natural habitat, an undisturbed waterway that provides Tampa's drinking water."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

My Seven Wonders of Old Florida

The March Madness style competition to pick the Seven Wonders on the Old Florida and Visit Florida Off the Beaten Path Facebook pages concluded last week after about a month of head-to-head battles. The match-ups were seed based on nominations received on the two pages, although some of our Facebook folks didn't understand how the seeding worked. There were a few complaints when disparate items like a natural resource and a restaurant were pitted against each other. In retrospect I probably wouldn't do it this way again, but when we started it seemed like a good idea to follow the model set forth by the NCAA basketball tournament.

In the end we kept the bracket match-ups going until we reached the Elite Eight, and then we voted on each of those the one with the least amount of votes was left off the final Seven Wonders.

The Final voting was:
1) Everglades - 733
2) St. Augustine - 706
3) Weeki Wachee - 583
4) St. Johns River - 535
5) Silver Springs - 470
6) Ichetucknee - 453
7) Seven-Mile Bridge - 384

Eighth-place was Key West with 285.

I was surprised that the Everglades received the most votes as it came in as a 16-seed, meaning it received only a couple nominations. It's interesting that a natural resource that has been under siege from corporate agriculture and residential development for decades is considered so beloved. Let's hope it can be restored.

St. Augustine and Weeki Wachee were number 2 and number 1 seeds respectively, so there is no surprise there. Silver Springs was also a number 1 seed, but the Ichetucknee's appearance in the final Wonders was unexpected. I think it shows that Floridians treasure their springs (and that the springs community has an active Facebook presence!) 

The St. Johns River and the Seven-Mile Bridge in the Keys were also unexpected finalists, but perhaps it is evidence that Floridians love their natural resources. While the bridge is man made, it's certainly the beautiful environment in which it sits that makes it so memorable. 

If I were to chose my Seven Wonders, I think I would have to separate out some of the the natural resources and focus on places that are (or were) one-of-a-kind attractions for visitors to Florida. My list, in no particular order, would be:

1. The Senator Cypress Tree in Seminole County
3,500 years old. That's all you need to know. 1,500 years old at the time of the birth of Jesus. It was so large that it was difficult to even properly photograph. Tragically burned down, this behemoth was cloned and a newer, smaller version was planted at Big Tree Park. There is still, however, Lady Liberty which is only about 2,000 years old or so. One has to wonder how many other "Senators" were lost when most of the old growth cypress was cut down in the 19th and 20th century.

It's not the flashiest attraction in the state, but it's one of the most beautiful. Set on the highest spot in peninsular Florida, the Gothic-Deco structure is ornate and striking. I had the rare privilege of going to the top of the tower, and hearing the carillon bells from inside the bell tower. I'll never forget it. And the gardens are gorgeous.

3. Silver Springs
In terms of volume of water, Silver Springs used to be the largest array of springs in the world. In the 19th century steamboats would travel from Jacksonville bringing tourists and celebrities like Ulysses S. Grant and Harriet Beecher Stowe to the spring basin to gaze into the crystal clear waters. One of the best marketed attractions in the mid-twentieth century, Silver Springs was recently converted to a State Park. While no longer sporting the kitschy trappings of a roadside attraction, the springs remain a Florida icon. And you can still ride a glass bottom boat.

4. The Tampa Bay Hotel (now the University of Tampa and the Plant Museum)
Like the former Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine, the Tampa Bay Hotel was built by one of Florida's railroad barons and it now home to a college. To me this architectural masterpiece near the Hillsborough River is like a time machine that takes you back to the Victorian era when the tastes of the day favored anything from the exotic Mediterranean or Middle East. It shines like a beacon of antiquity against downtown Tampa's skyline. It's perhaps my favorite building in the state.

5. The Coral Castle near Homestead
A testament to one man's determination, the Coral Castle is Edward Leedskalnin's monument to lost love. More quirky than majestic, this quirky roadside oddity is lushly landscaped and intimately proportioned. Folks still wonder how one man built it all by himself and that's part of charm of this South Florida Wonder.

Library of Congress
6. Castillo de San Marcos
Florida has some wonderful forts, like Ft. Clinch on Fernandina Beach and Ft. Pickins near Pensacola, but to me none is as iconic as the former Ft. Marion. Rich in history, it's the anchor of St. Augustine, a city I can't seem to get too much of. It's also the site of the first photo I took of myself and the young lady who would later become my bride. So it has sentimental value too.

7. Seven Mile Bridge (The Overseas Highway)
Flagler's Folly. Love 'em or hate 'em, few individuals did ad much to open up the state to Northern tourists as the two Henrys, Plant and Flagler. The influence of these two men is still felt in our state today, and although much of Flagler's overseas railroad to Key West was destroyed in a hurricane, the first bridge that carried cars across the Keys was built on his foundation (literally.)

That's my seven for now. I reserve the right to change mind (and often do.)