I'm a member of the Society of Commercial Archeology and as a result I like to search out relics from America's roadside past. I've been on tours that followed the Lincoln Highway in Nevada and most recently followed Route 66 in New Mexico. So I'm always up for a little roadside exploration in my home state.
Ocala is a great place for roadside archeology because of the longtime attraction of Silver Springs to tourists. US 441, a major pre-interstate artery to the north, bisects Ocala, and Silver Springs Boulevard leads travelers to the famed attraction from 441. Over the years restaurants, motels and even other attractions popped up along Silver Springs Boulevard, and some of them have survived over time.
On my most recent visit my first roadside retro stop was Lorito's Italian Restaurant. And yes I ate there because of the sign. My guess is that Lorito's has been around since the 1960s. It has that great neighborhood restaurant feel you'll never find in an Olive Garden. The front room has a wonderful, dusty old menu board and fast food-type booths, but the back room has dark paneling, dangling plastic grapes, hanging Chianti bottles, a Mona Lisa reproduction and everything else you want in a quintessential old school Italian restaurant. The pizza oven looks very well used and we enjoyed our meal there.
The shadow from the neon is not real, but part of the sign which has been covered with digital output rather than repainted.
As you travel west on Silver Springs Boulevard, you approach the area that used to have one of my favorite childhood attractions, Six Gun Territory. It's a shopping center now, but there are a few reminders of the old west style attraction still hanging on. The best example of this is the Stage Stop Motel and Restaurant. Obviously, a shell of what they were in their heyday, the "Stops" are hanging in these tough economic times. I am particularly intrigued by the restaurant and hope to try it some time.
As you approach Silver Springs some great vintage Florida Motels reveal themselves. Their age is well evidenced by the decay of some of the facilities and in the case of the Sun Plaza, the Live Oaks have grown over the top of the wonderful neon sign. While I'm not sure I'd stay at some of these places, I'm glad they still exist and that there are alternatives to the vanilla standardized chain motels that are clustered around the interstate. If we can preserve some of these unique mid-century roadside gems, our state will remain colorful and interesting for future "roadside archaeologists" to discover.