Friday, December 31, 2010

A year in Ephemera: 2010 in review

On January 2, 2010, I laid out goals of places I'd like to visit and blog about. Today on this last day of 2010, I look back at how my year played out and compare it to my intentions.

In my own backyard I did stop and photograph the world's largest alligator in Christmas at Jungleland Adventures. I had a great trip to Gatorland and will be back in 2011 to visit the bird rookery during breeding season. I also participated in a local history tour of the Lake Eola Heights district conducted by local historian Steve Rajtar, but I did not get enough compelling images to warrant a blog post. And finally while I did not visit Blue Springs, I did have an up-close and personal experience with a few manatees at De Leon Springs on Christmas Eve.

Although I stopped to take pictures, I have yet to visit Jungleland Adventures

For a bird lover, it's hard to imagine anything more inspiring than the rookery at Gatorland

From Orlando's Lake Eola Heights neighborhood

De Leon Springs manatee

Overall I attempted to look at Central Florida with fresh eyes, as if I didn't live here and was seeing it for the first time. I explored downtown by bike and took inventory of some of the architecture. I visited historic homes in Howey in the Hills and at the Nehrling Estate (future post.) Overall I learned that sometimes a long drive isn't necessary to see interesting, historic stuff and there are still many sites I haven't been to in my own backyard.

I got to see the Howey Mansion because of an auction

The Nehrling House

Expanding my reach outside of my immediate area, first and foremost I wanted to re-visit Silver Springs, and although I haven't blogged about it yet, I did finally make it back to this venerable old attraction. Bad weather over the holidays prevented me from exploring more of the Gainesville area, so that will have to wait until 2011. I also made a fantastic visit to St. Pete and had a great evening shuffling at the St. Pete Shuffle (Treasure Island will have to wait until 2011 too.)

Look for a future post about my Christmas Eve visit to Silver Springs

My trip to the St. Pete Shuffle was one of the year's highlights

While I didn't get to Soloman's Castle or Chalet Suzanne, I finally got to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Florida Southern College and explored a little bit of Lakeland. And while I never made it up to Jacksonville, I did get back to St. Augustine and re-visited the Fountain of Youth and made my first visit to Potter's Wax Museum (future posts.)

Frank Lloyd Wright's Pfeiffer Chapel at Florida Southern

Year end visits to St. Augustine's Potter's Wax Museum and the Fountain of Youth will be covered in 2011 posts

My final goals were to learn about the states fascinating folks who make Florida so interesting and on that note I can proudly say, mission accomplished. From artists like Martin Cushman in Mt. Dora to the late Joy Postle, I tried to document those who use(d) their creativity to document their home state. I met some of my favorite roadside buddies like Jeff and Kelly of Vintage Roadside and prolific author Tim Hollis. I also learned more about historical figures from Coral Gable's George Merrick to the influential Henry Plant.

Kelly and Jeff of Vintage Roadside

Christmas display inside the amazing museum of Tim Hollis

Much of the year's post, however, were not the results of goals at the beginning of the year. A late December trip to South Florida yielded posts well into February (this was actually accomplishing a goal I set in 2009.). That was the same month that a birthday dinner in Ocala produced several posts and I learned of the plans to tear down Kissimmee's KAST club.

Coral Gables' Biltmore was one of the many highlights of last years South Florida excursion

A mid-century roadside survivor in Ocala

Kissimmee All States Tourist Club, 1941-2010

In March I visited Brooksville, Cassadaga and New Smyrna. April posts reported on my explorations of Lakeland and May's highlight was Gatorland. In June my attention was focused on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As summer progressed my focus left the Sunshine State as I prepared a paper on hillbilly iconography to be delivered at the SCA Conference in October.

Ruins of the Turnbull Colony in New Smyrna

A Weeki Wachee beauty superimposed against the ugliness of the oil spewing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico

The idea for the Hillbilly paper was spawned from a spring break visit to the Mountaineer Inn of Asheville, NC

I am blessed to be able to explore and write about this wonderful state and I am continually struck with a sense of wonder and amazement at its whimsical, historical and natural places. I still believe that we are at a critical time in the future of our state, and so much of Old Florida is in danger of sliding away. My goal continues to be to write about and photograph these great Florida places, with the hope that as more people become aware of them, they are more likely to be preserved. My intention is to try to prevent the spread of "generica" and blandness across the state and preserve its uniqueness. I have big plans for 2011. Please stay tuned!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking for roadside treasure

The cooler months are when I choose to do most of my traveling around the Sunshine State, not just because of the more comfortable weather. Mainly because the light is so much better, with less humidity and great blue skies. In summer, I tend to stick close to home or if I do travel, I go out of state. November through April, however, I hit Florida's roads in the "Adventure Mobile" whenever I can.

Between destinations there are always opportunities to make new roadside discoveries. While I don't claim to be an expert on the American roadside, I do like searching older commercial areas for roadside gems like old gas stations, neon signs, or vintage restaurants. At other points in my life, I thought old commercial strips were rundown and dilapidated. Now I see these roadside relics as windows to the past, a past that is more threatened every day as my state continues to become more developed. So each road trip becomes a mini-treasure hunt and I'm excited to make new discoveries all the time.

I also try to re-photograph signs that I shot in the pre-digital age using my old film camera with my new digital SLR. Photoshop is wonderful tool for helping to enhance roadside images. I am also constantly in search of roadside relics to post to the Society for Commercial Archeology's Facebook page, which I co-administer. It is because of the influence of folks in that organization that I have learned this way of seeing, where a drive down the highway is not a matter of getting from point A to point B, but rather an opportunity to make new discoveries. On this next to last day of the year, I am thankful for this way of seeing and hoping 2011 proves to be a fertile year of new roadside finds.

The first five images are from a short stretch of US 17 in DeLand. When searching for roadside treasures, the pre-interstate US highways are always a great place to start.

I discovered this cute sign on State Road 40 outside Astor.

Mid-century modern architecture is fun to discover in places you don't expect it. This is the back of the fire department in Palatka.

This funky little church is in Hastings Florida.

Three gas stations in St. Augustine- I'm not sure what this one was....

I'm pretty sure this was a Pure Oil gas station. One can tell it was former gas station by looking for the spot where the pumps used to be – there's usually a patch in the concrete.

Formerly a "Batwing" Phillips 66 station

Fraternal organizations often have interesting buildings and great signs – this one is in Palatka.

Originally in the Ponce de Leon Shopping Center near St. Augustine's town square, this push plate on the door is the only evidence of this site being home to a former Woolworth's.

This is Florida's oldest diner, Palatka's Angel's Diner from 1932, a real roadside treasure!

I'm fairly certain that these two Orlando structures
were once drive-thru dairies.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The alluring Tampa Bay Hotel

I'm not sure when I first saw the dazzling silver minarets of the the University of Tampa, but I knew immediately that I wanted a closer look. And even though the grand Victorian/Moorish masterpiece is just over an hour away from my doorstep, it took me an excruciatingly long time to finally get there. Located on the west side of the Hillsborough River, across from Tampa's downtown, the University of Tampa originated as the Tampa Bay Hotel built by Florida railroad baron Henry Plant.

My first experience with a Plant property was stumbling across the Pico Hotel in Sanford. While incredibly interesting, the Pico can't hold a candle to the the opulent Tampa Bay Hotel. Opened in 1891, the Tampa Bay Hotel was Plant's response to Henry Flagler's brilliant Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine. Tropical Splendor: An Architectural History of Florida describes the building's unique features this way:
"It had thirteen silver minarets, each topped with a crescent moon representing a month on the Islamic lunar calendar. Horeseshoe arches of wood with carved curlicues amid elaborate filigree work graced the wide piazza. Keyhole windows also abounded in this fanciful structure, modeled in part on the Alhambra Place in Granada Spain. It took two years to build...It cost over two million dollars to construct and another half-million to furnish."

Some other facts about the hotel's history include:
• 452 freight car loads of bricks were used in the building's construction
• The interior was decorated with 80 freight cars worth of period furnishing picked out by Plant and his wife in Europe
• Designed by architect J.A. Wood, the hotel was the most modern of its day with electric lighting, private baths, telephones and elevators
• Guest paid between $75 and $15 to stay in the hotel
• The hotel served as headquarters for the Spanish-American War in 1898, at which time one of its most famous occupants was Teddy Roosevelt
• In its 40 years operating as a hotel guests included Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Stephen Crane and Grover Cleveland among others
• After Plant's death in 1899 the hotel was sold to the City of Tampa for a mere $125,000
• The hotel closed in 1930 and remained shuttered for three years until Tampa Bay Junior College began using the space in 1933

In addition to housing the University of Tampa, the hotel currently is home to the Henry B. Plant Museum. Rooms are decorated with period furnishings, and they were decked out for the holidays when we visited. The museum has a wonderful video on the life of the hotel and also offers a well-stocked gift shop. After a leisurely stroll through the museum, we wandered through some of the public spaces of the University and reveled in the opulence of the interior's decor. In my honest opinion, the building and the grounds are some of the grandest in Florida. I cannot imagine why I took so long to get there. If you are interested in history or architecture, this is a must-see.

Historic images from the State Archives of Florida