Monday, May 30, 2011

The House that Sam Built

Occasionally my obsessions and my vocation are in alignment and the result is pure inspiration and joy. Such was the case when working on an issue of the History Center's quarterly journal dedicated to Florida architecture led me to revisit Sam Stoltz's Plymouthonian #3. I had visited the fairytale-inspired structure when the contents were auctioned off a year or two ago, but since then it has been acquired by the perfect owners, Martin and Bob. Martin is a gifted potter and lover of all things Florida, and Bob literally helped write the book on Sam Stoltz. So I was excited to see what the place looked like in their hands.

Stoltz in front of the Mt. Plymouth Hotel, courtesy of Martin Cushman

Copy on this promotional piece reads: "A Plymouthonian
This new type of home marks a new departure in the attractive domiciles which are beautifying NATURE'S PLAYGROUND. The above home on Interlachen Drive overlooks the sporty number ten fairway of the St. Andrews links, and beautiful Lake Plymouth."

Sam Stoltz was a talented commercial artist in Chicago before he moved to Central Florida and turned his talents to creating one-of-a-kind buildings complete with his murals and bird- themed relief decoration. The pinnacle of his work was in Mt. Plymouth, where he designed the hotel and some of the fantastic homes around the course. Of his surviving homes, Plymouthonian #3 is easily the finest example of his talents.

Much of the work Martin and Bob have done has been to painstakingly uncover Sam's handiwork around the exterior of the home including restoring the fountain that flows from the front of the house through a rock-lined stream to a lily pond. Stoltz signature details like painted stone walkways continue to emerge.

But the main difference in the house I first visited and now is the wonderful collection of Floridiana on display. From beautiful Joy Postle bird paintings to Silver Spring pottery, I was envious of this exciting collection of artwork. The space seems meant for this homage to the sunshine state and Martin has found the perfect space for his pottery studio in the garage.

It's a wonderful thing when unique artistic creations are preserved to be admired by future generations. Fortunately, Plymouthonian #3 has the perfect caretakers to ensure that this happens. The brilliant creativity Sam Stoltz exhibited in his buildings is now carried on by this home's latest owners.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Daytona Kitsch

If you've followed this blog, you know I'm a big fan of Florida kitsch and historically Daytona Beach has had more than its share. I have a brochure published by the Daytona Beach Area Chamber of Commerce in 1967 and sadly much of that Daytona no longer exists. The beach cottages, motor courts and mid-century Googie style motels are mostly all gone. But there are some great themed motels, probably from the 1970s, that are equally eye catching.

Having spent very little time there since my brother finished photography school there years ago, I recently drove up A1A to check out the current condition commercial beach side architecture. Despite lots of ugly recent additions and empty beach front lots caused by hurricanes and the economy, I found a few of my favorites still intact.

Miss Dixie graces the front of my 1967 guide to the "World's Most Famous Beach." I wish A1A was still lined with properties like these:

Here's some of my favorite kitschy survivors, the Hawaiian Inn, the Aku Tiki Inn and the Sun Viking Inn.

In addition to giant tiki idols, viking statues and viking boats, Daytona has one of my favorite pieces of sculptural signage, the Jantzen diving girl located near the boardwalk. The Oregon based swimwear company first started using the diving girl as it's corporate symbol in the 1920s and an updated version is still in use today. I'm told that the fiberglass beauty in Daytona is one of only a handful that are still intact. Perhaps her streamline form helps her slice through hurricane winds and any other adversity that blows her way...

Zebra image from the State Archives of Florida

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Beachside Bandshell

Amid the tall hotels and garish businesses that line the strip in Daytona lies a gem from the days of the New Deal. Now surrounded by a festival-type marketplace, the Daytona Beach Bandshell and Oceanfront Park Complex is an oasis from another era, landlocked in 21st century gaudiness. Opening in 1937, the structures of the Coquina rock complex are considered to be Late Gothic Revival style architecture. The adjacent boardwalk recently got a multi-million dollar face lift, and the pier was closed for construction when I visited.

It's an odd juxtaposition, the bright and colorful buildings of the contemporary retail and dining establishments butting up to the historic architecture. Appropriately made of rock, the vintage structures of the complex ground an otherwise surreal environment. As a teenager, I would have loved to have taken in a movie there or grab a bite to eat at one of the chain restaurants that make up the new part of the complex. But as an adult, I'm not sure I care for it much. I am, however, very happy that the fantastic Bandshell and Oceanfront Complex are still there, still relevant and in great shape.

New Deal era image of the Bandshell from the State Archives

1950s Easter Service at the Bandshell from the State Archives

Crazy juxtapositions of old and new can be seen throughout the complex

A non-functioning fountain from the Boardwalk

Friday, May 6, 2011

The big Gamble

I first saw pictures of Gamble Place in a book called Old Florida: Florida's Magnificent Homes, Gardens and Vintage Attractions but was disappointed to learn that the property was closed to the public except for special appointments. But while planning a day trip to Ponce Inlet, I noticed on the Museum of Arts and Sciences website that the property was now open to the public and I made it my first stop on my visit to the coast.

The property, on the Historic Register since 1993, is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am to 3 pm with guided tours every couple hours. Just a mile and half from 1-95, it's easy to get to and well worth the trip.

James N. Gamble was the eldest son of James Gamble, the co-founder of Proctor and Gamble. Born in 1837, James N. studied chemistry in college, but his first job was in the law firm of Rutherford B. Hayes. He soon went to work in the family business and has been credited with the invention of Ivory Soap, although that is disputed today. Some interesting facts about Gamble:
• He hired Thomas Edison to invent a way for the P&G offices to communicate with the plant two miles away – the result was the teletype machine
• Gamble was well known for his philanthropic gifts, from building churches in his hometown of Cincinnati, to building wells for his neighbors on his property in Port Orange
• He first visited the Florida property in the 1890s, arriving via Spruce Creek, because at the time no roads existed near the property

Gamble purchased the 175 acre parcel in 1898 and 9 years later finished construction of a small bungalow on the property. The property had an orange grove and open air citrus barn, which was modified around the turn of the century to be a full-fledged citrus packing house for the distribution of the produce grown on site. According to the guide on my tour, all the citrus was given away to the needy. Here's a good article about more of James N. Gamble's charitable works.

The bungalow borrowed design elements from Cracker architecture like this dogtrot

While the house is in immaculate condition, the period furnishings
are not original to the Gamble property

The citrus packing house was originally constructed in the 1880s but modified later

Gamble passed away in 1932 at the ripe old age of 95 and the property came into the possession of his daughters. One of the daughter's husbands, Judge Alfred K. Nippert, became obsessed with Disney's Snow White and Seven Dwarfs and subsequently built the Snow White Cottage in 1938. According to the tour guide, the Judge borrowed animation cells from Disney to get all the details right, and that Walt himself inspected the property and gave his stamp of approval by donating life size dolls of the movies main characters. Supposedly the Snow White doll resided in a glass casket like in the movie, until it was stolen.

Pecky cypress paneling is used throughout the cottage

Innovative use of cypress knees

The Witch's Hut is made from a giant cypress trunk

The Gamble family donated the entire property to the Nature Conservancy in 1983. The entire property was later restored and in 1999 the Nature Conservancy donated Gamble Place to Daytona's Museum of Arts and Sciences. Gamble Place is in remarkable shape aside from the Witch's Hut, which appears to be under attack from woodpeckers. All the buildings were constructed of materials found on site. I was particularly drawn to the fantasy architecture of the Snow White Cottage. Additionally there is also a two-story cabin designed to be the dwarf's diamond mine shaft and a wishing well connected to a wading pond.

This site draws together many of the things I love best of old Florida: historic architecture, an offbeat vision, and wonderfully preserved natural areas. James N. Gamble's motto was said to have been "Do the most good you can, to the most people you can, in the most ways that you can." His good works live on at Gamble Place.

Beautiful gazebo overlooking Spruce Creek