Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bringing Shuffleboard back to Central Florida

In my mind shuffleboard was a quintessential part of any 20th century Florida vacation. I have been dismayed by discovering courts being ripped up and neglected all across our state so I started the Save Our Shuffleboard group on Facebook. The folks at the shuffleboard club in St. Petersburg, however,  found a way to make the game relevant for today's young people by hosting the St. Pete Shuffle every Friday night. Folks of all ages gather there at what is the world's largest shuffleboard club, to enjoy playing the game under the lights. I was so enchanted by this throwback, family-friendly, yet hipster-acceptable event that I made some preliminary inquiries about court availability in Central Florida. But I never found the right venue. But some intrepid friends found an excellent facility and a willing host in the city of Sanford. 

Shuffleboard action at the St.Pete Shuffle

The Sanford Senior Center
The courts, located at the Sanford Senior Center, are part of a wonderful mid century complex that has shuffleboard courts, a storage room full of equipment, a P.A. system and even a clubhouse! Sandwiched between Sanford's quaint little downtown and Fort Mellon Park, the location couldn't be better. With views of the Lake Monroe and an active osprey nest nearby it is even possible to do a little bird watching right from the court! We found out the courts hadn't been used in ten years.

Organized by Jane Goddard and Delaney Dean, the Sanford Shuffle took place this past Friday, about a month after the pair travelled all the way from Dean's house on Lake Monroe to the the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Johns River. Mrs. Ephemera and I drove up early to have dinner at Sanford's delightful Willow Tree Cafe, the area's premier German restaurant. As we pulled into town, Central Florida's daily summer rainstorm arrived and it looked like our inaugural Shuffle might be called on account of weather. But by the time we ate dinner, the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle and we made our way to the courts.

The facility was in excellent condition thanks to the city, and I wasn't going to let puddles on the court prevent me from shuffling. The pucks left tiny wakes as they careened down the soggy concrete and writer Bill Belleville and I were able to muscle our pucks, (or biscuits as some call them), down the courts. As the rain diminished, enthusiastic shufflers began arriving! The courts began to dry out and before we knew it a crowd of 30 or so occupied almost half the courts. The group included some younger folks who seemed to enjoy the game just as much as those of us who remembered playing it in our childhood. Jane even awarded a prize for best vintage attire to Dan and Sandra Carr, aka Mr. and Mrs. Retro!

Wet courts? No problem!
Cool vintage cues

Well-deserved best-dressed winners
The rain actually cooled the temperature down so the evening was quite comfortable for late June. As the sun set no one wanted to leave and pucks slid up and down the court even when it was too dark to see. Those of age headed down the Imperial Bar, where mixologists had concocted a special cocktail for the occasion. In a previous post, I pondered if shuffleboard was worth preserving. For me, the answer is a loud and definitive YES! I can't wait until the next shuffle in July!

The overhang actually kept shufflers dry 
Court's-eye view
From the Sanford Shuffleboard Facebook page:
Bar at the Imperial, downtown Sanford
Twilight descends near the the end of  an incredibly fun evening

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Back to the Gardens

Last weekend I had book signing at Barnes and Noble in Sarasota so I decided to visit the new Everglades Wonder Gardens since I was relatively close to Bonita Springs. I've been doing graphic design work for the vintage roadside attraction's new operator, photographer John Brady, and I was eager to see the results of his labors. Brady, who specializes in large format black and white prints of natural Florida, could not bear to see this beloved attraction close its doors after over 70 years of operation. So he negotiated a lease with the property's owner, David Piper, and has been working hard to give the place a make-over.

I loved the Gardens on my previous visit in 2011 because it was a throwback to an earlier era. It oozed Old Florida charm without the slickness and polish of a corporate theme park.  Signs were painted by hand, a dusty museum with amazing taxidermy greeted visitors, and animals were just an arm's length away in their cages. Having a deep affection for all survivors of Florida's golden age of roadside attractions, I appreciated the fact that this place had endured. But I also wondered how it had survived as our contemporary understanding of animals' needs and habitats had made places like this obsolete. There was also a wildness to the park, like in a blink it could easily become wild again and be reabsorbed into the jungle that is the Everglades.

John Brady's vision of the park is more in keeping with contemporary values; while honoring the Garden's Old Florida roots and its history, he is taming and shaping the vegetation so the visitor can more easily appreciate the lush environment of this Bonita Springs gem. He's opening up narrow pathways and pruning back overgrown plants so that they can be properly viewed. Exotic fig and Kapok trees are revealed, and new plantings are changing the attraction from an animal park to a botanical garden. Much of the larger animals have been transferred to Gatorland in Orlando. After cleaning out the gator pit, the large alligators that inhabited it moved on to Orlando and were replaced by smaller, more lively gators that seemed to be in better proportion to the space. Brady also retained turtles, gopher tortoises, and the bright colorful flamingos. In addition, he created viewing areas around the flamingo pond allowing for better views of these amazing tropical birds. One bird enclosure remains for injured Ibis and seagulls, and a lone peacock wanders the grounds, occasionally letting out a loud call and making the whole place seem a bit wilder.

The gift shop and museum are in transition as well, as Brady has located his Everglades Gallery of photography near the front of the building. There is still kitschy taxidermy, and Brady has worked hard to maintain the character of the space rather than overpowering it. The museum has fewer artifacts, but it will offer Brady an opportunity to present programming like book talks and lectures. There are still some wonderfully bizarre artifacts throughout, and the hand-rendered signage left over from the park's earlier days are true pieces of folk art.

But outside is where Brady is making the most changes. Many of the animal enclosures have been removed and those that are more aesthetically pleasing have been re-purposed. The former panther pen is being transformed into a butterfly enclosure, soon to be one of the park's highlights. The section that once held deer and turkeys has been opened up to create an open area where outdoor events can take place. Brady's philosophy is to make Everglades Wonder Gardens a community resource for all of Southwest Florida to enjoy.

The soft opening of the park was the previous day, and despite the ongoing work, folks seem to be chomping at the bit to get inside and see the transformation. Brady is planning a grand opening in the fall when more of the work is completed and the weather is cooler. When I visited the gardens in 2011, I was concerned for the future of this unique Florida treasure, especially after becoming aware that owners had considered selling the property due to David Piper's illness. Thank goodness John Brady stepped forward; the attraction is in good hands, blossoming into a 21st century-friendly botanical garden, growing organically from its Old Florida roots.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Revisiting Sanlando Springs

My original post about Sanlando Springs, made almost exactly four years ago, has proven to be one of my most popular. Since I originally wrote about the beloved Central Florida swimmin' hole, I have spent a good deal of time doing research about Florida springs for my book, "Finding the Fountain of Youth", and I have come across more great vintage ephemera for the spring, so I thought the subject worthy of a second post.

According to an article written by historian Jim Robison in the Summer 2012 edition of Reflections from Central Florida, the spring, originally called Hoosier Springs was first used as a recreational location as far back as the 1880s. According to Robison, former Altamonte Springs Mayor James Franklin Haithcox changed the name to Sanlando when he developed it as an amusement park in the 1920s.

Robison fills the rest of the spring's history:
"At least three generations enjoyed Sanlando Springs and its giant slide into cool, clear water. Landscaped with tropical plants, the park had the area’s first in-ground pool. Moses Overstreet, who owned timber and turpentine companies that controlled thousands of acres along the Wekiva, repossessed Sanlando Springs Tropical Park after the 1920s boom busted. The parkland reopened in 1935. The Marchand family put on professional log-rolling contests and demonstrations in 1941. After dark, the pavilion opened for dances that drew many young people in the 1940s. J.E. Robinson owned and ran the park from about 1950 until 1970, when it was one of the most popular spots in Central Florida during the summer."

The marketing of Florida's spring has always been of interest to me. The old advertising axiom "sex sells" seems to be the approach taken in early promotional brochures. With the headline "Maidens Fair and Nature's Glory" the natural wonders of the spring play second fiddle to the lovely ladies.

State Archives of Florida

One way to keep an ample supply of beautiful women on hand is to host a beauty contest, which Sanlando Springs did in 1951 according to these images from the state archives.

Beauty contestants of the Mrs. Sanlando Springs contest, 1951 
State Archives of Florida
Peggy Creel being crowned Mrs. Sanlando Springs, 1951
State Archives of Florida

This lovely brochure with a map has come up on Ebay several times
and I have yet to be able to add it to my collection

Here's a letter home, already written for you, simply add an addressee and a signature!

USF Digital Archives

While researching my book, I came across a small ad for Sanlando Spring in a vintage publication with a cute little faerie I thought would make a great t-shirt.  I contacted my friends at Vintage Roadside in Portland, OR and we collaborated on the design. VR's mission is to keep the memories of mom and pop roadside businesses alive. From the amount of comments on my last post about Sanlando, it is apparent that many people have fond memories of the spring.

This small ad in a vintage Orlando magazine was the inspiration
for the Sanlando T-shirt I created with Vintage Roadside
The T-shirts can be purchased online or at the Orange County Regional History Center.

Today only the residents of the gated subdivision known simply as "The Springs" can use Sanlando Springs. One of the the few times the public is allowed entry is for the Orlando Philharmonic's annual outdoor concert. Nature photographer John Moran from Gainesville recently attended and added these photos from the concert to his collection of other contemporary images of Sanlando.