Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fountains of Youth

In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon became the first European to set foot on what was later to become Florida. In fact he named the place La Florida, because they discovered it during Easter or Pasqua Florida (feast of Flowers.) The site of this initial discovery is said to be a the current location of The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, based upon archeological evidence on the site.

Eight years later, the Spanish explorer returned to Florida, landing on the west coast of Florida near Charlotte Harbor. He was attacked by the natives, struck by an arrow and ultimately died from his wounds. After his death a legend developed that de Leon was searching for the legendary Fountain of Youth.

In the 20th century at least three places in Florida claimed to be The Fountain of Youth. The one in St. Augustine appears to be the most famaliar, established in 1904. I visited in Nov. and was surprised at the amount of real archeology at the site. In addition to evidence of Ponce de Leon's landing, a whole Timucuan Indian village was located on the site hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived. A beautiful location with a waterfront view, the attraction includes a small planetarium, and several exhibits.

Industrialist Edwin Tomlinson dug a well in St. Petersburg, FL near a long pier going out into the bay in 1889. At the beginning of 2oth century, Dr. Jesse Conrad bought the property and opened a spa on the location allowing for bathing and drinking of the well's sulphorous water. In 1946, the location moved due to a hurricane that destroyed the original pier. For many years the location flourished as "the Fountain of Youth" and there were several different statues of Ponce de Leon on the site through the years until it closed for good in 1975. Ironically I found this article in the St. Pete Times yesterday, about the original well, still bubbling up in the bay.

The third Fountain of Youth is located near Venice, FL, close to de Leon's final, fatal Florida excursion. Known as Warm Mineral Springs, this site claims to be the "Original Fountain of Youth." It opened to the public in the 1950s and the spring is now a spa claiming to have healing properties. There is a whole planned community being developed around this hourglass shaped body of water and their marketing seems to focus on non-Floridians from cultures who frequent mineral baths. 

A road trip is in my future to dip my feet into this bath from the past!

Wakulla weekend

I imagine the early native Americans found this place to be sacred. The largest spring in Florida, in fact, one of the largest on the planet, has more than 250 million gallons of water per day passing through it and flowing 9 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Not long ago, it was clear enough for visitors to see fossilized Mastadon bones resting on the bottom the spring. Today the water is so dark that the glass-bottomed boats sit idle. When pressed, a ranger hinted that the population growth of the area, just 15 miles from the state capital, as a possible cause at this change to the natural environment.

Today Wakulla Springs is part of Ed Ball State Park named after the brother-in-law of Alfred I. DuPont. After DuPont's passing, Ball turned DuPont's vast land holdings in the panhandle into an empire of banking, transportation and the St. Joe paper corporation. One of his properties was the Wakulla Springs acreage which he protected and developed into the place that it is today. He blocked the Wakulla River with a fence to keep people out, but built the Lodge and other facilites at the spring to let people in. It is these contradictions that make it murky to me as to whether whether Ed Ball was an environmentalist or just a capitalist. While he built a giant paper mill on the Gulf in Port St. Joe, much of the panhandle has remained relatively undeveloped because of his corporation.

In the previous century they found that the then crystal clear waters had many great uses. GIs during WWII trained and relaxed there. The synchronized swimming team from FSU practiced at Wakulla. Films like "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and Tarzan were filmed in the spring's waters and surrounding jungle. And visitor's attention was attracted by silly promotions like "Henry the Pole Vaulting Fish". All archival images seen above are from the State Archives of Florida, which has over 600 photos from the springs.

Ed Ball's mansion is now a lodge open to visitors all year long.  While it lacks the attention to detail that the grand lodges of the National Parks out west possess, it truly charming in a distinctively Southern way. It has a restaurant with views of the spring, a snack bar with a soda fountain, (serving their specialty, the "Ginger Yip"), and a grand lobby with checkerboard tables for old-fashioned fun. 

My wife and I were fortunate enough to spend a couple nights there after Christmas and two things made the big impressions on me. First, the sheer quantity of wildlife around the spring. Dozens and dozens of wading birds, ducks and the rare Suwanee Cooter, a turtle found only in these waters. I saw 3 species of birds I'd never spotted before; the American Widgeon, the Hooded Merganser and a Sora. Every morning I went down to the spring and had coffee with a couple manatees. Our first night there we saw a small fawn near the parking lot. And the gators were prolific.

The second thing that struck me was just how quiet the place got. After the park closed, a peacefulness descends over the lodge. There are no televisions, phones or clock radios in the 27 guest rooms. Aside from the air conditioner, (yes-necessary in December), no other man-made sounds could be heard at night.

Wakulla Springs is a wonderful place; we just need to quit messing it up!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The State I'm in

In the past month and a half I've left my base in Orange County and traveled through the following Florida Counties: Seminole, Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns, Osceola, Polk, Lake, Sumter, Marion, Alachua, Gilchrist, Dixie, Lafayette, Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla, Leon, Madison, Suwannee, and Columbia. The more Florida I see, the more I want to see. It's a great state and not enough people living here realize that. And not enough people living here, do enough to preserve it.

• 20th century roadside resources are vanishing quickly from our state. Signs and motels my brother and I photographed just a couple years ago are gone or repainted. The places still open, appear to be hanging by a thread.

• The poorer the area, the greater the number of roadside resources. When there is money to renovate, remodel or rebuild it usually done. Many of the best surviving relics of the road are in some pretty tough areas.

• Florida's old attractions are fascinating. The places that appealed to folks driving in pre-interstate Florida are still pretty interesting. Some are literally time capsules, opening a window into an earlier time. Places like Bok Tower do a great job of embracing their past and looking towards the future. Others like Fountain of Youth and the Stephen Foster Memorial are so rooted to the past that they lack the political correctness of the 21st century. All of them, however,  are worth a visit.

• There is often great artwork at some of these forgotten places. I've blogged previously about the New Deal era murals I've discovered in St. Augustine and Lake Wales. My latest discovery is two incredible paintings by famous illustrator Howard Chandler Christy in the museum at the Stephen Foster Memorial in White Springs Florida... who knew?

• History is around every corner. We discovered places we'd never heard of that played major roles in shaping our nation. San Marcos de Apalache or Fort St. Mark was such a place. We just stumbled across it in the little town of St. Mark and were quite impressed with the production values of the short film explaining it's remarkable history.

• Florida's little towns are gems. Places like Lake Wales, St. Marks, White Springs, Apalachicola, Micanopy, etc. are small but infinitely interesting. Perry seems worthy of more investigation. I can't wait to explore the museums of Tallahassee when I have more time (although it's not really a small town.)

• Sprawl is just downright ugly. The closer you get to the interstate, generally the uglier it gets. I'm sure there is an upside to Lake City. But the road we took was just awful.

• If you can take the blue roads- do! Interstates are for moving you fast from point A to point B as quickly as possible. But if the you believe that how you get from one point to the next is just as essential as getting there, take US 98, 27, or 441.  You'll never know what you'll find.

• Floridians are blessed with an amazing state park system. They preserve history and nature and educate the masses about our state in a generally entertaining way. We visited 4 parks over Christmas and enjoyed them all. And thanks to the "Friends" organizations for taking special care of these places (Friends of Wakulla Springs for example.)

• The panhandle is the Deep South. Central Florida is about the least "Southern" place in Florida, aside from maybe South Florida. But there is a Southern twang in the panhandle and it's quite refreshing. 

• The Big Bend area of the panhandle is gorgeous, but go there soon. While largely undeveloped, it appears to be sprouting up residential neighborhoods left and right just like the rest of Florida. At least St. Marks Wildlife Refuge is safe, what a treasure!

• I can't wait to see more. I can't wait to start exploring Miami's Art Deco and mid-century modern architecture. I'm anticipating visiting more of our old roadside attractions again (Weeki Wachee, Silver Springs, the Citrus Tower) and for the first time (Hall of Presidents, Potter's Wax Museum, Alligator Farm, etc.) 

2009 is going to be a fantastic year, but I urge everyone to seize the opportunity to visit this great state because it's changing fast!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Boozin'

I had to take the Florida Turnpike and interstate to get home for Christmas. As someone said to me at the SCA conference, "friends don't let friends drive the interstate." My brother the photographer, on the other hand, got to take the blue roads, at least part of the way. This shot, the latest in his series of liquor store signage, is near the intersection of highways 27 and 50 in Clermont. Could there be a liquor store sign show in his future?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry murals

On this Christmas Day 2009, the newspaper is full of articles about the failing economy and ads for retailers offering great discounts tomorrow. I have been thinking quite a bit about the New Deal as pundits speculate whether such radical action may again be called for to get us out of this funk. Some of my friends who artists who depend on the "disposable" income of others are having to stretch their creativity to make ago of it these days.

And I keep on running into evidence of the New Deal artists on my roadside adventures. At Thanksgiving on a visit to St. Augustine, I finally visited The Fountain of Youth, an attraction that I had always perceived to be just too tacky to visit in the past. I was pleasantly surprised to find the perfect blend of Florida kitsch and hardcore history. My biggest surprise was finding this incredible mural by New Deal era artist Hollis Holbrook. The name seemed vaguely familiar and I discovered it was because Holbrook later served as the first chairman of the University of Florida Art Department, where I went to school. I am looking forward to discovering more of his work on the UF campus.

The mural depicts the colonization of the native Timucuan people by the Spaniards. It was created at the site where graves of Timucuans buried in Christian fashion with their hands crossed on their chest, were unearthed by archeologists. This exhibit is open to the elements and this fabulous mural is in poor shape. Pity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New Deal Discovery

Today is my birthday, and my gift from my wife was a day trip. Lucky for me it was a good day of roadside exploration and I have enough material to fill a couple blogs. We drove through Kissimmee into Polk County and then explored the small town of Lake Worth, Florida. While walking around Lake Worth's cute historic downtown, I noticed the distinct Art Deco-like appearance of a vintage post office and dawned on me that there might be a New Deal mural inside. And as luck would have it there was.

"Harvest Time- Lake Wales, was painted in 1942 by Denman Fink, probably part of the Section of Fine Arts through the Treasury Department. In addition to painting other New Deal era murals in Miami, Mr. Fink was instrumental in the creation of the city of Coral Gables, Florida with his nephew George Merrick. He also reportedly designed the city gates to Coral Gables and the Venetian Pool, which is on the National Historic Register.

The Ventian Pools are closed until April, but it is at the top of the list for a 2009 roadtrip.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Whipple workshop

As I am promoting my artist friends, I can't leave out Lynn Whipple who is teaching this cool workshop next month. You can see both John and Lynn Whipple's work at whippleart.com

Eleventh hour ideas

I'd like to take this opportunity plug some of my entrepreneurial friends and their creative endeavors. It may be too late for this year, but Valentine's Day is just around the corner!

I have two friends who make very unique  jewelry. 
Wendy McManus makes cool stuff out of polymer clay.

Sonja Marshall-Bone is a fellow graphic designer who is finding success in the jewelry world.

In the art world, check out my friends Dawn Schreiner and Martha Lent

And lastly, for something more spiritual, Mary Hayes has these beautiful photo cards for sale.

I admire all these folks for their creativity, ingenuity and pluckiness to make and sell wonderful stuff.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Just for a smile

Baby Xander's first Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Don't forget the non-profits!

Here are a few of my favorite organizations that could use your holiday contributions during these challenging economic times:

The Society for Commercial Archeology
I discovered the SCA in 2002 and attended the conference in Reno, Nevada. It's for anyone who loves roadside architecture, signage and structures of the 20th century. This year's conference was in Albuquerque.

World's Largest Things, Inc.
Erika Nelson's presentation at this year's SCA conference was a huge hit. Her non-profit organization is home to the Worlds Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Version of the World's Largest Things.

The Historical Society of Central Florida, Inc.
Okay this is a client too, but they are doing all they can to keep history alive in Central Florida and that's very important to me. And they have a rockin' journal!

Heifer International
My company supports this organizational annually. Committed to ending hunger world-wide, you can give a share of a goat for just $10.

Friends of Florida State Parks Inc.
Everyday in our local paper are more stories of budget cuts on the state level. We have an amazing state park system in Florida, this organization will help it stay this way.

On a national level:
National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Nature Conservancy

National Audubon Society

Don't forget the person or place that feeds your spirit and nutures your soul,whether it is a church, temple, park or just a friendly smiling face. Now is the season for giving to what gives to you. You make the world a better, more interesting place for others when you do!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Remembering Marineland

When I was a kid growing up in North-central Florida, there was Six Gun Territory, Silver Springs, Cape Kennedy and Marineland. No Disney, Universal or SeaWorld. Any overnight stay at the beach usually meant a visit to Marineland, located between Cresent Beach and Flagler Beach.

Marineland was developed in 1939 as Marine Studios by one of the Vanderbilts. The Studio moniker was soon dropped and it morphed into Marineland, "The World's Only Ocenarium." It had huge round metal tanks with portholes in the sides for viewing oceanlife. You could watch divers in those cool old diving suits feed animals on the bottom of the tank. But the coolest of all was the trained dolphins and Pilot whales that would literally jump though hoops and do seemingly whatever their trainers asked of them.

I took memories of our trips to Marineland with me to school everyday, because I had the dynamic die-cut dolphin logo sticker on my notebook.

I did not return back to Marineland as adult until the mid '90s. By that time the metal tanks were rusty and the portholes all leaked. The crowds had obviously fallen away over time as the Florida Turnpike and advertising machines of Orlando's attractions siphoned away the masses from Florida's east coast. The highlight of that visit was the lounge that had a bar shaped like a boat on hydraulics that rocked back and forth on gentle imaginary waves.


The state stepped in soon afterwards and knocked down all the rusty metal tanks and turned it into a research facility and "Eco" park, similar to SeaWorld's Discovery Cove. I stopped by recently to see what was left of my childhood memories and the answer was, not much. The entrance to the gift shop looked familiar, as were the dolphin shaped bricks behind the snack bar but little else remained from the early days of this treasured attraction.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sunrise this morning

Bongoland Dinosaurs

Near the ruins of an old Sugar Mill Plantation in Port Orange near Daytona, several ancient creatures lurk along the edge of the woods waiting to sneak up on unexpected visitors. These prehistoric monsters are really relics from Florida's early days of tourism. 

Operating in the early 1950s, Bongoland was ahead of its time for Florida roadside attractions. It featured a large Baboon named Bongo, an Indian Village, a small train and several prehistoric dinosaurs. Located at the site of the old Dunlawton Sugar Mill, the mini-theme park was perhaps too far off US 1 to attract the kind of numbers to stay in operation and it closed in 1952. Today the site is known as Sugar Mill Botanical Gardens and admission is free. Just watch out for the giant fungus covered dinosaurs!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas in 3-D

My friend Jim has created his own digital 3-D camera and he achieves astonishing results. The depth of the images go back and back and it looks like you could almost walk into the scene. See lifeis3d.com.

I bought some cards from him recently which were not holiday -related, but wished he had some that were. So I've been trying to come up with some of the best holiday subjects in Orlando to shoot in 3-D.

Historically, the big star that hangs over Orange Avenue every year, would be a natural.
If you shot it right, you could get the depth of the buildings on either side of the street disappearing into the distance.

Then I though for pure kitsch you couldn't beat my friend Victor's plastic Santa display in his front yard near Lake Como. In fact, his neighborhood between Curry Ford and Anderson usually has some amazing holiday decorations.

Last night I stumbled across a giant Christmas Tree inside the big glass ball at the Winnie Palmer Hospital. I think that would make a great 3-D image..

Let me know if you can think of any other subjects for Christmas in 3-D.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

To the top!

I've been on a roll lately. At Thanksgiving I got to see the ruins of Bongoland, an early Florida theme park, find what's left of Marineland (not much), and explore some of the great old attractions of St. Augustine. This weekend I visited the Maitland Art Center twice for art functions. But yesterday I hit the jackpot. I got to go to the top of Bok Tower. And our guide was Bill De Turk, Bok's carilloner and resident historian.

All of my favorite things combined–art, architecture, history and nature! If you aren't familiar with Bok Tower it was created by publisher Edward Bok in the late twenties as the focal point of his Olmsted-designed gardens and bird sanctuary.  The architectural style of the tower is called Gothic-Deco and the design motif of much of the building is the flora and fauna of the sunshine state. I was assisting my friend Joy who was researching a story about the dedication of the tower by President Calvin Coolidge and thus given the opportunity for this special tour.

Even on an overcast day your first view of the tower is breath-taking. It sticks up out of the surrounding Orange groves like a rocket at the Cape. As you wind your way through the gardens, you see more and more detail of the intricate stone work and colorful mosaics at the top of the building.

Inside the iron gate, you're struck by a brilliant golden door telling the creation story. Beyond that the first floor room has amazing colorful tiles, an overwhelming fireplace and arts and crafts style fixtures that are out of this world. We got to take the elevator up, (the oldest operating elevator in the state, the very one that Mrs. Coolidge rode in), stopping at each floor.

First there was the archives where they house all of Edward Bok's archives. Then there is storage with some of the old tools like a giant pulley used to hoist the 16 ton bells to the top of the tower.  Next is the music library and then Mr. De Turk's studio which easily has a view rivaling any New York penthouse. The last two floors are the "keyboard" where the carilloner plays the bells and above that the bells themselves. We were allowed access to several of the balconies at each level overlooking the gardens at to view the mosaics and sculpture up close that is normally only viewed from the ground.

What an incredible way to spend a Monday!