Saturday, February 28, 2009

A World of Joy

This week I got closer to finding Joy, learning more about artist Joy Postle from someone who knew her well. This individual is responsible for much I've learned about this fascinating artist and it is due to her efforts that much of the information about Ms. Postle is available. It was wonderful to hear firsthand stories about the artist's joy for life and her drive to create and sustain herself with her talent. As I suspected she was a remarkable individual with a unique spirit.

I was also afforded the opportunity to see more of Joy's work including these marvelous murals. I learned that at one time Joy's home was covered with similar murals, on the exterior of her house. Seeing these room-sized paintings in person, is a completely different experience from looking at the photographs, you are completely engulfed in Joy Postle's world, a colorful place with songbirds on flower-covered trees and elegant wading birds on the shores of pristine lakes. The only intrusion of man is a lonely shack next to an orange grove and a boat drifting in the water. It must be an incredible experience to live in Joy's world and I am glad the owners of the murals are good stewards of the incredible work they possess on their walls!

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Vintage Table

I've had some bad experiences with online purchases lately. A book I ordered in December still hasn't arrived, I lost a painting on an Ebay auction at the very last second and another book I ordered mysteriously vanished from the San Fransisco bookstore where it sat on the dusty shelves for years. But the exception to this trend was a purchase from an online outfit called the Vintage Table. Needing a vintage tablecloth for an advertisement I was working on, I found The Vintage Table through a google search. They have a huge assortment of tablecloths to choose from, (over 1,200), and were prompt in responding and in shipping out my order. But most of all I am inspired by entrepeneurs who find a way to make a living from their obsessive passions. The founder of The Vintage Table says on her website "I am obsessed with vintage tablecloths. Yep, I admit it. I dream about tablecloths! I have openly admitted that I would marry a vintage tablecloth if I weren't already married and the right tablecloth came along."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cypress Gardens to re-open March 28th

The grand-daddy of all Florida roadside attractions will re-open March 28th after making some tweaks. Cypress Gardens, originally opened in 1936, added rides and a water park in its latest incarnation. The new management group, however, plans to beef-up the water park but eliminate the rides, according to an article in today's Sentinel. They also plan to highlight their namesake botanical gardens and eliminate the zoo.

Cypress Gardens began when the children of Dick Pope put on a spur-of-the-moment ski show for some visiting WWII GIs on Lake Eloise, according to Tim Hollis, author of Selling the Sunshine State. Pope virtually wrote the book on theme park promotion and the images of the Southern Belle and the pyramid of water-skiers are now Florida icons. It will nice to have the Gardens back in the mix of vintage attractions once again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Train Station Treasure

Once again, our state legislature has a big decision to make about Florida's future. This time the issue before them is light rail proposed to ease Central Florida's traffic gridlock. Last time this came up, the issue was defeated by a legislator from Leesburg who didn't want more freight cars rolling through her town and the powerful lobby for the state's attorneys who didn't like provisions in the bill that would prevent lawsuits. The Sentinel is doing a series this week on the challenges faced to the bill and today issued an editorial in favor of moving ahead with the project.

In the print edition, the editorial is illustrated with a rendering of Orlando's Health's commuter stop with Orlando's 1927 train station in the background. Orlando Health is what used to be known as ORMC, a complex of healthcare facilities just south of downtown.

Our train station is one of the most significant buildings in Orlando. Patterned after the mission-type train stations in the Southwest, our train station is remarkably similar to the station I saw in Albuquerque this fall. Created to appeal to the influx of Northerners disembarking in Florida in the '20s, the station is noted for its "arcade, prominent parapet arrangement, and flanking bell towers" according to Orlando History in Architecture, a 1984 book created by the City's Historic Preservation Board.

I had never really explored the station until a recent photo shoot with my brother. It is great building with lots of charm but it has really fallen into disrepair. The decay is well-documented in this blog by Chris Gent. It would be a tragedy if this remarkable facility were to be lost, for Orlando has so few iconic historic structures. I'm in favor of the light rail bill, if only to save our beautiful train station.

Photos by Kilby Photo

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dixie Crossroads

There aren't many restaurants with staying power in Central Florida. Eateries are an institution one day and gone the next. Gary's Duck Inn was such so legendary that it's concept was taken nationwide as Red Lobster. The fun, quirky Bubble Room in Maitland closed. Ronnies Diner is no more. Chains and franchises litter the landscape.

One eatery that seems to grow and expand every time I visit, however, is Dixie Crossroads in Titusville. Disney has Mickey, SeaWorld has Shamu, and Dixie Crossroads has Mr. Rock, the Rock Shrimp. Served cracked open like miniature lobsters, this sweet little critter has turned Dixie Crossroads into a theme park-like atmosphere devoted to good eatin'. And every meal comes with corn fritters, sweet version of hush puppies with powdered sugar sprinkled on top.

The decor of Dixie Crossroads is a shrine to the anthropromorphic rock shrimp and Florida's native environment in which he lives. There are gigantic murals showing a proliferation of birds and other critters, life-sized rock shrimp for picture taking purposes, and a pond full of fish you can feed (Tilapia?) while you're waiting to be seated inside. Inside the wildlife theme continues with good and bad artwork of your favorite Florida flora and fauna.

It's kind of like a Disneyed version of Southern seafood restaurant. But on steroids. They have spin-off versions on I-drive and Mt. Dora, but to me the Titusville version is one-of-a-kind. A day spent bird watching at the nearby Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, followed by a meal at Dixie Crossroads encompasses two wildly different sides of Florida – it's natural beauty and it's manmade kitsch. And it just doesn't get any better!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

It could be argued that the best attractions in Florida are the free ones. If so, there are few better than Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on a beautiful winter day. Winter is best because the refuge harbors so many species of migratory birds. The 140,000 acre refuge, close enough to the Kennedy Space Center to see the Vehicle Assembly building in the distance, contains 15 threatened or endangered species and more than 500 species of wildlife. The land was purchased in 1962 to be part of KSC, but in 1963 it was turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Service to establish as a wildlife refuge.

My self-created mission on this February visit to the refuge was to see Spoonbills. On an earlier visit, I saw a couple fly overhead, but nothing close-up. Our first bird ID was a Spotted Sandpiper and it wasn't long before we added to our list:
• Killdeer • Snowy Egret • Great Egret • Great Blue Heron • Little Blue Heron • Reddish Egret • Tri-color Heron • White Ibis • Glossy Ibis • Coots • American Avocet • Hooded Merganser • Blue-Winged Teal • Green-Winged Teal • Northern Shoveler • Northern Pintail • Mottled Duck • Double Breasted Cormorant • Brown Pelican • American White Pelican • Pied Billed Grebe • Northern Harrier • Bald Eagle • Kingfisher

We were almost to the end of the refuge, enjoying a good view of a beautiful Reddish Egret and hunger was calling. As we approached the exit road we saw a large flock of Spoonbills circling in the air, their bright pink and red wings unmistakable against the bright blue sky. We watched as they landed in a body of water close to where we were headed and we raced to meet them. And they are everything Joy Postle marveled about. Their odd beaks shovel the muddy bottom as they forage for food while the intensity of their plumage rivals anything else in the animal kingdom. While they are beautiful on the ground, their color is most vivid as they take to the air and the sun illuminates their feathers. Truly amazing, glamorous birds!

Friday, February 20, 2009

In search of Spoonbills

I'm headed to Merritt Island for some bird-watching and I hope to see one of Joy Postle's favorite birds, the Roseate Spoonbill. Like me she seemed to be most interested in Florida's wading birds and the Spoonbill is one of the most exotic of that set. The Spoonbill found its way into Postle's paintings and poetry, and I imagine that it represented a good portion of her set in the performance piece she created with her husband called "Glamour Birds" of the Americas. In the act, Postle's husband would play recorded bird songs while she played the piano, sang, recited poetry and created colorful, lifesize birds out of colored chalk before a live audience. The newspaper clipping above is from 1945.

While the Spoonbill has magnificently colored, glamorous feathers, the rest of it is just plain odd. Combine the prehistoric-like head of a wood stork with the coloring and grace of a flamingo, then add a giant spoon for a beak and you get a Spoonbill. They prefer mangrove swamps, which is why you don't see them much in Orlando. On one rare occasion I spotted one in a lake nearby that was shrinking due to a drought, pushing it's huge spoon-shaped bill in to the muddy shallows. I have yet to photograph one in the wild, but maybe today is the day!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Meet Joy Postle

Joy Postle (pronounced postal) was a painter, graphic artist, muralist, WPA artist, musical performer, printmaker, entrepreneur, environmentalist, and author of four books. She loved Florida and she loved birds. She painted them in small works and in large, wrote poems about them in books and in their honor created a performance piece called "Glamour Birds". I share a connection with her love of birds, have an admiration for her talent and possess a desire to tell the world about her fascinating life.

I became aware of Joy after receiving a gift of one of her prints. I soon found that UCF had a whole website dedicated to her and they had collected much of her work. Yesterday I was privileged enough to see the collection in person and learn more about this incredible woman who passed away in a central Florida Nursing home in 1989.

Born in Chicago in 1896, Joy's life changed forever when she was working as an artist and decorator and a young man named Robert Blackstone came to interview her. They fell in love, got married and bought a camper to explore the west. In Zion National Park, Postle was attempting to paint in watercolor when she noticed the paint had frozen. Desiring warmer weather, she and Blackstone migrated to Florida, like so many of her avian friends...

UCF's collection includes paintings, drawings, manuscripts, mechanical art, poems, newspaper clippings, photographs and even a scrapbook based on Joy's life that was presented to her in the nursing home where she lived the final days of her journey. It's an interesting experience to study the artifacts from someone's life who you never knew. There is a certain connection, you feel you have insight into who they were, but you never really know if you are making false assumptions based on a small amount of evidence. What is clear to me, is that Joy Postle lived a remarkable life and was very talented, very passionate, inspired and creative.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Land of Orchids

I noticed a small article in today's paper about the American Orchid Society headquarters in Delray Beach, FL closing their greenhouses to the public due to the economy. Florida has a history of orchid-themed attractions going back to the Orchid Jungle that opened in 1925 near Homestead. After being pummeled by Hurricane Andrew, the attraction closed in 1994. In 1998, Miami Dade County's Environmentally Endangered Lands program purchased much of the property with intentions of re-opening it to the public. It is now known as Hattie Bauer Hammock.

There was also a mom and pop attraction in St. Pete called Caswell's Orchid Gardens, according to Ken Breslauer in Roadside Paradise. Breslauer states "a majority of Florida's prominent early tourist sites came in the form of garden attractions." My 1995 map lists "Orchid Garden" in Winter Park as an attraction at Mead Botanical Garden.

Weeki Wachee was at one time home to an Orchid Gardens (top image), but as near as I can tell they are no longer part of what is now a Florida State Park. And these vintage postcards show orchids as part of the collections at McKee Jungle Gardens and Cypress Gardens (below). It is likely that they were featured flowers at many of Florida's botanical themed attractions from Sarasota Jungle Gardens to Everglades Tropical Gardens. And according to my friends at Vintage Roadside, the roadside attraction near Daytona Beach known as the Atomic Tunnel boasted of an orchid room where you could meet a beautiful orchid queen.

Keeping the long-standing tradition alive, Central Florida has its own orchid-themed attraction called A World of Orchids in Kissimmee. According to the Florida State Park website, the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve "is the orchid and bromeliad capital of the continent with 44 native orchids and 14 native bromeliad species." And finally Orchid, FL, population 140, is made up of mostly of a gated community called Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club. I'm sure you can find lots of orchids there too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Winter in Florida means an influx of our neighbors from the north of both the human and bird varieties. The urban lakes around Orlando get used by a variety of unfamiliar ducks, the most common winter visitor on our little lake is the Ring Neck Duck. We also get a large flock of Cormorants descending on our lake briefly at least one day a year. Fortunately these messy birds don't stay around too long, it's hard enough keeping my dock clean after the year round inhabitants use it as a roost.

This weekend in Leeburg, however, I witnessed for the first time the presence of Canadian Geese in Florida. It seemed odd to see these birds which I associate so strongly with northern climates, hanging around a Central Florida park.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Venetian Gardens and the Purple Gallinule

I recently purchased a Standard Oil map of Florida from 1955 and the back has pictorial representations of all the attractions and features of the state superimposed on our state's familiar peninsula. It was created in the days before the interstate and two of the major US highways used at that time, US 27 and US 441 intersect in Leesburg. The illustration used to identify Leesburg is the iconic leapin' largemouth bass as this town in Lake County is in the middle of the Harris chain of lakes near both Lake Harris and Lake Griffin and was known for great fishing.

Venetian Gardens is a WPA created public space on a spur of Lake Harris close to Leesburg's little downtown. Through the creation of a series of canals and graceful bridges spanning these canals, the New Deal workers made a park that is ideal for a leisurely stroll or some productive fishing. The bones of the work started in 1938 are still evident today and my family spent an enjoyable Sunday afternoon there, despite the persistence of an ugly cold front.

Unfortunately, Lake Harris is polluted by its neighbor to the south, Lake Apopka. At the public boat ramp in broad view are signs warning against fishing and swimming and explaining the dangers of algae present the water. Despite the warnings, fisherman were prolific, along the canals and in the cove the park is located on.

Bird life added color to the drab day we visited, from Canadian Geese to the Purple Gallinule. Similar in appearance to a Moorhen, the Gallinule has giant oversized yellow feet, a body that gradiates from blueish purple to blueish green and a bright red beak. Before yesterday, I had only seen this amazing bird one time previously on Lake Griffin just to the north. At Venetian Gardens they seem to be everywhere.

In this little part of Florida, it is possible to forget about the sprawl that is spreading throughout the rest of Lake County and imagine yourself living in a simpler state. Only those damn signs at the boat ramps serve as reminders that just beneath the surface, things are not as they appear.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Just for Presidents Day: Abe on Education

In 1960 artist John Zwiefel bought the House of Presidents Wax Museum as a place to display his incredibly detailed model of the White House. Unfortunately the model is on loan much of the time and is rarely home in the Clermont, FL roadside attraction which is now called Presidents Hall of Fame. However, the wax figures remain; delightfully creepy, somewhat ironic in their juxtaposition. Laura Bush near JFK, a smiling Bill Clinton behind a stone-faced Hilary, with FDR taking center stage surrounded by a sea of microphones.

Lincoln speaks as you enter the attraction and the snippet I happened to record has Abe speaking on the value of education. Perhaps our elected leaders in Florida need to hear old Abe as they make drastic cut after drastic cut to the state education budget making it even more difficult for future Floridians to get a decent education in our public schools. Words of wisdom in wax.

Note: Lincoln is located in the gift shop of the Presidents Hall of Fame, and a doorbell rings anytime anyone enters. My apologies for the interruption in the middle of the president's speech.

Friday, February 13, 2009

McKee and Sexton, a perfect match

Valentine's Day is squished between my wife's birthday and our anniversary, so it always sneaks up on me. This year we have agreed to downplay Valentine's Day and focus on our anniversary in April. Last year we started what I hope will become a tradition of going away for the weekend of our anniversary. Our inaugural trip was to Vero Beach because we wanted to visit McKee Botanical Gardens.

Formerly McKee Jungle Gardens, a roadside attraction on US 1, the new botanical gardens only re-opened in 2001. In 1976 after almost 50 years in operation, the Jungle Gardens closed and much of the property became condos. Originally opened in 1929 by Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton, the Jungle Gardens offered an amazing array of tropical plants, exotic birds and wildlife and some unique architecture. The Hall of Giants, holding the world's largest table made out of a single piece of wood (mahagony), was the creation of Waldo Sexton. Sexton collected objects from all over; bells, tile, wrought iron, cannons and reinterpreted them into his own funky architectural style. His Hall of Giants still stands proudly in the Gardens as does several other structures he designed in Vero including the Ocean Grill and Driftwood Motel. Seeing these structures alone is worth a trip to Vero.

Vintage Hall of Giants postcard and image of Waldo Sexton with monkeys from the State Archives of Florida

Roadside Paradise

In my quest to visit all the old roadside attractions of Florida, I'm always looking for resources to help guide my explorations. My friends at Vintage Roadside provided me with such a tool by telling me about a great little book called Roadside Paradise The Golden Age of Florida's Tourist Attractions 1929-71. It is self published so copies are not easy to come by, but I borrowed one from a friend. The book was written by Ken Breslauer who at time of publication in 2000 was publicist and historian for the racetrack in Sebring, Florida.

It is similar to the recently published Selling the Sunshine State, in that most of the images are vintage travel brochures and advertising from old attractions. But if anything, the list of "tourist traps" seems more comprehensive, describing propities that were only open for a couple years. I've only skimmed the book but here are some quick observations:

• One of the attractions that has closed since publication is the Cypress Tree Museum in Palmdale, FL. Here's a great little video on the subject.

• One that has re-opened is McKee Jungle Gardens. Although it is not the size of the original  attraction on US 1, there is still plenty to see there.

• Several short-lived attractions I'd never heard of before include: Ancient America in Boca Raton, Chimp Farm in Dania, Coppinger's Pirate's Cove in Miami, Dupree Gardens in Tampa, Eagle's Nest in Belleair, Floating Islands in McIntosh, Lost Lake and Caverns in Miami, Marine Arena in Madiera Beach, Phosphate Valley Exposition in Bartow, Pirate's World in Dania, Rainforest in Sumpterville, Seville Peacock Farm in Clearwater, Sea Zoo in Daytona and Sunshine Springs and Gardens in Sarasota. Most of these were open less than five years. Most of these can also be seen on the Lost Parks website.

• There are 130 attractions listed in the index

Image of the Cypress Knee Museum from the State Archives of Florida

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Timeless T-shirts

On my recent excursion to St. Pete to go to the Floridiana Festival and Sunken Gardens, I proudly wore my Vintage Roadside T-shirt as seen in the above photo. Vintage Roadside is the brainchild of Jeff and Kelly who live in Oregon with a complete Burger family and a Hamms beer skunk in their backyard. True roadside historians, Jeff and Kelly do detailed research to find authentic advertising from mid-20th century mom and pop business like roadside attractions, restaurants, drive-ins, motels, bowling alleys and skating rinks. For them its all about learning about these places and keeping their memories alive. And a portion of the proceeds are donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They have T-shirts of places I've never even heard about before, like the Atomic Tunnel formerly of Daytona Beach. So next time you need a gift for someone who cares about preserving the past for future generations, I highly suggest a Vintage Roadside T.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fresh Florida Fun

Here are some of my purchases from the Floridiana Festival last weekend that were related to previous blogs. 

The oversized Citrus Tower postcard dates from 1972 and shows nothing but groves and lakes as far as the eye could see. Just to the right of the big red arrow is the amphibious vehicle that used to offer rides in a nearby lake.

The Orange Blossom Trail linen postcard folder features sights from along 441 from one end of the peninsula to the other. 

What is now Bok Tower Gardens started out as Mountain Lake Sanctuary, created by Edward Bok as a haven for our fine feathered friends, like the flamingos pictured here. At a recent visit to Bok, I was told that it became too expensive to feed the beautiful pink birds so they got rid of them. Homosassa Springs and Sunken Gardens, two parks I've visited recently, still have flamingoes.

And the Florida State Parks map shows the wonderful sculpture at Tomoka State Park that I'm pining to visit.