Monday, February 15, 2010

Ocala roadside retro

I'm a member of the Society of Commercial Archeology and as a result I like to search out relics from America's roadside past. I've been on tours that followed the Lincoln Highway in Nevada and most recently followed Route 66 in New Mexico. So I'm always up for a little roadside exploration in my home state.

Ocala is a great place for roadside archeology because of the longtime attraction of Silver Springs to tourists. US 441, a major pre-interstate artery to the north, bisects Ocala, and Silver Springs Boulevard leads travelers to the famed attraction from 441. Over the years restaurants, motels and even other attractions popped up along Silver Springs Boulevard, and some of them have survived over time.

On my most recent visit my first roadside retro stop was Lorito's Italian Restaurant. And yes I ate there because of the sign. My guess is that Lorito's has been around since the 1960s. It has that great neighborhood restaurant feel you'll never find in an Olive Garden. The front room has a wonderful, dusty old menu board and fast food-type booths, but the back room has dark paneling, dangling plastic grapes, hanging Chianti bottles, a Mona Lisa reproduction and everything else you want in a quintessential old school Italian restaurant. The pizza oven looks very well used and we enjoyed our meal there.

The shadow from the neon is not real, but part of the sign which has been covered with digital output rather than repainted.

As you travel west on Silver Springs Boulevard, you approach the area that used to have one of my favorite childhood attractions, Six Gun Territory. It's a shopping center now, but there are a few reminders of the old west style attraction still hanging on. The best example of this is the Stage Stop Motel and Restaurant. Obviously, a shell of what they were in their heyday, the "Stops" are hanging in these tough economic times. I am particularly intrigued by the restaurant and hope to try it some time.

Wonderful outdoor mid-century light fixture has seen better days

As you approach Silver Springs some great vintage Florida Motels reveal themselves. Their age is well evidenced by the decay of some of the facilities and in the case of the Sun Plaza, the Live Oaks have grown over the top of the wonderful neon sign. While I'm not sure I'd stay at some of these places, I'm glad they still exist and that there are alternatives to the vanilla standardized chain motels that are clustered around the interstate. If we can preserve some of these unique mid-century roadside gems, our state will remain colorful and interesting for future "roadside archaeologists" to discover.


  1. Glad to hear that I'm not the only one to eat in a restaurant because of the sign outside. I'm already mentally planning our next visit to FL, driving this time, so thanks for the tips! I went on a SCA diner tour in Mass years ago but would love to check out another sometime soon!

  2. Beautiful photos. I lived in Ocala as a kid, and my brother still lives there. I've stayed at the Sun Plaza in Silver Springs many times, and it's always enjoyable.

    As a kid, I was fascinated by Six Gun Territory, and was sad to see it go. Legend has it that the 'mountains' of the train station still stand in the woods behind the commercial property, as do the stone streets of the ghost town---although I've never been back there to look!

    There is a twin to Lorito's in Gainesville on South Main Street, about 40 miles North of least, the signs are the same type, even if the names are different.

  3. Wow! I hadn't thought about Six Gun Territory in years! Thank you for this neat post. Though I am nowhere nearby, Ghostsoldier's comment about what may remain of ol' Six Gun is very evocative.

  4. To the west of the shopping mall where Six Gun used to be, I did spot a dirt road going back behind it.

  5. Great post! Really makes me want to take a trip to the sunshine state. Also love how the "S" in Springside is a seahorse. That's graphic design!

  6. Ghostsoldier: I'd love to know the name of the restaurant or a closer approximation of where the "twin" sign to Lorito's is.

    The info I have is that the Lorito's sign is from 1973 but I'm suspicious that it's older than that.

    The SunDays Motel (also Ocala) has a sun just like the SunPlaza Motel sign. I don't know if they were related.

  7. Another Great Post !!