Monday, May 31, 2010

Bubbling over

Behind our our house is a lake too small for any kind of motorized watercraft, so apart from an occasional canoe, it is left mostly to the birds, fish, turtles and otters whose ancestors have inhabited the place much longer than people have. Guarding the lake's edge are ancient live oaks and a couple of really old cypress trees. I guess my perspective is that there is something enduring about this little body of water, and while we are here it is our job to fit in with the other inhabitants and try to ensure that it remains healthy for future generations. From the day I moved here, I have felt like I was a steward, not an owner of this little bit of heaven, and I want to make sure that nothing I do has an adverse effect on its ecosystem. So I endure my neighbors thinly veiled, passive aggressive comments about my grass, because I don't want to dump a bunch of fertilizer on my lawn and find a fish kill the next day because the fertilizer spawned an algae bloom. The peace and serenity my wife and I take from the lake and its critters is priceless.

So it is beyond belief to me, that there is such a lack of environmental stewardship occurring to one of Florida's greatest natural resources, the Gulf of Mexico. Anyone who has ever walked on a beach from the sugar white shores of Pensacola to the shell-strewn sands of Sanibel Island, knows the unmatched beauty of the Gulf. I think generally most Floridians are angered by the oil spill but we really don't know what to do. I was ready to rush over to Tampa Bay and help clean up birds and/or beaches, but the oil has not washed up there yet. I considered boycotting BP, but I don't normally buy gas there anyway, and according to an article in today's paper, all the stations are locally owned and any boycotts would hurt those owners, not the corporation responsible for the spill. And I'm nervous that hurricane season officially starts tomorrow and that any kind of tropical weather will only further delay BP's impotent attempts to stop the oil gushing into our waters. As I a Floridian who has found profound peace and connection on Florida's Gulf shores, I'm angry, frustrated and deeply saddened that this environmental disaster continues to unfold, with no end in sight.

Below are images of the what is at risk.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Fantastic Facades of Kress

I've noticed that when I have three of something it's like the roots of a collection have started to develop and before I know it I'm looking for more. When I realized the other day I had shot details from Kress facades in three separate towns, I decided it was time to learn more about the popular department store chain with the wonderful storefronts.

According to the website of the National Building Museum, it was the vision of Samuel H. Kress that led to so many significant structures in so many different towns, as he saw his stores as "public art that would contribute to the cityscape." A branding innovator, Kress hired staff architects that created buildings that were "integral parts of their business districts and helped define Main Street America." The carefully designed structures in a variety of styles became landmarks in their towns and were celebrated as "beacons of prosperity and progress, exemplars of urban art, and sources of municipal pride." Between 1896 and 1955 Kress built 250 stores in 29 states notes, where you can find images of many of them, including the ones in Florida.

The head architect at Kress was Edward F. Sibbert who is responsible for over fifty art deco masterpieces across the country, including the one in downtown Orlando. The Kress foundation website claims "Sibbert's buildings streamlined the Kress image with a sleek buff modernity, the lavish use of terracotta ornament, and strong verticals supporting the golden letters “Kress”.

Orlando, FL

The Kress in downtown Orlando is an "L" shaped building that has facades on both Orange Avenue and Church Street. The elevation is essentially the same on both fronts although the Church Street side is composed of smaller bricks, perhaps because Orange Avenue was Orlando's main street at the time. Built in 1935 the structure is "veneered with granite and ornamented with imaginative polychromatic terra cotta elements" according to Orlando History in Architecture.

Here are some other Kress locations I haven't photographed yet:

Tampa, FL
Images courtesy drewcjm via Flickr

Lakeland, FL
Images courtesy drewcjm via FlickrState Archives of Florida

Sarasota, FL State Archives of Florida

Image ©

Daytona Beach, FL State Archives of Florida

Image ©

Jacksonville, FL State Archives of Florida

Image ©

Here are the other two I've photographed:

Savannah, GA

Asheville, NC

I worked a block away from the downtown Orlando Kress for almost nine years, but hadn't really noticed the details until I took these photos. Next time you're in an old downtown and a colorful architectural detail catches your eye, take some time and really study it: it might be one of the amazing Kress facades!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Silver Springs slide

From the Vintage Ephemera archives comes this image of my mother and her mother, Marvel Jones, at Silver Springs. As a kid I was fascinated with my grandmother's attic in Michigan, (growing up in a suburban Florida ranch house, basements and attics were exotic to me.) I remember climbing up the narrow steps of the attic was like entering a time machine, as it was full of fascinating items from the past. Full of vintage ephemera. Today I sit in an attic in Florida, surrounded by stuff from Marvel's Michigan house and I wonder what she was thinking as she contemplated the underwater view at Silver Springs.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Change & constancy in downtown Orlando

When Orlando exploded with growth after the Mouse came to town in the early '70s, much of the of the city's historic architecture was lost in the name of progress. Preservationists never recovered from the loss of an entire downtown block to a wrecking ball minutes after a quick vote in city hall was railroaded through the city council. As I pedaled my bike through downtown Orlando on the bike trip I started documenting on a previous post, I found some great architectural gems in transition, and some enduring despite great odds.

As I approached downtown from the north, I stopped at one of Orlando's best Streamline Moderne structures, the former WDBO building, which has sat vacant for quite some time now. WDBO, which began broadcasting at Rollins College in Winter Park in 1924, built the studio on Ivanhoe Blvd. in 1947 and broadcast there for almost forty years. The AM station continues to broadcast today from another location, while the building sporting its call letters continues to decay.

Who says fur is dead? LaBelle Furs has been in business since in Orlando since 1919. I've never seen the elegant condensed font of their neon sign lit up, but it's one of my favorites and one of very few neon signs left in downtown.

Further south St. James Cathedral is starting to show the original Donovan Dean designed facade after years of being covered up. The modified Romanesque design was completed in January 1952 and the current restoration has a $10 million dollar price tag.

Located nearby is the charming Dr. Phillips Building, a Mediterranean Revival style commercial building named after Dr. Philip P. Phillips. The Dr. Phillips website claims "once considered the largest citrus producer in the world, Dr. Phillips left a legacy that has spanned several generations culminating in the establishment of Dr. Phillips Charities, comprised of The Dr. P. Phillips Foundation and Dr. Phillips Inc." The Dr. Phillips Charities is gigantic force for good in Central Florida, but I can't figure out why their namesake building sits closed up like this.

This building, adjacent to the 1920s Autrey Arcade, (and perhaps part of it), looked destined for demolition last year but now appears to be undergoing renovation.

The Tinker Building, built in 1925 by Hall of Fame baseball player turned developer Joe Tinker, is on the National Register for Historic Places. According to Orlando History in Architecture, it has a "bold, small, highly contrived facade using all the popular building materials of the day: brick, cut and pressed stone, colored glazed tile, stained glass and wood." This beautiful little building, renovated in 1980, is currently for rent.

On Church Street, the former Slemons Department Store, known more recently as Rosie O'Grady's Goodtime Emporium, awaits a buyer. After the attraction known as Church Street Station shut down, the individual buildings comprising the complex were leased out and the one time Dixieland Jazz haven became a comedy club. Despite the apparent success of the tapas restaurant Cerviche in the space formerly occupied by Apple Annie's Courtyard and Lili Marlene's Aviators Pub & Restaurant, Rosies sits vacant. My guess is that as the new zillion dollar basketball arena located just on the the other side of the interstate nears completion, someone will see an opportunity in opening a club or restaurant in the historic space.

In addition to the arena, the other project the city wants to build is a new performing arts center and this mid-century masterpiece is in the way. The Central Florida Modern group organized a competition in 2008 "for the preservation of the precast concrete curtain wall of the American Federal building aka the Coral Gables building." There were some incredibly creative entries submitted from all over the world, and the winner received the appropriately round figure of $360. The organization's intent was to "inspire the City Of Orlando, owner of the building, to take care and save the pre-cast brise soleil pieces by removing them off the building prior to demolition so that private funds can be raised to implement one of the winning designs." I have heard no plans by the city to preserve any part of the building, as Orlando's downtown constantly evolves in an ever unpredictable fashion...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hot Happenings at the Howey Mansion

I first learned of the Howey Mansion through the photostream of Black Doll, one of my Flickr contacts who very artistically photographs and accurately documents the architecture of the past in Florida and parts of the South. An article in the newspaper alerted me that the vacant home was hosting an estate sale and I knew I could not miss this opportunity to see this unique property from Florida's early 20th century past. It was a hot and humid afternoon on the final day of the sale when Mrs. Ephemera and I lined up with hundreds of other folks to shuffle past the lamps, knick-knacks, and the few pieces of furniture that survived the first two days of the extravaganza.

Cars packed the spacious grounds of the fantastic estate and I was amazed that so many people had come out to the tiny little town in Lake County to look at old stuff. It was clear to me immediately that many, like myself, were more interested in the house than the stuff packed inside. In fact so many people were taking pictures that it was hard to walk through any of the five rooms that were open to the public without getting in someone's shot.

Upon entering under a gorgeous stained glass window, a curved staircase hugs the curve of a stone wall, forcing your eye up to an incredible chandelier. The town website adds: "The wall surface of the foyer and lower hall is of Florentine beige marble squares so expertly joined that on first inspection they appear to be of one mass."

From the foyer, you could go to a huge room to the right, a small library straight ahead, or a small dining room to the left. All the rest of the rooms were off limits. The spaces were dark and mysterious despite it being a bright afternoon, and I'm guessing the house was reasonably cool in the days before air conditioning. The interiors reminded me a great deal of the rooms created by builder/artist Sam Stoltz but on a much larger scale. Friends noticed that all the drapery appeared to be original, I was mesmerized by the all the pecky cypress doors and beams throughout every inch of the place.

The web page dedicated to the mansion on the town's website eloquently describes the space thusly:
"Three immense fireplaces, a ballroom-size drawing room, massive beamed ceilings and the servant call-bell phone system are not surprising architectural styles and convenience refinements to see in a house of this size. The unexpected is what delights the eye and creates visual images. For instance, a cozy breakfast room is built in the tower on the backside of the mansion, entered midway up the main staircase and serviced by an enclosed stairway and dumb waiter from the butler’s pantry on the first floor...."

Outside a narrow staircase leading from the back of the house allowed access to a patio with a view of the courtyard. The courtyard's focal point is a lily-filled pond with a delicate mermaid statue raising a shell to the sky from which water apparently used to flow. A small plaque in the garden reads:

The Howey Mansion was the 1925 home to William J. Howey, a land promoter who purchased 60,000 acres of Lake County, the center of which was to become Howey-in-the Hills. The land, purchased for less than $10 an acre, was cleared, planted with citrus trees and then resold for between $800 and $2000 an acre. He opened the Floridian Hotel in Howey-in-the-Hills in 1924, incorporated the town in 1925 and saw his holdings triple during the Florida and boom of the 1920s. When the Howey Mansion was completed in 1927, a mere 15,000 people were invited for an outdoor performance of the New York Civic Opera Company.

A rare shot of the mansion before it was covered with vines.

The view from the Howey Mansion in 1928.
Today it sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The Floridian Hotel, today incorporated as part of the Mission Inn.

Howey had a nose for politics and he unsuccessfully ran for governor twice in 1928 and 1932. Among the famous politicians he entertained at the mansion were Kansas governor and presidential candidate Alf Landon and President Calvin Coolidge. Howey died in Lake County in 1938 and is buried in a small mausoleum somewhere on the mansion's 15-acre grounds. We searched in vain for the crypt but were unable to locate it.

Miami offices of William Howey's gubernatorial election campaign.

Rumor has it that the house is to be renovated and used for weddings. Restoring this Mediterranean Revival beauty is taunting task as it is very apparent much work needs to be done. But I'm optimistic that such a venture would be successful, for when I attended a wedding across the street at the Mission Inn earlier in the month, three other weddings were being held at simultaneously. So there appears to be a market for it. I wish them well!

Archival images from the State Archives of Florida