Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hands Across the Sand at Lake Eola

Orlando is about an hour from the Atlantic and about an hour and a half from the Gulf. So when I heard about Hands Across the Sand, I really wanted to drive to the beach to participate in this exercise to say no to offshore oil drilling and yes to clean energy. It was pointed out, however, that I would be a hypocrite by burning a great deal of fossil fuel in driving to the coast and back. Fortunately one of the 850 world-wide locations was just a couple miles from my house at Lake Eola.

I rode my bike downtown and rushed over to the lake and found three people holding a sign at the appointed meet-up location. Soon we were joined by others until we had between 30 and 40 like-minded individuals wanting to link hands in a show of unity for clean energy. We stood on the edge of the yucky green lake water, trying to hug the shade as it was pretty warm. In fact, I must say, riding your bike at midday in the Central Florida summer is a hot and sweaty endeavor. But it felt appropriate for the statement we were trying to make. I just hope clean energy solutions of the future include air conditioning!

I've never participated in something like this before, and I must admit I was not sure what to expect. Everyone I met seemed very kind and warm and committed to making this small stand. At first, I was pretty bummed that in a region with the population of Central Florida, only three dozen or so would show up. But later I saw photos of HATS folks all over the world and realized that we were part of something much, much bigger. Thousands of people all over the world, from India to South America, from Hawaii to Alaska, linked hands at the same time we did. In some places only three people gathered, in others the line of humanity stretched beyond the lens of the camera, appearing to extend into infinity.

It has been extremely frustrating to sit and watch the oil continue to gush into the Gulf and feel like we could only sit and watch. I know that linking hands for 15 minutes on a Saturday isn't going to make that stop. But as I saw the coverage of HATS on the national news, in the New York Times and all across the Internet, I have to think a message is being sent, that people are realizing the magnitude of whats going on in the Gulf and recognizing that we have to change the way we've been operating. For 15 minutes we stood in the humid Florida heat, linked hand-in-hand with our brothers and sisters around the world, and instead of feeling powerless, we felt pretty good. I look forward to having the opportunity to do it again.

Ed, our organizer

The nasty water at Lake Eola was a pretty good substitute for the oil-spilled waters of the Gulf

Perhaps this is to keep the swans from noticing the conditions of the water?

Our unofficial HATS mascot, Daisy

Recently repaired Lake Eola Fountain

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wildwood's Cherokee Trading Posts

About this time of year in Central Florida, when it starts getting really hot and muggy, and thunderstorms roll in almost every afternoon, it seems like everything outside gets damp and melty. I stopped by the Cherokee Trading Post where the Florida Turnpike intersects with 301 in Wildwood to capture a few images of some great hand-painted signage before it melted away forever. I've watched the distinctive billboards of this roadside business slowly disappear through the years, as if nature was reclaiming the land they were erected upon. I dug through the old photo archives from the pre-digital days to see if I could find any images of said billboards but with no luck. I did, however, find some photos of the signs in better condition.

Scans from color prints from the Visual Ephemera pre-digital archives

It appears to me that the the Cherokee Trading Post has been eclipsed by one of the Indian River Citrus gift shops/convenience/store gas stations that seem to be everywhere along all Florida interstate exits. Although the Wildwood store near the Turnpike seemed like it was still open, its pulse was faint. Further west by I-75, another Trading Post has succumbed, perhaps a victim of the economy or maybe just an outdated relic of Florida's roadside past.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dickson-Azalea Park & the Washington Street Bridge

Dickson-Azalea Park is located just east of downtown Orlando near the Thorton Park neighborhood amid moss covered live oaks and quiet brick streets. I stopped there to take some pictures last weekend and then someone emailed me this comprehensive history. It's best visited in the early part of the year when the azaleas are in bloom, but when I re-visited this week it was quiet and peaceful; a green oasis of calm in the middle of the city.

The following history can be found at the Main Office of Langford Park on Central Avenue near downtown Orlando, Florida:

Orlando Historic Landmarks
The land now home to Dickson-Azalea Park was purchased in 1916 by State Senator Walter Rose. Developing this property appealed to Rose because of its natural setting, flowing creek and proximity to downtown Orlando. In November of 1916, Rose offered $25.00 in gold to the person submitting the best name for the subdivision. W.S. Branch, Sr. won the gold pieces, naming the new area 'Rosarden,' which was later changed to 'Rosearden.' He was inspired by William Shakespeare's play As You Like It in which the characters Rosalind and Orlando met in the Forest of Arden.

Rose, a prominent Orlando developer, was instrumental in the creation of Mead Gardens in Winter Park and the College Park and Orwin Manor sections of town. Rose later became leader of the State Senate. He is shown here being inaugurated in this photo from the State Archives of Florida.

Rose platted all but five acres along the east side of Fern Creek into lots for homes. The property adjacent to the creek was set aside as a park. Rose cleared the park of debris, added pathways and terraced the banks of Fern Creek. In 1924, Rose deeded the park, then on both sides of the creek and known as Fern Creek Park to the City of Orlando.

Because the City of Orlando did not have a parks department or the manpower to maintain Fern Creek Park, it became overgrown. In July of 1935, the Civitan Club appeared before the City Council and presented plans for the beautification of the park. An artist's rendering of the completed park showed how preservation of the native plants and the planting of azaleas would make the park a beautiful place. Trees and shrubs bearing berries would be planted in hopes of attaching birds and making a small bird sanctuary within the park. The Civitans also proposed that a hut for the Girl Scouts be constructed in the park so the girls could study nature. The Girl Scout House on Celia Lane was built in 1938. It was the first outdoor facility of its kind built in the United States and is still used solely for functions by the Citrus Council of Girl Scouts. They also requested that the park be named in honor of Henry Hill Dickson, pioneer Orlando businessman and advocate for the City's beautification, who was seriously ill at the time. Subsequently, City Council approved the plan for the H.H. Dickson Azalea Park.

The Civitan recruited help in many different forms. The Works Progress Administration was contracted to provide labor in the park. The Civitan Club also asked local businesses to adopt plots within the park to beautify. The Orlando Garden Club, First Methodist Church, employees of Dickson-Ives Department Store and the Sentinel Star Newspaper are some of the organizations that participated in the beautification effort.

By 1936, the Civitans had so many visitors on Spring Sundays that they could not keep count of how many were viewing the blooming azaleas. The beautification completed, the club turned the park over to the City of Orlando for upkeep and care.

The Washington Street Bridge is another significant feature of the park. By 1926 it was clear that the deteriorating wooden bridge over Washington Street could not accommodate the vehicular traffic that was increasing daily as development moved east. City Council decided to replace the structure with a modern, more durable bridge. At the same time, Washington Street was paved with brick. In July, 1926 bids were submitted by several bridge companies. A $10,400 proposal by the Concrete Steel Bridge Company of Miami Beach was chosen.

The Washington Street Bridge is a reinforced concrete, closed spandrel bridge with a brick roadway. In the late 19th century, bridge engineers began to develop designs using reinforced concrete because it was easier to construct and maintain than the traditional stone. The Washington Street Bridge has three arches with closed spandrels. The tern spandrel refers to the area on either side of the arch. In this case, the spandrels are infilled or closed, rather than being transparent, like one would find on a steel framed bridge.

The Concrete Steel Bridge Company, based in Miami Beach, constructed the Washington Street Bridge in 1926. It replaced a simple wooden bridge that carried vehicular and pedestrian traffic across the rapidly flowing Fern Creek. At the same time, the pine straw covering Washington Street was replaced with brick from Ferncreek Avenue to Hampton Street. The Concrete Steel Bridge Company also designed and built the Galveston, Texas Causeway Bridge in 1922, which is similar in design to the Washington Street Bridge and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Washington Street Bridge is unique to that it is the only bridge of it's kind in the City of Orlando. It is also located in a scenic and stable residential neighborhood. Florida currently has two other bridges on the National Register of Historic Places, the Seven-Mile Bridge in Marathon and the Bridge of Lions in Saint Augustine built in 1927.

I love this live oak between the brick street and the ravine. When I was "courting" my wife, she lived in a very Spartan condo, the polar opposite of the ephemera-filled style of living I'm used to. She had very little artwork in her home at all, however, one of her framed photographs was of this wonderful oak whose long limbs hug the ground. I think for me this represented common ground, that despite the absence of clutter around her, she cared for many of the same things I do. Turns out I was right.

Fern Creek, the water body that runs through the ravine in the park, is one of the few bodies of moving water in Orlando. Home to hundreds of lakes, there are very few creeks and branches in the city. I've tried to determine the source of the water of the creek, but as near as I can tell it is underground somewhere north of Robinson Street. The water ultimately flows under SR 408 into the wastewater treatment system near the Greenwood Cemetery. At one time the water body was prominent enough to merit naming a street after.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Urban Rookery

The whole concept of a bird rookery is relatively new to me, so I could have been around these bird-nesting magnets my whole life and not realized it. A bird rookery is an area where more than one pair of birds nest in a group. One of the most unique that I know of is on a small island just south of downtown Orlando in Lake Lucerne. It is within feet of the off ramp from SR 408 (or what old time Orlandoans know as the East-West Expressway.)

At this time of year the young birds are much older than the ones I saw at Gatorland, most of them appeared to be able to fly. They don't, however, seem to want to stray far from their nests and my guess is they may still be receiving meals from their parents.

The small island is full of tri-colored herons, great egrets, snowy egrets and ibis. In a nearby Cypress tree are some young Anhinga and it seems like the island can't hold all of the quickly maturing birds anymore, so they populate the trees along the lake's shoreline too. I was unable to see any nests, I'm guessing they must be wall-to-wall on the island's interior where I can't see. There is much commotion constantly as birds jockey for position and birds are flying in and out constantly. The worst thing about the place is the smell of guano; it will knock you over. After I left I swore I could still smell it.

But overall I'm once again amazed by this little patch of wilderness in the middle of an urban environment. And after the media barrage of birds covered in oil in the gulf, it is nice to see these cute fledglings with the last bit of down on their heads, trying to muster up the courage to go out in the world on their own.