Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fortune Street Bridge Article

The Jan/Feb 2007 issue of Cigar City Magazine hit the streets this week, with an article I wrote about the Fortune Street Bridge. (That's the bridge over the Hillsborough River between downtown Tampa and West Tampa, just to the south of I-275).

Cigar City Magazine is all about Tampa history, and appeals to people who live here, grew up here, visited here, like cigars, or just like history. You can get the magazine free at Tampa restaurants, hotels, and shops, or you can pay for home delivery. Back issues and t-shirts are also available. The magazine just opened up a new office in Ybor, across the street from the Ybor City State Museum, and next door to an art gallery and the treAmici coffee bar in the old Bunker. These businesses are examples of reusing historic buildings, the magazine and art gallery being in historic houses moved here as part of the I-4 widening project.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Florida Movies

I just used a gift card to buy Sunshine in the Dark: Florida in the Movies, by Susan J. Fernandez and Robert P. Ingalls (University Press of Florida, 2006). I've been wanting to read this for awhile, since I was a student in Dr. Fernandez's "Florida in Film" class at USF when the book was still a draft. I'm not a big movie goer, but my favorite Florida flicks are The Cocoanuts, Sunshine State, and Adaptation.

Here's a St. Petersburg Times review of Sunshine in the Dark, and a link to video of the authors discussing their book on the Olde Florida Network (scroll down to entries for Oct. 8 through 12, 2006).

More Florida Blogs

Sarasota Livin'

Sarasota Neighborhoods

Pure Florida

Disney History

Celebration, Florida

Floridiana Gloriana

Riverside Avondale Preservation

The Minorcan Factor

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Update on Marjory Stoneman Douglas House

Approximately 100 "Marching Marjorys" with "cotton dresses, thick eyeglasses and ... trademart straw hats" plan to march in this year's King Mango Strut, protesting the proposed move of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas' Coconut Grove House. (see previous post)

Florida newspapers are reporting further details about the proposed move and the swirling debate between the people who want to preserve the house at its original site, the people who want to preserve the house at a new site, and the people who just want the house gone.

"Everglades Crusader's Cottage Spurs Fight" (Orlando Sentinel, Dec. 25, 2006)

"History on the Move" (The Ledger, Dec. 27, 2006)

"Local Perspectives" (Miami Herald, Dec. 9, 2006)

"Conserving the Conservationist" (St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 20, 2006)

Link to Historic American Building Survey documentation of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas House, which includes 8 pages of drawings.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Bibliography includes a section "Saving Marjory Stoneman Douglas' Home," with a link to photographs of the house.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New York Times Visits Ed Watson

The New York Times Travel section online features the story of author Paul Schneider's journey to Mister Watson's Place in Everglades National Park ("Peter Mattheissen's Florida: Tracking a Tale of Violence Into the Everglades," posted Dec. 24, 2006). It's an interesting tale, wherein Schneider drives southward through Florida to Chokoloskee, then canoes to the former homestead of notorious Ed Watson, central to Mattheissen's trilogy of historical novels, Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone.

Schneider himself has a recent new book -- Brutal Journey, about the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca's journey from Florida to Texas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Get Out of the House!

School's out, the kids are underfoot. Out-of-town relatives are here, escaping the northern tundra (they're underfoot as well). Get out of the house! Winter is why we live in Florida!

1. Go to Tarpon Springs. Take a sponge-diving exhibition tour on the St. Nicholas Boat Line. Visit the sponge docks, and have a great Greek dinner, finished off by honey-soaked pastries. Opa!

2. Go to Hillsborough River State Park. Miles of trails to wear out those kids, and lots of alligators to delight the Yankees. Cool 1930s picnic pavilions, and suspension bridge over the river. Depending on when you go, Fort Foster (a restoration Seminole war fort) may be open (check in advance).

3. Take the little ones to Dinosaur World just off I-10 near Plant City. (The web site says pets on leashes welcome. How might your dog react to a tricerotops? Could be interesting.) Then take the little ones and the big ones down the road to the Branch Ranch for a hearty country-style family meal.

4. How about a jungle theme?

Monkey Jungle in Miami, "Where Humans are Caged, and Monkeys Run Wild."

Parrot Jungle, also in Miami

Sarasota Jungle Gardens

5. Or a militaristic attitude?

National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola

Fort Christmas, not too far from Orlando

Fort Clinch State Park near Fernandina Beach

Fort DeSoto and Egmont Key State Park at the mouth of Tampa Bay

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The St. Johns, River of Lakes

I was recently pointed towards a new website about the St. Johns River, or more specifically, the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor. It's a nice, informative website, but with a rather nostalgic air.

For another approach to the river, try River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida's St. Johns River, by Bill Belleville. In this book, Belleville travels down the full length of the river, giving the reader a natural and cultural history of the waterway along the way.

The website and the book share a common goal, as expressed by Belleville in the introduction to River of Lakes:

"... you might even feel the urge to put the book down and go out on the river to see it for yourself. I hope so -- because I believe we don't protect what we don't value. And one of the surest ways to value any place is to connect with it, even if only a little bit."

Both the book and the website will give you practical information on how you can visit the river, and make that personal connection.

Happy 93rd Birthday, Lafayette Street Bridge!

In 1913, Tampa was a bustling, prosperous town with new houses, new stores, and a new bridge over the Hillsborough River at Lafayette Street. This bridge was actually the third one built at Lafayette Street, but the previous two could not keep up with the growing city. Early in 1913, construction began on a modern, reinforced concrete arch bridge, with Mediterranean-styled balustrades and bridge tender houses. The local papers updated their readers practically every day on the bridge’s progress, as dirt, concrete, and steel coalesced. By early December, the bridge was nearly finished, but the city’s political and business leaders postponed the formal opening ceremony until February 1914, during the Gasparilla Festival. But on December 20, 1913, when the city declared the Lafayette Street Bridge open for traffic, there was still a celebration. City officials, engineers, and newspapermen filled the first streetcar over the bridge; Miss Maybury (who worked for Tampa Electric) was the first paying passenger. It had been seventeen months since the last streetcar crossed the river at Lafayette Street. The U.S. Government’s launch DeSoto was the first boat under the bridge, Hugh Macfarlane drove the first automobile over the bridge, and Everett Snow was the first to cross on a motorcycle. That same day the Tampa Electric Company opened its new office building to the public, displaying Christmas trees glittering with tiny colorful lights. While Tampa’s citizens were thrilled to have a functional bridge again, the men who had worked on it for the past year and a half were happier to be going home for the holidays.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Some Swampland in Florida

Water, wetlands, and swamps -- Florida doesn't have a complete monopoly on these, but our state's sogginess has shaped its past and seeps into its future.

A special online report from the St. Petersburg Times:

Vanishing Wetlands.

A couple of sites about the Green Swamp:

Interactive Green Swamp from the Southwest Florida Water Management District

Green Swamp River Project from the University of South Florida -St. Petersburg's Florida Studies Program.

Some books about Florida wetlands and swamps:

The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, by Michael Grunwald (Simon and Schuster, 2006)

Swamp Song: A Natural History of Florida's Swamps, by Ron Larson (University Press of Florida, 1995)

Down to the Waterline: Boundaries, Nature, and the Law in Florida, by Sara Warner (University of Georgia Press, 2005)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Road Trip to Bartow

Earlier this week I went to Bartow to do some research at the Polk County Courthouse. There's no really good or easy way to get from Tampa to Bartow, and although the odometer told me the entire drive was only 101 miles, it felt epic.

A few things caught my eye along State Road 60, including the Valrico fire lookout tower. Lookout towers used to help rangers keep an eye on Florida's forests and groves, but now development is squeezing out the trees. (Tampa completely surrounds the Hamner Fire Lookout Tower, which is a Hillsborough County historic landmark.)

East of Valrico, the fields are geared up, and roadside stands offer strawberries and poinsettias. I saw one of those yellow county land use hearing signs in the grove next to Ruby Williams' place. But I was on the highway,driving too fast to see what it said.

Each time I drive through Mulberry I think that I should visit the Phosphate Museum.

In Bartow, renovations of the Old Polk County Courthouse are continuing, with scaffolding spiraling around the cupola. The old courthouse is home to the Polk County Historical Museum and the Polk County Historical and Genealogical Library. I picked up some good research leads at the library, and some stocking stuffers at the museum's gift shop.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

DIY Movie Theater

Yesterday the Tampa Downtown Partnership's Monday Morning Memo reported that the TV show "DIY to the Rescue" is coming to the Tampa Theatre. They will be filming renovations at the theater for an upcoming episode, including two dressing rooms and the green room.

The Tampa Theatre is a 1926 movie palace designed by architect John Eberson, who was noted for his use of the atmospheric style. The atmospheric theaters, particularly popular in the 1920s, created scenes (or atmospheres) that allowed the moviegoer to imagine they had been transported to another land. Eberson also designed the Olympia Theatre in Miami, and the Polk Theatre in Lakeland and the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville have Eberson connections.

The League of Historic American Theaters maintains a list of Florida sites. Also recommended, Janna Jones’ book The Southern Movie Palace: Rise, Fall, and Resurrection (University Press of Florida, 2003).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hot Times in the Cold War

Melvin and Maria Mininson honeymooned in a Miami bomb shelter in June 1959. Chosen from over 100 couples, the newlyweds spent two encapsulated weeks as a publicity stunt sponsored by a shelter manufacturer.

There are small bomb shelters and fallout shelters all over Florida, part of the state’s Cold war legacy. Periodically local media report on some of these, such as this Creative Loafing story about a South Tampa bomb shelter. The best-known shelter in the state is President Kennedy’s Peanut Island site near Palm Beach, now open to the public, under the management of the Palm Beach Maritime Museum.
Even before the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Florida was an active participant in the Cold War. The National Park Service’s report Cold War in South Florida Historical Resource Study presents a historical overview, and an inventory and descriptions of Cold War properties in the Sunshine State.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Horse Racing in Tampa

Under the clear blue skies that make Florida so popular with winter residents, Tampa Bay Downs kicked off its 2006-2007 season of thoroughbred horse racing today. The feature race was the 22nd running of the Inaugural Stakes, won by Dream of Angels.

Soldiers stationed at Fort Brooke during the 1820s ran the first horse races in Tampa. Nearly 70 years later Tampa’s first race track opened in Spanish Park, east of Ybor City. Then, in 1896, Henry Plant built a half-mile race track at the Tampa Bay Hotel. The idea was that the southern winter resort would offer amusements similar to those found at northern summer resorts. Within a few years, races at the Tampa Bay Hotel track were run in conjunction with the state fair.

In 1909 several local businessmen came together to build a new, longer (one-mile) track in West Tampa, hoping to attract more and better horses. Competion with Moncrief Park in Jacksonville was stiff, but both the Moncrief and West Tampa tracks struggled when anti-gambling campaigns intensified. In 1911, the Florida Legislature made bookmaking illegal. On March 30, 1911, the West Tampa track’s grandstand and sheds burned, and soon thereafter, Moncrief closed. Horse racing was still legal in Florida, and it still took place in Tampa at the fairgrounds, but on a much smaller scale.

Not until after World War I did Florida horse racing experience a resurgence. In the 1920s, tourism and development shifted from north Florida to south Florida, and the horses followed. Miami became the state’s racing capital. In 1926, Tampa’s fourth race track, Tampa Downs, opened briefly to challenge Hialeah. Racing was very sporadic in Tampa until 1947, when Tampa Downs was reorganized as Sunshine Park. In the 1960s, the track was known as Florida Downs, and in 1980 received its current name of Tampa Bay Downs.

(One of my current research topics is thoroughbred racing in Tampa before World War I. I’d love to hear from anyone with photographs, programs, or stories about the old tracks.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Riverview High School

SAVE Riverview is a blog dedicated to preserving Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida, a landmark of the Sarasota School of Architecture. Today's blog entry was about a documentary filmed last week about the high school and the grass-roots preservation effort. To learn more about the Sarasota School of Architecture, visit this website presented by the Sarasota County History Center. Also, Tampa architect John Howey is the author of The Sarasota School of Architecture, 1941-1966 (The MIT Press, 1997).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

STS-116 Space Shuttle Discovery

Back in the day, when we lived in the country, we sat by the lake and watched the space shuttle take off. While daytime launches are amazing, nighttime launches are awesome. An artificial sunrise glows on the horizon, as the biggest firework ever arches through the sky. And that’s from 100 miles away.

NASA plans to launch the space shuttle Discovery tonight around 9:30pm. The best seats are at Kennedy Space Center (it’s too late to get tickets for today, but here’s where to get them for the next launch). Along the Indian River in Titusville and along the Atlantic Ocean in Cocoa Beach are also popular viewing spots. I’ll be watching from Tampa. (You can see daytime launches from here as well.) The launch isn’t as impressive without the earth-rumbling sound, but just think about that for a minute – unless it’s a cloudy sky, I should be able to see it in Tampa. All the way across the state. Isn’t that just a little scary?

The launch coverage page has extensive information on mission STS-116, including a link to the launch blog, where starting at 3:30pm Dec. 7, you should be able to find live coverage.

The shuttle program, and the space program in general, is of national and even international importance. However, this is also a significant part of Florida’s history, events that transformed the quiet, citrus groves of Brevard County into the booming Space Coast. To learn more about that transformation, read William B. Faherty’s book Florida’s Space Coast: The Impact of NASA on the Sunshine State (University Press of Florida, 2002).

Of course, being in Florida, the Kennedy Space Center's visitor center has a theme-park atmosphere, boasting a two-story gift shop, IMAX theater, and an interactive Astronaut Training Experience. Instead of Breakfast with Mickey, there are Astronaut Encounters. Bus tours take you near the shuttle launch pads or to the historic moon mission launch pads. It is an interesting short weekend getaway for families with children 8 and up (younger ones might get bored).

Trivia for the Day: The first nighttime shuttle launch was August 30, 1983, when Challenger lifted off for Mission STS-8. On board was astronaut Guy Bluford, the first African American in space.


Update: After the launch was scrubbed Thursday night, Saturday night's attempt went off beautifully. From Tampa, the sky glowed orange and yellow on the horizon, then a small orange comet rose into the sky. With binoculars, I saw what looked like the boosters separating and falling away.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Historic Campus Architecture

I'm willing to guess that for many, many people across the state or even the nation, if asked to name a "historic college campus," few would think of a Florida school. Quick, try this -- name three historic Florida universities. . . .

Fortunately, there is the Council of Independent College's Historic Campus Architecture Project (HCAP) to help. This program, funded by Getty Foundation grants, has compiled a database of historic architecture and landscapes on campuses across the United States, including eight in Florida:

Edward Waters College,
Flagler College,
Florida Southern College,
Jacksonville University,
Palm Beach Atlantic University,
Rollins College,
Saint Leo University, and
Stetson University.

According to the HCAP website, "This project presents information about significant buildings, landscapes, campus plans, and heritage sites of American higher education and identifies sources for further research." The site allows searches by state, campus, type or style of building, time period, and other categories. A searchable bibliography is also available. An underlying purpose of the project is to make the information available to university planners.

Other Florida universities that have compiled information about historic architecture on campus and made it available on the Internet are:

University of South Florida,

University of Florida, and

Florida State University.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Southeast Seminole Heights Home Tour

The afternoon was warm, but that didn't keep people away from the Southeast Seminole Heights Third Annual Historic Home & Garden Tour. It did make the ice-cold bottles of water on every porch a welcome touch, as were the air-conditioned bright pink shuttle buses. The tour started at the Seminole Heights Baptist Church, which has that fantastic white steeple so familiar to Tampa commuters along I-275. The tour highlighted 10 bungalows, and their proud owners. Each tour guest received a glossy brochure, with a map and information about each stop (for example, for #11, we learned that the house's original owner died on a Wednesday in 1928 when he tripped on a bedroom rug and broke his neck. While that may have given some of us reason to pause, his widow lived in the house another 28 years.)

Another fun moment: walking out the door of one house and being greeted by a cheer-leading squad complete with blue uniforms emblazoned with Lions, chanting: "To let you know our neighborhood, Seminole Heights, is the best."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Holiday Events

Here’s a list of some of the special holiday events and tours scheduled for historic neighborhoods and museums around the state. Add a comment if you would like to add your event!

Museums or Historic Sites with Holiday Events or Displays

Heritage Holidays at Historic Spanish Point in Sarasota. Dec. 2, 3, 9, and 10, with additional times for other daily tours and performances.

Holiday Open House at the Knott House Museum in Tallahassee 6-9pm Sat Dec 2

Victorian Christmas Stroll at the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa through Dec 23, 10am to 8pm daily.

Festival of the Trees at the Powel Crosley Estate in Bradenton, through Dec. 7, 11am – 8pm, afternoon tea available.

Holiday Splendor at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, 6-9pm Dec. 14

Holidays at the Waterhouse in Maitland, Nov. 16-Jan 14

Christmas at Pinewood (Historic Bok Sanctuary) Nov. 24 – Jan. 1, Monday through Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 1 – 5pm

Leu Garden’s Holiday House in Orlando, Nov. 23 – Jan 2, 10am – 3:30pm

Historic Home Tours

Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association’s 3rd Annual Homes for the Holidays Sunday Dec. 3 in Tampa

Brevard Heritage Council’s Heritage Holiday Home Tour in Cocoa, Sat. Dec. 2 1-5pm. For info call 633-1456 or 646-6751.

Maitland Historical Society’s Holiday Homes Tour Dec. 9, 2-6pm

Lake Park Historical Society’s Historic Homes Holiday Tour Dec. 3, 2-6pm

Victoria Park Civic Association’s Holiday Home Tour, Dec. 2 and 3, call 954-467-2008.

Punta Gorda Garden Club’s Historic Home Tour, Noon-5pm, Dec 1 and 2.