Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Eatonville's Hungerford School

This week, Orlando papers and tv news programs are reporting that the Orange County school board may close the Robert Hungerford Preparatory High School in Eatonville.

Eatonville is widely known as Zora Neale Hurston's hometown, and the source of many of her plays and novels. However, the town has a rich heritage over and beyond its role in literary history.

Eatonville is one of several African American towns settled across the United States after the Civil War, incorporated in 1887. All of the town's officials and residents were black. The Hungerford School was established in 1889, modeled after Alabama's Tuskegee Institute. The school was named after Dr. Robert Hungerford, a white physician living in Maitland who had been teaching reading and writing to local black men. The Hungerford School was founded by a young couple, Russell and Mary Calhoun; Russell Calhoun was a Tuskegee graduate. After Robert Hungerford died of typhoid fever in 1888, his son gave Calhoun 40 acres for a new school for African Americans.

The school's purpose was to educate African American boys and girls (through 12th grade), with a curriculum of literacy, vocational, and life skills. Students lived on campus, and were assigned jobs or chores. The school's campus included a dairy, chicken coops, gardens, classrooms, boy's and girl's dormitories, and a manual arts building. Classes were taught in blacksmithing, agriculture, carpentry, dressmaking, cooking, and housekeeping. As the twentieth century progressed, classes in technical subjects such as mechanical drawing and radio were added.

In 1950, the Hungerford School became a public school administered by the Orange County School Board. Old, original campus buildings were replaced by new buildings. Today, the school still occupies a large parcel of land in Eatonville, just on the east side of I-4.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Batter Up

It's Spring Training time in Florida. This year, I'm going to a Toronto Blue Jays game at Knology Park in Dunedin (I've never been, I like rooting for the underdog, and I hear it's a nice place to watch a game). And if I don't go to a L. A. Dodgers game in Vero Beach this year, I definitely will next year, because 2008 will be the team's last year for spring training at Dodgertown.

Here's an assortment of links:

Florida Sports Foundation Spring Training Guide

"Babe Ruth and His Record 'Home Run' at Tampa" (pdf through USF Libraries) by James Covington

Newspaper Articles

"Catch the Crosley Mansion" (Cincinnati Enquirer)

"Boys of Spring" (Miami Herald)


7000 Clams, by Lee Irby

Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training, by Chris Lamb

Baseball in Florida, by Kevin McCarthy

Thursday, February 22, 2007

History Starts at 50?

What do Tampa's Kiley Garden, Jacksonville's Haydon Burns Library, Sarasota's Paul Rudolph buildings, and Miami's Stiltsville have in common?

They're all less than 50 years old, yet considered by some to be historically significant.

So what?

To be considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, a historic property (i.e., building, bridge, park, etc.) should meet several criteria. Generally, a historic property would need to be 50 years old to be considered significant. The 50-year mark does not automatically bestow historical significance, and fifty years is an arbitrary date, but the idea is that five decades will give historians enough perspective to evaluate a property rationally and accurately.

If a building does not meet the criteria set forth by the Secretary of the Interior, then it is not considered significant, and is not considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register does provide an "out" for less-than-50-year-old buildings -- the property may be considered eligible if it has "exceptional" significance.

An example of a property in Florida less than 50 years old and listed on the National Register due to exceptional significance is the Cape Canaveral space center.

The most effective protection for historic buildings is often at the local level. Some local governments use the National Register criteria to evaluate significance, yet hesitate to extend preservation protections to properties less than 50 years in age.

The four properties listed above faced this challenge with varying degrees of success. The Kiley Garden is in disarray. Many of the original Stiltsville buildings are gone, and what remains may not be enough to ensure its survival. Debate currently swirls in Sarasota around Riverview High School, designed by Paul Rudolph. Jacksonville declined to grant landmark status to its 1965 modern-style library. A new library has been built downtown, and the city is working on a redevelopment project for the Haydon Burns Library building.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mrs. Cooper's House

Here's another post card. On this one, someone wrote "Mrs. Cooper's House" in the upper corner with a little arrow pointing to a big white house with green awnings on a lake. The card is titled just "Beautiful Residences in Florida," with no other hints as to where this might be. However, there were quite a few Sebring postcards with this when I got it. So I went to my handy-dandy bookshelf, and pulled out Stephen Olausen's Sebring, City on the Circle (St. Augustine: Southern Heritage Press, 1993) and flipped through the index. Turns out more there's been more than one Mrs. Cooper in Sebring, but fortunately the book has lots of photos. And I was right, this was a postcard of Sebring.

Mrs. Mary B. Cooper of Virginia built this house at 507 Lakeview Drive in the early 1920s. However, according to Olausen, while this house is a nice example of Mediterranean Revival architecture, it is more significant as the home of Dr. Harold V. Weems. It seems that while working in a Georgia hospital, Dr. Weems contracted a bad case of blood poisoning. His friend Dr. Frank Manley, who had a drug store in Sebring, suggested Weems recouperate in sunny Florida. And he did. Dr. Weems ended up staying here, and opened the first hospital in Sebring. Later, he bought Mrs. Cooper's house.

Of course, we are left to wonder who bought this card and labeled the house, and who they sent it to. Were they friends of Mrs. Cooper's? Was this a bit of gossip? And who lived next door to Mrs. Cooper? (Evidently someone unimportant to the postcard annotator.)

Again, Olausen's book has the answer to at least one of those questions. The white house with the red roof belonged to H. Orvel Sebring. The house was built in 1919, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An Ohio native, Orvel (along with his father) founded the town of Sebring. The house was designed by M. Leo Elliot, who may be best known for his Tampa projects, which include City Hall, Centro Asturiano, and the Italian Club.

(Next month, Sebring will host the 55th Annual 12 Hours of Sebring, at the Sebring International Raceway.)

Friday, February 16, 2007


I got a big, miscellaneous assortment of old Florida postcards today. This was one of them -- the Americana Hotel in Bal Harbour.
The Americana was designed by Morris Lapidus in 1956. Lapidus' work was showy, and intentionally for popular appeal. Critics scoffed, but since he lived to be 98 years old, I suppose he got the last laugh.
The Americana, now the Sheraton Bal Harbour, was included on the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation's 2005 list of the 11 most endangered historic places in Florida. For a couple of years now, the hotel has been scheduled to be demolished, to make way for a new condominium project. A review by the Miami Design Preservation League found that little of the original design remained. Although the League decided not to oppose demolition, the hotel is still open.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

The Wild West, Florida hurricanes, and German musical theater swirl together this month on the stages of Los Angeles and Boston opera houses. The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill in 1920s Germany, is a morality play about greed, capitalism, and the nature of man. Mahagonny is an imaginary city on the Florida coast, a setting chosen because of the image conveyed by Florida in the 1920s, with its boom and crash, and deadly hurricanes. The opera’s setting is a bit confused by references to gold prospecting, despite the use of Florida place names such as Pensacola and Atsena. Florida’s popular image was a glamorous yet exotic land of wild excesses. Although the fictional city narrowly misses a hurricane’s destruction, man cannot escape his depravity.

Brecht and Weill collaborated on several plays, the best known being The Three Penny Opera. Three Penny Opera gave popular music the song “Mack the Knife,” and Mahagonny gave us the “Alabama Song”, covered by Jim Morrison of The Doors, and David Bowie.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Down a River with a Paddle

If you were along the river in Tampa Friday afternoon, you may have seen an odd thing: a small regatta of canoes. Tom Hallock, who teaches at University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, took his Nature Writing class outdoors for the afternoon. Earlier in the week, they paddled a portion of the upper Hillsborough River, and today they would compare that with the lower or urban Hillsborough River. I was fortunate enough to be invited along.

As we paddled, I compared this trip to my last venture down the urban Hillsborough in a canoe, two and half years ago. There have been some changes, but subtle rather than sweeping. The houses that were being built on the river then, as the real estate bubble was inflating, are now finished. But now signs point to a difficult market. Literally signs, as the riverbanks are peppered with realtors’ for sale signs: price reduced.

Still, this time there were more people on the river, by the river, interacting with the river. Fishermen in motor boats, families enjoying a warm sunny day, a man sitting on his dock with a cold one after a long day of work. Dogs sniffing trees, as their owners chatted on cell phones. A couple embracing, watching the river slowly drift along. We round a bend, and encounter a group of young otters—well, actually several teenage boys challenging us to a race. They scramble to untie their worthy craft, which turns out to be a raft they made this morning, enjoying a day out of the classroom. It’s State Fair Day in Hillsborough County, no school today, but these kids made their own ride out of an old door and what looks like Styrofoam and bubble wrap. Their paddle is an old wooden porch balustrade.

The Hillsborough River is hidden in Tampa. Waterfront parks and access points are largely unmarked. For those of us familiar with the straight north/south grid of streets, the river’s bends are disorienting and confusing – what bridge is that? What neighborhood is this? As a driver, you might catch a glimpse of the river, but it’s rather small and there’s no large floodplain to announce its presence. You’re driving along, and all the sudden you’re on a bridge, but there’s a lot of traffic, so you better watch the road. We float under I-275, already bumper to bumper.

At this point the river is busy, too, as university crew teams skim their oars over the dark water. The bridges and seawalls are brightly colored with messages left by teams visiting from up north, where the frozen water keeps them from rowing. In our canoes, we pause under the Fortune Street Bridge, peering into its guts and gears.

The students are given a writing assignment; their teacher laughs and tells them, After that trip, you can’t say you don’t have anything to write about!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Add Three Cans Cold Water and Stir

Before anyone figured out how to ship large volumes of fresh-squeezed juice long distances, growers struggled to market the seasonal and perishable orange. How could the market be expanded with new products or new ways of shipping, preserving, or packaging their product? Some fruit was sectioned and jarred, and in the 1930s, Dr. Phillips found a way to flash pasteurize canned juice to avoid the metallic taste. However, when juice was dried and powdered to reduce shipping volume, the good taste evaporated as well.

During World War II, the United States government turned to orange juice as a source of Vitamin C for troops in Europe. In what Gary Mormino calls “Florida’s equivalent of the Manhattan Project,” scientists devised the “cutback process” where full-strength juice and fruit oils added to evaporated juice yielded satisfactorily tasty frozen concentrates.

After World War II, Americans fell in love with technology and the wonders of modern science. Prosperity and growth put new freezers in family kitchens; innovations in food processing filled those freezers with frozen food products including frozen orange juice concentrate.

Frozen orange juice concentrate was easy, convenient, predictable, nutritional, and became a common household item. Its popularity dramatically changed Florida’s citrus industry as grove owners shifted from growing fruit to be eaten fresh to growing juice oranges. Large corporate growers such as Minute Maid and Tropicana took the place of small, independent growers. Recent challenges for juice producers are competition from Brazil, citrus canker, popularity of low-carb diets, and development.

(For anyone interested in the story of Florida oranges and the people who grow them, I highly recommend John McPhee’s Oranges. Actually, I highly recommended this book even if oranges make you break out in a rash, and it’s only 150 pages, so give it try.)

Factoid: In 1967 orange juice became the official state beverage.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mofro Concert Tour

The Jacksonville band Mofro will be touring in their home-state of Florida this month. The "Country Ghetto" Album Release Tour is to promote their newest album, with stops in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, and Tallahassee. As with Mofro's previous albums, "Country Ghetto" is strongly influenced by their North Florida heritage, with references to turpentine camps and the Barber-Mizell feud.

In Jacksonville, you can see them at the Florida Theatre and in Tampa at Skipper's Smokehouse, places that are just as much of a show as the music.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Frederick Delius in Solano Grove

(Photograph of Delius House on campus of Jacksonville University, courtesy Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida)

Born in 1862, in England, to German parents, Frederick Delius never excelled in his father’s wool business, and came to Florida in the 1880s to grow oranges. As it turned out, he wasn’t that good at growing oranges either, but in Florida, his musical talents thrived.

Delius lived in a cottage in Solano Grove, about 45 miles south of Jacksonville, on the St. Johns River. It was a small house, four rooms, and was already old by the time he got there. But in that house, and in the groves that surrounded his isolated home, Delius soaked in the sights and sounds of the people and animals of Florida, then still unknown to most Europeans.

In Jacksonville, Delius met Thomas F. Ward, a musician from New York who became his teacher. Later, Delius studied music in Europe. Although Delius’ stay in Florida was short, just a few years, the experience was key to many of his subsequent orchestral and operatic works, including the Florida Suite.

Gloria Jahoda wrote about Frederick Delius (“The Music-Maker of Solano Grove”) in her book The Other Florida, recounting her visit to his former home:

Pines stirred in damp woods. Pileated woodpeckers flew high in the trees. Here the Andersons and Julia Sanks had sung to Delius long ago. Here the Indians and the crackers had come to join them to startle European music.

Delius died in France in 1934, but in 1946, themes from his Florida Suite inspired the soundtrack for The Yearling. In 1961, his house was moved to the campus of Jacksonville University.

(The Delius House is illustrated and discussed in Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage: Landmarks for the Future, a really great book available through the Jacksonville Historical Society.)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Al Capone Really Did Live Here

Last month was the 60th anniversary of Al Capone's death in Miami Beach. And the Chicago Bears are in town for the Superbowl. So here are some recent articles about Capone and his Palm Island home, which is for sale.

"Original Vice in Miami" (Chicago Tribune)
"Capone's Neglected Place in the Sun" (Chicago Sun-Times)
"Capone Was Chicago Like No One Else" (Orlando Sentinel)

And an article from a Chicago paper about the death of Mayor Anton Cermack in Miami ( A quote: "A case could even be made that Miami owes us one -- though I shudder at the possible ways its citizens might choose to make it up to us, which admittedly could have something to do with me reading too much Florida crime fiction.")

Thursday, February 01, 2007


In southern Florida, the Town of Jupiter is considering annexation of Jonathan’s Landing. Now, there’s nothing particularly unusual about that, and while Jonathan’s Landing is an upscale golf course community, what preceded it was out of the ordinary.

Salhaven was a 1950s retirement community built for members of the Upholsters International Union. The name “Salhaven” referred to longtime union president Sal B. Hoffman. Hoffman envisioned a self-contained village where northern retirees could bask in the tropical sun alongside former co-workers. Salhaven had a lounge, a restaurant, an arts and crafts center, an auditorium, a cafeteria, and an educational building. A key service and feature of the Salhaven development was a convalescence center where retirees and non-retired union members received long-tern medical care. All of the buildings, including the houses, were built in a simple yet modern architectural style.

Salhaven received national press coverage, and was featured in the New York Times and Time magazine. However, the village never really caught on with its intended residents, who may have been reluctant to leave family, friends, and all that was familiar to move to an isolated part of Florida.

In the 1970s, a group of medical doctors bought Salhaven and sold 600 acres for what became Jonathan’s Landing. The Salhaven convalescence center evolved into the Palm Beach-Martin County Medical Center, which is now the Jupiter Medical Center.