Thursday, May 14, 2009

30th Anniversary of the Miami Beach Art Deco Historic District

Today is the 30th anniversary of Miami Beach Architectural Historic District's listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Miami Design Preservation League has planned several events for celebration. For more information, vist their website,

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Roux Libraries

Frank Lloyd Wright did not design every building now on the Florida Southern College campus. Nils Schweizer, a Frank Lloyd Wright protege, designed the college's current library. The E. T. Roux Library faces the Waterdome, and has some stylistic elements in common with the surrounding Wright buildings, such as the trim and horizontal lines.

My FLW pilgrimage last month was spontaneous, absolutely without planning. We were on our way to St. Augustine for a spring break vacation and took a spur-of-the-moment right-hand turn at Lakeland. So after wandering around looking for the campus, then wandering around the campus looking for buildings of a certain appearance, we stumbled upon a parking lot by the chapels. From there, the Waterdome was pretty obvious, but the building behind it, I thought at first might be a Frank Lloyd Wright building, but then again.... So we went in and asked the student at the circulation desk, "Is this one of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings?" "Huh?" Okay... good thing there was a stack of brochures and maps right there with a walking tour of the FLW buildings on campus. Thank you very much, and off we go.

Now, we still did not know that the library was by the above mentioned Nils Schweizer and that he had studied at Taliesin before coming to Lakeland and working on the Child of the Sun campus construction. Later, I learned that the Roux Library was finished in 1968, and that Schweizer had a successful career as an architect in Florida. The Nils M. Schweizer Fellows is a non-profit organization working to preserve mid-century modern architecture in Central Florida.

On the side of the Roux Library is the new Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay, Jr. Archives Center, designed by Straughn Trout Architects and dedicated in February of 2009. Although obviously a 21st century design (click here for photographs), the archives builidng uses elements of the surrounding Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, such as the tapestry block, the rectangular cut-outs in the overhangs, and the round shape of the original E. T. Roux Library.

The original E. T. Roux Library? Oh yes, the one built by Frank Lloyd Wright. What was the campus library is now the Thad Buckner Building, and houses the Child of the Sun Visitor Center. Which is where if I had planned my trip, and had the visitor center been opened, I could have visited the gift shop and learned more about the very buildings I was there to see. The Buckner building was built during World War II - the students provided the construction labor, including the co-eds. It's interesting to compare photographs of construction of the Buckner Building with photographs of construction of the McKay Archives building, with their circular shapes.

(The windows are quite unusual.)

And who was this E.T. Roux fellow? Edwin Timanus Roux was a Florida banker and businessman who was on the board for the college's early years. Before Florida Southern College came to Lakeland, an earlier campus burned. Roux helped the college find a temporary home in Clearwater Beach while new facilities were built on Lake Hollingsworth in 1922 (A Guide to Historic Lakeland by Steve Rajtar, The History Press, 2007).


Other buildings by Nils Schweizer

Monday, May 11, 2009

Polk County Science Building

From the Pfeiffer Chapel, I could see the Polk County Science Building. This is really several large, low, horizontal buildings connected by covered esplanades. The dome at the end is the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed planetarium to be actually built. The ventilation system on the roof was added during recent renovations. The book The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright at Florida Southern College has a photograph taken from a similar perspective (page 112) when the Polk Science building was under construction in the 1950s.

This was the last of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings built on the Florida Southern College campus. It was built partly below grade, which caused problems with leakage and drainage (not an uncommon problem with Frank Lloyd Wright buildings...).

Walkway at Polk Science with aluminum-clad supports

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wright's Annie Pfeiffer Chapel

It's shameful. I've been living in Florida, studying its history and architecture for years and years and it wasn't until last month that I finally visited Florida Southern College's campus in Lakeland with its grand collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.

The photograph above is of the William Danforth Chapel (front) and the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. The original campus was in an orange grove on this hill overlooking Lake Hollingsworth, but the trees are gone now. Too bad, because the campus was glaring and hot even in April, especially with the concrete block buildings.

The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel was the first of Wright's buildings to be constructed at Florida Southern College. At its dedication, Annie Pfeiffer (wife of the founder of Pfeiffer Chemical Company) reportedly said, "They say it is finished," perhaps in reference to the metal bars forming a spire or steeple. Sometimes the chapel is referred to as "the bicycle rack."

FSC students provided labor for the construction of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on campus, including this chapel. Natural light inside the chapel comes primarily from the large skylight above. The walls are made of a special concrete block called tapestry block. The tapestry blocks have small squares of colored glass embedded in them, creating moving spots of red, blue, and amber on a sunny day.

The book Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright at Florida Southern College (Arcadia 2007) contains fascinating photographs of the chapel's construction and traces some of the changes in the building's interior and exterior over the years. Some of the major changes came after a 1944 hurricane shattered the skylight and parts of the building collapsed. During reconstruction the tapestry blocks above the first floor were stuccoed on the exterior to make them more weather proof.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Muffler Man Sighting in Zephyrhills

Highway giants are larger than life men, dinosaurs, elephants, large statues placed by the roadside to attract tourists and customers. Such giants are found across the nation, not just in Florida, but their fanstasical nature is well suited to our state.

Muffler men date to the 1960s and 1970s, and were large statues of men holding mufflers meant to advertise a muffler or auto repair shop. In Roadside Giants (Stackpole Books 2005), authors Brian and Sarah Butko explain that most muffler men were built by Prewitt Fiberglass of Venice, California. Later known as International Fiberglass, the company made unusually large statues of humans and animals up into the 1970s. Owners, particularly new owners, often give their muffler men new clothes and new items to hold, depending what is to be advertised.

The muffler man at Muffler City on Highway 301 in Zephyrhills is fairly traditional in his appearance and choice of accessory, a wrench. This shop has an example of another type of muffler man as well, the kind made out of old car parts - there he is, leaning against the sign post. Give him a wave next time you're passing by!

Florida Muffler Men

National Muffler Man Tracking Chart and Map

Roadside America's Muffler Man Homepage

Visual Ephemera - Roadside Giants Found!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Hong Kong Willie

On the corner of Fletcher Avenue and Morris Bridge Road in Tampa is possibly the largest collection of styrofoam buoys I've ever seen unattacted to a fishing fleet. This is Hong Kong Willie. Surrounded by an interstate highway, a corporate business park, and national chain hotels, the orange helicopter on a flat-bed truck festooned with a web of fairy lights does catch the eye. The Hong Kong Willie blog has links to interviews and news stories outling the Hong Kong Willie philosophy of reuse, and tracing the evolution from bait shop to art studio.

Hong Kong Willie Preservation Art Group (audio / slide show from WUSF)


Added May 2, 2009

My husband took an unblurry photo of the helicopter, so I've added it here: