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.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Sun is Setting on Hialeah's Race Track

Hialeah Race Track was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and is eligible to be listed as a National Historic Landmark. However, the Hialeah city council just voted unanimously to permit the demolition of the historic stable buildings.

The track was a key element for attracting winter visitors to south Florida in the first half of the twentieth century. Tourists came to the tropics looking for glamour and excitement, and perhaps a touch of the illicit, all of which they found at the races.

The Miami Jockey Club opened in January 1925 on the edge of the Everglades. James Harrison Bright, a cattleman who had made money in with a laundry business in St. Louis, bought 17,000 acres in northwestern Dade County. His partner was Glenn Curtiss, the developer of Miami Springs and Opa-Locka, who ran also a flight school at the Curtiss-Bright Ranch. In 1907, Bright bought one square mile of frequently flooded land in what is now the Deer Park section of Hialeah. Everyone thought that he was crazy for wanting to live there, but he had heard that the area was to be drained.

To promote residential development, Bright donated land for school, churches, and municipal buildings. Rather than compete with the upper-class developments of Coral Gables and Miami Beach, Bright sought middle class homebuyers. Hialeah was incorporated in 1921, the same year Bright and Curtiss decided to build a horse track to attract more land buyers. Joseph Smoot agreed to build a track on Bright's land, and his investment paid off within 11 days of racing. The track's original landscaping was by James Donn, Sr., founder of Exotic Gardens florist and Gulfstream Park. Hurricanes in the late 1920s caused extensive damage in Hialeah, and it took some time for people to return even after things were rebuilt.

Despite the tremendous success of the Miami Jockey Club and despite the prevalence of betting at the track and other establishments, betting at horse racing was not legal in Florida until 1931. A 1927 Florida Supreme Court ban on betting suspended the Jockey Club's 1928 season, but in 1929, they had a new system called "buying option." To bet you bought a stock certificate (a postcard), and if the horse won you got a dividend. If the horse lost you were bankrupted.

Joseph E. Widener, a Philadelphia millionaire heir to a streetcar fortune, bought the Miami Jockey Club. The Widener family had been in horse racing since the 1890s. In 1931, the state legislature made it legal to bet on horse races, partly because it was a source of revenue for local governments struggling in the Great Depression. Widener hired Lester Giesler, architect, to rebuild the south Florida track, touring tracks across Europe and the United States to their best features into the Hialeah facility. Widener introduced turf racing from Europe and the Totalizer from Australia. The Totalizer was a mechanical way of calculating odds and payoffs and increased public confidence in the track's handling of bets. Widener, with the input of Bright, created Hialeah's famous infield lake with flamingos. The new Hialeah opened January 1932 after a $3 million rebuilding project.

Great horses, including Triple Crown winners Citation and Seattle Slew, raced here. A list of Hialeah stakes winners is a list of champion thoroughbreds. Although televised racing in the 1950s increased Hialeah's exposure and popularity, by the 1970s track management was threatening to close Hialeah and turn it into an industrial park. One of the track's major struggles during the late twentieth century was competition with Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course for the best racing dates and the best horses. The last race at Hialeah was May 22, 2001, and the track has since lost its racing and betting permits.

Since the spring of 2001, the park has been largely unused, with just a skeleton crew, a flock of flamingos, and the occasional wedding. Maintenance of the large, old buildings has been minimal, and recent hurricanes have added to the burden. What will happen to this south Florida landmark and thoroughbred racing legend? One proposal is to make this the site of a new baseball stadium. Another proposal involves condominiums. Because of current state laws regulating parimutuel betting and racing calendars, it is very unlikely that horses will ever run here again.


Source: John Crittenden, Hialeah Park: A Racing Legend. The Pickering Press, Miami, Florida, 1989.

The National Park Service's Historic American Building Collection includes 92 photographs of Hialeah race track.


UPDATE 1: Dec. 3, 2006 Miami Herald article, "Hialeah Stables Lose Historic Designation" (link no longer working; not on Herald's website any more)

UPDATE 2: Beth Dunlop's Architecture column in Miami Herald, Dec. 10, 2006 "High Stakes for Hialeah" (link no longer working; not on Herald's website any more)


Save Hialeah Park!

Hialeah Park Bites the Dust Unless Citizens Unite (from blog Eye on Miami)

Crumbling Hialeah from Cindy Pierson Dulay's

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Marjory Stoneman Douglas' House in Coconut Grove

Sunday Nov. 26, the Miami Herald reported that the Florida Division of State Lands plans to move Marjory Stoneman Douglas' Miami house three miles north to Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden. The state would then auction the vacant lot, and the money would go towards maintenance of the 1926 structure.

The proposal to move the house is in response to conflict between the South Grove neighborhood and preservation and environmental groups interested in using the property as an educational center. While people on both sides of the issue agree that questions of traffic and appropriate land use need to be addressed, preservationists are also concerned (in the words of reporter Curtis Morgan) that a land auction would "raise the likelihood that the historic home of a woman often described as the environmental conscience of Florida would be replaced by a McMansion."

Marjory Stoneman Douglas led an incredible life, 108 years of it. Her book The Everglades: River of Grass was published in 1947, and in 1969 she founded Friends of the Everglades. Her autobiography, Voice of the River, is a favorite of mine. On pages 171 - 173, Douglas describes her Coconut Grove house.

I didn't need much of a house, just a workshop, a place of my own. All I wanted was one big room with living quarters tacked on. I knew an architect, George Hyde, who drew up some plans. He mostly built factories, which was fortunate, because I hoped my little house would be as stout and as sparse as a factory with not much to worry about.

As a 34-year-old divorced woman living with her father, buying her own house represented her independence: "The house was a great influence on my life, and so important that I often think of it more than the other things I was doing during those years."

Author John Rothchild, who edited the autobiography, describes on p. 16 his first visit to her house:

To get there, I had to drive through the middle of the business district, once a haven for beatniks and peyote-takers, now a fashionable stretch of liberal commerce. Beyond the business district are the residential subtropical jungles, and then among the ranchettes, Alhambras, and displaced plazzos is her mushroom-roofed cottage.

The house had no driveway, as Marjory Stoneman Douglas never learned to drive, and the house had no air conditioning, designed to be "open to breezes."

That the state is committed to preserving the house is admirable. That the house never truly fit into its neighborhood also seems apparent. But can the house remain true to the philosophy of its builder if it is moved, and something else built in its place?


Update on Marjory Stoneman Douglas House

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Fire Destroys Historic Building

Front-page news in Tampa this week is the Nov. 26 fire that destroyed an antiques store in the Ybor City National Historic Landmark District. The circa 1910 building at 2210 E Seventh Street burned so intensely that the historic Columbia Restaurant across the street was evacuated. Traffic still snarled Tuesday morning as commuters dealt with local street closings. The gutted building is scheduled to be demolished tomorrow.

Fire is a powerful source of change in historic districts. In Ybor City, the great fire of 1908 led to the construction of many of the district's brick buildings. But it was also fire that destroyed a Ybor city block in 2000, and it was fire that took another building this weekend. Owners of historic properties are well aware that their old buildings provide certain challenges when it comes to fire prevention. Building codes and construction methods have changed dramatically over the past 100 years. There's a reason why your insurance company doesn't think the original knob-and-tube wiring in your house is cute or quaint.

The current standard for fire protection in historic structures is "NFPA 914: Code for Fire Protection in Historic Structures" published by the National Fire Protection Authority. This is written as a building code that may be, and has been, adopted by many state and local authorities. Another source of information is the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, and the 1000 Friends of Florida has an interesting report on disaster planning in general for Florida's historic resources.

Friday, November 24, 2006

In Small Places

This article in the Lakeland Ledger caught my eye ("After 51 Years, Bill Bell Shuts, the Door," Nov. 21, 2006). It's the story of a small commercial building in Winter Haven. This building has a strong pedigree, having been designed in the 1910s by Addison Mizner for J. Walker Pope, father of Dick Pope, who built Cypress Gardens. After a time as Pope Investments' office, the building became a bar owned by Bill Bell, who had previously worked at Cypress Gardens. The Hob Nob achieved a modicum of fame in the 1950s, but increased competition in the 1960s led Bell to close the bar and open a retail carpet store instead. The transformation was completed with the assistance of Gene Leedy, a prominent Winter Haven architect. The building served as a carpet store for 51 years, and is now awaiting its next incarnation.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Gobble Gobble

For Thanksgiving, enjoy these sites about the Florida Wild Turkey from the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Federation.

Florida wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo osceola) are a subspecies of eastern wild turkeys, differentiated by coloration that better suits Florida habitats. Just this month, the National Wild Turkey Federation recognized Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Gregory "Todd" Hoyle as Florida Officer of the Year for his work to prevent illegal turkey hunting.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Go Gators and Pass the Chips

The Thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching, which can mean only one thing:
the Florida - Florida State game! This year's renewal of the great college football rivalry will take place Saturday, November 25, 2006, at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

This is year is particularly special for the University of Florida, as 2006 is the 100th anniversary of the school's football program. Yes, it IS great to be a Florida Gator.

If any UF alumni find themselves in Tampa, head on over to Burrito Brothers on Dale Mabry in Carrollwood. It may not have the same ambience as the Gainesville original (there are tables and chairs, for one thing), but their guacamole is the best in town. If you can't make it to either Gainesville or Tampa, the Brothers can FedEx frozen burritos to your doorstep.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Eustis, Florida History, a Local History Blog

I've interested in whether or not blogs are an effective way of sharing historical research, or of raising public awareness and interest in local history.

One interesting site I've run across that suggests that blogs do have the potential to attain these goals is Eustis, Florida History Blog. According to the bloggers,"This was started by local researchers in an effort to disseminate some of the information about the historic town of Eustis, Florida." It is an image-rich site, and an interesting way to share local history with a world-wide audience.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Florida's State Fruit, The Orange

"The orange is Florida, and it made Florida, providing an authentic Fountain of Youth with its vitamin highs, supplying the legendary gold that the state's explorers and settlers lusted after." *

Symbolic of luxury, growth, and health, oranges suit Florida both culturally and agriculturally. Using the orange as an iconic symbol, early-twentieth-century promoters sold 10-acre lots to gentlemen farmers. If their advertisements are to be believed, diaphanous nymphs plucked ripe round fruit backlit by a glowing sunset. The reality of grubbing new groves, waiting years for the first crop, then lugging heavy bags of lumpy fruit to a packing house and on to a northern-bound train was quite another matter. But those early settlers persevered, making citrus a key element in Florida agriculture, as it still is today. The images live on as well. Counties, trains, football games -- what in Florida has not been named after the fruit?

It is no surprise that the orange is Florida's state fruit. The surprise is that it wasn't named so until 2005. The orange blossom was already the state flower, and orange juice had been the state beverage for years, but no state fruit. A group of Sarasota elementary school students made this discovery when they read about children in New Jersey campaigning to make blueberries their state fruit. So the Sarasota kids wrote letters, poems, and songs, and successfully lobbied the Florida legislature to pass a bill signed by Gov. Jeb Bush officially naming the orange as Florida's state fruit.

As a footnote, the Sarasota students' efforts in turn inspired New Hampshire students to convince their state legislators to name the pumpkin as the Granite State's official fruit.

For more information on Florida state symbols, click here.

(* Helen L. Kohen, "Perfume, Postcards, and Promises: The Orange in Art and Industry" Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts, Vol 23, 1998)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Weekly Florida history news round up

Statues Return as Bridge to History (Clearwater, Tampa Tribune, 11/11/06)

Babcock Cowboy Hangs Up His Hat (Arcadia, DeSoto Sun-Herald, 11/15/06)

A New Day on the Green (Pensacola golf course, Pensacola News Journal, 11/10/06)

Orlando Bank Tower Fetches Record Price (South Florida Sun Sentinel, 11/17/06)

Original Town Hall, Jail Sold (Rockledge, Florida Today , 11/14/06)

Orange-A-Fair Raises Funds for Historical Bank (Citra, Ocala Star Banner, 11/12/06)

Cleanup Yes, But Who Will Pay Cost? (St. Augustine, Ponce de Leon Golf Course, Florida Times Union, 11/11/06)

Brandon Bungalow Becomes Landmark (Tampa Tribune, 11/15/06)

Historic House Has New Home (Mims, Florida Today, 11/13/06)

Two Downtown Projects May Get Historic Renovation Grants (Jacksonville, Financial News & Daily Record, 11/14/06)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Monument of States

This month the National Trust announced the winners of the 2006 National Preservation Awards, including Hampton Inn's Save-A-Landmark program. According to the program's website, the goal is "to identify and help refurbish some of our nation's historical, fun and unique roadside attractions." Promoting cultural and heritage tourism seems appropriate for a nationwide hotel chain.

In Florida, the Save-A-Landmark program refurbished the Monument of States near Kissimmee. This is a World War II-era piece of commemorative folk art, the brain child of Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis. Pettis solicited donations of rocks from every state, and assembled them into a 50-foot-tall tower symbolizing national unity. The pre-Disney roadside attraction was fading a bit when Hampton Inn, in conjunction with AAA South, cleaned it up in November 2001.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Weeki Wachee Mermaids Eating Watermelon

Here's an old Weeki Wachee postcard I found recently of mermaids eating watermelon under water.

(I find it oddly disturbing, but what do you think?)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sunken Gardens

After The Florida Show yesterday we headed over to Sunken Gardens. The day started out gloomy, but as we reached downtown St. Petersburg, the sky cleared. Just what you would expect from the Sunshine City. (The nickname was coined in the 1910s by the editor of the St. Petersburg Evening Independent, who promised to give papers away free any day the sun didn't shine. The paper was in business for 75 years or so, so you can tell that didn't happen too often.)

Sunken Gardens was one of many small roadside attractions that capitalized on the steady stream of middle-class tourists who drove to Florida in the early twentieth century. All that was needed was something to catch the eye, to tempt drivers to pull over for a quick stop. Some roadside attractions incorporated some part of the natural environment, since Florida's image was that of an exotic, tropical Garden of Eden. When plants alone were not enough of a draw, the attractions added birds or reptiles (good and evil) or water features (the Fountain of Youth). Whether or not it was intentionally done, the roadside attractions both took from and added to Florida's mythic identity.

But who's to say if all that crossed the mind of George Turner, Sr., a horticulturally inclined plumber who drained a small lake in his backyard and planted a few things? Eventually, enough people came to look, that he started charging admission. With more plants, a few reptiles, some parrots and flamingos, Turner's Sunken Gardens was on its way.

Next door to the Gardens was a large Mediterranean Revival building that housed the Sanitary Public Market. In the 1940s this became a Coca Cola bottling plant, and in the 1960s the Turner family bought it and turned it into "The World's Largest Gift Shop." I am still sorry that I never got to visit the gift shop, which closed in 1995, a few years before I moved to Tampa.

In 1998, the Turners put the Gardens up for sale. After rumors that a nudist colony would buy it, the property was purchased by the City of St. Petersburg. The city removed most of the animals and renovated the former public market building, which now holds a much smaller gift shop, offices, meeting rooms, a Carrabba's restaurant, a Coldstone Creamery ice cream shop, and Great Explorations (a children's science museum).

My favorite part of Sunken Gardens? The sidewalks (see the middle photograph above). They are concrete, with lines that look like they were drawn with a stick while the cement was still wet. Each section is painted a different color.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


In 2002, the National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America list included "Teardowns in Historic Neighborhoods," recognizing the irreversible change the loss of original buildings brings to a community. A "teardown" is when an old house or building is demolished to make way for new construction. The old building may have been perceived as being too small, too dated, too deteriorated, or too modest. Change results from both what was lost and what is built in its place. Whether that change is for better or worse, is in the eye of the beholder (to mix a few metaphors).

The National Trust's website includes a section on teardowns, with useful information on protection of historic districts, planning and design tools, and a guide for community leaders. The National Trust recently looked at teardowns on a state-by-state level. It should be no surprise to Floridians that our state is a leader for this particular trend. The Trust's report identified several particularly hard-hit communities, most of which are in the central and southern parts of the state.

For a glimpse of the other side of this discussion, take a look at, a website that actually markets properties identified as potential teardowns. Florida is one of their target areas.

"Teardowns radically change the fabric of a community. Without proper safeguards, historic neighborhoods will lose the identities that drew residents to put down roots in the first place."
--- Richard Moe, President, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Historic Florida in the News

Here are some stories from the past week about Florida's historic places:

Miami: Renovation of historic Jackson's Soul Food Restaurant (Miami Herald, November 9, 2006)

Orlando: "When Smoke Clears, Go Visit Gatorland" (Orlando Sentinel, November 7, 2006)

Tallahassee: Preservation of Old City Waterworks? (Tallahassee Democrat, November 6, 2006)

Orlando: Morse Museum restores old signs (Orlando Sentinel, November 2, 2006)

Tampa: "Restoring Glory to the Heights" (St. Petersburg Times, November 3, 2006)

Punta Gorda: Planning for the future (Sun Herald, November 6, 2006)

St. Petersburg: 50th anniversary of Bringe Music Center (St. Petersburg Times, November 6, 2006)

The Florida Show

Sunday, I'm going to The Florida Show at the St. Petersburg Coliseum. It's worth the trip just to see the building, a St. Petersburg Historic Landmark, and imagine the balls and dancers and swing bands of the 1920s and 30s. But then there's the added bonus of perhaps finding the perfect piece of Florida memorabilia. Too early for Christmas shopping? Oh well, I'll just have to get it for myself.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cigar City Magazine

Cigar City Magazine is one year old, proving that local history can be fun! Hats off to Marilyn Figueredo and her partners for creating a colorful magazine showcasing Tampa's heritage to a worldwide audience.

(Story in the St. Petersburg Times: Cigar Magazine Finds Audience)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hemingway's Cats in Key West

A new book I read recently is Hemingway's Cats by Carlene Fredericka Brennen (Pineapple Press, 2006). Ernest Hemingway loved cats. And women. Brennen's book delves into his relationships with both.

A trip to would be incomplete without a visit to the Hemingway House and Museum on Whitehead Street, to pay your respects to its six-toed feline inhabitants. According to Brennen, these cats are not descended from Hemingway's pet cats, but are more likely the descendents of Hemingway's neighbor's pet cats. did, however, have many pet cats at his home in Havana, where he went so far as to build a tower -- a four-story building -- in his garden, just for the cats.

Some Florida Blogs I Read

Here's a few local and neighborhood blogs I read:

Sticks of Fire

Seminole Heights

Tampa Heights

West Side Stories

Save Our Sarasota

Save Riverview

St. Petersblog

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ochopee, Florida 34141

March 2001 photograph of the Ochopee post office on the Tamiami Trail.

Renowned as The Smallest Post Office in the United States, this small white building was originally a tool shed behind a general store. When the store burned down in the 1950s, the post office moved into the shed, where it has been ever since.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Florida-bred Miesque's Approval Wins Breeder's Cup Mile

Yesterday seven-year-old Florida-bred Miesque's Approval won the Breeder's Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. The Breeder's Cup is the annual championship for international thoroughbred racing, a day of the best competing against the best. Miesque's Approval is Florida through and through, based at Calder Race Course, owned by Live Oak Plantation, ridden by Eddie Castro, and trained by Marty Wolfson, son of Louis Wolfson, who in turn owned the Florida-bred Triple Crown winner Affirmed. Congratulations!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Farewell, Fine Feathered Friend

Flamingo lovers across the country are mourning. As of November 1, Union Products, Inc., the (surprisingly) New England manufacturers of the pink plastic lawn ornaments that define kitsch, has closed its factory doors due to rising production costs. Every year, for 49 years, Union Products turned out a quarter million of the leggy birds. For more information, try this article from the St. Petersburg Times, or this short history of the
pink flamingo.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tampa Bay AIA Archifest

November 3 through 17, 2006, the Tampa Bay Chapter of AIA is presenting their second annual Archifest,a celebration of architecture in the Tampa Bay area. Here's your chance to give input on the redevelopment of West Tampa, to visit architecturally distinctive modern homes and the restored Tampa Theatre, and go on an architectural history tour of Tampa. RSVP required for some events, so be sure to check out the event's calendar ahead of time.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Celery Fields

I’ve been doing some research involving a piece of property near the Celery Fields in Sarasota County. This is a part of the county that was marshy, mucky, and wet land up until the 1920s.

To avoid the cold Chicago winter of 1910, Berthe Honoré Palmer visited Florida. She was the widow of a wealthy Chicago businessman, and she became a successful businessman in her own right. During her winter visit, Palmer became interested in buying very large tracts of undeveloped land, and started the Sarasota-Venice Company to manage and re-sell her property. After her death, her sons Honoré and Potter dug miles of canals to drain large sections of muckland. The Palmers then sold parcels to individual farmers, who then became members in an agricultural cooperative known as the Palmer Farms Growers Association. These farmers had particular success growing celery.

Celery has uses other than as a crudité or in turkey stuffing. In the early twentieth century, Celo was a popular celery-flavored soft drink in Florida. W. Truman Green came up with the original concoction in a Tampa drug store in 1915. The Celo Company prospered in the 1920s with the support of local investors and stockholders. Unfortunately, the company struggled through the Great Depression and never quite made it as big as Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Vernor’s Ginger Ale owned Celo in the 1940s, but the drink hasn’t been seen for many years. (Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune, September 11 and 18, 1996).

After World War II, Florida experienced a population boom, and the agricultural lands at Palmer Farms were gradually sold to developers. The celery fields became suburbs. In the 1990s, as a way to control flooding problems in the Phillipi Creek watershed, Sarasota County built the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility . The Celery Fields are also popular with local bird watchers.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Festival of Reading

This Saturday, October 28, is the 14th annual St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading on the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg campus. It's a great opportunity to meet and hear Florida authors speak about their writing!

Friday, October 20, 2006

A. W. Higgins Power Plant

At 8 A.M. this morning, Progress Energy's A. W. Higgins Power Plant in Oldsmar crumbled into a pile of rubble. Since 1954, the power plant had been a prominent feature on the shore of Old Tampa Bay and Safety Harbor. The plant closed in the 1990s, and the power company chose to demolish the structure.

I was lingering over a cereal bowl miles away when I heard the rumblings. At first I thought it was our temperamental pool pump, or perhaps an airplane making a low turn. Our cat abandoned her customary morning lizard hunt and scurried indoors in a fluff.

It's a spectacle when big buildings come down. Today's implosion reminded me of the old (1967) Tampa Stadium (a.k.a. Houlihan Stadium, or more affectionately, the Big Sombrero), which gave way to the new Raymond James Stadium in 1998, and the historic Soreno Hotel in St. Petersburg, which gave way to a shopping center in 1992. You can see the demise of the Soreno in the movie "Lethal Weapon III," which also features the implosion of the 1958 Orlando City Hall building.

Tampa Bay Hotel

Recently I took a class (USF St. Petersburg Honors Program) on a field trip to the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa. The museum is in one wing of what was originally the Tampa Bay Hotel.

The Tampa Bay Hotel was part of an elaborate 1880s resort built by Henry B. Plant, a Connecticut native who made a fortune building railroad networks throughout the South and Florida. Tampa was the southern terminus of his South Florida Railroad. From Tampa, passengers could travel to Key West, Havana, or other Caribbean ports on a Plant steamship.

Whether inspired by the great northern resorts, or by the success of Henry Flager's hotels and railroads on the east coast of Florida, Plant built an elaborate and massive Moorish Revival hotel on the shore of the Hillsborough River. The hotel was much more of a destination than the town itself, but Plant put Tampa on the world scene.

The Tampa Bay Hotel was never a complete success, but thousands of people came to see it. In 1898, when Tampa became the Army's port of embarkation for the Spanish-American War, the hotel was packed to the rafters with officers and journalists. The hotel was eventually sold in the early 20th century, and in the 1930s became part of the
University of Tampa

The Henry B. Plant Museum is a good field trip experience for grade school through college age students. It is also a good family-oriented cultural site near downtown Tampa. Check their website for directions and a calendar of events.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Waldo Sexton

Waldo Sexton was many things in his life -- farmer, realtor, developer, promoter, artist -- but always a man led by his own visions. Although elemental in the development of Vero Beach, Sexton is best remembered today as a man who could take what others threw away and turn it into something worth saving.

Waldo Sexton came to Florida as a traveling farm equipment salesman, and stayed to sell Florida to anyone who would listen. He sold land, and oranges, and adventure.

While all people have creative impulses, these urges were larger and brighter in Sexton than for the average person. Waldo was an incuarable collector. No matter where he traveled, around the state, country, or world, he bought antiques, bells, wood, architectural salvage, and anything that caught his eye. With these materials he created one-of-a-kind buildings, many of which still stand in Vero Beach, and are open to the public.

The Driftwood Inn

The Driftwood Inn started out as a beach house, but became a hotelrun by the Sexton family. The miscellany that has made up the Driftwood over the years includes a bell from Henry Flagler's train, mastadon bones, stair railings fromt he Royal Poinciana Hotel, iron grillwork from the Dodge Estate in Palm Beach, a bell from Harriet Beecher Stowe's house -- pieces of Florida.

The Ocean Grill

The Patio Restaurant

McKee Jungle Garden