Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fairchild Tropical Gardens

On Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables are two wonderful parks, Matheson Hammock Park and Fairchild Tropical Gardens. Both are the creations of landscape architect William Lyman Phillips on land donated by Colonel and Mrs. Robert H. Montgomery. The tropical gardens were named in honor of David Fairchild.

Created in the 1930s and 1940s with the help of Civilian Conservation Corps workers, Phillips envisioned the Fairchild Tropical Gardens as a sort of outdoor museum with long galleries allowing both distant and close views of pieces. The gardens also served a scientific botanical purpose of allowing study of tropical plant species.

Here is the visitor center:

And the Gate House (at the original entrance):

The Bailey Palm Glade, named in honor of Liberty Hyde Bailey:

The Garden Club of America Ampitheater:

And a maintenance problem that Phillips didn't face:

Green iguanas have taken over the grass and wall in front of the amphitheater.

Further Reading:

Historic Landscapes of Florida, by Rocco Ceo and Joanna Lombard. Published by Deering Foundation and University of Miami School of Architecture, 2001.

Pioneer of Tropical Landscape Architecture: William Lyman Phillips in Florida, by Faith Reyher Jackson. Published by University Press of Florida, 1997.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Alligator Alley

Alligator (from Merriam-Webster Online)
Pronunciation: \ˈa-lə-ˌgā-tər\
Etymology: Spanish el lagarto the lizard, from el the (from Latin ille that) + lagarto lizard, from Vulgar Latin *lacartus, from Latin lacertus, lacerta — more at lizard
Date: 1579
1 a: either of two crocodilians (Alligator mississippiensis of the southeastern United States and A. sinensis of China) having broad heads not tapering to the snout and a special pocket in the upper jaw for reception of the enlarged lower fourth tooth

Pronunciation: \ˈa-lē\
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French alee, from aler to go
Date: 14th century
1: a garden or park walk bordered by trees or bushes

Alligator Alley

A long highway bordered by grass, trees, and lizards with broad heads and plenty of teeth.

It's that part of Interstate 75 that takes a left at Naples, and heads east across the Everglades. It's straight, and it's flat, and you'd better set your cruise control. There's one gas station on this 70-something mile long stretch of road. Sometimes on long car rides we play the game where you take turns naming something you see in alphabetical order (I see an alligator. I see a bird. I see a car. . .) This game goes slowly on Alligator Alley. The beauty and variety of the Everglades can be subtle, and not easily seen at cruising speeds.

But there are many spots along the highway where you can pull over for a closer look, or if you happened to bring your boat along, get out in the River of Grass.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

School Days Past

The School Board of Hillsborough County has placed these old dedication plaques outside the entrance to its administration building in downtown Tampa. These come from schools that are no longer in use, have changed names, or been renovated.

"Living history: The records are long gone, but the people of Tampa's Harlem Academy keep its story alive." (St. Petersburg Times January 26, 2007)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Florida News Stories

"Free flying parrots are all around us" (Miami Herald, May 18, 2008) "One of them has raggedy tail feathers. Both have that unmistakable scream, deep throated and meant to be heard across the rain forest. From time to time, they set to work on the headless royal palm, ripping at the trunk with their beaks, teasing us with the thought that they might nest in the cavity they've created."

"Silver Springs marks 'Sea Hunt' anniversary - underwater" (Ocala Star Banner, May 23, 2008) "Some 50 years ago, actor Lloyd Bridges dove into the cool, crystal-clear waters at Silver Springs attraction playing scuba hero Mike Nelson on the television series "Sea Hunt.""

"Sssomething different on menu: rattlesnake " (St. Petersburg Times, May 16, 2008) ""The rattlesnakes were more prolific than the crops I planted..."

"Greek Diver Has Soaked Up Life Like A Sponge" (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, May 24, 2008) "Taso, short for Anastasios, has creased bronze skin and a salt-and-pepper moustache. When he crosses the deck of the Anastasi, his 48-foot fishing boat, there's a little swagger in his step."

"Sacred Heart Jump-Starts Wedding Photo Project" (Tampa Tribune, May 24, 2008) "...looking for wedding photos from Sacred Heart and its predecessor, St. Louis Church, that date all the way to 1860. The photos will be mounted and displayed as part of Sacred Heart's 150th anniversary celebration...."

"When Glades burn, a delicate balance" (Sarasota Herald Tribune, May 24, 2008) "The fire has scorched about 40,000 acres, sent smoke over Miami and forced schools to close temporarily. And yet it has also put nutrients into the soil, killed non-native plants and made it harder for hawks to prey on the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow."

"Residents urged to look out for owls" (News Press, May 24, 2008)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mayor Anton Cermak's Ill-fated Trip to Miami

Just a few feet away from the war memorial in Miami's Bayfront Park is this marker in a patch of grass.

On February 15, 1933, President-Elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke at Bayfront Park in Miami. In the crowd was Guiseppe Zangara, an Italian-born naturalized out-of-work bricklayer with anarchist tendencies. Zangara attended the rally with the intention of killing FDR, but he lost his balance at the crucial moment and ended up shooting Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak and four other people instead. Zangara was quickly arrested, and soon found guilty of assault and attempted murder. When Cermak died March 6, Zangara was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death. Evidently the legal process was quite different then, as the execution took place March 20 at Raiford.

The University of Miami's Digital Library includes scanned FBI documents relating to the investigation of the assassination attempt. In a February 16, 1933, letter it is revealed that FDR was on Vincent Astor's yacht shortly before giving his speech in Bayfront Park.

Monday, May 19, 2008

St. Augustine's Donkey Burial

Last year archaeologist Carl Halbirt discovered an intentionally buried donkey dating to the seventeenth century in St. Augustine. His talk given at the recent Florida Anthropological Society meeting was popular with other Florida archaeologists, and now you have a chance to look at this unusual find and make your own conclusions: why would someone bury a donkey?, why was it buried the way it was?, and how did the donkey die?

Read "The Case of the Disarticulated Donkey" from Archaeology magazine, and send in your answers.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Miami's Bayfront Park

Like many other coastal cities, Miami is located at the confluence of a river and the ocean, but the buildings can overwhelm the water. Downtown Miami does have a waterfront park, although US 1, Biscayne Boulevard, and the Metromover form a barrier between the buildings and the green space.

Bayfront Park offers quite the assortment of entertainment options, from open-air ampitheaters to trapzee lessons and hot-air balloon rides.

Bayfront Park has had a long history as a public space, all the way back to the 1920s. But it's been a tumultous past, with numerous reinventions. The most recent design is by Isamu Noguchi, dating to the 1980s. His scuptures dot the park, including one titled Slide Mantra that people obviously have been sliding down.

Dade County's World War II memorial is also located in Bayfront Park.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sculpture at Fairchild Tropical Gardens

The work of three modern artists is on display at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, through May 31, 2008. Artworks by Fernando Botero, Roy Lichtenstein, and Dale Chihuly are scattered amongst the gardens, which are works of art themselves.

Man on Horse, by Fernando Botero

Gilded Ikebana with Scarlet Stem and Blue Frog Foot, by Dale Chihuly

Head, by Fernando Botero

Niijima Floats, by Dale Chihuly

Coup de Chapeau II, by Roy Lichtenstein

Red Reeds, by Dale Chihuly

Modern Head, by Roy Lichtenstein

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands

One fine evening a week or so ago, I found myself on Davis Islands. So I drove down to the southern tip of the island, where it isn't so much that it's picturesque, as there's always something to see there.

Davis Islands (most people say Davis Island, but it is actually more than one piece of land completely surrounded by water. It's not a big deal whichever version you use.) is a Tampa neighborhood out in Hillsborough Bay. This place started out as a couple of grassy, muddy islands, cleverly named Big and Little Grassy Islands. Then in the 1920s David P. Davis turned these into a Florida Boom Time development, with elaborate Mediterranean Revival buildings and houses. Unfortunately for Davis, the Florida Boom ended, and he found himself in deep, dark financial waters. Soon, he sadly ended up in actual waters, disappearing from a luxury yacht during a Trans-Atlantic voyage.

(History and old photographs of Davis Islands are available on the Davis Islands Civic Association website.)

In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration built an airport at the southern end of Davis Islands. The airport was named after Peter O. Knight, a prominent Tampa lawyer, who was also very involved with local businesses, most notably the Tampa Electric Company. It was through the electric company that Knight convinced Stone & Webster to invest in Davis Islands when David P. Davis was struggling in the 1920s. The airport included a seaplane basin. After World War II, Drew Field (which had been an Army Air Force training base during the war) became Tampa's new international airport. Peter O. Knight Airport's runways were too short for the newer, larger passenger planes, so it was used by private planes and helicopters.

The airport's original administration building was torn down in the 1960s, and replaced by the current building. Although seaplanes aren't quite as popular anymore, the basin is still there at Davis Islands, only now it's a marina and home to the Davis Island Yacht Club. It's also the location of an extremely popular dog park, which includes a beach for dogs to splash in the bay as cruise ships and tankers glide by on the Port of Tampa's shipping channel.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Clearwater Marine Aquarium, just over the Memorial Causeway Bridge (shown in the photo below, completed in 2005) from the mainland, is not as glossy as SeaWorld or the Florida Aquarium. The facility was converted from a sewage treatment plant in the 1970s, and that along with the large amounts of salt water and sea life contained within its concrete walls give it somewhat of a utilitarian air. The point of visiting here is to learn about sea life, not to admire architecture, although that does come into the story later on). The Aquarium's mission is to rescue marine animals, rehabilitate them, and release them back into their natural environments. Some animals cannot be returned to the wild because of injuries sustained, and they stay at the aquarium, becoming educational ambassadors. On the Aquarium's most famous residents is Winter, a young bottlenose dolphin who became entangled in a rope at a young age. The rope cut off the bolld supply to her tail. Now without a tail, she cannot swim as well as other dolphins. She captured national media attention when she received a prosthetic tail.

On a recent visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, I did catch a glimpse of Winter, as well as several sea turtles, stingrays, sharks, and a sea otter. We also went on the aquarium's two-hour boat tour of Clearwater Bay, a nice trip for families, visitors, and all age groups. The trip is on a pontoon boat, with schedules stops to raise a crab trab and do some shelling on a spoil island. A couple of kids on the boat found sea urchins (reddish things in photo below), which they shared with the rest of the group. The tour guides/educators also run a seine net out, sampling underrwater life at different points in the bay. Creatures we all got to see included grunts, sea squirts, spider crabs, arrow crabs, tiny blue crabs, and bigger blue crabs. At one point a pod of six dolphins -- several of which were just youngsters -- lept beside the boat.

Along the way down the Intracoastal Waterway, the captain pointed out several houses on the shore, including Hulk Hogan's Swiss chalet-style mansion. Now, it's probably not a surprise to any of you, but I'm kind of a history geek, and I was a lot more interested in another house the captain mentioned.

This is Spottis Woode, sometimes called Spotswood, Donald Roebling's waterfront estate. The captain mentioned that Donald Roebling was the grandson of the man who built the Brooklyn Bridge, but Donald is noteworthy based on his own acheivements.
In 1930, Donald Roebling bought this parcel of land in Clearwater, naming it honor of his finacee, Miss Spottiswoode. Roebling built a fabulous Tudor-style mansion, then added a machine shop to the estate. After the 1928 Lake Okeechobee hurricane, Roebling saw first hand how difficult rescue efforts had been. In his machine shop, he built the first prototypes of the Roebling Alligator, an amphibious tractor or tank. He repeated tried to get the military interested in his invention, but unsuccessfully so until the Alligator was featured in a 1937 issue of Life magazine. By 1940, Roebling was suppling the vehicles to the Marine Corps. The Alligator played an important role in the Pacific Theater during World War II, after being testing on the beaches of Clearwater Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
For more information about Donald Roebling and the Roebling Alligator:
"The Alligator Amphibian: A Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark" (from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a pdf file, includes photographs)