January, 2012

January, 2012


Weeki Wachee State Park

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is located at the junction of US 19 and SR 50.  It’s built around a spring that maintains a 72-degree temperature and where 117 million gallons flow daily. If you thought mermaids were just the lively imaginings of lonely sailors, make this visit to Weeki Wachee—the City of Live Mermaids. It’s one of the nation’s smallest cities, with a population of nine, including the mayor—who’s a former mermaid, of course.

In 1946 Newton Perry, a former U.S. Navy man who trained SEALS to swim underwater in WWII, chose this as a business site. He cleared the spring of old rusted refrigerators and abandoned cars and experimented with underwater breathing hoses, and invented a method of breathing underwater from a free-flowing air hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor, rather than a tank strapped to the diver’s back.

In 1947, more alligators and black bears lived in the area than humans. Most roads were dirt, and US 19 was two-lane. Cars were few…so when the girls heard a car coming, they ran to the road in their bathing suits to beckon drivers, just like sirens of ancient lore lured sailors. In the ‘50s this was one of our nation’s most popular tourist stops.

Weeki Wachee was named by the Seminole Indians, which means “little spring” or “winding river.” It is so deep, that the bottom has never been found. The basin—where the mermaids swim--is 100 feet wide with limestone sides and a surging 5-mph current.

Today you can still witness the magic of mermaids performing synchronized ballet moves underwater while breathing through air hoses hidden in the scenery. Embedded in the side of the spring and 16 feet below the surface, there are 400 theater seats where you can look right into the natural beauty of this ancient spring. Turtles, fish, manatees, otters, and even an occasional alligator swim in the spring with the mermaids. After the show you can pose with the mermaids, or even swim in the spring with the new Sea Diver program.

In addition to The Little Mermaid show, don’t miss the Mermaids of Yesteryear (their motto is “once a mermaid, always a mermaid.”) The oldest mermaid is 72, some admit to being in their 60s, with the youngest claiming age 56. It’s a special performance (check schedules) and they’ve obviously still got the world by the tail.

A family of peacocks roams the grounds and welcomes you to a relaxing and full day of family fun. Weeki Wachee’s animal shows focus on birds and reptiles and is both entertaining and educational. This natural spring on the Weeki Wachee River also feeds Buccaneer Bay (open daily 9-5:30), which features a white sand beach, a thrilling flume ride (open March), beach volleyball, lazy river ride, and kiddie pool area.

You might kayak or canoe--or let someone else steer on a riverboat ride down the Weeki Wachee River to explore the flora and fauna. Just 12 miles from the Gulf, this jungly, winding river with blind bends is lined with bald cypress.  Various birds (even a bald eagle nest) fish and manatees are amazingly visible in this 99.8% pure water.

The 538-acre Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is located at 6131 Commercial Way in Weeki Wachee. Open daily. Check for updated times and events. Admission: adults-$13; Ages 6-12 costs $8; Free for children 5 and under. Call 352-592-5656 or go to www.weekiwachee.com or www.dep.state.fl.us.


    Crystal River Archaeological State Park

This historical landmark bordering the Crystal River has been a gold mine for historians and archaeologists. At the entrance to the park a well-displayed museum exhibits archaeological finds of weapons and tools that depict the primordial trade and technologies of the area, giving perception of the people who once lived here.

However, it is outside--roaming this 61-acre pre-Columbian Native American site that gives a feeling for the environment existing on these grounds that were settled 2500 years ago. It is a six-mound complex of one of the longest continually occupied sites in Florida.  The location is of additional importance because it was not only where a large number of early people resided, but also served as a ceremonial center.

Traveling from great distances, it is estimated that as many as 7500 American Indians visited the complex every year to bury their dead and to conduct trade. The natives continued to thrive on this setting until about 500 years ago, but first use of the area may have been as long as 10,000 years ago during the Paleo-Indian period.

Paved paths ambling along the points of interest also lead to benches where the atmosphere of this ancient setting is easily envisioned. One particular area next to the transparent water is one of the most pleasant scenes to inhale the intrinsic worth of nature that can be found.

There are two large middens that provide evidence of the number of people and the length of habitation. A midden is essentially a garbage dump—basically shells and bones. These primitive people, like everyone had waste, but didn’t dispose of it haphazardly, instead choosing designated areas in their compound to pile it into huge mounds.

It is also obvious why these people who were considered peaceful and sedentary chose to live next to the crystal clear waterway. It no doubt fit their religious commune with nature and the water provided an essential diet for easy living.

The highest knoll overlooking the river is a temple mound, with steps now built to a platform on the top where ceremonies took place. Three burial mounds exist, and an intriguing stele—an upright stone with a naturally sculpted face that was worshiped by the Indians. Perhaps time and the elements have blurred the features, but a discriminating gaze at the proper angle can still find it.

The park, sitting on the edge of an expansive coastal marsh, is also designated as one of Citrus County’s ideal locations for birding. The forest as well as the marsh provide habitat for a large variety of wildlife, and the river, or course, is one of the best for anglers. While the natural resources provide sustenance today as they did for the ancient dwellers, it is the cultural resources that are most appreciated and the park’s major asset.

The Crystal River Archaeological State Park is located at 3400 North Museum Pointe. The museum ($3 self-pay) is open 9 am-5 pm except on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Call 352-795-3817 or go to www.FloridaStateParks.org.

Crystal River Preserve State Park

For a getaway of exceptional natural beauty, make the trip to Crystal River Preserve State Park. Nature lovers and especially photographers treasure the undisturbed islands, inlets, backwater and forests of Crystal River Preserve. The park borders 20 miles of the northern Gulf coast and several square miles of native habitat between Yankeetown and Homosassa.

The park covers pine flatwoods, basin marsh, tidal marsh, wet hardwood hammocks, and basin swamps with six different trails revealing some, or all of each environment. Some of the routes can be journeyed by bicycle, but others require serious hiking, the shortest being three quarters of a mile and the longest more than seven miles. Almost anywhere along these traces wading birds, gopher tortoise, deer, and turkey can be spotted as well as the abundance of vegetation peculiar to the region.

Anglers can walk the short path to the Mullet Hole for an afternoon of fishing, and paddlers can launch a kayak or canoe into the waters of the scenic Crystal River. If you’re in the park on Monday, Wednesday or Friday and you’ve frazzled yourself with hoofing over the terrain, the best way to enjoy a reprieve is on the Heritage Eco River Tour—just looking, listening, and letting someone else power the boat.

Before casting off the docks on Sailboat Avenue there is a small museum displaying shore and water life that can familiarize you with the significant points of interest.  It’s ninety minutes of gently cruising down the Crystal River to the Gulf, all the while narrated and piloted by park manager Nick Robbins who has encyclopedic knowledge of history and the eco-system. He can fill in the pictures of how the pre-Columbian river dwellers used the resources of the river in their daily lives, and explain in detail the various plants and wildlife viewed along the way. One of the features that make this voyage outstanding is, as the name of the river indicates, the clarity of the water. A culmination of several sources, the Crystal River is a spring-fed estuary that flows to the ocean—one of only four in the world, and the single such work of nature in Florida.

We saw a herd of curious Manatees poke their noses out of the water next to the boat. They come to the surface to breath every three to five minutes, Robbins says, and in the cloudless water you can often see them clearly.

Even more obvious are the bald eagles nesting in a loblolly pine. Easy to spot, it’s the highest of all the shoreline trees. The nest—equated to the size of a Volkswagen by Robbins—has been there for 14-15 years. With the binoculars provided on the boat you can almost always see one or two of these majestic birds thrusting their heads into the open, and occasionally on the wing or perching.

All up and down the river, the view, though quite ordinary for the environment, in thought by most to be spectacular simply because it is nature undisturbed—something that is becoming all too rare. On the three days mentioned, the cruise runs twice daily: 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and at designated times there are evening cruises that are impressive for all the same reasons…plus the setting sun over the Gulf.

The Crystal River region is without question one of the finest natural settings the state of Florida has to offer—a place that puts you in touch with the untouched. Call 352-563-0450 or go to www.dep.state.fl.us.

Chassahowitzka Hotel

Sometimes Chassahowitzka is just too long and difficult to spit out, so the locals usually refer to it as Chaz. Some of the long-time Citrus County residents grin and tell you it’s an old Indian word for “place of the hanging pumpkins.”  Skepticism of single Indian words that translate to entire sentences comes to mind, but there’s a hotel by that name too, they say.  And, it sounds even more dubious when the grin widens and they explain that you can find it on Miss Maggie Drive.

But it’s all for real, and when you come to the bend in this narrow two-lane, the setting behind the hotel sign expresses serenity that is difficult to match at more conventional lodgings. The big rectangular building itself somehow looks cozy, and the warmth is amplified by the large acreage encompassed by thick foliage and canopied by giant Live Oaks swathed in Spanish moss.

Owner Dave Strickland says this whole area is Mother Nature’s theme park—a description that conjures up a much better image than suspended pumpkins—and those intrigued by history find the hotel interesting as well as comfortable.

The building was constructed in the late nineteenth century and served as a barracks during the Spanish American War. There is no evidence that Teddy stayed here, but some of those cavalrymen who charged up San Juan Hill might have.

In 1910 Dave Strickland’s great-grandparents converted the place to a hotel and operated it until 1969. From then it sat vacant until 1990 when it was purchased as a residence.  However in 2000, opportunity came again for the Stricklands to bring the “old hotel” back into the family and back into business. 

Dave and his wife Kim completely renovated the building, stripping it down to the built-to-last yellow-heart pine and cypress structure, and reinstalling the latest in comfort and safety amenities. The finished product is a bit rustic because that’s the style appreciated by vacationers coming to nature’s coast, as compared with grandiose havens of tourism. 

There are eight rooms—one on the main floor accommodates handicapped—some equipped with double beds and some with singles. A continental breakfast is served every morning in the dining room.  However, staying at the Chassahowitzka is reminiscent of bunking with a family friend, and most guests prefer to take their chow to the over-sized living room where they can chat and catch the early television news.

Dave says that much of his clientele consists of family groups or friends who come for the two outstanding activities of the area: fishing and golf.  Typically they don’t hang around the hotel, spending as much as time will allow at their favorite sport.

A big advantage for sportsmen staying at the Chassahowitzka is that Dave will arrange golf or fishing packages in advance. The Hotel sets in a bend of the river and anglers need only circle around the block to the docks, boat ramps, and supply store. Guides who are USCG certified take guests out on 24- to 27-foot boats to the best fishing spots—with everything supplied: rods, reels, bait and even a lunch.

For golfers the nearby World Woods Golf Club offers a 36-hole complex that was newly renovated in 2010. The gently undulating terrain is a welcome variation to Florida’s typical flat venues, and this Tom Fazio design is said to be one of the best public courses in the southeast.

For whatever reason you come to this part of Florida—whether to play your heart out, or just relax among the natural elements, you’ll find the Chassahowitzka Hotel is as enchanting as the name is unusual. Call 352-382-2075 or 1-877-807-7783. Or go to www.chazhotel.com.


Museum of Contemporary Art - Jacksonville

The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCA) is a cultural resource of the University of North Florida and one of the Southeast’s largest contemporary art institutions. Situated on Hemming Plaza since 2003, it primarily collects work from 1960 to the present. Their permanent collection currently consists of almost 800 works of art, including painting, printmaking, sculpture, and photography. Artists represented in the collection include Hans Hoffman, Alexander Calder, Alex Katz, Robert Longo, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Rauschenberg, Paul Jenkins, Jules Olitski, Philip Pearlstein, Jim Dine, James Rosenquist, and Joan Mitchell.

MOCA Jacksonville was founded in 1924 as the Jacksonville Fine Arts Society and in 1978 it became the first institution in Jacksonville to be accredited by the American Association of Museums.

In late 1999 the Museum acquired its permanent home, the historic Western Union Telegraph Building on Hemming Plaza, adjacent to the newly renovated City Hall. The building facade was restored to its original Art Deco style, while the interior was completely refurbished to house the Museum’s galleries which feature its permanent collection as well as traveling exhibits, educational facilities, a theater/auditorium, Museum Shop and Cafe. Total renovation of the 60,000 square foot, six-floor facility was completed in 2003. Substantial additions to the collection increased not only its quality, but also its size to almost 800 pieces.


Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of Photography (through Jan. 8) Nearly two hundred major works from this world-renowned private collection—recently named among the world’s top 10
according to ARTnews. Project Atrium: Gustavo Godoy (through March 11, 2012) This  Los Angeles artist punctuates this  cavernous space with a monumental site-specific sculpture.

Annual UNF Art & Design Faculty Exhibition (through Jan. 22) UNF Gallery at MOCA. Larry Clark: The Tulsa Series (through Jan. 8) a landmark in documentary photography as well as one of the key works in the Museum’s permanent collection.
First Coast Portfolio: The Works of Jacksonville Area Art Educators (through Jan. 22) ReFocus: Art of the ‘60s (1/28-4/28) Joe Forkan 's The Lebowski Cycle, presented as part of the Barbara Ritzman Devereux Artist Workshops (2/3-4/1)
Project Atrium: Mark Licari (3/24 -7/8) Carrie Ann Baade, curated by Debra Murphy, Ph.D. (4/12-5/27) ReFocus: Art of the ‘70s (4/27-8/26) ReFocus: Art of the ‘80s (9/14-1/3/2013)

MOCA Jacksonville is located at 333 North Laura Street. Hours are Tue, Wed, Fri, and Sat from 10 am-4 pm; Thur from10 am-8 pm; Sun from noon-4 pm. Free Wednesday Artwalk is from 5-9 pm. Admission: Adults-$8; Seniors, Active military and students -$5; UNF students-free; children under 2-free; Sundays-free for families; Bank of America cardholders-free first Sat and Sun of each month. Call 904-366-6911 or go to www.mocajacksonville.org.

    The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens-Jacksonville

A visit to The Cummer -- a boutique museum of just the right size, with enough variety and quantity –will amaze you for hours. The Cummer Museum was established in 1958, when art collector, garden enthusiast and civic leader Ninah Cummer bequeathed the art collection and riverfront home, which she owned with her husband Arthur, to create an art museum. 

Today, the core collection of 60 pieces of art from Mrs. Cummer's estate has grown to include nearly 5,000 works.  Recent acquisitions include masterpieces created by Camille Pissarro, Gilbert Stuart, John Twachtman, Norman Rockwell, and Romare Bearden. In addition the rare and valuable Constance I. and Ralph H. Wark Collection of Early Meissen Porcelain, is one of only three collections of this type and quality in the world.

Each gallery has its own personality. Some rooms are minimalist, with stark white walls and high ceilings, while others are painted in striking bold colors. One has dark wooden paneling to look like a room in Mr. and Mrs. Cummer's home.
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is idyllically located on the banks of the St. Johns River. The 2.5 acres of historic gardens are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Gardens bear the imprint of some of the foremost names in landscape design and horticulture, including Ossian Cole Simonds, Ellen Biddle Shipman, Thomas Meehan and Sons, and the fabled Olmsted firm. Throughout the year, the gardens are ablaze with rare horticultural specimens nestled under a canopy of mature live oak trees. In addition to the lush plantings, features such as reflecting pools, fountains, arbors, antique ornaments, and sculptures create a special outdoor space that provides a perfect complement to the museum's collections.

The gardens were created by the Cummer family—who came from a long line of Michigan lumber barons who led the Cummer Lumber Company. They built their homes on the banks of the St. Johns River and their wives, Ninah and Clara, masterminded the gardens surrounding their homes.

Simonds’s initial scheme, with naturalistic sweeps of native trees and shrubs, enhanced the stands of majestic live oaks along the riverfront property.  These plantings provided the backbone for later ornamental gardens, such as the formal English Garden designed in 1910 by Thomas Meehan and Sons. Today its roses and tea roses, sculpted boxwood and azalea hedges and a magnificent wisteria-laden cypress arbor peaks at Garden Week in March.

The jewel in the crown of The Cummer Gardens is the Italian Garden, one of only a handful of extant gardens designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman. Designed in 1931 on the site of Arthur and Ninah Cummer’s former garage, this garden was conceived as the ultimate display garden for Ninah’s large collection of Italian marble garden ornaments and hundreds of azaleas. Two long reflecting pools frame the view to the green, ficus-covered gloriette that resembles the famous water gardens at the Villa Gamberaia in Tuscany. A tapered cypress tree-lined gazing pool surrounded by lush grass quadrants is the central attraction.

Along the river, arches dripping in creeping fig form a beautiful view.

Current and upcoming exhibits at The Cummer Museum of Art are: Eugene Savage--The Seminole Paintings (through January 8) Although best known today as a muralist, in the 1930s he became enchanted with the Seminole Indian tribe and began to depict them in paintings and works on paper. One in Three--Let’s Solve our Dropout Crisis (through January 9) Through photography and video, young people tell stories of challenges and successes. 50 Forward--New Additions to the Permanent Collection (1/31-8/15) featuring new acquisitions made through gifts and purchases in honor of the Museum’s 50th Anniversary. Impressionism and Post Impressionism from the High Museum of Art (2/16-5/6)

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is located at 829 Riverside in Jacksonville. Hours are Tuesdays: 10 am- 9 pm; Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays: 10 am – 4pm; Saturdays: 10 am-5 pm; Sundays: Noon – 5 pm. Admission: Adults-$10; Seniors and students-$6;Free for ages 0-5. FREE on Tuesdays from 4-9 pm.  The Cummer Store is a trove of unique items and features artwork for sale by area artists. The TreeCup Café closes one hour prior to Museum closing hours. The museum and gardens are fully wheelchair accessible (wheelchairs are available for visitors at the front desk.) Call 904-356-6857 or go to www.cummer.org.


Solomon’s Castle – Ona

Travel to Solomon’s Castle in Ona and you’ll discover how this creative “king”—Howard Solomon--expresses his artistic soul. He’s the original recycler: having sided the exterior of his castle with a newspaper’s discarded printing plates.

Inside, the castle, Solomon’s lightning-quick wit, silly puns and prolific creativity charms as you wind through the galleries. More than 80 of his stained glass windows are a backdrop—containing nursery rhymes, lighthouses, mammals, candles, etc. Some examples of his found-object art are 50 pounds of coat hangers transformed into a giraffe, penguin and unicorn. An elephant with clam-shell toes comes to life from seven oil drums—with tusks that are manatee ribs from the Peace River. The walls contain painted wood-scrap montages ala Modigliani and Picasso. A skilled metal crafter, Solomon used recycled gears, brake shoes, cylinder heads and other car parts to create humorous sculptures.

Solomon is a self-taught artist who was born and raised in New York.  He came to Florida in 1956 in a $50 Chevy, and in 1972 he bought this swampland on Horse Creek where he could create and express his artistry.

He also built (over four years) the Boat in the Moat, a 60-foot replica of a sixteenth-century Spanish galleon. It houses the restaurant which has additional outdoor patio seating. His daughter Alane is the chef and his son-in-law Dean is the manager.

The castle grounds were designed by his Queen—Peggy. “He told me I was ‘Plant Manager,’ -- whatever I planted, I had to take care of. This location is so tranquil,” Peggy Solomon said. When visiting, take time to walk the grounds to view whimsical sculpture nestled amidst tropical flowers and foliage. Along the nature walks you might spot turtles, alligator, and otter. As rare as some of these specimens are in the wild, none are as unusual as the sculptures Solomon has created amidst these palmettos, cypress and majestic oaks draped in Spanish moss.

The newest gallery is called The Alamo (complete with Brunswick cannonballs.) Inside there is more wacky art: bar cars (stock them with liquor and drive them up next to your couch), and other small pieces of art that will amuse and ignite your imagination. 

There’s even a special Blue Moon Room (efficiency apartment in the Castle) for rent. In addition there are six bed and breakfast units at their Horse Creek Life House.

Solomon’s studio is a large, well-equipped and dusty machine shop. And everywhere you look are nuggets of his wacky genius. Of course artistry requires a certain amount of physical dexterity, but you’ll conclude that the mind is the most important asset. After a visit here, whether you consider yourself an artist or not, your imagination will be sparked and soar with dreams and possibilities.

Solomon’s Castle, located at 4533 Solomon Road is closed on Mondays. Tours are from 11 am to 4 pm and cost $10 for adults, $4 for children. Credit cards are not accepted. Call 863-494-6077 or go to www.solomonscastle.com.



Henry B. Plant Museum/The Tampa Bay Hotel

Conceived in optimism and whimsy, the Tampa Bay Hotel has survived more than a century. Travel there and experience how this Moorish Revival architecture is a symbol (the large building with silver minarets on top) of Tampa. It represents an era that opened the last frontiers of the American South.

The Tampa Bay Hotel cost 2.5 million dollars to build and $500,000 to furnish. Consisting of 511 rooms, some of which were suites of three to seven rooms, it provided a degree of luxury never before seen in Tampa. Most of the rooms had their own baths and all had electricity and telephones.

The Gilded Age was one of opulence inspired by great civilizations of the past. Revivals of classical architectural styles were at their peak in 1891. While the Tampa Bay Hotel was under construction, the Plants traveled in Europe and purchased art and furnishings that filled 41 train cars destined for the hotel. Many of these objects survived and are on view today. It is a testament to the lavish lifestyle of the time and to the individual tastes of the Plants.

Henry B. Plant was born in Connecticut, and at age 6 his father died. Later his mother remarried, and his grandmother, who hoped to make a clergyman of him, offered him an education at Yale. But his career began at age 18 when he got a job as captain’s boy, deck hand, and man-of-all-work on a steamboat plying between New Haven and New York. Among his duties was the care of express parcels. He rose to the position of general superintendent of the Adams Express Company for the territory south of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. Fearing the confiscation of their properties during the Civil War, the directors transferred them to Plant. In 1861, as president, he operated the Southern Express Company.

After the Civil War, the railroads of the South were practically ruined and many went bankrupt in the Depression of 1873.  Convinced of their eventual economic revival, Henry Plant bought several small rail companies serving the South and put them together to form the Plant System of Railways. A definite challenge was standardizing track, stations and equipment.
Plant recognized that his railroad would be a greater success if combined with steamship and steamboat service. In 1886, the Plant Steamship Line was organized and went from Port Tampa to Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica and New Orleans during the winter Tampa Bay Hotel season. A spur of the rail line brought the train up to the west front entrance of the Hotel so guests could disembark and walk directly into the lobby. By providing better connections to the North, he gave Florida orange growers quicker and cheaper access to markets. In the summer season, he used these steamships for service between Boston, New York and Nova Scotia.

Tampa and the Tampa Bay Hotel played an important role in the Spanish American War of 1898 when Henry Plant convinced the Secretary of War to allow Tampa to be the official port of embarkation for troops going to Cuba. His railroad and steamships helped transport troops to Florida and eventually to Cuba. The Tampa Bay Hotel became the headquarters for the Army officers awaiting the order for embarkation, earning it National Historic Landmark status. Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders trained in the camps near the hotel during the day. Clara Barton gathered supplies for the Red Cross and frequented the Hotel.

Following Plant’s death in 1899 at age 89, the Hotel operated sporadically, but failed to prosper. The City of Tampa purchased and operated the hotel and later refurbished it during the boom of the mid-1920s. But the ensuing Depression took the last of its grandeur. When the fledgling University of Tampa outgrew its facilities in the 1930s, the languishing hotel seemed ideal for offices and classrooms, with the south wing of the first floor dedicated to the museum.

Current and upcoming exhibits: Gasparilla—A Tampa Tradition: 1/13–2/19.  An exhibit of Krewe of Gasparilla memorabilia-coronation robes, ball invitations, programs, crowns and costumes as well as vintage photographs of the invasion, parade floats, pirates and royal courts. Hearts and Flowers--Victorian Valentines: 2/1-29 features a collection of antique valentines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Victorian Valentine Making: 2/4, from 10 am – Noon. Create your own Victorian-era love token for that sweet someone. Refreshments and all supplies are provided for this hands-on workshop for adults and children. Antique Evaluation Saturday in the Music Room of Plant Hall: 1/7, 2/11, 4/7, 5/12. Live Theater -January-May with living history vignettes that bring turn-of-the-century Tampa Bay Hotel staff members and guests to life. Upstairs/Downstairs at the Tampa Bay Hotel each Sunday at 2 pm, 1/8-5/29. Single-person performances bring turn-of-the-century Hotel staff members and guests to life.

The Tampa Bay Hotel/Henry B. Plant Museum/University of Tampa is located at 401 West Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa. Admission is $10-adults; $7-seniors, students; $5 children age 4-12. Hours are Tue-Sat from 10 am to 5 pm; Sun from noon-1 pm. Guided tours Tue & Thur at 1 pm. Free parking in front or in the parking garage two blocks away. The Museum is wheelchair accessible. Call 813-254-1891 or go to www.plantmuseum.com.


Palm Cottage – Naples

During the 1800s, U.S. survey teams explored the southwest coast of Florida and sent detailed reports to the U.S. Senate. These descriptions captivated General John S. Willams, a senator from Louisville, KY and he recruited Walter Haldeman, the adventurous publishing magnate and owner of the Louisville Courier-Journal to join him in chartering a boat to Florida in 1885. When they encountered a magnificent beach in Naples with a natural bay to the east, they knew they’d found paradise.

By 1889 Williams and Haldeman had built homes on the beach, constructed a pier, and established a 16-room hotel. Eventually Haldeman paid $50,000 to Williams for the Naples Development Company, effectively making him owner of 8,600 acres of land that included the town.

Haldeman’s good friend and editor of his newspaper was Henry Watterson, who was also a Pulitzer Prize winner for his syndicated columns about World War I. Haldeman wanted him to spend winters in Naples, but Watterson was insistent that he didn’t have a place to stay and didn’t want to intrude upon the Haldeman home. So, in 1895, Haldeman built him a comfortable home (Palm Cottage) where Watterson spent eleven winters.

The home was a generous size, with seven bedrooms upstairs. Since the Haldeman’s Naples Hotel was sometimes full, rather than turn guests away, they were given a room there.  Although it was built for his friend Watterson, it was also an annex for his hotel.

Haldeman died in 1902 and in 1916 Mr. and Mrs. Walter Parmer bought the house and named it Palm Cottage. Later it was resold and used as a rental. In 1945 Laurence and Alexandria Brown purchased the house after their home had been destroyed in the 1944 hurricane. The Browns entertained lavishly and Hollywood luminaries such as Gary Cooper, Robert Montgomery, and Heddy Lamar were often in residence as guests of the Browns. Upon Mrs. Brown’s death in 1978, the Collier County Historical Society purchased the house for $100,000, changed the name back to Palm Cottage, and in’96 completely restored it for over $300,000.

The 3,500 square-foot Palm Cottage is the oldest house, and the only residential building in Naples listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The twelve-inch walls of hand-made concrete, sand, and shells—tabbie mortar construction—has enabled it to withstand hurricanes for over 100 years.

Some of Palm Cottage’s distinguishing characteristics are twelve-foot ceilings, transom windows over bedroom doors for ventilation, pocket doors that separate Victorian parlors, a shaded screened porch to catch a Gulf breeze, and beautiful Dade County pine floors (it’s very expensive, but full of turpentine—which repels termites).

There are docent-guided tours (they passionately share in-depth history about the house, the occupants, furnishings, photos displayed, and Naples). You can even relax in a 16-seat theater and enjoy a filmed series of first-hand oral accounts of Naples past. In the 1890s, it cost $15 for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a sleeping room. Behind Palm Cottage is a “guest house,” a euphemism for servants’ quarters since wealthy guests at the time always brought their servants.

In 2006 the Naples Historical Society added the property next door which was slated for demolition. Now known as the Norris Gardens, they evoke gardening trends prevalent during the last 100 years. There’s a garden of the senses, a water garden, a palm collector’s garden, the edible garden, a pioneer garden, and the Everglades shade garden. There are two shaded Victorian pergolas opposite across a classic oval lawn, plus a thatched roof Chickee pavilion crafted by the Seminoles. The Norris Gardens are not only a quiet respite, but also a popular place for receptions and weddings.

Palm Cottage and The Norris Gardens is located at 137 12th Avenue South in Naples (one block east of the Naples Pier). Free Parking at Broad Avenue Garage (between 3rd & 2nd St). Tours of Palm Cottage (Tue-Thur, year-round, 1-4 pm-$10); Tours of The Norris Gardens (1st & 3rd Thursday each month, year round, at 10 am-$10. Call 239-261-8164 or go to www.NaplesHistoricalSociety.org.

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe - Sarasosta

Heart and soul…lots’a soul…pulses at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) in Sarasota with their season premiere of Love, Sung in the Key of Aretha. The venue is a converted warehouse. It has a sort of bare-bones intimacy, with all good seats for experiencing a performance that will have you tapping your foot and tingling all the way home.

This is a clever, creative original production, conceived and written by Artistic Director Nate Jacobs. It’s a 1968 slice of life: Four African-American women channel the Queen of Soul and sing snippets of 30 songs (expressing the frustration, trials and tribulations they face during happy and sad events.) This was the time of protests and marches: Civil rights, Vietnam, and women’s liberation. It was also when Aretha Franklin began her rise to superstardom. This musical revue captures what many felt during the ‘60s, with its music that defined that generation.

The set is simple, but the talent in WBTT is terrific. You’ll feel like you just dropped by the Cotton Club when there are dance scenes. But the singers will blow you away with the quality and range of their voices and passion. Teresa Stanley performed on Broadway in The Color Purple, and in the national tours of Rock of Ages and the thirtieth anniversary of Ain’t Misbehavin. She’s a star, bigger than life, and will grasp your heart with You’re All I Need to Get By and People Get Ready. Tsadok Porter has performed since age 5 in area productions, sang background for recording artist Chadwick, and co-wrote for rapper Trina. At first her sassiness makes you underestimate her. But she belts out raw emotion singing You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, You Send Me, Dr. Feelgood, and The House That Jack Built.

Quiet and unassuming, Ariel Blue has not only performed in area productions, but also as a vocalist in the Conelli Circus in Switzerland. She’ll grab your attention with her clear, pure voice singing Aint Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around), and Think. All these women will wow you, but then Alyssa White demurely comes out and wins your love with a voice beyond her years, singing I Say a Little Prayer, Call me, and I'm in Love. By the way, she recently won first place two consecutive weeks at NYC’s Apollo Theatre’s amateur night. She’s 16.

Give yourself a special gift—the hottest ticket in town--and discover the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, located at 1646 10th Way in Sarasota: Love Sung in the Key of Aretha (through 1/16); A Raisin in the Sun (1/25-2/19); “Sammy” Tonight! A Tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. (3/7-4/1) and Blackbird- The Story of Josephine Baker (4/18-5/13).All shows Tue-Sat begin at 8 pm. Sun matinees are at 2 pm. Season tickets are $75, single tickets are $28. Call 941-366-1505 or go to www.wbttsrq.org


The Norton Museum of Art - West Palm Beach

The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach has been internationally known since its founding. Its collection now consists of over 7,000 works concentrated in European, American, Chinese, Contemporary art, and Photography. This stellar art museum, one of the largest in Florida recently reinstalled its American and European galleries to better showcase its permanent collection of masterpieces by artists such as Picasso, Monet, and Matisse, and also redesigned its main lobby and added Wi-Fi to enhance the visitor experience.

The Norton Museum of Art was founded in 1941 by Ralph Hubbard Norton and his wife, Elizabeth. He was an industrialist who headed the Acme Steel Company in Chicago and retired in 1939. For many years, the Nortons were actively interested in fine arts and had developed a sizable collection of paintings and sculpture which they decided to share with the public after they made West Palm Beach their permanent home.

In 1940, the Norton Gallery and School of Art was built on property located between South Olive Avenue and South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. Mr. Norton commissioned Marion Syms Wyeth, of the distinguished firm of Wyeth, King & Johnson, to design a building to house the collection. This late Art Deco/Neo-Classic building opened its doors to the public in 1941.

In 1993, due to the tremendous growth in both its collections and the demand for its programs, the Norton Museum of Art embarked on fulfilling its potential as a visual art Museum of the highest caliber. They selected Centerbrook Architects and Planners to design the project, which was completed in January, 1997, and doubled the size of the Norton.

In 2003, another need was met with a 45,000-square-foot expansion. This Gail and Melvin Nessel Wing increased the Norton's gallery space by seventy-five percent, allowing more opportunities for the Museum's renowned collections to be continually on view to the public on a rotating schedule, including works never before on display in the Museum. This wing also includes fourteen new galleries, an elegant enclosed courtyard that accommodates a variety of educational and social events, and a glass ceiling installation commissioned from Dale Chihuly. The cantilevered spiral staircase and three-story atrium with architectural motifs were designed to evoke the museum’s art. The Norton’s current 122,500-square-feet rotates selections from the Museum’s permanent collections.

Present and Upcoming Exhibitions:  Dave Cole-Flags of the World –through 1/16:  a 15x28.5-foot American flag quilted together using the red, white, and blue fabric of the 192 flags in the United Nations “Flags of the World” set. Beneath it the remnants are scattered on the gallery floor in a kaleidoscope of color. From 1/18-3/25  Corning Museum of Glass Hot Glass Roadshow, featuring Corning master glassblowers demonstrating complex technique in a mobile glassblowing studio; From 1/18-3/27-Beth Lipman: A Still Life Installation (a re-interpretation of still lifes in extravagant, blown glass sculptures); From 1/18-3/27- Studio Glass, featuring works by internationally recognized artists Dale Chihuly, William Morris, Toots Zynsky,  and other examples of contemporary studio glass from the Museum collection; The Emperor’s Orders  runs through 2/19: Objects from the Qianlong Imperial Workshop (1735-1796) created for the greatest art collector in 18th century China, the Emperor.  Jenny Saville-through March 4: her contribution of human figures painting—both large scale oils and drawings from 1992-2011; Cocktail Culture through March 11 (a multidisciplinary exhibit exploring the social ritual of the cocktail party through the lens of fashion and design. Tacita Dean (2/3-5/6). Her photo-based works, with paint, drawings, or hand-written text added creates artwork that is as elusive as it is captivating. Decoding Messages in Chinese Art from 2/12-6/24. The subjects of the objects are animals which evoke symbolic associations and homonymic puns.

The Museum also presents a weekly Art After Dark series – “Where culture and entertainment meet.”-- each Thursday night from 5-9 pm, featuring music, dance and magic performances, art-making activities, lectures, tours, wine tastings, and culinary treats. Also, exhibition lectures are held at 3 pm on certain Sundays and Curators’ Conversations are held some Thursdays at 6:30 pm. Writers Workshops and Treasure of the Month is highlighted  at 1 pm  on select Wednesdays each month.

The Norton Museum of Art, located at 1451 South Olive Avenue in West Palm Beach There is also a gift shop and café. The Norton is open Tue, Wed, Fri and Sat from 10 am-5 pm; Thur from 10 am-9 pm; and Sun from 11 am-5 pm. Admission is $12-adults; $5-ages 13-21; free for children under 13. Call 561-832-5196 or visit www.norton.org.

Ragtops Motorcars - West Palm Beach

Ty Houck arrived on Florida’s Atlantic coast thirty-two years ago. His job of setting up new clothing stores had taken him to exclusive venues all over the country, but when he saw Palm Beach, he inhaled, along with the ocean breezes, a deep appreciation of the surroundings, and stayed.

How you get from clothing to automobiles only Houck knows—perhaps just an admiration of the finer things. He started Ragtops with a ’56 Thunderbird and two classic Mercedes—all, as the name indicates, with convertible tops—at Tyler’s Gas Station in West Palm. Although the business has always been on the west side, the lavishness of Palm Beach has proven an ideal companion for automotive masterpieces.

It’s not just the extravagant architecture lining Ocean Boulevard, but the Rolls, Bentleys and Jaguars commonly roaming the streets that create a market environment favorable to exclusive vehicles.

The business grew—at one time an authorized Avanti dealership—and by 1988 landed in the old premises of a Cadillac-LaSalle dealer with room for more than 100 cars and the automotive keepsakes that had been accumulating. The evolution followed to more than collectable cars. Because of space and ambiance, it was an attraction that brought pleasure to large groups, prompting a move into the special events business. Over the years Ty says they have hosted corporate and private parties—everything from bar mitzvahs to wakes.  Somewhere along the way it was suggested that Ragtops was like a museum—a term embodied at about the time the New York Times published an article proclaiming Ragtops to be a “must see destination.”

Recently Ragtops has moved next door, and is now part of a 1925 complex suiting the business style. Ty says they are trimming the inventory to thirty cars, but the long established principle remains. Rather than a museum, maybe an automotive emporium is more accurate, because everything except the signage on the walls is for sale—exhibiting antiquities is only part of the concept, Ty explains, that lures people back year after year.

Upon entering the building, the first things noticed are the cars, but another glance reveals that this is a place of reminiscence. There is a simulated soda fountain and phone booth right out of the fifties, pedal cars in a mock drive-in theater, old gas pumps, and Coca-Cola memorabilia and signage covering the walls—all in art deco style, including the gift shop.

Large black and whites of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean look down on the showroom. Although I didn’t see Dean’s classic ’49 Mercury from Rebel Without a Cause, it may be there on the next visit. The cars displayed are in constant change. Some, like the 1946 Hudson pickup truck, are rare due to limited numbers manufactured, but others, quite common in their day, are nonetheless exceptional 60 or 70 years later when in like-new condition.

It’s obvious that Ty Houck brought from the clothing business a masterful talent for exhibiting—merchandising, he calls it.  The cars, instead of commonly lined in a straight row are placed randomly—with purpose in every position. Mannequins dressed appropriately for the model they stand next to accompany many of the vehicles. When I entered the display area I spoke to the mannequin standing at the open door of a beautiful ’41 Ford roadster before I realized I was the dummy—authenticity is the theme here.

Before leaving I understood there are two reasons why people repeat their sojourn to Ragtops. First, after talking with Ty for five minutes you feel like and old friend, and secondly the place is nostalgic, but with a posture of optimism—a place you’ll want to visit just to feel good.

Ragtops Motorcars is located at 420 Claremore Drive in West Palm Beach. Hours are Tue-Sat from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no admission charge. Call 561-655-2836, 561-379-6500 or 1-877-RAGTOPS or go to www.ragtopsmotorcars.com.