16 Apr St. Petersburg to Sarasota, Florida – Bus Tour
And we’re off and running with the SCA (Society for Commercial Archeology) on the first day bus tour which promised great adventures! For those of us who have come from winter-weary northeastern or mid-western states, this day held not just the hopes of seeing fantastic survivors of Florida roadside kitsch, but a whole day of warmth and vibrant color as well. I saw a lot of pale faces in the crowd, as well as my own!
For anyone who is a “newby” to this group, it’s a fascinating combination of personalities: historians and preservationists, academics and writers, along with creative types like myself (artists, designers, photographers) – one thing holds us all together – a passion for preserving what’s left of the wonderful vanishing world of roadside culture we all took for granted growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. The term that’s widely used these days to describe this time period, especially with architecture and signage is “mid-century modern”. I’ll go into more detail about that later.
So, we were handed this guidebook as we stepped onto the bus, and I honestly didn’t have time to really appreciate it until the plane trip home. These folks have really done their homework! This brochure takes us through the entire route of our trip with great historical details included about points of interest along the way. If you missed the trip and are interested in the info – they do have back issues that you can purchase.
So, I’m going to take you along for the ride with some of my pics and some snippets of info from their brochure. (I’ll put their words inside quotation marks and in italics.) I had never been on a bus tour before and thought the reflection of the glass might distract from the quality of the photos – but in the end, I sort of liked the dream-like quality it gave some of the photos. Enjoy the ride!
And here’s a map of our day’s route, for those like myself who like an overview of the trip:
As we drove out from our hotel (the old historic Pennsylania, now renovated as a Courtyard Marriott – corner of 4th St and 3rd Ave), we meandered through some of the downtown streets, absorbing a great deal of discussion about the historic buildings and St. Petersburg’s evolution.
One of the buildings that really stands out is the Mediterranean Revival open air Post Office, which was constructed in 1916. “Celebrating the temperate climate, the post office remained open air with outside counters until 1969.” Found this post card in my collection!
The route took us along Central Avenue, where we could see the transition from the older, more historic buildings from the pre-WWI boom, to the bungalows and businesses that sprang up in the 1920’s before the Depression.
One of the highlights of the day for me was our stop at World Liquors, originally built as a gas station, store, and used car lot – “it was converted to Ace Liquor Drive-in in 1953. In 1961, Anthony Misiewicz purchased the store, change it to World Liquors, and built the 22′ tall World Liquors sign utilizing a 1950’s globe that was part of a sign outside of a downtown furniture store. The globe originally rotated on its own but stopped working in the 1970’s and the light inside the globe died in 2001. During the boom of the last decade, it was threateded with demolition when the current owner, Anthony’s nephew Paul Misiewicz, planned a new 22,000 square foot building. At the time, he received a quote of $60,000 to repair it. Another local business owner was interested in acquiring the sign, but planned to remove the “World Liquors” and “drive-in” lettering to reflect her business.” It appears for the moment that all is well.
We passed through a part of St. Petersburg called Pasadena and crossed the Treasure Island Causeway, headed for Paradise Island. There we stopped briefly to take in the massive Lutheran church of the Holy Comforter, designed by noted architect Victor Lundy. He was “inspired by the nautilus shell when he designed this structure in 1962….was part of the group of architects which became known as the Sarasota School of Architects….Best known for his many church designs in the area, his signature element is his dramatic roofs and the interactions between his dynamic forms and the landscape.” One of the things I found especially funny was that in the earlier days the congregation was so large that they had a drive-in service where people would park on the lawn and stay in their cars, often in their bathing suits, as they were on their way to the beach!
Treasure Island is a testament to what happened in post WWII Florida.
“The concept of the middle class family vacation changed the coastline of Florida. Motels with amenities such as air conditioning, drive-up parking, television, and swimming pools attracted families. They often wrapped around a sunny courtyard. Older rental properties modernized, adding amenities such as shuffleboard courts and beach umbrellas. Restaurants, commercial buildings, and family oriented roadside attractions soon followed.”
We stopped to take pictures of the classic Thunderbird sign (built in 1957) and I loved the ambiance of the Bilmar (1966) next door. I could see immediately as we drove south through the communities of St. Petersburg Beach, Brightwater Beach, Punta Vista, Lido Beach, and past the historic Don Cesar Hotel – this is a place I HAVE to come back to and do some serious photo research and paintings! For those of us who love the mid-century motels – there’s still a great cache of them here – but who knows how long they will remain with property values for beach front property soaring?
The next real thrill was the famed Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which was built in 1954, but partially destroyed in 1980 when a ship crashed into it. The current bridge opened in 1987 and has provided a “major north-south route between Pinellas and Manatee and Sarasota counties. Built at a cost of $22 million, the 15 mile bridge cut the distance from St. Petersburg to Bradenton from 70 miles to less than 20 miles. Promotional brochures stated that “Touring the Sunshine Skyway is like going to sea in your automobile.” I found this old postcard of the skyway in my collection.
We headed for Bradenton on US 19 eventually merging with the Tamiami (US 41) just north of Palmetto. Manatee County is known for its agriculture and home to Tropicana! One of the highlights of the trip was our brief drive through at Bradenton Donuts, so our chief honcho and president – the awesome Nancy Sturm – could pick up boxes of their famous donuts for us to enjoy. (I believe they are made with potato flour – so yummy!) I am seriously saddened by the fact that I was on the wrong side of the bus and wasn’t able to get a good shot of the building, but thanks to the graphix guru Rick Kilby (also I’m told the mastermind for this whole tour) – we now have one of his shots to include. Thanks Rick!
In the true tradition of a great roadside trip – we ate dessert (ie: donuts) before lunching at the funky and fun Sarasota Jungle Gardens, where we were treated to a great bird show after lunch.
I’m getting tired just recounting our day!!! After lunch we were treated to a truly great architectural experience: we toured the inside of one of the most famous houses in the area. (Actually, we weren’t able to tour the really famous Umbrella House – next door – but we did see the fabulous house next door where the designer worked, called “Hiss Studio”).
This from the brochure:
“As Sarasota’s growth extended to the islands, Phillip Hiss developed Lido Shores as a collection of modern homes for semi-tropical climate. Hiss, a well-educated man of independent means, came to Sarasota in 1948 and soon initiated work on Lido Shores. To draw attention this development, he commissioned Paul Rudolph to design a speculative house, the Umbrella House, in 1953. Next door, he hired Edward J. Seibert to design a studio for himself. As an elevated glass box, Hiss Studio was one of the first air conditioned spaces in Sarasota.”
The dear gentleman and his wife invited all 75 of us into their home! We peeked into every nook and cranny and what a beautiful place it is! Along with the gigantic banyon tree in the front yard!
And here’s a map to give you an idea of the location of this masterpiece. It’s #1 on the map.
After all this action, you can only imagine how tired we were! And also how grateful we were to these cool folks who put this all together for us! If I’ve got your interest up – you may want to consider joining the SCA and come along with us on the next big adventure – yet to be determined! Here’s the link to their site – we need more folks to join the cause!
That’s all for today kids! I’ll be back tomorrow or the next day with more highlights from the trip! If you got all the way to the end – congratulations!