While parked for lunch in downtown Lakeland, a Blue Heron decided to take a closer look at my truck. Maybe he was planning on hitching a ride somewhere? Not sure, but he eventually moved on. Another month has come and gone here in Lake Wales, FL. It’s been a busy month as usual, with continuation of several projects, and catching up with some more friends and family. Also, the weather is now starting to cool down just a bit, hitting the mid 80’s during the day, and into the high 60’s to low 70’s at night. So the awesome winter weather will soon be upon us. Can’t wait!
Friends & Family
I was happy to catch up with my other two brothers when they came out to the new Home Base for their first visit. After the grand tour of my new place, we ventured off into the town of Lake Wales. We had a nice lunch at Melanie’s Seafood, then took a walk around town. I had just taken a historic walking tour just a week prior, so I was able to share a bit of the history and view of the many murals and interesting architectural buildings in downtown. We also of course did the Spook Hill driving illusion as this is one of Lake Wales tourist attractions.
The following weekend, I met up with my two brothers again, and the three of us travelled down to Stuart to visit with my Aunt (and Godmother), and my two cousins. We had a wonderful afternoon of chatting and catching up, followed by a terrific lasagna dinner. It was close to two years ago that I had last seen them so it was great to see them all again. Thank you for the wonderful hospitality and I look forward to hosting your visit anytime.
A dear friend of mine named Joanne came down from South Carolina to visit for a week long vacation, and to play tourist with me throughout the area. In the weeks preceding her arrival, I had been busy putting together a long list of places to visit, things to see and do, and restaurants to check out. It was a mighty list to be sure, but in the end, we got through the majority of what I had accumulated. Everything from a historic walk thru downtown Lake Wales, to visiting the local attractions – namely Bok Tower Gardens, Florida’s Natural Visitor Center, and Spook Hill, to going on a 90-min private everglades expedition on an airboat, every day was jam packed and we had a blast. We dined on pretty much every cuisine including seafood, Italian, a modern food hall, and even a a couple of small local mom & pop breakfast and lunch places that turned out to be really good. It was a fast and furious week. Thanks Joanne for coming down and playing tourist with me. It was a lot of fun!
The local Lake Wales History Museum organized a historical walk through downtown. A couple dozen or so folks and I signed up, and one bright and sunny Saturday morning we were escorted through the town by a very interesting tour guide named Bartholomew, who gave us a wonderful talk as we came upon interesting buildings and artwork. There are 21 murals that have been painted onto the sides of buildings throughout the town, and represent a city commitment to the arts. They have subjects from old historic representations of downtown, to recognizing popular figures and businesses. There’s even a mural of the passion play.
Downtown Lake Wales has a wonderful collection of various architectural styles in its various historical buildings. Everything from Spanish to Art Deco is represented in the building of Lake Wales. The most notable structure in town is the Dixie Walesbilt Hotel. The structure was built in 1926 and opened on January 14, 1927. Original owners included then Governor Martin of Florida and silent screen star Thomas Meighan along with a consortium of other actors/actresses including Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson and Clara Bow as well as famous Hollywood attorney Nathan Burkan and Hollywood Producer Victor Heerman. The interior of the building was even more ornate than the exterior. It featured shopping arcades, Italian-made ceilings and columns, a drinking fountain by Ernest A. Batchelder, Georgia Pink and Vermont Verde antique marble floors by Georgia Marble Company, a wrought iron balustrade, and a central mezzanine. On August 31, 1990 the hotel was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. In 1995 it was sold at auction and closed. The interior was partially dismantled for reconstruction, which was never completed. In February 2010, a redevelopment agreement was proposed between the City of Lake Wales and a private sector developer to return the hotel to its original finishes and repurpose the building as 19,500 square foot Boutique Hotel with commercial space. Sadly, the building remains closed and in disrepair with no immediate signs of progress.
Joanne and I also checked out some tourist spots. We spent one late morning touring Hollis Garden in downtown Lakeland. Hollis Garden is a lakeside botanical display garden set in a neo-classical architectural environment complete with patterned flower beds, public art, and ornamental fountains. This garden is a 1.2 acre site located within historic Lake Mirror Park, and contains over 10,000 flowers, ornamental shrubs, and native trees. Truly a spectacular garden in the heart of downtown, free for all to view and enjoy. Nicely done Lakeland! There were too many other places that we visited during the week, so I’m going to save the rest of them for next month’s Luv2RV Blog.
I’ve been anticipating the installation of my paver patio ever since I executed the contract and left the deposit. Finally, the work was scheduled, and the job completed. Thankfully, it was done while Joanne was still here, so she could help me not only put together the fire pit (thank you – as this was definitely a two-person job), but to also setup and enjoy the inaugural campfire. Luckily, I was also able to invite Deb and Joel, who are the wonderful couple who sold me my new Home Base. They happened to be down here at their new lot doing some prep work, and were returning to their main home back in GA the following day.
The installation crew was a team of three, who hustled from 10am to 5pm, getting the entire project completed in one day. It started out with them taking out the layer of grass in the designated area, and also removing some dirt on the high side to make it somewhat level. Then then back filled with some sand, compacted then leveled that sand, then commenced to laying out the bricks. Once filled in, a circle was drawn around all the edge bricks, and a gas powered saw was used to cleanly cut a perfect circle. Edge stones were then installed around the circle arch, followed by more sand on top to fill in the gaps between the stones. They also set a concrete apron around the entire patio to promote good water flow, and to serve as a barrier to the grass. All in all, it was a wonderful job, and I’m extremely happy with the end result. I still need to add a final sealer coat to the patio in a couple of weeks, and that should be the final step.
It was still a bit warm outside during our inaugural campfire, but the wine and conversation was flowing nicely. The nights will soon be cooling down, and I have no doubt this fire pit will be getting lots of use. Now I’ve just got to figure out a solution for those damn mosquitoes!
While my friend Joanne was here for a week-long visit, I decided to take her along and introduce her to the fun retirement game of Roadside America. Since we spent the day in the Lakeland and Winter Haven area, I focused on roadsides that were in that close by. First up is the Southgate Shopping Center Arch. Built in 1957, it is definitely a retro looking piece of architecture. Its claim to fame however, was the appearance in the 1990 film Edward Scissorhands. The beauty shop scene was filmed in one of the stores in this center, and the arch itself was in the background of the scene. You can view the scene from the movie HERE.
Next up we visited a cemetery to view the gravesite of the proclaimed “America’s Oldest Man”. When Charlie Smith died in 1979 he was a celebrity claiming he was 137 years old. He lived so long that he had no one to pay for his tombstone. Three years later, the town finally chipped in and bought one for him, and engraved it with the celebratory epitaph. His Wiki page suggests he was not actually 137, but records indicate he was likely closer to 100 to 105 upon his death. But, we may never actually know.
Last up here is a mechanical junk art rendition of Blinky – a one-eyed gator who won the hearts of Lakeland in the 1970s. Sadly, Blinky was killed by a crocodile, so this junk-art rendition is a lasting memory to his life.
We also visited an eccentric private mansion known as the Wonder House. It was built by Conrad Schuck at the height of the 1920s Florida real estate bubble. It then became a tourist attraction from 1934 to 1963. It was built with no power tools or blueprints, and has four stories of concrete reinforced with railroad ties and features at 21-foot rotary cabinet and a bathtub big enough for an elephant. The current owner is reportedly giving tours to help fund its restoration. Sadly, no tours were available on the day we visited. I’m going to have to find out when the tours are given as I really want to see the inside of this place.
Then there is the Dixieland Dragon Lawn Sea Monster. It’s 12 feet high and 30 feet long. It’s made of scrap metal by local welder Keith Williams, and is a recent roadside having appeared in mid Sep, 2019.
Lastly is this beautiful outstretched winged creature located in Plant City. The Roadside America app does a great job of telling the story behind this creature, so here it is plagiarized for your enjoyment. “The mascot of Florida’s Hillsborough Community College is the hawk. The campus newspaper, sports teams, email accounts, all have “hawk” somewhere in their titles. It seemed reasonable that the college would want a hawk statue, and it spent a reported $28,000 to erect a large one outside of the library on its Plant City campus. The statue is big and impressive, with towering upraised wings and a no-nonsense expression. Worth the $28 grand. But it isn’t a hawk. It’s a bald eagle. This is not necessarily a bad thing for the students of Plant City. Bald eagles are bigger and make much better statues (and mascots). But, they got the wrong bird!” Too funny!
Lastly, there was the usual collection of various interesting structures. First off were a couple of water towers with unusual tops. A water tower in Plant City is adorned with a giant strawberry at its peak. I first thought this was just an interesting art statement, but later found out that Plant City is the heart of Florida’s strawberry industry and they claim to be the winter strawberry capital of the world. In fact, I learned Florida is the second largest producer of strawberries after California. There are thousands of acres of strawberries in Plant City, and their growing season is coming – Dec thru March. Looks like I’ll be heading back there in the early spring for some fresh berries!
Located in front of Publix bakery headquarters in Lakeland you will find this giant cake topped water tower. It’s a very attractive and well done cake, and reportedly the candles light up at night. Nice tribute to the bakery!
Lastly, this Citrus Center Monument is reportedly one of several that were erected in Polk County to proclaim that the county is the citrus center (of something?). Built in 1930, this monolith stands tall and proud in its proclamation.
The holidays are coming up, as is the nicer weather. I look forward to sitting outside and enjoying my newly constructed paver patio and taking in some wonderful campfires in the fire pit. I’ll likely be staying here in Florida for the holidays, and will enjoy time with my family back in Maryland in virtual form via video conference. I want to wish all my friends and family a very happy upcoming Thanksgiving, and safely enjoy this wonderful time together. Till next time, safe travels!
P.S. That poor RV pictured at left is the one thing that scares me the most when I’m traveling. I use a special purpose GPS to help avoid low clearances like this. I’m sure this guy is NOT a Happy Camper!