I like to think of myself as a time traveler. I mean obviously, time travel isn’t currently possible in 2016, so I’m not being literal here. But I love visiting old places. I enjoy peeling back the layers of time and appreciating the history of how we got here. As Disney fans, many of us are time travelers. It’s why we love the idea of visiting the old west. And why we treasure Walt’s story and his legacy. It’s why we take our first timer friends to see talking mechanical birds, despite our intrinsic knowledge of how it’s all working. Because we know how shocking and beautiful it would have been in 1963 and we can appreciate that awe and pass it along to our friends. We are ambassadors of history.
Recently, my good friend Charles Phoenix suggested coming to Florida (where I live) to tour some classic Florida attractions and do a bit of a road trip. I said to myself, “Self. What a rare opportunity to visit some famous places with the king of Americana himself.” Charles is a time traveler as well, famous for putting together brilliant shows where he puts you in a time machine via gorgeous Kodachrome slides. He’s deeply intelligent, quick witted and outrageously funny. He’s also a lover of Disneyland, having grown up in Southern California. I feel quite lucky to call him a friend, so OF COURSE I jumped on this opportunity.
As I built a solid itinerary for the 5 days he would be in town, I planned our trips by region. Our homebase was where I live in Tampa. And from there we would journey out to the furthest point and make our way back to Tampa. As I set my expectations for the week, nothing could of prepared me for how magical this trip was. I felt like the worst Floridian of all time. These wonderful things are in my backyard and here I am going to Disney and Universal? Giving my money to them?? So, prepare yourself. You’ve been warned.
Once you see the subtle splendor and gripping beauty, I guarantee you’ll be wanting to make a few stops on your next trip to Florida. And my FLORIDIANS! Especially my millenials. We have got to make an effort to help revitalize these older places. It is only with youth bringing our friends and family that these wonderful places will stay afloat. Promise me now, if any of these photos make you want to visit, that you will. You’ll tell them you read an article on Mice Chat and it made you want to go. PROMISE ME. And then never let go of that promise.
Join me in this multi part series entitled FloridaLand, as we explore old Florida and make it relevant for today.
First we will travel to beautiful Silver Springs
Ahhh that postcard sets the mood for us to visit one of Florida’s first tourist attractions!
Founded in 1852, the natural beauty of Silver Springs attracted visitors from all over the country. The springs here are one of the largest artesian spring formations in the world, producing nearly 550 million gallons of crystal-clear water daily. You can take one of the famous glass bottom boat tours, which started in the late 1870’s and continue to this day.
I’ve seen springs before. I mean Disney Springs (AMIRIGHT?) but also other naturally occurring springs, and I have to say, that while my pictures are beautiful, they don’t do it justice. The place is far more beautiful than I was prepared for.
The entrance gate is simple and unassuming, a lovely walk through a Florida nature preserve.
Once inside you’ll find sixties architecture alive and well!! There is a restaurant, an ice cream shop, a gift shop and event space.
As well as the lovely boat docks. You can buy your ticket for the glass bottom boat tour in the gift shop.
Once on the boat, you find yourselves looking into the thick glass plates, that run down the middle of the boat. The journey starts in the seagrass.
And then you can quickly see how with the different colored floor, the water starts to take on shades of blue you wouldn’t think are possible!!
There is an underwater cave here, where the water current pours out and stirs up the shell bed, making it look like it’s snowing underwater!
There are even very old Native American canoes resting near the bottom!
The park is filled with gorgeous nature trails and lots of twisted palm trees, such as the famous one below.
Do you see the spanish moss in the trees? As a native Floridian, I have to say, I’ve been taking moss for granted my whole life. Charles just went on and on about how romantic and beautiful the moss was swaying in the breeze. That it was like being in the bayou, or on Pirates of the Caribbean, and he’s SO RIGHT!! I feel so silly for not appreciating it before, but it does have a calming effect.
Some neat old merchandise on display in the lobby
Can you believe our boat driver has worked there 40+ years!! He knows what a treasure this place is! We didn’t have time for a lunch stop here to try the food, but everything looked homespun and fantastic. Most of all we were floored to see an old diorama sitting in the back room! Check out Charles’ Videoette he did on it!:
VIDEOETTE: Just stumbled across the spellbinding … one-of-a-kind … 1950s miniature Jungle Cruise and Glass Bottom Boat diorama of Silver Springs, Florida, still on display in the lobby !!! … And it’s a world class national treasure !!!
Posted by Charles Phoenix on Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Silver Springs is located in Ocala, Florida. As of May 2016, it costs $8 per car load, up to eight people, $5 for single occupancy vehicle, $4 launch fee per paddle craft and $2 for those who walk or bicycle in.
The glass bottom boat tour is $11 for adults, $10 for seniors and youth (Over 55 or Under 17) and Children 5 and under ride free. You can visit their website at http://www.silversprings.com/ to learn more information.
It is WELL worth the time and effort for a visit if you want to experience Florida nature in one of the oldest and most unique ways possible.
Next up… one of Florida’s most bizarre classic attraction gems! The Florida Citrus Tower!
Imagine, if you can…in the 1950’s several citrus growers got together and decided they needed an observation tower. They’d put it in Clermont, Florida, right on highway 27 between Cypress Gardens and Silver Springs, allowing visitors to see the miles and miles of orange groves all around it, inspiring them to buy citrus. The tower was once the most famous landmark in the whole Orlando area, boasting up to 500,000 visitors a year! But according to local legend, a combination of a local freeze and the Florida turnpike being extended North left the Citrus Tower to exchange hands and struggle to find an audience.
What was once miles of citrus trees is now mostly residential areas, but the view and the history are still incredible, and give us a rare glimpse into life in Florida in the 1950’s.
LOVING THE ORANGE STRIPE!
An old picture inside of the gorgeous views from the 1950’s.
The tower is very unassuming. You walk in to a quaint shop, filled with lots of fun southern inspired odds and ends and classic terrazzo floors (I LOVE TERRAZZO) The gift shop reminded me of a Cracker Barrel gift shop. Inside were also lots of Citrus Tower related merchandise. The gift shop is where you buy your ticket to the top.
The elevator features hand painted murals inside and out. I especially loved the push button elevator!! THIS IS TIME TRAVEL!!
Once you’re up 226 feet into the air, it’s nothing but panoramic views all the way around! There are even cute directional signs telling you what’s where and how far away!
But how about those views!!!?
The view is a little different than what they saw in the 1950’s, but what a gas to step back in time and experience the ‘height’ of themed entertainment via the Florida Citrus Tower!
You can also drop a coin into the slot and hear it travel all the way down! Fun! Check out that original looking sign! Once on the ground again, you can take your time looking at pictures and memorabilia from the Citrus Tower over the years. The people who work there were wonderful ambassadors as they showed the highlights from the collection.
The Florida Citrus Tower is located in Clermont, Florida. A hop and skip from Walt Disney World, it’s admission to go up in the observation deck is only $6. You can get more details from their website: http://www.citrustower.com/
Most everyone who has been to Florida has visited a citrus stand. There are lots of Welcome Centers all over the state where you can buy real Florida Citrus. So when Charles told me he wanted to visit a Citrus Candy Factory, I politely smiled and looked it up. Knowing it would not shock me, because growing up here I’ve been to all of them and they’re the same. Nuts for sale. Oranges. Other produce. Maybe a cool retro sign. A rip off of the Orange Bird. Nothing could have prepared me for our next stop.
Ever heard of Davidson of Dundee, the famous Citrus Candy factory in Dundee Florida? I hadn’t either. But it is legendary! Still family owned and operated, the owner was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
From their website:
In the early 1900’s, T.W. Davidson grew oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines near Dundee, Florida. In later years his son, Glen, planted his own groves nearby in the 1960’s. As a youngster, Glen enjoyed a confection that his mother made from delicious citrus juices and sugar cane from the Florida Everglades. Later, while working with fresh citrus juices, a delightful citrus candy was developed. Its unique flavor and texture was enjoyed by many friends of Glen and his wife, Lois. Word soon spread about the savory treat, and people from all over began asking for a taste of Florida citrus candy.
Today Glen’s son, Tom Davidson, runs the family business and loves giving the old-fashioned citrus candies, jellies, marmalades and chocolates a delicious twist with new flavors such as: Fuzzy Navel, Florida Hurricane, Sunset Jelly and Margarita. All while keeping our original and beloved flavors including Orange, Honeybell, Tangerine, Key Lime and Orange-Pineapple-Cherry.
The store is a 1960’s dream, with original cabinets in shocking colors like this key lime green:
The candy is unlike anything I’ve ever tried. And try I did. All of the flavors. Many times over. More samples than a person is allowed. And then we bought some too.
The factory is in plain sight. Through glass walls you can see where the magic happens:
They also sell citrus, of course and many different gift arrangements are available.
But they are famous for their jellies, I brought like 10 different flavors home for my husband and he devoured them!! Delicious, fresh and fun!
I’m honestly not the kind of person who can recommend things to people unless I truly think they’re good, and trust me that this candy will change your life!! These old recipes are good for a reason!! The next time you’re in central FL, the store is just a hop and skip away from Walt Disney World and another stop that is well worth the drive!
Visit Davidson of Dundee Citrus Candy Factory, 28421 Hwy 27, Dundee, FL 33838 or order right from their website! Tell them Stephenie and Charles sent you!! https://www.davidsonofdundee.com/
As we come to the end of our first day, we have just a few more stops. Of course, as we drove back to Tampa, we stopped in Lakeland for our final 3 things. But first! dinner!! It’s not a road trip until you step back in time at an old car hop Drive In and I knew of the perfect one in Winter Haven, FL.
Andy’s Igloo Drive In! Serving up burgers and milkshakes since 1951. A true historic piece of Americana!
That sign! The decor!! It’s the best in homespun fun and it’s very close to LEGOLAND Florida! Have a burger and share a milkshake with your sweetheart!
On our way out of town I had to show Charles a pinnacle of googie architecture! The Southgate Shopping Center in Lakeland, FL.
Maybe you know it from the movie Edward Scissorhands. Maybe you’re a fan of googie architecture and it’s on your bucket list. Either way, they don’t make shopping centers like this anymore.
“Publix (a southern chain grocery store) is responsible for this masterpiece and for helping to create the shopping center idea in Florida. George Jenkins (Publix’s founder) saw his first shopping center in 1947 while visiting St. Louis, Pat Watters wrote in “Fifty Years of Pleasure: The Illustrated History of Publix Super Markets Inc.” When Florida’s first shopping center opened in St. Petersburg seven years later, Jenkins made sure Publix was one of the tenants. Publix then went a step further, developing and building its own shopping centers rather than just occupying them. Jenkins built his first center in Largo in 1956, followed soon after by Sarasota, Winter Haven (Northgate Shopping Center on Northwest Sixth Street) and eventually Lakeland. Building Southgate in Lakeland, Publix’s headquarters, fell right in line with Jenkins’ vision for the centers and his stores.”
– From The Lakeland Ledger
As Charles would say… “Long may it stand!!”
Finally, we come to our last stop of this tour. Ever heard of a Rotosphere?
From http://www.roadarch.com: “Roto-Sphere signs are perhaps the biggest and most dramatic neon signs ever mass-produced. They were created and produced by Warren Milks from 1960-1971. Milks made approximately 234 of them and only about 17 of them are left. Of these, only four are fully operational. Roto-Spheres were promoted as sign add-ons and distributed nationwide, with a few sent outside the country. Contrary to what many people say, Roto-Spheres were not inspired by the Russian Sputnik, other satellites, or anything space age. Milks got the idea for the design from something he saw on TV. While many of us thought the inspiration might have come from Playhouse 90, Milks didn’t think that was it when I showed him the video. He thought it was a commercial for a children’s toy or a spinning Christmas ornament. When people began calling his signs “Sputniks”, Milks began using the name himself. However, the signs were always marketed as Roto-Spheres. Milks passed away in 2012.
Roto-Spheres feature sixteen aluminum spikes outlined in neon. These multi-colored spikes are each eight feet long. They are mounted on a ball that spins in three directions. Not only does the sign rotate on its pole, but the ball itself is composed of two counter-rotating hemispheres. A motor and three gears resembling an automobile’s rear axle differential are used to power the ball. Sign shops made repairs with auto parts but Milks swore he did not use them at all in the construction of these signs. Restoring and maintaining Roto-Spheres can be tricky and costly due to their size, mechanics, and the amount of neon used. I believe the original sign cost about $2,000 with shipping. To fully restore one today costs about $15,000.”
We are so lucky to have one so close to us here in Florida!! What an incredible rare gem, set in the parking lot of a Lincoln Dealership in Lakeland, FL.
So what do you think!? Is classic Florida still interesting? Should we all devote our lives to visiting these places!? I think yes!! Look our for part 2, coming soon!!
If you’re interested, Charles and myself are starting a little following of people who love Classic Florida Attractions, and we hope to do some meet-ups at some of Florida’s classic attractions! Give our Facebook page a like, and we will get started planning the first event! https://www.facebook.com/FloridaLandFL/
Also please take the time to follow Charles Phoenix on social media as well, I promise his feeds will bring light and vibrance to an otherwise boring feed, he really has his finger on the pulse of mid century modern. If you live in Southern California (or somewhere he’s visiting), attend one of his shows and tell him Stephenie says Hi!! http://www.charlesphoenix.com/
Follow Charles on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/_charlesphoenix/
Follow Charles on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/charlesphoenix.usa/
And as always come on over to Twitter and discuss theme parks and disney and americana and LIFE with me!! – @DisneyBySteph – Join me on Instragram with the same username!