Monthly Archives: January 2013

Favored Florida Attractions


Here are 10 Florida attractions that aren’t Disney World but are, nevertheless, worthwhile:

1.  In 2010 the Historical Museum of Southern Florida changed its name to HistoryMiami.  It’s now a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.  At 101 West Flagler downtown, this fine museum celebrates Miami’s history as a unique crossroads, definitely the case, with great temporary shows like the current  “Tropical Dreams” and “Road Trip!”  A notable place for Mapheads.

2.  “Clearwater Beach’s well-deserved reputation as one of America’s finest beaches has lured countless families and couples to its broad, sandy shores and beachfront hotels,” raves Jennifer Plum Auvil of the Travel Channel as she lists Florida’s Top 10 Beaches.  I agree.  Spread along a narrow, 3-mile stretch of the Pinellas Peninsula on the Gulf Coast, Clearwater Beach visitors enjoy the calm, blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
3.  The Southern Most Point Monument.  In Key West, this is maybe kind of hokey, but a must-stop for people who like places like Four Corners, the top of the Empire State Building, etc.
4.  The Ringling Estate in Sarasota that I wrote about yesterday.  It’s a must-see for those who like Hearst’s Castle, etc.
5.  Also in Palm Beach, The Flagler Museum at the intersection of Coconut Row and Whitehall Way is actually Whitehall, Henry Flagler’s summer home.   An opulent southern style-mansion amid palm trees outside, it’s all Gilded Age indulgence rivaling any European castle inside.
6.  The Norton Museum of Art.  See the #19 (of 25) entry about Ralph & Elizabeth Norton for details.  At 1451 South Olive Avenue, downtown Palm Beach, its current   exhibit until June 9, 2013, is 39 celeb-worshiping images by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz.
7.  St. Augustine.  One page-one website about this historic town is called “11 Tips on avoiding Saint Augustine Tourist Traps.”  Beware.  Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is about as old as a European community gets in the U.S.  Roanoke Island’s doomed Lost Colony arrived in what is now North Carolina in 1587.   It’s possible to focus on St. Augustine’s  historical impact with visits to Fort Matanzas National Monument, the González-Alvarez House, etc.
8.  City Place.  One of our country’s forward-thinking mixed use, all-purpose–be entertained, shop, dine out, live there–communities, 12-year-old City Place is worth a stroll at 700 South Rosemary Avenue in West Palm Beach.  Dancing fountains!  Over 100 stores and restaurants!   Normally the kind of attraction I try to avoid, City Place actually works.  The Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts is within walking distance.
9.  The Little White House.  Harry Truman was the main Chief Executive to use Florida’s only presidential site.  You hear a lot more about Camp David today, but the likes of Bill Clinton found his way to 111 Front Street, Key West, for r&r too.  Tours are available about every 20 minutes.  The photo above is from their Gallery.
10. The Everglades Parkway.   This straight-as-a-knife-blade, cross-state highway (I-75) is also known as Alligator Alley.  Don’t expect to see Florida panthers & probably not alligators either on its 84 mile length because, like in Banff National Park, bridges are designed to let wildlife pass safely and unseen.  Built in 1969, this is a fast way to get a brief view of The Everglades–no towns, a rest-stop half way across–for those more interested in Miami than swamps.
Other famous Floridians who should have but didn’t make the final cut:   Johnny Depp, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, L1l’ Wayne (I was surprised by how many rap artists are from Florida), Pat Boone, and Mickey Rourke.
Floridians who seem to have a bright future:  Marco Rubio, Megan Fox, Maya Rudolph, Tim Tebow, and Fabiano Caruana, the youngest U.S. chess grandmaster born in Miami, 1992.

Five Final Floridians


21.  Sidney Poitier.  The first male African-American superfilmstar, Sidney Poitier is identified as a Bahamian but was actually born in Miami, Florida.   His parents, who lived on Cat Island, were visiting the city when he was born prematurely.  Not expected to live, Poitier did and his mom and dad stayed in the US for 3 months to let him gain strength.  Although he grew up on Cat Island, he qualified for automatic American citizenship due to the birth circumstances.   His only other real Florida connection was that he lived there with a brother between ages 15 & 17 before moving to New York.  Most of his films were made either in California or England.  He was the first black male actor to be nominated for a competitive Academy Award, and he won Best Actor for Lilies of the Field.

22. John Ringling.  One of 7 brothers, Ringling helped found the meganova of traveling circuses, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey.  He and his wife began spending winters in Florida in 1909, and 18 years later Ringling made Sarasota the Circus’ winter headquarters.  A mansion, Ca’d’zan (House of John), followed as he became one of the richest men in the world.  Ringling invested heavily in real estate as he helped Sarasota develop.  He & his wife started the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art to showcase the paintings, etc. that they bought on trips to Europe that caused him to go for baroque.    The mansion, a circus museum, and the art gallery are musts for Sarasota visitors today.

23.  Don Sutton.  As a pitcher, Sutton won 324 games for 6 teams, mostly for the LA Dodgers.  Tied with Nolan Ryan, Sutton ranks 14 or 15 on a list of pitchers with 200 career wins and has been in the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1998.  His father moved the family to the town of Molino just north of Pensacola when Don & he were quite young.  Sutton attended J.M. Tate High School in Florida where he played football and basketball in addition to baseball.  After one year at Panama City’s Gulf Coast Community College, he signed with the Dodgers and went on to sports glory.

24.  John Travolta.  John and Kelly (Preston) bought a house in Ocala, Florida, in 2003 because she loved horses and he wanted to see his planes from his own windows.  The estate was featured in Architectural Digest the next year and has the largest private runway in the United States.

25. Donald Trump.  In 1985 Trump bought Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Palm Beach Estate, Mar-A-Lago, for $10 million and had used it as a residence for 10 years before redoing it as a private club with 58 bedrooms that began operating in 1995.   Its website & his ego call it “the most luxurious private club in the greatest mansion ever built”.   On the National Register of Historic Places, Mar-A-Lago members reportedly get legendary amenities.  I don’t know what they are because you need a User ID and Password to even visit the Club’s website.  Trump claims to spend weekends and holidays here in his own private quarters.  To add to his Florida connections, Trump reportedly plans to build a movie studio near the Homestead Air Reserve Base in Miami-Dade County.

The Florida conclusion tomorrow.



Florida’s Famous 25 Again


16.  Winslow Homer.  This outstanding American artist lived most of his life in Maine, but after his mother died, being from Maine, he started spending winters in places like Florida.  His watercolors of palm trees, tropical clouds, ocean, etc. are among his lightest works in every sense of the word. According to Exploring Florida (, Homer would take a steamer from New York to Florida and explore widely.  He came to favor Jacksonville, Key West, etc.  Homer’s huge contribution to history was his paintings, sketches, etc. done at or near Civil War battlefields.  He & photographer Matthew Brady made war real to the general public for the first time.  The painting above is from Wikipedia’s Gallery.

17.  Chris Evert Lloyd.  Born in Fort Lauderdale, this 18 time Grand Slam singles tennis champion still lives in Florida, namely Boca Raton.  Among her records, Lloyd reached the Grand Slam singles finals 34 times.  About her only default was a brief marriage to Aussie Greg Norman in 2008.  For one thing, they couldn’t agree on where to live.  According to People magazine, he resided in Jupiter while she stayed in her Boca Raton home.  Today she’s an ESPN commentator, coach, tennis academy operator, etc.

18.  Jim Morrison.  Intellectually gifted singer/songwriter Morrison is one of those entertainers like Marilyn Monroe & Michael Jackson who continue to be revered after dying.  Born in Melbourne, Florida, Morrison is buried in Paris, France’s largest cemetery among others with famous last names–Chopin, Piaf, etc.  Dead at 27 like Janis Joplin & Amy Winehouse, Morrison probably overdosed on heroin.  According to Wikipedia and very appropriately, in the early 1990s his father placed a flat stone on his son’s grave bearing the  inscription: ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ, usually interpreted as “true to his own spirit”.   Son of a Rear Admiral, Morrison lived with grandparents in Clearwater, Florida, as a teenager and attended classes at St. Petersburg College.  He appeared in a school recruitment film for Florida State University.  At age 21 he moved to LA and got into the Venice Beach scene and all that entails.  The Doors formed and “Light My Fire” brought national recognition.

19,  Ralph Hubbard Norton.  When this wealthy steel magnet (Acme) retired in Chicago, he & wife Elizabeth moved permanently to West Palm Beach. They soon decided to share their enormous art collection with the public. The result is Palm Beach’s excellent Norton Museum of Art.  Among its 7,000 works are great works by Chagall, Monet, Pollock, etc.  This is truly one of the U.S.’s finest museums.

20.  Ponce de Leon.  Juan led the first European expedition to Florida and appreciated its tropical landscape.  Spaniards at that time called Easter “Pascula Florida” (Festival of Flowers) and, since  Juan was there during Easter season, he named the place Florida.  After making landfall in the vicinity of what is now St. Augustine, his expedition traveled south to Biscayne Bay, cut through The Keys, and went far up the west coast.  He hadn’t made it to Florida while serving as a “gentleman volunteer” on Columbus’ 2nd voyage.  The legend connecting his Florida sojourn to a search for a fountain of youth didn’t take root until after he died.  More likely he was looking for gold.


5 More of Florida’s Famous 25

2-Tarpon Springs

11. Henry Flagler.   Co-founder of Standard Oil with J.D. Rockefeller in 1870 when he was 40, parsimonious Henry Flagler griped about paying the bill for a one-of-a-kind silver tea service but traveled in a luxurious private rail car.  He built The Breakers, Palm Beach’s 5-star hotel that says about itself, “Once you stay, you’ll understand.”   When a teenager, Flagler left Hopewell, New York, with 9¢ and a lucky French coin in his pocket.  By the time he and his third wife Mary Lily moved into Whitehall, now a Palm Beach not-to-be-missed attraction opened to the public, he had left Standard and was on to new ventures like developing Florida by building a railroad dotted with his hotels extending from Jacksonville to Key West.  Miami just missed being named Flagler City.  Flagler almost single-handedly created Florida’s tourism and agriculture industries.  Whitehall was a wedding gift to his wife & the Flagler’s summer home used only for a few weeks during “The Season.”

12.  Jackie Gleason.  Although he was born in Brooklyn, this actor/comedian whose long career was dominated by one iconic role, Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners, permanently moved his TV show to Florida in 1964 and lived in Hialeah for the rest of his life.  Portly and a chain smoker, Gleason died in 1987 and is buried in Doral at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery.   His 8,000 square feet Florida house is currently for sale at $2.4 million.

13. Dwight Gooden.  During a 16 year baseball career (1984-2000) studded with accomplishment–Rookie of the Year, 3 time World Series Champ, etc.–Gooden was golden.   However, those and subsequent years were trouble plagued.  Born in Tampa, Florida in 1964, Gooden didn’t lose his Florida connection.  In 2002 he was arrested in Tampa and charged with driving while intoxicated.  In 2003 he was arrested for driving with a suspended license.  In 2005 he punched a girlfriend after she threw a telephone at him.   In 2005 he was stopped by Tampa police for driving erratically and drove off during questioning.  Gooden famously chose prison over rehab and served time in Tampa’s Hillsborough County Jail getting out in 2006.

14.  Debbie Harry.  Miami born Harry is best known as singer/songwriter for Blondie (“Heart of Glass”), but she’s also had a notable, under-the-radar film career.  Associated with more than 40 documentaries and regular features like Hairspray, Cop Land, and Videodrome, Harry has proved to be an adept actor. lists 54 titles as actress for Harry.  Her most recent album, Panic of Girls with Blondie, was released in 2011, and she’s currently on tour with them.  Harry might be another candidate for the role of Norma Desmond.  In October, 2012, just before the national election she was quoted as saying that she believes we’ve been invaded by aliens who have “reduced the intelligence level of the entire f…. country to cement.”

15.  Ernest Hemingway.   This writer lived in Key West, Florida, between 1931 and 1939.  The house is still a landmark tourist attraction famous for its 6 & 7 toed cats (really).    However, the cats weren’t Hemingway’s.   He had peacocks.   He wrote the Snows of Kilimanjaro in Florida.  Hemingway said that living in Key West was like living in a foreign country, and he was right.


Among Florida’s Famous 25


6. Steve Carlton. The first pitcher to win 4 Cy Young Awards, lefty Carlton was born in Miami, Florida, in 1944 and attended North High School and Miami-Dade Community College. He returned to Florida for spring training when with the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies from 1965 until 1986. They are among the 6 teams he played for during a 24 year career. St. Louis is where he began his journey to The Hall of Fame at the age of 20. I first got to know him when he played for the Cardinals and still regret the contract issues that caused him to pack up and leave. St. Louis is my hometown and I’m left-handed too, but that’s pretty much where our similarities end.

7. Walt Disney. He did more for Florida than almost any other entrepreneur. The Walt Disney Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, more commonly known as Walt Disney World, is the planet’s most visited entertainment resort. Disney announced this Orlando theme park in 1964 and intended it to be a grander version of Anaheim’s Disneyland with a resort, EPCOT, etc. He was developing plans for it when he died. His brother Roy finished the project and insisted that it be called Walt Disney World in his honor.

8. Faye Dunaway. From Bascom, Florida, Dunaway attended Florida State University & the University of Florida where she graduated in theater before going on to make well over 50 films and get nominated for 3 Academy Awards, winning once for Network. Recent reports indicate that if they decide to remake Sunset Boulevard she’d be perfect as Norma Desmond since she has apparently been rehearsing for it for years via some lifestyle crises.

9. Thomas Edison. This inventive American inventor had a winter residence in Fort Myers, Florida, from 1887 until his death in 1931. His neighbor was Henry Ford. Tire-maker Harvey Firestone was a camping buddy. Tourists can visit the Edison estate on guided tours and recall his impressive list of inventions–phonographs, movie projectors, etc.–in a museum.

10. Gloria Estefan. The Queen of Latin Pop with 3 Grammies and over 100 million albums sold, many to me, Estefan was born in Havana, Cuba, but the Fajardo family moved to Miami in time for her to attend high school there. Like Faye Dunaway she attended the University of Miami and earned a BA. She has always called Florida home and is reportedly currently living in Miami Beach’s Star Island area. Last year, among other projects, she appeared on Glee, started a reality show, and recorded “Who Can I Turn To?” with Tony Bennett.

The photo of Steve Carlton above, alas, was not taken by me but found at