Sunday, May 17, 2015

Steeped in eccentriciTEA: The World's Largest Teapot of Chester, West Virginia

We've been posting a lot about Florida lately, so for a change of pace (or paste as I used to say when I was a kid) here's a rerun of a roadside delight from West Virginia we posted a few years ago. An online search indicates they have since refurbished the teapot with a different font, but you get the idea.

 Downtown Chester, West Virginia

If coffee is more your cup of tea, there's always The Coffee Pot of Bedford, Pennsylvania

I like states with panhandles. They're kinda kooky. Florida has so much coastline...did they really have to rob more of the Gulf from poor Alabama? And couldn't Oklahoma and Texas have reached some geometric agreement and squared each other off? The goofiest panhandle of all is West Virginia's, though. It's a tall spindly thing that begs the question "What kind of cooking implement has a crazy handle like this?" It's almost as though West Virginia said to eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, "if you two can't get along, I'll separate you, so help me." At the very tip of the West Virginia handle sits the little town of Chester and a truly great eccentric roadside attraction: a wooden structure that bills itself as the World's Largest Teapot. It dates back to 1938 when it was originally an over-sized barrel for a Hire's Root Beer advertising campaign. A fellow named William "Babe" Devon bought it and added the spout and handle to it and used it to promote his pottery store in Chester, selling concessions and souvenirs inside the teapot. It changed hands many times and fell into disrepair and abandonment until a local committee saved it from demolition and began a full-blown restoration in 1987. Red tape persisted for several more years until it was finally completed and returned to its original splendor in 1990 and was moved to a prime spot of real estate at the intersection of Routes 2 and 30 with some lovely landscaping. It got another facelift in 2007 by the Hampton Hotels Save-A-Landmark program. God bless these people for keeping these bits of Americana alive and making a trip down the open road that much more fun. Letting a lovable place like this fade away would be a trageTEA.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Egg-centric roadside: The Humpty Dumpty statue of Coral Springs, Florida

 HD filmed in low-def with the Dumptycam.

When Eccentric Roadside moved its world headquarters to Coral Springs, Florida back in July of 2014, little did we know that our new home town was also the locale of a truly magnificent, some might say eggs-taordinary, work of eccentric roadside art. On the busy corner of Sample Road and Northwest 94th Avenue, tucked in among the South Florida suburban office buildings, strip malls and condominium complexes, sits a delightful deviation: a bronze depiction of that famous children's rhyme workplace hazard victim: Humpty Dumpty. Nattily attired in bow tie and striped trousers and sporting a hey-look-at-me grin, he sits on a 3-foot tall concrete wall in his pre-fall stance. He's the work of famed Minneapolis sculptor Kimber Fiebiger, who has depicted Mr. Dumpty in many of her works. The city of Coral Springs has lots of other sculptures along Sample Road, part of a beautification project from a few years back, but we like this one the best. How can you not smile back when you see this guy grinning at you? He cracks us up every time, and that no yolk.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Please stand by for station identification: the vintage Flamingo gas station of the Everglades

 Back in the 1960s...

 ...and the '70s.

 It's now home to a friendly swarm of bees...

 ...and this Florida Tourism Ambassador is just down the road apiece.

You never know where you'll find a great example of mid-century architecture. Take the Everglades National Park, for example. All swamps, great blue herons and mighty alligators, you think? Well, yeah, but they've also got what's left of a 1958 filling station next to the visitors' center in the Flamingo section of the park. And what's cool is they recognized it as something worth keeping, even though it stopped pumping gas back some time ago. It was part of Mission 66, a nationwide program to upgrade the National Park visitor centers that were overflowing with car-driving enthusiasts post World War II. This station was considered ideal for all the roadtrippers who had made it all the way down to the 'glades, and there are pictures of it being used up through the seventies. At some point, the pumps were moved to a nearby marina and the station was then a post office. Not sure exactly how long it remained empty, but in 2012 it was given a makeover and done-up in a luscious shade of Googie pink to offset the beige stonework on its facade. It would be awesome if this place could get the full museum treatment of looking like a real 1950s-60s station, with pumps, rotating sign, triangular flags, and an interior featuring oil cans stacked in a pyramid, maps, a Coke machine and a hose that rang a bell if you ran over it. Oh, and don't forget the guy in the white coveralls, policeman's hat and bow tie, ready to fill 'er up and wash your windshield. Happy motoring!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Coral fixation: Coral Castle of Homestead, Florida

 Ed welcomes you.

 This 9-ton gate moves with one finger.

 Coral stone, dense and heavy, man.

 Ed's homemade tools...that's all he used.

Ed's Florida table...

 ...complete with Lake Okeechobee.

 Ed's living quarters...a bit medieval-looking, if you ask me.

Yes, yes you will.

Ed Leedskalnin was an immigrant from Latvia born in 1887 who lived in Canada, California and Texas before moving to southern Florida to help get over a case of tuberculosis. When he was 26, he became engaged to marry his true love, 16-year-old Agnes Scuffs. She left him just one day before the wedding and, like the Taj Mahal guy, he devoted the rest of his life to building a shrine dedicated to his lost love, only Ed's material of choice was coral stone, and unlike the Taj Mahal guy, he built it all himself. Unlike coral from the sea, coral stone is incredibly dense and heavy and how a 5-foot, 100-pound man with a history of respiratory illness could spend from 1923 to 1951 building the amazingly complicated structures you see today by himself with only homemade tools has remained a mystery on the level of Stonehenge and the great Pyramids of Egypt. There is a two-story castle-shaped structure where Ed lived very spartanly, chairs, tables, planet sculptures and even a 9-ton gate that moved with the touch of one finger. Ed, who never got past the fourth grade, said he knew the secrets of how the pyramids were built and since no one ever saw him building anything (he worked at night by torch), many believed he had supernatural powers. He used to charge 10 cents for tours and sold pamphlets, all the while adding more structures to his obsession. And since the Coral Castle is in the town of Homestead, it's even more miraculous the place was one of the few spared the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Ed died in 1951 at the age of 64 and the place has changed hands a couple of times over the years. Today, it is a museum open every day with tours and a swell gift shop. So, make the'll be bowl-Ed over, dumbfound-Ed and you won't be disappoint-Ed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A little something to keep you posted: The country's smallest post office of Ochopee, Florida

 Postmaster Shannon Mitchell, at your service

 It really is a living, breathing post office

 One of the friendly neighbors along the mail route

 There is a glorious 264-mile stretch of Florida's old Highway 41 that runs from Tampa to Miami that is, appropriately enough, known as the Tamiami Trail. Predating the Interstate, it's still dotted with old fashioned tourist attractions and the kinds of oddities we eccentric roadside attraction fans pine for, not the least of which are real, live alligators you can see from your car window along the roadside canals. The Everglades stretch of the Tamiami is also the home of a magnificently unexpected roadside treat: the smallest post office building in the entire USA. In the early 1930s, the tiny town of Ochopee, about 36 miles southeast of Naples (Florida, not Italy, silly) was settled as a tomato farming community and once had a general store with a post office inside it on Route 41. In 1953, a fire destroyed the building, but quick-thinking postmaster Sidney Brown removed the postal records before they were damaged and set up shop in a nearby undamaged 7 x 8-foot shed formerly used to store irrigation pipes and hoses and the post office has remained there to this day. It's just large enough for one postal employee to sit and tend to the postal matters at hand, which include processing mail for a 132-mile mail route across three counties, and taking care of walk-up customers and curiosity seekers. We were lucky enough to catch postmaster Shannon Mitchell hard at work. She cheerfully answered our inane questions (Where do you use the rest room? Across the street at Joanie's Blue Crab Restaurant. How long have you worked here? Nine years. You must like all your coworkers, don't you? nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.)  She sold us a commemorative postcard with a one-of-a-kind cancellation for the low, low price of a dollar, too. Lots of tourists drop by to take pictures to make their friends back home envious, which does our hearts good and just goes to show you that good things really do come in small (postal) packages.