Death Valley is an eccentric roadside attraction unto itself. People
look at you funny when you say you're looking forward to visiting there,
but it's a stunningly beautiful place and home to a really swell
offbeat museum. The Borax Museum sits in the oldest structure in Death
Valley, a house constructed in 1883 by F.M. "Borax" Smith, founder of
the Pacific Coast Borax Co. If I ever decide to have a nickname, I think
"Borax" would be a pretty cool one. Borax, or sodium borate, is a
non-toxic laundry product that could also clean and deodorize virtually
anything in the house. In the late 1800s, a large deposit of it was
found in Death Valley by a small-time miner, who made a fortune when he
sold it to a San Francisco businessman. The location was so remote and
ungodly hot that 20-mule teams were needed to haul the borax to a more
hospitable processing location. People of a certain age are familiar
with this scenario from the popular radio and TV series "Death Valley
Days," at one time hosted by Borateem-pitchman and future president
Ronald Reagan. The museum is in the Furnace Creek development of Death
Valley and features lots of photos and artifacts and a friendly gal that
will tell you all about them. A lot of sweat and toil was put into this
product that's mostly forgotten today, but Borax may make a comeback as
a green alternative to regular detergents. So stop in and see The Borax
Museum... mule be glad you did (and that's not an empty pumice).
The cruise ship-shaped B Ocean Resort Hotel, home of the Wreck Bar
Yo, ho, ho
Those windows behind the bar look out onto the hotel's pool...I mean lagoon.
The crowd watches, enthralled.
You can meet and greet the gals afterwards on dry land.
Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal filmed a scene for "Analyze This" here.
We've already blogged about Weeki Wachee, the spectacular retro mermaid attraction on the gulf coast of Florida, but hold on to your dorsal fin. There's another old-timey live sea nymph show on the east coast of the sunshine state. Every Friday and Saturday, Fort Lauderdale's Wreck Bar inside the B Ocean Resort, a hotel once known as the Yankee Clipper and shaped like a giant cruise ship, puts on a retro-tastic mermaid performance. The Wreck, fashioned after a pirate ship interior, looks out through windows behind the bar at the hotel's pool. It's not uncommon to see hotel guests frolicking and, er, adjusting themselves in the chlorinated paradise during the non-showtime hours. That all changes at 6:30 on Fridays and Saturdays during the hippest, splashiest happy hour this side of Atlantis. The fabulous Marina Duran-Anderson, or MeduSirena as she's better known, and her pod of Aquaticats, lively gorgeous gals dressed as mermaids, put on a thrilling aquatic performance that would make Esther Williams proud. It takes a lot more than just holding your breath to put on a great 30-minute mermaid performance. MeduSirena and her school of 'maids have to keep in top physical condition and must suffer both sore muscles and the burn of chlorine-drenched eyes (Goggles? On these gals? Not on your nelly). Let's hope they're getting paid more than scale. And the beauty of all of this: the show is free. That's right... not one clam, sand-dollar, fin, doubloon, coconut, fish, (s)quid, piece-of-eight, or frogskin (I've got an internet slang thesaurus and I know how to use it). So if you're in Fort Lauderdale, harken back to a time (the 1950s and 60s) when there was no better way to spend an early weekend evening than by downing a couple of mai tais while watching an alluring mermaid show in a cozy wrecked ship-themed watering hole. It's mer-vana.
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.
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.
...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!
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 trip...you'll be bowl-Ed over, dumbfound-Ed and you won't be disappoint-Ed.
This blog is devoted to old fashioned American roadside attractions... the wonderfully big, bizarre, crazy, wacky, quirky, weird, funny, unique and mundane sites you see travelling cross-country by car in the USA, where getting there really is all the fun!