Sunday, December 18, 2011

Laurence E Fosgate's Views of Vero Beach

Sometimes called "The Quiet Palm Beach," Vero Beach is a charming city straddling the  Indian River Lagoon, about halfway between Cape Canaveral and Palm Beach.  It has a small beach side commercial area that is highlighted by The Ocean Grill and the Driftwood Inn. The area has a host of charming restaurants, shops and galleries.  My favorite is The Palm House gallery owned by my friend Emily Tremml.  She is a talented artist in her own right and paints a wide range of subject matters.  Among my favorites are her cow and chicken paintings.  Her paintings of orchids and the local landscape are also stunning.  The gallery  features lots of classes and seminars.  We have done considerable work landscaping her beautiful home on the Indian River lagoon.  You can see pictures of it on our Garden Monkey Florida blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Laurence E Fosgate Takes Look at New Lake Eola fountain

Downtown Orlando's centerpiece park, Lake Eola, recently got its historic mid-century modern fountain refurbished.  Originally commenced in 1956 to commemorate the centennial of the  city's founding, a lightning strike finally put it out of commission.  The reworked edition keeps all the original design and adds updated computer lighting.  It looks terrific as it sits in the middle of the lake, 55 years after its dedication, and delights onlookers with a color filled display each night. A lake and fountain seem the perfect embodiment of Orlando's setting amidst lush landscapes and hundreds of fresh, spring-fed lakes.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Conway Neighborhood is Old Orlando Charmer

Just south of downtown Orlando lies the Conway neighborhood which takes its name from a chain of lakes that is one of the areas largest. When I was growing up we would frequently go down to race our "C' scow in the races at the Conway Yacht Club. The large lakes are connected by canals. At the northernmost point of the chain sits Lake Gatlin, along whose shores sat Fort Gatlin and around which grew up the settlement that spread north and became Orlando. The area was promoted by newspaperman William Harney . He built a charming home in the woods along Big Lake Conway that he gave the name "Pine Castle." Eventually the moniker was used to describe the community that sprang up near his house and as well as the location of Pine Castle Air Force Base. After changing its name to McCoy Air Force Base, it would be home to a B-52 squadron before ultimately being leased to the City of Orlando. Although the facility would eventually become one of the largest passenger destinations in the United States as Orlando International Airport, luggage tags still bear the initials "MCO," as a throwback to its previous incarnation.

Harney's romanticized descriptions of life along the shores of the Conway Chain succeeded in attracting the attention of the junior sons of British aristocrats who not only built lovely homes surrounded by orange groves, they founded the yacht club and a polo club. Their presence assured that the area would adopt a toney character that persists in neighborhoods around the lakes to this day. Although there is no formal boundary, the area is roughly encompassed by Curry Ford Road on the north, Conway Road on the east, Orange Avenue on the west and McCoy Road on the south- in total about ten square miles. In addition to the rather wealthy cities of Belle Isle and Edgewood, it also includes the Southern Oaks neighborhood built on an old grove owned by the Caruso family. The venerable Carusos were the origanators of the "Bluebird" brand of orange juice still in production today.

The Conway area is most defined by a country atmosphere promoted by its abundance of live oaks and two lane streets that are regulated by four way stops rather than traffic signals. The profusion of trees and birds belie its location between the bustling airport and downtown Orlando and have made it a favorite haven of "Old Orlando" elites who have consistently spurned the flashier newer developments of town in favor of its unpretentious capsulization of undeveloped Florida at its best. Many a Conway youth has grown up with the pleasures of fishing and water skiing in his back yard rather than being stuck in front of the cold and impersonal emanations of a video game screen. That has surely helped to bestow a love of the natural world and its preservation in the hearts of future generations. Nothing could bode more for the future of the area than having this reverence for an unspoiled simple environment deeply implanted at a young age. An outgrowth of this is the low key reputation of Conway that has protected it from the grasp of developers who might seek to exploit its charms to build a colossus for nouveau riche interlopers looking to build their overwrought versions of a Florida dream house. Just to the south, the Lake Nona area is filling that niche very nicely. As the medical city that is springing up down there mushrooms with activity, let's hope that those who end up working there and seeking out new homes are attracted by the century and a half of tranquility that has prevailed along the Conway chain rather than an urge to transform it. The abundance of gated communities filled with McMansions should be sufficient to keep them at bay. I really hope this article helps to continue to attract the attention of those people who revel in the sight of a great blue heron silhouetted against a glorious Florida sunrise mirrored in the dark lake waters. One might hope to enhance that scene by planting a cypress tree or some purple flowering pickerel weed, but never to supplant it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Colonialtown Is The Hip Heart of Orlando

Sip and Logan's Bistro on Virginia Ave.

The largest of Orlando's central neighborhoods, Colonialtown has a laid back, easy going and artsy vibe that beats at the city's heart. The restaurants, cafes and nightspots are as varied as the retail, which ranges from trendy art galleries and retro clothing and antique shops to mainline stores like Barnes and Noble, Marshalls and Steinmart. The eastern part of Colonialtown was home to Orlando's first and most fashionable Mall, Colonial Plaza. In its heyday the area had a five story Jordan Marsh, the venerable Rutlands, Gibbs Louis, Lillie Rubin and Hattie Fredericks and scores of other elegant boutiques.

At the Plaza, Ronnies Restaurant was a terrific a delicatessen, not surpassed by its inspiration, the ever trendy Wolfies of Miami Beach. Woe unto you if you entered into the line that said parties of three or more if you were alone. You would be unceremoniously asked to exit and reenter through the neighboring door, even though only a red velvet rope separated you from the correct line. At Ronnies, rules were rules. The wildly varied bread basket and flaky Danish pastries would be kept flowing as long as you liked but you were never allowed to be brought more than two pats of butter or cream cheese at a time. No night at the ballet or symphony was considered complete without a stop for a treat at Ronnies. And at midnight, both the doors could have long lines around the corner. It's somewhat surprising that fifty years later, the atmosphere at TooJays is far less glamorous than its predecessor. Alas the old Colonial Plaza was taken down in the nineties, to be replaced by the far more mundane, though still ok Shoppes at Colonial Plaza. Gone is the taxistand that held a long line of yellow cabs and Checkers to ferry one safely home after a night of revelry. The bus sub-station is a feeble replacement and shuts down at midnight. I defy anyone to describe that as progress.

None the less, the Colonialtown of today has a large number of terrific hangouts that have grown up in the intervening years. The Peacock Room, Drunken Monkey, Stardust and a host of other intriguing spots have developed a cult following of artsy, hip and literate types that insure that this area is downtown Orlando's Village. The energy flows as smoothly as a cup of sweet chai tea goes down a parched throat. Forays out into suburbia make me crave a return to the mellow atmosphere that mark this neighborhoods mellow and unpretentious flow. With a strong and vital heart like this, Orlando's vitality seems assured.

Colonialtown is roughly bounded by Antique Row and Orange Avenue on the West, Maguire Boulevard on the East, Robinson Street on the south and Loch Haven Park and Leu Gardens and Corrine Drive on the north. The area encompasses about two and a half square miles and no part of it is more than a few minutes bike ride from another. The area has a very eclectic, organic and impromptu quality that make it the antithesis of the theme parks that are so often perceived as being Orlando. Those places are ten to twenty miles southwest of anything even remotely resembling the real city of Orlando. Someone who visited the 1964 World's Fair in New York at Flushing Meadows without having gone into Manhattan would have had an analagous experience to someone who went to Disney and and never experienced downtown Orlando. World Fairs and Theme Parks can be very enjoyable, but they offer scant experience of any place with real culture and history. In my Colonialtown theme park, all the actors are improvising their costumes and scripts and the serendipity of that casts me as a willing participant in the production.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mead Gardens Winter Park

Mead Gardens sits astride the stream that flows out of the city of Orlando's Northern chain of lakes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Celebration, Fl.

The Town of Celebration was first built in 1994 and the Disney company brought together some of the world's foremost architects and urban planners for the job. Pictured here are the town hall with its delightfully modern reinterpratation of a New England structure and the quirky round post office.
Just beyond the town hall at the foot of the main shopping street
View from halfway up the observation Tower

This fountain is in the square between Town Hall and the Tower.

Colorful Main StreetBuildings

The Lake at the beginning of Main Street features a park with lookout and comfy rockers.
The fountain along the lake is timed for a number of liquid effects!

The town movie theater is nostalgically retro.

This alligator in the town lake is definitely not animatronic.
The Celebration Hotel is a popular retreat for the rich and famous.

Looking up main street from the lake side

Celebration Tower is almost a hundred feet high and features stunning views.