Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category

Jim Gary’s car parts dinosaurs moved to Florida museum

In 2004, I learned that a local NJ artist was building full sized dinosaurs out of car parts, many of which could be seen outside his Monmouth County home. Jim Gary was a self taught artist who worked in various mediums but mostly made sculptures out of metal. He was most famous for his sculptures of dinosaurs. He made them out of automotive parts he found in junkyards with painstaking attention to detail. Anyone familiar with cars can almost instantly recognize the calipers from a brake set that make up a foot or the leaf springs that make up the rib cage. Likewise nearly every one of his dinosaurs is instantly recognizable as the specific type of dinosaur it is meant to be, whether it was a T-Rex, a triceratops or a velociratpor. This is because he would research the dinosaurs extensively to make sure he got the number of vertebrae and ribs correct.

One day I took a drive and showed up unannounced at his home. I had no intention of bothering the artist, I hoped to simply take a few pictures from the road, something I imagined the artist would be accustomed to. Luckily, Jim Gary saw me, and offered me access to his property to take as many pictures as I liked. He had no time to speak to me then, but he said he would be happy to do so at another time. Unfortunately getting back to him was something I never did; the next year he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away. I posted the pictures on this site along with a brief write up about the artist and his dinosaurs. Over the next few years I gave permission to the curators of his estate permission to use some of those pictures at various exhibits. Since that time, many people searching for information about Jim Gary have found my blog entry and left kind words about the man they knew, or only knew of but wish they had met.

I was contacted by Gary’s estate in August, 2011 and asked if I would come and document the dinosaurs one last time before they were moved to the Tallahassee Museum in Florida (where they will remain for another ten years or so). I was more then happy to do this and you can see those pictures here on flickr.

Jim Gary was close friends with the Berg family for several decades. They met when the Bergs bought some of his art, and their son would sometimes help Jim create new dinosaurs. Later, as Jim’s work became famous and would travel in art shows, the Berg family would help Jim disassemble, transport and reassemble the pieces for display. After Jim’s passing, the pieces that were outside his home were kept at the Berg home in Colt’s Neck. As the pieces were being loaded into the 18 wheeler bound for Florida, local residents realized that the dinosaurs that had been a part of their quiet neighborhood would no longer be there. Many expressed disappointment at the move but understood that the art deserved a chance for the greater public to better appreciate them.

I arrived early that morning to document the pieces before dis-assembly. They were much as I remembered them, if not a bit more weathered. Life sized, iconic and a cool factor of 11. I took a bunch of pictures and before I knew it heads and tails were off in preparation for loading the following day. When I returned again, a giant fork lift had arrived to lift the two ton dinosaurs from the lawn into the backs of two tractor trailers. Straps were strung under ribs and around legs. They were carefully moved across the lawn and into the street, then hoisted to the correct height to be carefully laid inside the truck.

You can’t conceive how difficult it was to safely move these pieces of art. Despite being made of welded metal they could still suffer stress fractures or even snap if they were to impact the ground or the sides of the trucks. Furthermore, they had to be balanced safely for the ride to the truck, but be level enough to be slid inside. The largest piece only had a 6 inch clearance of the truck’s ceiling. At the end of all the pictures is a video in 3 parts showing hard how the biggest piece was to load.

Two years later, the majority of the pieces sit in the Tallahassee Museum – BUT – two other pieces are now at Liberty Science Center, on exhibit until the end of September. If you get the chance, I strongly urge you to visit these gigantic art pieces. They are awe inspiring and dramatic, and represent everything that art should be.

IMG_6418

IMG_6497

IMG_6360

IMG_6311

IMG_6286

IMG_6282

IMG_6247

All of the pics on Flickr, a LOT MORE

Interview with jeremy about Jim Gary

Interview with Arlene Berg

Advertisements

Hong Kong Willie: of lobster buoys, worms, and burlap bags

the holiday tree of buoys

Pretend you’re on vacation in Florida, driving along a road that looks like any other. As you go around a bend in the road you see a helicopter, sitting in the side yard of a house that is covered with hundreds of colored lobster buoys. What would you do? Well, if you’re me, you turn around and find out what it’s all about. And that is how I discovered Hong Kong Willie. Parking nearby, we debated what to do (and by we, I mean my girlfriend). She comes from the Appalachian south, where you don’t just walk up to a strange house and say “Hi!” unless you want a shotgun stuck in your face. I don’t come from the south and, I prefer to trust my inner voice. The inner voice said, “If this person didn’t want visitors, they wouldn’t have decorated their house like this.” So I brazenly walked up to a house covered with lobster buoys, a 9-1-1 made from driftwood, a turtle shell bird fountain and a random chicken wandering around freely in the yard.

A sign on the door stated visiting hours, but the door was locked, so we carefully looked around, keeping in mind that while we were invited by the decor we hadn’t been, ya know, *invited*. After just a few minutes though, a gentleman emerged and introduced himself as Joe Brown. He explained that this was where local Tampa artist “Hong Kong Willie” displayed all his artwork. It wasn’t until much later into the conversation that I realized that Joe Brown and HKW were in fact one and the same and that he was speaking of himself in third person. Or more accurately there is no HKW, he ia representation of an idea, of reuse of recycling and conservation. Joe enjoyed talking about his art and seemed not at all surprised by our unexpected visit. People apparently stop by frequently for the same reason we did, out of nothing more than curiosity. “There has never been, in all the years of being here, some massive sign saying who we are and what we do,” Brown said. “Because when people finally decide out of inquisitiveness to slow down and stop, they’ve finally slowed down enough to hear the most important message of their life.”

Soon Joe was telling us about how he became a re-use artist. How does one become a re-use artist? For that matter, what is a re-use artist? Simply put, a re-use artist is one who repurposes items into art, often items that are found or scavenged. For example, you could take a glass Gerber baby food jar and melt it down, then with some additional materials you could make a beautiful paper weight. Something that would have been discarded after serving its original purpose, now has a new purpose and a new life. The idea is hardly original, but while many artists do this type of thing, not many can claim such an interesting history as Joe Brown.

Joe and his family lived on the Gunn Highway Landfill from 1958 to 1963. Nearly half of Tampa’s waste was brought in by the truckload every day until the landfill closed in 1962. “It was astounding how quick they could fill the 15 acres of enormous pits,” Brown said. As a child, he often would scavenge materials from the landfill and sell them for pocket money. One day, his mother took him to an art class taught by a native of Hong Kong where re-use of discarded materials was common. “It really made an impression on me,” he said. “It became very easy to think outside the box and know where I could find things from resources that were just abounding. I just feel so fortunate to be able to sit here and see assets that could be sitting in a big trench and there would be no energy coming from it,” he said. “And now a lot of it is finding homes in peoples’ houses and businesses and getting people to think about re-use.”

Brown started out life in the business world, not surprisingly, in the waste management field. Brown also told us that he worked for IBM and was involved with the development of bar code technology before finally deciding to leave the corporate world for something more personally satisfying: creating art and living an ecologically sustainable lifestyle.

In the Florida Keys there is an abudance of styrofoam buoys used by local fisherman. Styrofoam doesn’t biodegrade very well, but it does have a limited shelf life for its original purpose of being a buoy. Brown collected a large number of discarded buoys and eventually created the buoy tree which sits in his front yard. From a distance the individual buoys blend into one enormous shape which I originally took for a giant ice cream cone. Up close one can see lots and lots of individually painted buoys. “It is Styrofoam; we understand that it does not degrade, but to blame the fishermen for their livelihood wouldn’t be correct. Instead we find a usage for those,” Brown said. He hopes the novelty of the buoy tree will inspire and stimulate children to find new ways to reduce, re-use and recycle garbage.

Brown said art is viewed and appreciated differently by different people. “If it all came out the same, it would be like bland grits all the time,” Brown said. “I also try to stay away from imprinting a definite use for a definite item.” He explains, for example, that 2-liter bottles are not limited only to making bird feeders. The bottles can be used for many other art and craft projects. Not all the items he collects turn into art. Some are simply repurposed, like burlap bags from coffee and peanut producers which he sells to the U.S. National Forestry Service for the collection of pine seeds and to Sam Adams Brewing for hops production.

Brown said the larger message he wants to communicate is that the disposal of garbage today is creating a toxic environment.

Besides selling his art to private individuals, Hong Kong Willie has provided pieces to local business and helped with much of the decor at Gaspar’s Patio Bar and Grille in Temple Terrace. According to one article I found while researching the artist, Gaspar’s owner Jimmy Ciaccio said the artist’s inventory reflected his vision when he remodeled the restaurant. “Joe’s work inspires me,” Ciaccio said. “I always see something different every time I look at how he decorated the place.” In addition Brown has a side business selling compost, soil and worms. Brown and his family compost waste materials to feed their Florida red worms. He sells these worms by the pound to gardeners and by the cup to local fisherman. One local said they are great for catching blue gills, sand perch and other local favorites. He also added that he likes getting his worms from Brown “because his bait stays alive longer than any other baits I’ve used.”

If you want to visit Hong Kong Willie, the studio is located on Morris bridge Rd, Tampa right near the entrance to I-75, or just visit his blog HKW also sells Florida red worms thru a separate blog

Blogspot interview with Joe Brown

Youtube interview

another YT interview

Fox news interview

WEDU news story

Green website article about HKW

another article about HKW

Abandoned townhouse complex in Florida

I was on vacation on Florida in 2010 and was visiting one of the many attractions outside Orlando when I noticed this place. I excused myself from the family and poked around. There wasn’t a whole lot to see and the buildings were fairly secure. Was I going to risk injury or arrest while on vacation 1000 miles from home? No, no I was not. I wandered about, took a few pictures and returned to my wife and son. Some research was done once I was back home but there’s nothing really interesting to say about this place. Florida is full of developments that either never got finished or which briefly flaired to life and then died. This is one of many…

CIMG6335

CIMG6336

CIMG6334

CIMG6333

CIMG6332

CIMG6327

CIMG6328

CIMG6329

CIMG6330

CIMG6331

CIMG6326

CIMG6325

take a tour of a cold war relic in the Florida Everglades

Tours of old Nike bases now being offered

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK – At the height of the Cold War, anti-aircraft missiles stood at the ready here in Florida’s swamplands, protecting the South from a potential Soviet nuclear bomber attack launched from Cuba. For almost two decades, beginning shortly after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the HM-69 Nike Hercules Missile Site was manned by about 100 military personnel, one of the last lines of defense if the unthinkable happened. When it closed in 1979, the park took control of the site.

Now the site is undergoing a rebirth of sorts as a public exhibit, drawing the curious who want to see the Cold War relic along with those who stumble upon it while visiting Everglades National Park. With a $10 Everglades admission fee and a phone call to park officials, tourists can join the hour-long driving tour of the Nike site, which was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Although the missiles were dismantled and removed, visitors can see the site’s administration building, the tiny missile assembly shed, the missile barns and protective berms. Tours continue through March, during the park’s peak season.Sites like this sprung up during the Cold War to defend U.S. cities from attack and send the Soviets a message of strength. The missiles in South Florida were certainly not hidden — at 41 feet (12.5 meters) tall, anyone could see them. While some Nike missiles were nuclear-tipped, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis said the weapons at the Everglades site probably weren’t.

“You could just drive down the road and see them setting out there,” said Bobby Jones, who was transferred to the site in 1965, when it was still a temporary operation. “The missiles were setting on trailers. … everything was mobile. We could move within an hour. The radar and everything.” Jones repaired diesel generators used to power the site, including its radar system and missile launchers. He remembers the wild birds and alligators that he shared the land with, and the porous ground that the site was built upon. “I had never seen anything like South Florida before in my life,” said Jones, who was from Missouri. “It was all really new to me. And I was fascinated with the wildlife there.”

Park officials said interest has been high in the landmark, which takes on a greater relevance this year, the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. They have already added an extra day to the tour schedule. “I think certainly in this community, what people focus on is how things were doing the Cuban Missile Crisis. And a lot of our demographics are interested in the history of our dealings with Cuba,” said Melissa Memory, chief of cultural resources at the park. “But I think in the broader preservation community, Cold War historic assets, our appreciation for them is evolving.”

Because the site was placed inside a national park, it has survived urban expansion and is now well-preserved, said volunteer tour guide Gregg Halpin. Other Nike sites scattered around the United States, strategically placed near cities, have disappeared. As the threat of a Soviet attack faded, many of the sites (after the missiles were removed) were integrated into urban communities as parks or business centers. In Arlington Heights, Illinois, a former Nike base is now an 18-hole golf course. A New Jersey town proposed converting its former base into a commuter parking lot in December. And part of an old site in Gardner, Kansas, has been converted into Nike Elementary School. The school’s nickname: the Missiles.

The Nike site tucked away in the Everglades was not the only one in Florida. The former launch area of the Nike Hercules Site HM in Opa-Locka, just north of Miami, is now a National Guard reservation. Another site in Miami has become an Immigration and Naturalization Service facility. The Everglades site is now searching for information, historic replicas and artifacts used at the facility during the Cold War to include in the tour. Park officials are also working to spruce up areas that have not yet been open to the public because of health and safety concerns, and are conducting interviews with former military personnel who were stationed here.

“We can go on the Internet and other research is available to us, so we know who built (it) and when it was built,” Halpin said. “But we need those personal stories to make it a connection with the people, so the people will want to come here and see what it was all about.”

Cool Hangar/House

futuro house at the strip club

I’ve always been interested in the Futuro homes, designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen. Built from plastic and initially meant to serve as a secondary home, it was soon looked at as a possible primary home. The Futuro home looked like a flying saucer. The private and open spaces of a traditional home were fused together so that the couches doubled as beds, as did several chairs. This led the authors to describe the Futuro as having a heightened sexuality about it.

In the book about the the Futuro house by Mike Tanila, it was noted that in the promotional advertising, women were the hostesses, akin to to flight stewardesses of the 1930’s. The exterior of the home could be viewed as a womb, and the interior fireplace and stove pipe could be considered phallic. The absence of traditional decorum also exuded that devil-may-care attitude of the late 60’s.

From 1956 to 1970, Playby magazine commissioned several conceptions of ideal bachelor pads, and one of them was the Futuro, with a couch that could “sleep two drunks comfortably.” This was a “hideaway, and it was clear what recreation it was best suited for.

It is no surprise then, that on a recent trip to Florida I discovered what I believe to be a Futuro house at a strip club near Tampa, FL. I was at Sonic getting a burger and a limeaid with my wife and son. As we pulled out of the driveway I saw it and my jaw dropped.

I pulled over to take pictures and explained to my wife why I was taking photos of a strip club. I then noticed a man changing some of the signage and approached him, as my wife shook her head in disbelief. He told me that was the “bachelor pad” and that it’s reserved for “special parties”

He had worked there for over a decade but couldn’t recall how long the flying saucer had been there or where it came from. Was it really a Futuro modified into a “bachelor playhouse”? I would’ve loved to find out, but somehow… well… I tried to imagine the look on my wife’s face when I told her that I was going inside. For research. Needless to say I realized this was a bad idea, and went back to the car, still grinning at this unique find.

2006florida110

2006florida111

Solomon’s castle and other strange Florida homes

me, mrs lij and andy will be going to Florida soon and so I’ve scrounged roadsideamerica.com for some good places to go and sadly a lot of the more interesting stuff is simply not possible to do on a vaction, too far away. That’s one of 99 great things about jersey: absolutely nothing is so far away it can;t be visited in a day cause nothing is more then 3 hrs away by car.

Anyway I specifically checked out a few things and have a list including solmon’s castle, another house of the future, a house that is a carbon copy of graceland, and another one that looks like a battleship. That last one the guy is supposed to be a real wackjob nut case. I just got off the phone w/the daughter of the owner of solomon’s castle asking if I could snag an interview. Midway thru saying yes she asked if I’d heard of Weird Florida. ::) Anyway, yes I have, And it’s on my *to buy* list, so I really should get it this week, something to read on the plane, or maybe even give me some more ideas of what to visit.

We also plan to check out the a graveyard of nothing but circus performers, and I mean real circus performers, like from the 40’s and 50’s and such. No idea if we’ll find it or it’ll be cool, but I imagine the headstones will be worth the site. I hope. His daughter told me that she owns a small house and wants a bigger house so she’s building a bigger house outside the smaller house. In other words there will be a house-in-a-house. Sounds like something from Green Eggs & Ham but thats what she told me!

originally posted October 2005