Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jacksonville Beach: What Has Endured

             Elizabeth Stark came to what she called the “perfect paradise” of Mayport, Florida in 1914.  There were too many gray-haired people in the rest of the state to suit her she quipped.  Ambitious and savvy, she and her husband bought all the land they could:   hundreds of coastal acres.  It was christened Wonderwood.  They built a 1,000 foot fishing pier and several houses.  They raised polo horses and grew figs. She anointed herself the Queen of a cast of eccentric characters that included mobsters, movie stars, industrialists and treasure hunters that took advantage of the new rail lines  It endures today as a picturesque car ferry.  Wonderwood became a symbol of the developing South and Elizabeth its defender.  When World War I broke out, she famously protected her bulwark by assembling a stalwart troop of armed Girl Scouts on horseback that patrolled the beaches.  “Although we never had any spies arrested, we kept a lot of them on the move,” she boasted in her memoir. 
making their way South.  Previously the only way to easily reach Mayport was by shooting a gun in the air to call a rowboat ferry which began in 1874 to carry farmers, merchants and travelers across the St. John’s River.
            But time in her paradise was curtailed by the government. In 1940 the Marines evicted the Starks, raised Wonderwood and built an officer’s club.  President Roosevelt insisted that Mayport become a military base. An officer “followed me out on the street and told me to leave and never put my foot on the property again,” she wrote.  Unbowed, she found “a suitable shack” on the beach to live in which reminded her of the Girl Scout “hun hunters”. She claimed she was happy. 
            Meanwhile, along the nearby coast, hotels were springing up to meet the growing demand:  The Continental, The Atlantic Beach Hotel, Perking House and the Palmetto Lodge.  The Spanish-Mediterranean designed Casa Marina was built in 1924. Every one of those hotels except the Casa Marina burned to the ground, victims of the lethal combination of heart pine floors, lanterns and candles.  It was fire proof, constructed of stucco, concrete and tile.  It had the beach’s first sprinkler system.  So it endured.  Its tenacity is reminiscent of Elizabeth Stark’s.  She could have been its muse.
    Like Wonderwood, the Casa Marina and its ocean-side dancing are a symbol of the glamour of the golden age.  In the 1920’s the hotel hosted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Rockefellers and President Truman.  Jean Harlow and Al Capone were rumored to have been guests.  Machine Gun Kelly came to dine.  Spenser Tracy and Katherine Hepburn may have rendezvoused there. Weekly rates were $25 including three meals per day. Along the 40 miles of beach, women swam in shoes and rented woolen bathing suits that weighed up to 25 pounds when wet.  Just up the beach a Red Cross life-saving station was established in 1915.  It is now the oldest continuing operating
volunteer corps in the country. But then the military cut it all short just as it had for the Starks.  It appropriated the hotel for military housing during World War II.  A succession of owners and businesses followed until 1991.  Then it was boarded up for eleven years until being elegantly renovated and reborn as one of the 240 Historic Inns of America.

The unique Spanish-Mediterranean architecture remains but the hotel has been remodeled into 18 two-room suites and 5 rooms. An attic has been transformed into a stylish rooftop martini bar with unparalleled views of the coastline and a lively, cosmopolitan scene.  The ocean-side courtyard where brunch the dining room attracts a full house for Executive Chef Aaron Webb’s “new beach” cuisine: a combination of local and Southern tastes.  The crowning glory is his whole roasted red snapper which is seasoned and slow roasted while poised in an upright, swimming position.  It’s so photogenic; diners often want the chef to pose with it for snapshots.
            Steps outside the hotel are the other attractions of Jacksonville Beach:  the boardwalk with its souvenir shops and fast food, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird Lounge.  There’s a popular quarter-mile-long fishing pier. There are surfers and swimmers, jet skis and boaters.  Mark Vandeloo, General Manager of the Casa Marina, “took a huge interest in the hotel as I met the people who walked in the door. They had fond memories or a story of its history and what it meant to them.”  He considers
himself the guardian of the hotel’s history which is artfully depicted in vintage photographs that line the hallways.  But he also looks towards the future.  “Hopefully in another 90 years, people will visit and tell their story ….. about the great experience they had.”
More photos are  here

If You Go:
Jacksonville Beachhttp://www.jacksonvillebeach.org/
Casa Marina:  www.casamarinahotel.com

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Art on the Beach to Benefit Charleston Pro Bono Services

Poster Image by John M. Hoffman
            For sixteen years the popular fundraiser Art on the Beach & Chefs in the Kitchen has drawn hundreds of visitors to Sullivan’s Island for an afternoon house tour replete with over twenty-five artists selling their creations, live music and tasty treats from chefs and food purveyors.  On Sunday, Nov. 8 several architecturally significant houses, artists’ studios and an historic battery will be part of the tour benefiting Charleston Pro Bono Services which provides free legal aid to over 800 people in our community each year.  With so many situations requiring a lawyer, Charleston Pro Bono Services ensures that the doors of justice are open to all, regardless of income.  They match low income clients with attorneys to help solve problems ranging from custody to contractual issues to paternity. 
            Typical of their cases is “David” who, when he approached the agency, was living in a camper after losing his job due to years of severe bad health.  The Social Security Administration had already denied his claim twice but with the help of a volunteer attorney from Charleston Pro Bono, David received a favorable decision that provided a monthly income.  Another client, “Mr. Morris”, came seeking visitation of his son.  Since he was not married to the mother of the child, SC law had awarded the mother full custody.  With the help of a volunteer attorney, Mr.  Morris is now able to visit his son weekly.  Volunteer lawyers also helped “Ms. Betty” who was being harassed by a usurious loan company who had taken advantage of her poor mental health.  With the help she received, the loans were resolved.  Another client, Mrs. Guerrero needed a spelling error on her son’s birth certificate corrected.  The error had created an avalanche of problems with school enrollment and obtaining a passport.  After the resolution she said, “When the lawyers from this office helped us to correct the birth certificate then I was able to get a passport and everything was resolved. So I’m very grateful to the attorneys who helped us so much.”  What may be a routine case for the volunteer lawyers is often critically important to the hundreds of clients who seek aid each year since the complexities of the legal system can often be confusing and frustrating.
      Over thirty artists are scheduled to be on site during the tour to talk to patrons about and sell their creations ranging from wearable art to paintings.  Many artists come every year including jewelry maker Marion Berry who said after last year, “Totally enjoyed being an artist at this event. Had a great time meeting everyone that came by and shopped with me.” The celebrated poster artist this year is John Michael Hoffman whose impressionistic paintings are full of vigor, vitality and texture. He will be meeting people at Sandpiper Gallery that day.
The VIP party bus will be a
 lively addition. 
            During the event, patrons can drive or bicycle around Sullivan’s Island using a map provided with their tickets.  A new option this year offers a VIP ticket with party bus transportation.   Tickets for Art on the Beach and Chefs in the Kitchen are $40 in advance, $45 the day of the tour or VIP tickets for $100 which includes lively, comfortable transportation with libations and commemorative gifts. Tickets may be purchased on line at http://www.charlestonprobono.org, at Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivan’s Island or at the ticket booth at Battery Gadsden (1917 I’On) on Nov. 8 starting at noon.  Sponsors include Jerry and Cheryl Kaynard, Mt. Pleasant Urgent Care, RPWB law firm, Lucky Dog Publications, Lowcountry Sun Publications, Herlong and Associates, Pratt-Thomas Walker and area restaurants  and food purveyors including the Old Village Post House, The Granary, Bull’s Bay Saltworks,  Palmetto Brewery, Lowcountry Olive Oil and the Americano.