On an all-too short visit to Florida recently, I happenstanced upon an eccentric roadside delight in the mid-Gulf coast burg of Bradenton: a donut shop housed in the original 1950s Googie architecture of a Mister Donut shop. Founded in 1956, the Mister Donut chain was acquired by the parent company of Dunkin Donuts in 1990. The Mister Donut name was then largely done away with, along with its distinctive mid-century "W" shaped orange and white trimmed buildings and winking chef logo. A precious few of the original cruller emporiums remain under different names, so it was an occasion worth stopping for when one popped up on Route 41 on my way north from Sarasota to St. Pete. The inside of the place looked original, too, with short stubby stools in a zig-zag pattern like donut and coffee shops used to be so fond of doing but don't do any more. When I asked the young fellow working behind the counter if I could snap a few photos of the inside, he looked at me queasily and said no, so all I have are exteriors. And even though I'm a diabetic, I did patronize this fine establishment by purchasing a scrumptious coconut donut for 75 cents. Rare roadside gems like these should be supported, diabetic coma notwithstanding. Debra Jane Seltzer, roadside architecture scholar par excellence, has a whole page of former Mister Donuts for you to peruse on her words-can't-describe-how-amazing-it-is website. And that's the hole truth, so help me.
Edith Shain, who claimed she was the nurse getting swept off her feet in Times Square by the kiss of an anonymous sailor in an iconic Life Magazine photo shot on Victory Over Japan Day in 1945 died today. She was 91. Her passing is rather timely for us at Eccentric Roadside because just last week I took some pictures of a statue depicting the famous Alfred Eisenstadt photo on Route 41 in Sarasota, Florida. A great big one. Twenty-six feet tall to be exact. Entitled "Unconditional Surrender," it was created by noted sculptor Seward Johnson, the same artist responsible for the truly awesome 25-foot "American Gothic" replica we saw in Chicago last year, and it makes quite a statement along the busy palm treed boulevard, surrounded by high-rise condos and a luxurious marina. Sarasota was the statue's original home in 2005. It was then moved 3000 miles away to San Diego for a spell, and then returned in better than ever condition back to Sarasota in 2008. A June 18 post to roadsideamerica.com reports the smoochers were being craned onto a flatbed truck bound for New Jersey for some repairs before a triumphant Sarasota return engagement later on this July. Eisenstadt never got the names of the original celebrants and more than one nurse and sailor have claimed to be the make-out artists in the photo, but we believe you Edith. Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but us.
In the immortal words of the B52s: "Hop in my Chrysler, it's as big as a whale and it's about to set sail!"
I love how this looks like the face of a character from a Pixar movie.
It's a good thing the president of BP doesn't a policy like this.
But wait, there's more! Before we leave the awesome Airstream Ranch of Dover, Florida (see previous post), the Bates RV dealership has more delights for the eccentric roadside attraction fan to behold. As you enter their parking lot, they've assembled a vintage Airstream trailer park just for fun. Five tin can mansions of various size and vintage are arranged in a cute little picket-fenced park, complete with lawn flamingos. An added bonus is a gorgeous maroon '60s Chrysler Newport pulling "Bambi." They also have a terrific billboard with an actual Airstream built into it. Sweet 'Streams are made of this.
Amarillo, Texas has the Cadillac Ranch. Alliance, Nebraska has Carhenge. And the pleasant central Florida hamlet of Dover has the Airstream Ranch, seven and a half shiny Airstream trailers of different size and vintage upended and partially buried nose-first in a field along Interstate 4, about a half-hour east of Tampa. The brainchild of Frank and Dorothy Bates, proprietors of the Bates R-V dealership (who bill themselves as the largest Airstream dealership in the United States), it was installed on their property on 2007 in honor of Airstream's 75th anniversary (hence the seven and a half). But like all great eccentric roadside attractions, it wasn't without controversy. Seems some of the neighbors hated it and Hillsborough County officials fined the Bateses $100 a day until it was taken down. The Bateses appealed and last February a three-judge panel ruled in their favor and they got to keep their ranch. The Bateses' argument was that it was an artistic expression, not an advertisement, and, while the judges avoided answering whether or not it was art, they did conclude that it wasn't advertising and it wasn't junk, so there it stands. And it's going to get even better: "Now we're going to light it at night," says Mr. Bates. Bravo to the Bateses for their eccentric artistic vision. If you build it, they will come.
Note the muffler man and cool Leo's Auto Supply sign in the background: a retro roadside trifecta.
I've done a few posts about Tucson, Arizona's awesomely retro North Stone Avenue, and one more treasure to be encountered on this boulevard of dreams is the Truly Nolen Nash Metropolitan parked near the corner of Glenn Street in front of Don's Hot Rod Shop. Having never been to this region before, the name Truly Nolen was a mystery to us as we kept encountering it painted on the sides of classic old cars throughout the area. Was it a car dealership? A politician? And what was so true about this Nolen, anyway? Well, it turns out Truly Nolen is a pest control company, and a pretty big one at that. They use personalized classic cars as a promotional device. They also have a fleet of yellow VW Beetles bedecked with large mouse ears to simulate vermin.
You don't realize how small a Nash Metropolitan is until you're standing next to one. It's not much bigger than today's new-fangled Smart Cars but it's much more stylish. You half-expect to see a cartoon dog driving this car down the street, or a dozen circus clowns pile out of it. I'd love to have one of these in my driveway but I'm not sure I'd want to commute in one during rush hour on I-95.
And it turns out Truly Nolen is named after its founder, Truly Wheatfiled Nolen, who started the company in 1938. The company has 83 locations and 100 franchises in 41 foreign countries (thank you, wikipedia) and is still family run today.
And as an incredible retro-tastic bonus, there's a muffler man and a cool old neon sign all within eyeshot of the Nash. Truly incredible.
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!