Sunday, February 16, 2014

A 'saur standing there: Harold's, the dinosaur-shaped auto garage of Spring Hill, Florida

As if the real, live mermaids of Weeki Wachee (see previous post) weren't enough to coax you to the mid-Gulf coast of Florida, there's another fantasmagorical attraction to lure you in. Harold's Auto Center of Spring Hill is housed in a giant dinosaur named Dino. Back in 1964, a Sinclair gas station took their green reptilian logo to real extremes by erecting a 47-foot tall, 110-foot long apatosaurus. Though no longer a Sinclair station, Dino still stands today with googly eyes and a goofy smile to greet all motorists on busy Route 19 in need of tune-ups, batteries and brakes. Harold's has been in business since 1977 and boasts of all the latest technological automotive diagnostic advances ("although we are inside a dinosaur, we stay up to date with what your vehicle needs"). I know if I lived in the area, I would be raptored with joy every time I drove past such an outrageously eccentric establishment. So if you're in the area and having car trouble, bring your "car Rex" to Harold's -- they're a sight for 'saur eyes and tricera-tops in our book.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Happy birthday James Dean

Today would have been James Dean's 83rd birthday had he not been tragically killed in a car accident on September 30, 1955 at the young age of 24. Back in 2011, we stopped at Blackwells Corner in Lost Hills, California, which was the last place Dean stopped before his fatal accident. We found a modern gas station and gift shop memorializing the historic nature of the place. Click here to read our previous post.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Eight days a Weeki, I love you: Florida's Weeki Wachee Springs

Mermaid shows? River cruise? Gift shop? Stop the car!

13 clams gets you admission to the mermaid show, a river cruise, a water park and the lush grounds.

Real live mermaids!

Okay, so they suck on airhoses. You would too.

Lots of photo ops (and yes, it's a little pervy if a grown man does this).

The grounds are beautiful...

...and so is the spring.

 Like I said, lots of photo ops.

In 1946, a Mr. Newton Perry, an entrepreneur and former Navy SEAL trainer, spotted a location with a natural spring near Florida's central Gulf coast and had an idea. Why not invent an underwater breathing method using a hose instead of a tank and get a bunch of gals to dress up like mermaids and put on aquatic shows for the tourists? He built an 18-seat theater submerged six feet below the surface of the Weeki Wachee (that's Seminole for "little spring"), recruited local young ladies, started doing shows in October of 1947, and the place has been a Florida institution ever since. By the 1950s, Weeki Wachee had become a very popular tourist destination and in 1959, it was sold to the ABC TV network, who expanded the theater to 16-feet below and 500 seats. The '60s were Weeki Wachi's hey-day and many famous people (Elvis! Esther Williams! Don Knotts!) visited. The city of Weeki Wachee was incorporated in 1966 and today it boasts a population of between four and twelve, depending on who you ask (the mayor is a former mermaid). By the early '70s, Disney World became the 3000-pound shark in the mermaid tank and older attractions like Weeki Wachee saw their attendance drop dramatically. Things got pretty bleak until 2008, when the state took over and made Weeki Wachee a state park, forever saving it from becoming one of those neglected tourist attractions of yesteryear.

And on behalf of eccentric roadside attraction fans everywhere, I'd like to say WAY TO GO, FLORIDA! Thank you for preserving a true sample of Old Florida roadside culture. It's nice to know a place some would call kitschy is actually a beloved state institution and worth protecting. Okay, so maybe the state was more interested in preserving the beautiful grounds, wildlife and natural spring (it's so deep, the bottom has never been found!), but as long as lovely young Floridians are donning those crazy finned costumes, I'm happy as clam.