Timbers Resort’s offices (above and below), located in the Seacoast Bank building on Morse Boulevard, feature striking wall-sized graphics of company properties and a sleek but homey vibe that reflects the company’s culture. About 40 people work in the new national headquarters, with double that number expected within a few years.

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY

Timbers Resort’s offices (above and below), located in the Seacoast Bank building on Morse Boulevard, feature striking wall-sized graphics of company properties and a sleek but homey vibe that reflects the company’s culture. About 40 people work in the new national headquarters, with double that number expected within a few years.

When Timbers Resorts CEO Greg Spencer began to investigate moving the company’s corporate headquarters from Carbondale, Colorado — a picture-postcard small town just northwest of Aspen — he wanted to find a location that combined the area’s sophisticated panache with easy accessibility, top-notch schools and proximity to workforce housing.

Spencer, 49, who was born in Orlando and attended college in Tallahassee, seemed to recall that Winter Park fit the bill in most respects. Early on, he began steering the 20-year-old company toward Central Florida.

“Winter Park became pretty compelling pretty fast,” says Spencer, whose team also looked at locations in downtown Orlando, Dr. Phillips and Lake Nona. “Winter Park felt like where we came from, and I liked the scale. It was more of a cultural fit with our brand. In fact, our board was blown away.”

In February, Timbers Resorts moved to a suite of offices at 1031 West Morse Boulevard, on the third floor of the Seacoast Bank building. And the space was built out to reflect the fast-growing company’s mission, which is to develop and operate boutique resorts, hotels and private-residence clubs.

The walls are adorned with surfboards and eye-popping graphics of company properties, while the offices and conference rooms are outfitted with sleek, modern furnishings and all the high-tech bells and whistles you’d expect from a company with an international footprint.

“Aspen is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but we had employees looking at extremely long commutes,” notes Spencer. Small wonder: The average home price in Carbondale is more than $800,000 and in Aspen more than $1.6 million.

Timbers Resorts was founded in 1999 by resort developer David Burden and since 2014 has been majority-owned by Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management, whose portfolio includes about $120 billion in assets.

The Timbers portfolio includes 11 company-managed properties in Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, South Carolina, Italy and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as reciprocity agreements with other resorts in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Mexico.

Expansion opportunities are beckoning in Europe and the Caribbean as well as along the Eastern Seaboard. The company has a property in southeast Florida — Timbers Jupiter — and is eyeing opportunities in other Florida markets such as Naples, Lido Key and Palm Beach.

Some functions have remained in Colorado, and there are branch offices in Barcelona, Spain; Bluffton, South Carolina; and Kauai, Hawaii. But corporate headquarters — which encompasses marketing, finance, acquisitions and IT — now has a familiar zip code: 32789.

About 40 people — 10 of whom relocated from Colorado — work in the Winter Park office. Over the next five or six years, as many as 80 people will be employed at salaries that average more than $90,000 annually.

Central Florida’s concentration of hospitality industry professionals was a major factor in the move, says Spencer. He praises the region’s pro-business ethos and the professionalism of the Orlando Economic Partnership, the region’s premier economic development organization.

Local organizations, such as the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, were also helpful and welcoming, Spencer adds, noting that “the kind of people who live in Winter Park would be our buyers.”

Greg Spencer, CEO of Timbers Resorts, says it was a difficult decision to relocate the company from Carbondale, Colorado, near Aspen. But Winter Park, he says, provides plenty of charm and spirit as well as an array of business advantages. The background photo, “Surfer Girl,” is from the company’s resort in Kauai, the western most of Hawaii’s main islands.

Timbers Resorts — which employs about 1,500 people throughout its system — clearly plans to emphasize corporate citizenship. The paint was barely dry at headquarters when the company agreed to become the presenting sponsor for the chamber’s popular Taste of Winter Park. It was also a sponsor of Winter Park Magazine’s Most Influential People event.

“We’re very purposeful in everything we do,” says Spencer of the company’s civic involvement. “We either do it right or we don’t do it.”

Spencer holds a B.S. in political science from FSU, where he was an ROTC company commander. He became a logistics officer in the Air Force and left military service as a captain, joining Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) in Atlanta and specializing in major bank mergers, such as those involving NationsBank and Bank of America, and Wachovia and First Union.

He later earned an MBA from Webster University and another master’s degree in real estate development from Columbia University, where he wrote his thesis about founding his own development company. “I interviewed some legendary developers while writing my thesis,” recalls Spencer, who graduated at the top of his class.

Armed with insights from the best in the business, Spencer started Mont Ventoux Capital, based in Atlanta. But he was intrigued by resort development and impressed by what he had learned about Timbers Resorts. “I researched and knew these were the types of projects I wanted to do,” he says.

Burden, who was then developing resort properties in Tuscany and the Virgin Islands, happened to be in Atlanta for an investor’s conference. Spencer cold-called the company’s executive chairman and wheedled a 15-minute meeting that stretched into three-and-a-half hours. He was hired in 2007 as a project manager and quickly rose through the ranks.

A snow skier and a water skier — he’ll likely accomplish more of the latter in Winter Park — Spencer and his wife, Suzanne, have two daughters, ages 6 and 11. Suzanne is a women’s health nurse practitioner, but is currently concentrating on raising the family and getting resettled.

Spencer is also an avid FSU football fan — although at this writing it appears that, for this season at least, Saturday afternoons may not be particularly joyful ones for Seminole fans. (Perhaps UCF will attract Spencer’s interest if FSU can’t quickly turn it around.)

One of Timbers Resort’s most intriguing properties is Casali di Casole, a collection of 31 artfully restored Tuscan villas and farmhouses on a 4,200-acre estate in Italy. The company also manages properties in Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, South Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as reciprocity agreements with other resorts in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Mexico.

Spencer travels about 50 percent of the time — the convenience of Orlando International Airport also worked in Winter Park’s favor — and logs some extremely long work days since the properties he oversees encompass time zones that differ by as much as 12 hours.

So while Spencer may not spend as much time in Winter Park as his employees will, he’s convinced that the Coloradans who followed him southeast will enjoy their new lives in the City of Culture and Heritage: “Moving our headquarters out of the Aspen area was a difficult decision, but we feel that Winter Park has a very similar spirit that our brand and employees will fit well within.”

So far, so good, says Jim Barnes, president of Jambarco Investment Group, which owns the building where the company leases its uber-cool space. “The folks at Timbers Resorts have personally expressed to me how they already feel at home in Winter Park,” says Barnes. “We’re so glad they chose Winter Park for their headquarters.”

Adds Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary: “Timbers is known for sense of place and authenticity in each of their resorts, and felt that Winter Park was the perfect location for their new headquarters. They’ll further strengthen a diverse economic environment where companies can start up or relocate and grow.”

Meza’s vegetarian tagine (above left) is simmered with ginger, saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin and served with Basmati rice. Add chicken or lamb to your order and you’ll have a heartier version with the same flavor foundation — all with a visually regal golden glow thanks to the spices. The grilled calamari (above right) is finished with wine butter garlic sauce and tomatoes. “This is cooking like my mom made,” says Sebaali. “It’s all from scratch.”

TASTES OF THE MIDDLE EAST

Photographs by Rafael Tongol

Nazih Sebaali has been delighting Central Florida diners for years with authentic (and healthy) Lebanese cuisine. Many of his longtime customers have found their way to Meza, which is located in Baldwin Park.

If conversation lags during your meal at Meza, break the silence by playing “what’s that flavor?” The restaurant, which opened last summer, specializes in Lebanese foods. The dishes will look familiar: hummus, kebabs and stews, which here are called “tagines.” 

Take a taste, though, and you’ll realize these aren’t the Americanized staples you know. They’re not even the more familiar Greek varieties. Is that cinnamon in the chicken? Cardamom? Turmeric? Expect to be stumped.

The Lebanese lace aromatic spices into their recipes, and they do it in a way that’s tantalizingly unfamiliar to most of us. The result is a host of appetizers and entrées with an intriguing tinge of — well, we kept having to ask our server. 

“Onions, garlic, cinnamon, allspice and olive oil are the basics of Lebanese cuisine,” explains Nazih Sebaali, chef-owner of this table-service establishment, hidden away on Baldwin Park’s Jake Street, just off New Broad Street. “Those are the basics, and they’re in most everything we serve.”

But as seven of us dipped, spread and sliced our way through much of the menu, we discovered dashes of yet more unusual-for-us extras. Take the kebobs, for example. We chose the mixed grill to try three meat options at once — and kept tasting to conquer the what’s-that-flavor challenge.

Meza offers plenty of variety. That’s Lebanese flatbread at the top. On the second row (left to right) is labneh (yogurt dip served with extra virgin olive oil and mint) and hummus (chickpea purée served with tahini sauce, garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil). On the third row (left to right) is baba ghanoush (fresh eggplant smoked and puréed and served with tahini sauce, garlic and lemon juice drizzled with extra virgin olive oil); dolmades (stuffed grape leaves served with Tzatziki sauce); and tabouli salad (fine parsley served with bulgur wheat, tomatoes, onions, lemon juice and extra olive oil). The item at the bottom is spinach fatayers (flaky pies filled with spinach, onions and pine nuts).

As it turns out, the chicken is marinated in a garlic sauce, while the beef and lamb soak up the flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice and yogurt before heading to the gas open-flame grill. The yogurt also tenderizes the meat.

The vegetarian tagine is simmered with ginger, saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin. Add chicken or lamb to your order and you’ll have a heartier version with the same flavor foundation — all with a visually regal golden glow thanks to the spices. And so it goes.

As in all Middle Eastern restaurants, I’m happiest with a tableful of starters. Meza’s first courses, like the rest of the menu, are made in-house every day. That makes them fresher. 

“Fresh hummus can’t last more than a day,” Sebaali says. “The hummus in the supermarket is loaded with preservatives. I don’t know what they add to make it last a month.” At Meza, the chickpea mash is blended with tahini, garlic and lemon juice. 

(Side note: I got the hummus for free because I made a reservation through opentable.com. Our server, who was a weak link throughout dinner, knew nothing about the website’s free hummus option and frankly seemed disinterested. So speak up. If you reserve online and see that you get a gift for doing so, be sure to ask for it.)

Meza’s vegetarian tagine (above left) is simmered with ginger, saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin and served with Basmati rice. Add chicken or lamb to your order and you’ll have a heartier version with the same flavor foundation — all with a visually regal golden glow thanks to the spices. The grilled calamari (above right) is finished with wine butter garlic sauce and tomatoes. “This is cooking like my mom made,” says Sebaali. “It’s all from scratch.”

Baba ghanoush is another classic Middle Eastern starter meant to be swiped up with flatbread. Sebaali makes it the same way he makes the hummus. It’s even better, if you like strong flavors. 

The eggplant is grilled in the kitchen each morning, giving the silky insides a seductive smoky element that pairs wondrously with the tahini, garlic and lemon juice. If you want leafy greens instead, dig into the lemony parsley-based tabouleh. It’s a standout.

Just in case some in your party are less adventurous than others, Meza always has a few American favorites available, such as steak. But Sebaali is eager to educate locals about the foods of his homeland, as he has done for more than 20 years.

You may recall Sebaali’s Café Annie, a cafeteria-style restaurant in downtown Orlando. He offered Lebanese fare, but in a self-serve format. “Office workers, judges, attorneys, bankers, everyone who worked downtown ate at Café Annie,” recalls Sebaali, who has an engineering degree from LSU. “It was a landmark.”

The mixed grill is a trio of chicken, beef and lamb kabobs served with fresh vegetables and Basmati rice. The chicken is marinated in a garlic sauce, while the beef and lamb soak up the flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice and yogurt before heading to the gas open-flame grill.

It was also unusual for Central Florida. “When we opened, nobody knew what hummus was,” Sebaali says, noting the food’s ubiquity today. Because lunches at Café Annie were quick, affordable and healthful, the restaurant enjoyed a two-decade run and closed only when rent became prohibitive.

Café Annie was so much a part of regular customers’ lives that a large percentage of Meza’s guests are former Café Annie denizens who can’t do without Sebaali’s cinnamon-laced beef-filled kibbeh or his gooey, cheese-filled triangles in puff pastry, for example.

Those faithful followers, along with Sebaali’s Lebanese friends from the Dr. Phillips area, have gotten Meza off to a strong start. The challenge now is to lure more Winter Parkers. Sebaali says he’s certain that once guests sample his fresh and naturally low-fat offerings, they’ll make Meza part of their dining-out rotation. (Lebanese cuisine is indeed known to be particularly heart-healthy.)

Falafel or chickpeas patties are served with lettuce, tomatoes and tahini sauce.

“This is cooking like my mom made,” he adds. “It’s all from scratch. If the lettuce is brown, I throw it away. If the cucumber has spots on it, if it doesn’t look appealing, I throw it away. I’m here 24/7 to make sure that the staff does things this way.” Sebaali says he’s starting to see some new faces at Meza, which he finds encouraging. “I developed a menu where I can please everybody,” he emphasizes. “You can have a garden salad. You can have lentil soup. I even have mussels with traditional garlic butter on the menu.” 

Meza has a fine selection of wines to accompany its intriguing entrées.

Let your dining companions go for those items. You, though, should pick up a piece of traditional Lebanese flatbread and enjoy it with a soujok lamb and beef sausage sautéed with lemon juice, or a savory eggplant caponata, or one of those enticing kebabs. What’s not to like? 

Meza
1780 Jake Street
Baldwin Park, Orlando, FL  32814
407-440-3603
mezaorlando.com

 

A PASSION FOR PURPLE

In Central Florida for the 2019 Winter Park Paint Out, Miami Springs-based artist Linda Apriletti says she couldn’t resist painting a picture of the queen’s wreath in full bloom on the staircase leading to the administrative offices of the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

Plein air artist Linda Apriletti’s primary goal through her work “is to communicate the uncommon beauty found in nature.” The Miami Springs-based artist prefers Florida settings, and says she enjoys hearing from viewers that her images evoke a sense of peace.

Apriletti was recently in Central Florida for the 2019 Winter Park Paint Out, held by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. This issue’s cover image was created during the event.

“A Passion for Purple” shows the queen’s wreath (petrea volubilis) in full bloom on the exterior staircase leading to the upper floor of the home-turned-museum, where the administrative offices are located.

“I decided right then that I wanted to try painting the flowers,” Apriletti says. “They were covered with bees and the air seemed to hum. I chose my spot based on the morning light and shadows. Also, I really liked the complementary colors of the purples against the greens and golds.”

“A Passion for Purple” is Apriletti’s second Winter Park Magazine cover. The first, “April Showers Bring May Flowers,” was in Summer 2018, and was also set at the Polasek. It showed foliage overlooking Lake Osceola. A return visit seemed ideal for this issue, because our fashion feature was also staged on the museum’s lush grounds.

Although her college degrees are in accounting and taxation, Apriletti pursued her lifelong love of painting while employed as an accountant. She also honed her skills — first in pastels and later in oils — by attending workshops during her vacations.

It was at a workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park that Apriletti discovered her passion for plein air painting. She launched a full-time career as an artist in 2011 — and never looked back. “Painting outside is critical to helping me observe and understand patterns in nature,” she says.

Much of Apriletti’s work focuses on Everglades National Park and Big Cypress Nature Preserve, where she has staged solo exhibitions. She was artist in residence at Big Cypress Nature Preserve in 2012. But she also paints in Maine and on Martha’s Vineyard.

Apriletti particularly likes palm trees as subjects. Luckily for her, inspiration is always close at hand — she has more than 25 species growing in her yard.

Says Apriletti: “In both my plein air and studio paintings, I’m trying to bring a fresh and accurate portrayal of the many moods, quality of light and clarity of color of the changing seasons in Florida. I want to draw the viewer into my paintings and perhaps rekindle a personal memory.” 

Proper & Wild serves lovely desserts. The sampler platter included the aptly named “Chocolate Monster” — creamy because of its avocado base plus almond butter — and a dark chocolate truffle.

A FRESH TAKE ON FRESH FOOD

Photography by Rafael Tongol

“We serve good food that’s made from real ingredients that are curated with care,” Proper & Wild co-owner Chelsie Savage says. “Our intention is to make food that’s so damn good that it doesn’t matter what lifestyle you follow. The bonus is that it’s also good for you.”

If you’re all about plant-based meals, stop reading now and briskly walk to Proper & Wild on East Morse Boulevard. This full-service restaurant offers meals with nary a sliver of animal flesh. You’ll be thrilled to find guilt-free foods that are ambitious, creative and tasty.

If you’re an uncompromising carnivore, stay home and fire up the grill. Nothing you can order at Proper & Wild will sate you like a sizzling hunk of beef or chicken. Not a fennel tempè flatbread and not a “Proper Burger” — even one with robust toppings.

Read on if, like the rest of us, you have one foot in each culinary camp. 

Proper & Wild is a vegetarian restaurant with a mostly vegan menu — eggs and cheese show up here and there. It’s mostly organic too, down to the spices and herbs. Yet it isn’t a woodsy, crunchy cliché where everything is made of wheat germ and other brown-hued ingredients. 

Proper & Wild is a light, bright, almost feminine plant-filled space that will appeal to anyone open to trying new flavors. The menu is devilishly daring with some conservative options — well, relatively conservative if you substitute vegan for dairy. 

Heartcakes, Savage’s name for pseudo crab cakes, “are an homage to crab cakes,” she says. “I don’t jive with imitation foods.” The round patties are shaped like crab cakes and seared to golden on the outside. The texture, though, is softer than crab cakes. Still, certain flavors are spot-on. That’s because Proper & Wild laces its heartcakes batter with Old Bay and two types of seaweed for a briny taste. The batter is made from hearts of palm.

If your lifestyle involves choosing veggies for one meal, animal proteins for another, give it a shot. 

Oh, and Proper & Wild has wine — several dozen choices — and low ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktails. The libations are the stuff of cold-pressed juices and infused sakés with port or vermouth to take the edge off, yet they taste like any other handcrafted spirited pre-dinner creation. 

Proper & Wild is as much a place to drop in for a date with your honey as it is for a smoothie after your Pilates class. But here’s how my review dinner played out: My forever taste-tester stayed home. “Vegan? No thanks,” he said dismissively. 

Silly man. So, I hopped into the car with one vegetarian friend — really a pescatarian, as she eats fish — along with another pal who, like me, gets excited about food in general, whether its ingredients are grown in soil or once had eyes, mouths and mommies.

We settled around a high-top table after requesting that festive wiry white seats — the kind that have backs — be dragged from the bar to the table, where the standard backless stools scared our sensitive spines.

We settled in, giddy to begin this experiment. We all kind of liked the slogan: “Real Damn Good Food.” But it took some effort to read the names of the dishes because the menu is designed for younger eyes. It employs a playful (but hard-to-read) cursive for the dish names and a tiny sans-serif font for the dish descriptions. We wished we had brought our reading glasses.

Proper & Wild has low ABV (alcohol by volume)cocktails, including the Heartbeat, which contains beets, rosè, lemon, aquafaba — the leftover liquid from cooked chickpeas — as well as yuki otoko saké, cocci rossa and high-antioxidant berries. You’ll also like the spicy bite of the Sunstorm.

A smartphone flashlight saved the day, and we were both intrigued and intimidated by what we read. We smiled at terms like “caramelized onion” (yum) then worried at “turmeric
cashew crema” (what the … ?), cheered for “candied hazelnut” (now you’re talking) and winced at “curry aioli” (well, maybe …).

Before deciding, we ordered cocktails. The spicy bite of the Sunstorm and the cheerful berryness of the Heartbeat (containing beets, rosè, lemon, aquafaba — the leftover liquid from cooked chickpeas — yuki otoko saké, cocci rossa and high-antioxidant berries) diffused our tension. 

We planned our eating strategy while contentedly sipping our saké-based starters, oblivious to the healthful components such as carrot-mango shrub and micro-cilantro.

Salads? We decided to ignore them, although they’re undoubtedly good. Proper & Wild is owned by Chelsie Savage and her husband, Jamie. Chelsie has already proven her green-goddess status at The Sanctum Café in Orlando’s Colonialtown North. 

At Proper & Wild, we went for the hot foods — which are new for the entrepreneurial Savages. “We have nowhere to cook at Sanctum,” says Chelsie, enthusiastically rattling off the components of the newer eatery’s kitchen. There’s a sauté station and a custom-built gas-and-wood-fired pizza oven — but, she proudly points out, no fryer. 

That’s because Proper & Wild is about ambiance, diversity and flavor — with a subtle emphasis on healthy eating. “We serve good food that’s made from real ingredients that are curated with care,” Chelsie says. “Our intention is to make food that’s so damn good that it doesn’t matter what lifestyle you follow. The bonus is that it’s also good for you.” 

Well, now you see where that damn slogan came from.

But how about that food? We began with Brussels sprouts and artichoke dip. It sounds like a fatty, creamy fern-bar shareable — and it was designed to resemble one. Here, though, the dip is made of navy beans and raw cashews instead of sour cream and cream cheese. 

On the menu are three meat-free burgers — all made with a patty of beets, black rice and lentils (top). Proper & Wild cultures and ferments its flatbread in-house. The flatbread here is served with shaved Brussels sprouts, Gouda cheese, truffle, garlic, lemon and red chili flakes on top (above).

We didn’t know that at the time. We just found ourselves admiring a cast-iron pan of a hearty dip, laced with greens and topped with a dollop of chopped pepitas and a green olive-red pepper tapenade. We didn’t admire it for long, though. We grabbed the fingers of toasted bread and swiped the pan clean.

As much as we enjoyed the dip, the flatbread was our favorite starter. We ordered the Stella, which, like all the flatbreads, is made the old-fashioned way with a sourdough starter. 

“We culture and ferment our flatbread in-house,” says Chelsie. “We’ve learned that people with gluten aversions can often eat it without getting a stomachache afterward. It’s easier for our bodies to digest.”

None of us were gluten-averse, so we chose the flatbread for the shaved Brussels sprouts, Gouda cheese, truffle, garlic, lemon and red chili flakes on top. The bread was fluffy yet smoky, and the toppings complemented it — and one another —well. Success.

We kept on eating. The chickpea fries aren’t really fries, which notably upset one of my dining companions. “They just shouldn’t be called fries,” she insisted. I disagree. 

Yes, the slender finger foods were baked, not fried, and therefore lacked the anticipated crispy exterior. But hey, they tasted great. The “fries” themselves were firm fingers made with garbanzos. They sat atop two sauces: a green cilantro pistou and a beige vindaloo curry almond aioli. Tons of flavor. I’d get it again.

Proper & Wild’s dinner entrées change regularly, so we sampled two that are likely to stay around. One is heartcakes, Chelsie’s name for pseudo crab cakes. “These are an homage to crab cakes,” she says. “I don’t jive with imitation foods.” 

The round patties are shaped like crab cakes and seared to golden on the outside. The texture, though, is softer than crab cakes. Still, certain flavors are spot-on. That’s because Proper & Wild laces its heartcakes batter with Old Bay and two types of seaweed for a briny taste. The batter is made from hearts of palm.

Chelsie had won awards for her meat-free burgers before she ever had a restaurant kitchen in which to cook them. But unlike her wildly popular “Impossible Burger,” which was designed to taste like beef, the burgers at Proper & Wild aren’t meant to taste like something you’d order from Wendy’s. 

“It’s important for me not to create a meat imitation,” Chelsie explains. “I just tried to create something that’s good — and served between two pieces of bread — that provides the experience of eating a burger.”

For now, Proper & Wild has three burgers on the menu — all made with a patty of beets, black rice and lentils. And, yeah, they don’t taste like beef. We thought of trying the Proper Burger, served with “tomato jam,” lettuce, onion, a Dijon-mayo blend and a pickle. 

We opted instead for the Wild Burger because I wanted to be distracted from the not-a-burger. The Wild Burger did the job aptly with intriguing toppings that included pickled fennel, eggplant-pepper chutney and an “aji schmear.”

Proper & Wild serves lovely desserts. The sampler platter included the aptly named “Chocolate Monster” — creamy because of its avocado base plus almond butter — and a dark chocolate truffle.

Good choice. The patty is good for a non-beef patty — but it’s the combination of flavors that made the Wild Burger stand out. “This was born out of the idea of, ‘Who doesn’t love jalapeño poppers?’” Chelsie says. (Poppers are jalapeño peppers stuffed with cream cheese.) 

“We started playing around with the chutney to get the sweet-and-spicy element,” she adds. “Then we were inspired by the cream cheese to create the jalapeño aji. We wanted to pull in the acids, the sweet and the spicy, and get all that interplay into a burger.” 

Whatever the intent, it worked. The combination is a lively, multidimensional sandwich.

For those who want to get wilder, at press time the third burger was a curry-kimchi concoction, also available as a cheeseburger with Gouda or chèvre or as an almost-cheeseburger with a cashew-based, cheese-like product.

Since Proper & Wild is, in a sense, an upscale restaurant, it serves pretty little desserts. They tend to be made with coconut oil, so they all have a mild coconut undertone, yet each has its own flavor profile. 

Our favorite was the pot de crème, with passionfruit and orange flavors laced in. The sampler platter also had an aptly named “Chocolate Monster” — creamy because of its avocado base plus almond butter, and a dark chocolate truffle.

During the day, you can get “wellness shots,” pressed juices and other health-bar staples along with hummus, burgers, flatbreads and salads. Or a chilled glass of white to sip post-yoga. To some degree, Proper & Wild is what you make it — whether you’re feeling proper or wild.

Proper & Wild
155 East Morse Boulevard, Winter Park
407-543-8425
properandwildwp.com

Cynthia Edmonds, who lives in the Winter Park house where she grew up, says that plein-air painting “inspires me in a profound way, and observing nature helps me to understand the shape, form and infinite colors of my subjects.”

A PEEK AT MY SECRET GARDEN

Cynthia Edmonds, who lives in the Winter Park house where she grew up, says that plein-air painting “inspires me in a profound way, and observing nature helps me to understand the shape, form and infinite colors of my subjects.”

Award-winning plein-air painter Cynthia Edmonds discovered her passion for art as a youngster taking classes at the Rollins College Summer Day Camp. Now she doesn’t have to go any further than her backyard to find inspirational settings.

Edmonds, who lives in the circa-1950s house where she grew up on North Phelps Avenue near Lakemont Elementary School, has cultivated what she describes as a “secret garden” just outside her doorway.

It showcases an array of native plants including sand live oaks, cabbage palms, saw palmettos, coral honeysuckles and such pollinators as coontie plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. 

There are screech owls, barred owls, cardinals, woodpeckers and catbirds among other feathered residents and passers-through. Edmonds’ garden, a certified wildlife habitat, is shown on the cover of this issue of Winter Park Magazine.   

But Edmonds, who has a bachelor’s degree in fashion illustration from Florida State University, hasn’t always painted nature for a living. She worked for many years as an advertising illustrator for local retailers, including Ivey’s, Jordan Marsh and Hattie Frederick.

She later earned a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Florida and moved to Washington, D.C., and later Seattle. There she worked as a photo art director and catalogue designer for Nordstrom while simultaneously discovering the wonder of oil painting.

“Each day, painting en plein air was an exciting challenge to capture the ever-changing light and shadow,” she says. “Working on location inspires me in a profound way, and observing nature helps me to understand the shape, form and infinite colors of my subjects.”

Edmonds, who returned to Florida in 2001 to devote her time to painting its colorful landscapes, is a signature member of the American Impressionist Society and Plein Air Florida and participates in plein-air exhibitions throughout the U.S. — including the annual Paint Out Winter Park, sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

The cover image, “The Artist’s Garden,” was painted during the Polasek’s most recent invitation-only event, when artists fanned out across the city looking for intriguing subjects. The 2019 Paint Out was held April 21 to 27.

Edmonds’ paintings can be found in collections at the University of Central Florida and the Maitland Art Center. Her paintings are also included in the St. Joe Company’s Forgotten Coast Collection and the Shands Arts in Medicine Collection at the Venice (Florida) Regional Medical Center.

Aficionados of Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival memorabilia will recall that Edmonds’ image of Greeneda Court on Park Avenue adorned the official festival poster back in 2007.

Edmonds loves to paint in her certified wildlife habitat garden, but also finds inspiration in France, Italy and Maine. More of Edmonds’ work can be seen at cynthiaedmonds.com. 

Sushi Pop uses many of the same ingredients in its craft cocktails as in its food. The Ninja Chronicles (second from left), for example, is a blend of Kikori Whiskey, Pomelo Oleo (a citrus sweetener) and Xocolatl Mole Bitters with subtle cinnamon, cacao and spice elements.

IT’S BOTH RAW AND REFINED

Photography by Rafael Tongol

Longtime sushi maven Chau Trinh is tickled pickled-ginger pink for the opportunity to wow hard-to-impress Winter Parkers. Trinh and his partner, Lou Waldman, also own a Sushi Pop in Oviedo.

It’s all about raw fish at the new Sushi Pop restaurant near Park Avenue — but not in quite the way you’d think. Sure, you can order uncooked yellowtail nigiri or sashimi, just as you can at every other sushi spot in town. 

Yet, I suggest you go bolder. If it’s on the menu during your visit, try the belt fish (tachiuo), served atop seasoned rice bare or with a specially created fennel salsa. The striped bass known as suzuki might be a fun choice, too, served naked or covered lightly with sriracha salt and orange kosho, a citrus-chili blend.

The original Sushi Pop, located in Oviedo, opened in 2011 and quickly won kudos from critics and diners alike for its innovative Japanese-fusion menu. And we do mean innovative.

The concept’s creative leanings take a turn toward the raw here in town. Longtime sushi maven Chau Trinh owns both Sushi Pops with business partner Lou Waldman. And Trinh is tickled pickled-ginger pink for the opportunity to wow hard-to-impress Winter Parkers. 

Indeed, well-traveled diners who are open to culinary exploration — like the folks who read this magazine — inspire the on-trend Trinh. That’s why he has turned this sleek and colorful Lyman Avenue eatery into a from-the-sea playground of sorts.

For starters, Trinh imports Japanese fish-preparation rules along with the hard-to-source fish. More on those rules — which challenge certain long-held assumptions — in a bit. First, let’s order something.

The perfect nigiri (raw fish on rice) or sashimi (raw fish without rice) begins with an ever-changing menu of sometimes-exotic choices. In addition to swimmers from Florida’s coasts and elsewhere — we’re talking New Zealand, Tasmania, you name it — the chefs receive a fish-filled box from Japan twice a week.

Japachae-Pop uses potato-starch noodles and galbi secreto pork grilled at up to 800 degrees on a custom-designed gas-charcoal oven. The noodles, fresh vegetables and aged plum sauce — combined with tender pork — creates a rich, rounded dish.

“What’s inside is always a surprise,” says Trinh. “Our supplier chooses the best quality fish available each time. We open each box, then get our creative juices flowing.”

Trinh and his team examine the contents and start brainstorming about accompaniments. A light yet crucial enhancement such as ginger-shallot sauce, or bourbon-maple syrup with chives and smoked salt, might come to mind. 

Each choice is designed to tease out the natural flavors of the specific kind of fish, Trinh explains. “We scale, fillet, cure and prepare each fish, then design each topping so the fish will really stand out and be tasty,” he says. “Everything we do is to highlight the flavor of the fish.”

Wait, did he say “cure?” Yes, he did. 

In fact, the notion that raw fish should be served just hours after it’s pulled from the water is so American. “The United States is all about having really fresh fish, but in Japan they have a three-day rule,” Trinh says. “The first day you catch it, the second day you let it rest and the third day you prepare it.” 

That resting time, he adds, alleviates the impact of wayward “adrenaline, hormones and rigor mortis” on the gilled creatures. In fact, many high-end sushi restaurants are now curing fish for six or seven days. “We’re doing that with some of ours,” notes Trinh.

Soon, he says, Sushi Pop will introduce omakase seatings — dinners during which cured and other fish will be featured in multicourse meals created by the chefs. (Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means, essentially, “I’ll leave it up to you.”) 

For an assortment of flavors, order the sashimi “moriawase.” It’s an assortment of raw treats made from what’s fresh in the kitchen during your visit.

But if you’re not quite ready to forgo freshness, stick with us. Sushi Pop also offers foods you know and others that provide adventure without straying too far from familiar culinary territory. 

The “seaweeds” — a blend of three types — was fine. And Sushi Pop offers four types of flavoring for its edamame — typically nondescript green soybean pods for munching while waiting for the real food to arrive. 

Here, though, the edamame was nearly destination worthy. The hot beans were plump and vibrant and sprinkled generously with a granular blend of garlic and shichimi pepper — also called shichimi togarashi. The combo was exciting yet not overwhelming. 

After that, the next four dishes could be described as follows: Wow, wow and wow. Take the Madai Tasting, for example. Madai is sea bream, here sliced so thin as to be translucent then placed tenderly in a bowl with chips of purple-skin potatoes and slender wedges of Asian pear. 

A Peruvian-style yellow-pepper sauce called aji amarillo wrapped the fish in a South American hug. Complex layers of taste were achieved through such ingredients as lime juice and lime zest plus myoga ginger, which Trinh describes as “a bud of a flower that tastes like a shallot and ginger had a baby.” 

The edamame (above) consists of plump and vibrant hot beans sprinkled generously with a granular blend of garlic and shichimi pepper — also called shichimi togarashi. The Rising Sun sushi roll (below) encompasses battered-and-fried tempura green beans, tuna, and spicy mayo with Japanese scallops and orange chili sauce.

The result was a starter that was at once sweet and sour, silky and crunchy, with the tiniest jolt of heat.

Japchae-Pop pays homage to a Korean dish that uses potato-starch noodles, Trinh says. All I know is, at my table we battled over wads of galbi secreto pork, which were grilled at up to 800 degrees on a custom-designed gas-charcoal oven. The noodles, fresh vegetables and aged plum sauce — combined with tender pork — creates a rich, rounded dish.

Equally satisfying was a soupy/stewy concoction called Goldentile. The namesake fish, steamed and fork-tender, was swimming in a yellow lemongrass-lobster broth laced with sambal chili and dotted with roasted baby carrots, dandelion greens and fresh herbs. 

I’m a sucker for lemongrass under any circumstances, and here the aromatic veggie was elevated to enchanting.

I tried two sushi rolls, too. Rising Sun consisted of battered-and-fried tempura green beans, tuna, and spicy mayo with Japanese scallops and orange chili sauce. For old time’s sake, I also had the ceviche roll. I first tried one at Thornton Park’s Shari Sushi years ago, when Trinh helmed the kitchen there. The restaurant was a chic ground-breaker at the time.

While neither roll had me swooning the way the Goldentile, the Japchae-Pop and the Madai Tasting did, sampling the perfectly lovely if not thrilling rice-and-fish rolls led me to engage Trinh in a discussion about rice. 

As you might imagine, this chef’s sushi rice — which is also used with all nigiri dishes — is made with exceptional thought. Essentially, Sushi Pop’s rice begins with Koshihikari premium sushi rice.

“In Japan,” Trinh says, “a lot of great sushiya (sushi chefs) use red rice vinegar, which colors the rice a sort of burgundy. It’s really strong and really pungent. It’s fantastic with mackerel and oilier fish that can stand up to that type of flavor.”

Trinh mixes two different types of vinegar: red rice vinegar and white rice vinegar, which he pours over the hot rice as soon as it comes out of the pot. Then he adds a bit of kombu, which is cured kelp, plus salt and sugar. “The rice is a little bit salty and a little bit sweet,” he says.

How can you not want to try that now that you know so much about it?

As of press time, the only dessert on the Sushi Pop menu is the P.M.S., a molten chocolate cake with peanut-butter powder served with salted-caramel ice cream. Personally, it’s enough for me. But be aware that variety is on the way.

Sushi Pop uses many of the same ingredients in its craft cocktails as in its food. The Ninja Chronicles (second from left), for example, is a blend of Kikori Whiskey, Pomelo Oleo (a citrus sweetener) and Xocolatl Mole Bitters with subtle cinnamon, cacao and spice elements.

As for beverages, Sushi Pop uses many of the same ingredients in its craft cocktails as in its food — and these spirited sippers are designed to complement the dishes Trinh prepares. 

The Ninja Chronicles, for example, was simple but perfect with my meal. It’s a blend of Kikori Whiskey, Pomelo Oleo (a citrus sweetener) and Xocolatl Mole Bitters, with subtle cinnamon, cacao and spice elements. Don’t ask too many questions — trust the Sushi Pop team to do right by you behind the bar. 

The setting for all these well-contemplated Asian flavors is a dining room that features bright pink and yellow hues together with gray and black. It’s a cheerful environment for dinner. (In March the restaurant began opening for lunch, calling itself ChauHaus and serving Vietnamese specialties.) 

The Winter Park location is more refined than its Oviedo counterpart, with no anime decorating the walls. The dining room is open with the sushi bar in middle. Artfully blurred wallpaper and banquette coverings add a touch of whimsy.

Sushi Pop was so new during my visit that it hadn’t yet had its grand opening. But everything ran exceptionally well for a project-in-progress. Hopefully the service team will decide to plunk down a stack of small plates when groups share — or at least give each person one large dinner plate.

Also, it would serve Sushi Pop well to be less pretentious with the written menu. Each offering should be described in plain language rather than Asian foodie-speak. Example: the tachiuo dish was described like this: sanbaizu, kombu, cucumber, shiso, myoga, momiji, oboshi.” The only one I’m sure about is cucumber.

Those issues are small purple potatoes and easily fixable as the new Sushi Pop matures. So I strongly suggest that you stop in. Even if you think you’ve tried it all, Trinh may surprise you with some tasty new tricks. 

Sushi Pop
115 East Lyman Avenue, Winter Park
321-203-2282
sushipoprestaurant.com

Joy Wallace Dickinson’s grandparents, Bill and Alice Wallace, owned a grocery store along the Million-Dollar Mile. It was called B and D Market, located at 1000 South Orlando Avenue. Shown (left) are the Wallaces and their 5-year-old granddaughter. Now a journalist and a local historian, Dickinson (below) recently gave a nostalgic presentation about Winter Park’s once-thriving motor court industry for the Winter Park History Museum.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

One of the better motels along U.S. Highway 17-92 in Winter Park was the Lake Shore Motor Court. It was a member of Quality Courts United — now the Choice Hotels International chain — which was formed in 1939 by independent owners who established mandatory quality standards and referred business to one another.

More than a century ago, during the winter months, wealthy Northerners ensconced themselves at luxury resort hotels in fledgling Winter Park. Many visitors ended up investing in the community and ultimately moving here.

By the 1930s and 1940s, middle-class families were flocking to more modest accommodations — including tourist cottages — along U.S. Highway 17-92 (the colloquially named “Million-Dollar Mile”). And by the 1950s, Winter Park boasted the swank and swinging Langford Resort Hotel, where the Empire Room supper club epitomized Rat Pack culture.

The Winter Park History Museum, consequently, has been saluting the golden age of local hotels and motels in its current exhibition, Wish You Were Here: The Hotels & Motels of Winter Park. The exhibition runs until June 6, 2020. 

The cozy museum space is packed with sometimes-kitschy ephemera from the city’s classic motels and motor courts — including a re-created guest room using authentic furnishings, right down to the matchbooks and the Gideon bible in the end-table drawer. 

Also examined are the luxurious resort hotels that attracted monied Northerners to Winter Park in the late 1880s. There’s even a re-imagined Victorian-era children’s playroom of the sort where guests of the posh Seminole Hotel or Alabama Hotel might have stashed their youngsters while they were out boating.

Winter Park History Museum Executive Director Susan Skolfield says artifacts for Wish You Were Here were donated or loaned. The wall-sized backdrop, created by graphic artist Will Setzer, shows the Genius Preserve and one of its feathered residents.

A nostalgic highlight of the exhibition is the original piano from the Empire Room as well as the hotel’s poolside bar from which untold gallons of tropical drinks were served. And take time to read the wall panels, which are dense with vintage photographs and carefully researched descriptions.

Linda Kulmann, the museum’s archivist and past board president, wrote the panels, which range from histories of early boarding houses to a locator map of mom-and-pop motor courts once located along U.S. Highway 17-92 (also known as Orlando Avenue). 

Susan Skolfield, the museum’s executive director, says artifacts on display for the exhibition were donated or loaned. The Langford piano, for example, was loaned by the family that purchased it at auction when the hotel closed.

“Because our space is small, every item has to mean something,” adds Skolfield, who says more than 20 volunteers began scouting for materials a year in advance of the exhibition’s opening. “We’re always creating as we go along.” 

Helping to make the most of the space — which measures less than 1,000 square feet — is Camilo Velasquez, an art instructor at Valencia College, Rollins College and the Crealdé School of Art. 

“You might say I’m the make-up man,” says Velasquez, who stages and designs most of the museum’s exhibitions. Creative use of lighting and object placement can make the compact venue appear larger, he says.

Linda Kulmann (top left), the museum’s archivist and past board president, wrote copy for Wish You Were Here’s informative panels, which offer a historical perspective on Winter Park’s guest accommodations, from boarding houses to resort hotels. Helping to make the most of the museum’s compact space is Camilo Velasquez (top right), an art instructor at Valencia College, Rollins College and the Crealdé School of Art, who is responsible for staging and exhibit design. Wish You Were Here is packed with sometimes-kitschy ephemera, including a telephone and directory from the Langford Resort Hotel (that’s also the Langford’s original poolside bar) and are-created motel guest room using authentic furnishings, right down to the matchbooks and the Gideon bible in the end-table drawer.

Home Away from Home

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exhibition is the emphasis on the Million-Dollar Mile, which was a much more modest destination than its hyperbolic name suggests. 

Its friendly vibe and affordably priced accommodations appealed to middle-class travelers, who for several decades created something of a subculture along U.S. Highway 17-92.

Which begs the question: Why did these visitors come to Winter Park instead of Orlando, a much larger city? Why, for that matter, did they come to Winter Park instead of New Smyrna Beach or Daytona Beach? Wouldn’t a vacationer driving from the icy Midwest or Northeast find a beach destination more appealing?

Of course, Winter Park had attractions of its own. There was quaint Park Avenue for shopping and a gorgeous Chain of Lakes for recreation. Rollins College, the state’s oldest institution of higher learning, enlivened the cultural scene for residents and visitors alike. And the beaches weren’t far away by car.

But the Million-Dollar Mile’s appeal may have had more to do with its folksy ambience. It was an unfussy home away from home, sans the snow.

“Families from up north built long-term relationships with the motor court owners and just kept coming back,” speculates Kulmann. “Some of it was probably familiarity.”

Local historian Joy Wallace Dickinson, whose grandparents owned a grocery store on the periphery of the Million-Dollar Mile — B and D Market, at 1000 South Orlando Avenue — agrees. 

“People also tended to stay in places their friends told them about,” she says. “There were plenty of annual visitors who just enjoyed it here and spread the word among their friends. A kind of community developed.”

It didn’t hurt that Winter Park was a convenient place to stop en route to South Florida, Dickinson adds. “It’s right in the middle of the state,” she says. “I expect quite a few people who stayed along the Million-Dollar Mile were coming back from, or were on their way to, someplace else.”

Joy Wallace Dickinson’s grandparents, Bill and Alice Wallace, owned a grocery store along the Million-Dollar Mile. It was called B and D Market, located at 1000 South Orlando Avenue. Shown (above) are the Wallaces and their 5-year-old granddaughter. Now a journalist and a local historian, Dickinson (below) recently gave a nostalgic presentation about Winter Park’s once-thriving motor court industry for the Winter Park History Museum.

Dickinson, who recently gave a presentation about Winter Park’s motor court heyday during the museum’s monthly membership meeting, noted that Orange Blossom Trail — today synonymous with sleaze — was once also dotted with family-oriented motels, including the eye-catching Wigwam Village, which was demolished in 1973.

Virtually all of Winter Park’s motor courts were mom-and-pop, meaning that they were literally owned and managed primarily by husbands and wives — many of whom lived and raised families in the motor courts that they managed. 

For travelers, it was comforting to be greeted warmly by a hospitable couple who would meet them at the office door, personally escort them to their rooms or cottages, and help them unload their luggage. 

Many were annual extended-stay customers who developed close friendships with the owners. The courtyards created a back-home familiarity as both owners and travelers gathered for evening conversations while children frolicked in courtyard pools and playgrounds. 

Old acquaintances were renewed and new acquaintances were made as guests gathered to gossip and swap tales of their road experiences. They dined nearby at Anderson’s Restaurant, grabbed a burger at Roper’s Grill — which boasted one of the first “animated” neon signs in Central Florida — or enjoyed a sugar fix at the Donut Dinette. 

If it was a special occasion, D’Agostino’s Villa Nova or the Imperial House — “where the royal rib reigns supreme” — offered more upscale options. In nearby Orlando, nightclubs advertised programs packed with comics and crooners.

It should be remembered, however, that such idyllic getaways were available only to white families in the Jim Crow era. Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African-American families often consulted The Negro Motorist Green Book to find lodgings, businesses and gas stations that would serve them. Likely, none in Winter Park would have been listed.

Wright’s Motor Lodge (300 South Orlando Avenue), built in the 1930s by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert B. Wright, was one of the first to be constructed along the Million-Dollar Mile. By the 1950s it was owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. J. Stephan. 

A postcard printed by the Stephans touted Wright’s — they hadn’t changed the name — as “the right place to stay.” Other advantages: “New fireproof buildings. Private baths with tile showers. Plenty of hot water at all times. Innerspring mattresses. Insulated rooms. Cool in summer, warm in winter. Cottages off the road.” 

Down the road at 848 South Orlando Avenue — today the site of a Steak ’n Shake — was Baggett’s Cottages, described as “modern in every respect” with a location “in the midst of an orange grove where guests can pick their own oranges right off the tree.”

Other motor courts with identifiable owners included Dandee Cottages (103 North Orlando Avenue) owned by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Wittman; 17-92 Motor Court (401 North Orlando Avenue) owned by Mr. and Mrs. D.I. Sigman; Colonial Motor Court (400 South Orlando Avenue) owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jim Ward; and Greystone Manor Motor Court (700 South Orlando Avenue) owned by Mr. and Mrs. Carl Bleyl.

The Lake Shore Motor Court (215 South Orlando Avenue) exemplified the best of these mom-and-pop operations. It was a member of Quality Courts United — now the Choice Hotels International chain — which was formed in 1939 by seven independent owners who established mandatory quality standards and referred business to one another. 

As it grew and morphed into a franchise, Quality Courts United also worked to overcome negative perceptions of motor courts as either seedy or hideouts for gangsters and other undesirables. 

Members were endorsed by the American Automobile Association and received a stamp of approval from nationally known travel and food writer Duncan Hines.

In its brochures, the Lake Shore Motor Court touted its Quality Courts United membership as well as its playground and its private beach on Lake Killarney. Promised one promotional flyer: “The accommodations are certain to please the most fastidious of travelers and vacationers.”

Changing Times

The three-decade motor court era in Winter Park was not destined to last. Fundamental changes in the roadside-accommodation industry were well underway by the 1970s. 

By the late 1950s, some motor courts had added second stories and offered amenities normally associated with downtown hotels. These larger accommodations were advertised as “motels,” a portmanteau of motor and hotel. 

Individually owned motels became cookie-cutter corporate properties designed to resemble downtown hotels. Holiday Inn was an early example of such a franchise. Quality standards may have become more predictable, but the quirky charm of motel architecture from the 1920s through the 1950s was lost forever. 

Additionally, multistory accommodations such as Winter Park’s legendary Langford Hotel contained all the amenities of a downtown hotel as well as parking facilities and an outdoor pool of the sort ordinarily associated with roadside motels and motor courts. 

The Million-Dollar Mile was lined with inexpensive restaurants that catered to locals as well as motor court guests. One of the most colorful of those eateries was Roper’s Grill, which boasted that “it takes 3 minutes to prove we have the best hamburger.”

The Langford, located at the corner of New England and Interlachen avenues, was also within walking distance of Rollins and Park Avenue. It was closed in 2000 and demolished in 2003. The upscale Alfond Inn, developed by Rollins, now occupies this choice piece of real estate.

These developments, along with the construction of Interstate 4 and the arrival of Disney World — which spurred construction of countless hotels on and around the attraction — led to the decline and, by the 1990s, the demise of motels and motor courts  along U.S. Highway 17-92. 

“The small, family-owned motels, where friends meet on vacations and return year after year to the same kitchenettes and swimming pools, may soon go the way of downtown grocery stores and 35-cent gas,” wrote the Orlando Sentinel in 1979. “For the remaining ‘ma and pa’ motels along U.S. Highway 17-92 in Winter Park, the future appears bleak.”

When the iconic Mount Vernon Inn (110 South Orlando Avenue) was razed in 2015, Winter Park lost the last remnant of motel culture along the Million-Dollar Mile, which is now brimming with new dining and retail projects. These days, motorists can’t even see Lake Killarney from the traffic-choked highway.

There is, however, one remaining vestige of those simpler days: La Siesta Court was located at 325 South Orlando Avenue. Today it has retained its U-shaped bones but has been refashioned into a series of retail stores, including the popular Black Bean Deli. 

Wish You Were Here, like all History Museum exhibitions, is free and open to the public — although donations are gladly accepted. The museum is in the Farmers’ Market building at 200 West New England Avenue. 

Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit wphistory.org. 

Portions of this story incorporate research by Jack Lane, professor emeritus of history at Rollins College.

Henry Peter, a self taught artist known for the photographic quality of his paintings, has found collectors on four continent for his meticulous (and vivid) depictions of outdoor scenes. He describes his work as “simple and direct; free of artifice and superficial mannerisms.”

LET’S JUST BE REALISTIC

Henry Peter, a self taught artist known for the photographic quality of his paintings, has found collectors on four continent for his meticulous (and vivid) depictions of outdoor scenes. He describes his work as “simple and direct; free of artifice and superficial mannerisms.”

Henry Peter, a native of Burglengenfeld, Germany, and a resident of Brevard County, is primarily a self-taught artist. Which is remarkable considering the photographic quality of his paintings.

Peter is one of Winter Park Magazine’s most popular cover artists. Just last fall, he provided a cover image of the iconic exedra in Kraft Azalea Garden. This issue, he turns his attention to the popular Scenic Boat Tour, which traverses two lush canals connecting lakes Osceola, Maitland and Virginia.

The original painting, called Cap’n Dan’s Tour, is a vertical image, so only a detail is shown on the cover. The entire, uncropped work is reproduced on page 8. The Scenic Boat Tour is one of Florida’s oldest attractions, in operation since 1938, and has for generations been a must for local visitors.

As a 12-year-old in Engelwood, New Jersey, Peter recalls receiving a few lessons on color and theory from painter Margaret Stucki, a vehement realist who, ironically, moved to Brevard County in 1973 and taught art for Rollins College when it offered evening programs at Patrick Air Force Base.

“When I moved down here, I tried to get in touch with her but didn’t hear back,” says Peter of Stucki, who wrote a book denouncing contemporary art as “crud.” She died in 2017 — but would likely be pleased that her former pupil has garnered a large following with his meticulous (and vivid) depictions of outdoor scenes.

The first work by Peter to appear on the cover of Winter Park Magazine was a 2015 image of the Venetian Canal and the Palmer Avenue Bridge. Several dozen readers emailed to ask who had taken the beautiful photograph — which was, in fact, an oil painting.

Peter earned a degree in philosophy from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and after graduation apprenticed in a machine shop. But by the late 1980s, his paintings had begun winning regional and national awards.

In 1993, Peter made his first trip to Florida, where he displayed his work at the Old Island Days Festival. He moved to Key West a decade later, then relocated to Titusville in 2008.

Peter’s paintings have been selected for the Top 100 in the prestigious Arts for the Parks competition, a program created by the National Park Academy of the Arts to benefit the National Park Conservation Alliance.

He was a mainstay at Key West’s Gingerbread Square Gallery for almost two decades and has been represented by the Fredlund Gallery in Winter Park.

Peter describes his work as “simple and direct; free of artifice and superficial mannerisms.” He enjoys being artistically unpredictable, and applies his keen eye and steady hand to a broad range of subjects — not just landscapes.

You can find Peter’s paintings on display at the Cocco & Salem Gallery in Key West, Palm Avenue Fine Arts in Sarasota and the Village Gallery in Orlando.

John and Gail Sinclair are a power couple in the cultural community. John is chair of the department of music at Rollins and artistic director of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park. Gail is executive director of the college’s Winter Park Institute and runs its popular speaker series. Photo by Rafael Tongol

HEMINGWAY WAS HERE

Gail Sinclair, a noted scholar on the works of Ernest Hemingway, uncovered the previously untold story of Hemingway’s youngest sister, who caused a stir at Rollins College in the early 1930s. Photo by Rafael Tongol

If Gail Sinclair and Ernest Hemingway had been contemporaries, it’s doubtful that the pair would have hung out much together. Sinclair, executive director of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College, is a sweet-natured, soft-spoken scholar who loves analyzing literature and contemplating nature.

Hemingway, of course, was a hard-driving, hard-drinking, larger-than-life alpha male who hunted big game on the savannah, cheered toreadors as they slaughtered bulls, rushed to war zones and pummeled opponents senseless in boxing matches. 

But Papa’s internal demons won the final bout in 1961, when the writer of The Sun Also Rises.(1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and The Old Man and the Sea (1951) blew his brains out with a double-barreled shotgun.

Sinclair is among the most respected Hemingway experts in the U.S., having notched seemingly countless publications and presentations about the iconic author. She’s also a longtime officer in the Ernest Hemingway Society and Foundation and is on the editorial board of The Hemingway Review. 

You can imagine, then, Sinclair’s excitement when she discovered that Carol Hemingway, Ernest’s youngest sister, had attended Rollins from 1930 through 1932.

Sinclair learned about the connection at a 2002 Hemingway Society conference in Stresa, Italy, where she sat in on a presentation by Donald Junkins from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Junkins showed a videotaped interview with Carol Hemingway Gardner — who at age 91 was the author’s only surviving sibling.

“During the interview she mentioned Rollins twice,” recalls Sinclair, who had been a visiting assistant professor of literature at the college for two years. “As soon as I got back, I got her address from the alumni office and wrote her, asking if we could speak.”

Sinclair heard back from Gardner’s daughter, who said that her mother was willing to be interviewed. Within two weeks, Sinclair boarded a flight to Hartford, Connecticut — the nearest city with an airport — and drove for an hour and a half to historic Sheffield, Massachusetts, in Berkshire County.

“I called Mrs. Gardner’s home and told her who I was and that I wanted to confirm our meeting,” recalls Sinclair. “She was very polite and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t possibly meet with you. I already have an appointment.’ For a minute I thought the trip had been for naught. But I realized that the appointment she was referring to was with me.”

Sinclair spent several hours with Gardner — who had not seen or spoken to her famous brother since a nasty falling out in 1932 — and found the retired schoolteacher to be hospitable but content to live outside the spotlight. 

Few in Sheffield even knew that Gardner’s maiden name was Hemingway.

“She did have very fond memories of Rollins,” says Sinclair, who gave Gardner a book about the college’s history. Shortly following the interview, Gardner broke a hip and her health declined rapidly. She died just weeks later.

Sinclair later filled in the details about young Carol’s tumultuous time at Rollins — and her irrevocable split with Ernest — through private correspondence and archival records.

Carol Hemingway was a free spirit who as a student cohabitated with her boyfriend and wrote a story for the campus literary magazine that hinted at a same-sex romance. Photo Restoration and Colorization by Will Setzer/Circle 7 Design Studio

TUMULTUOUS TERM

Carol attended college in Winter Park so she could more easily visit Ernest, who had a home in Key West. Ernest, 12 years Carol’s senior, had become her legal guardian following the suicide of their father, a physician, in Oak Park, Illinois. 

A free spirit not unlike her brother, Carol’s unconventional behavior apparently raised eyebrows right away. Sympathetic English professor Kathleen Sproul was concerned enough to write President Hamilton Holt, who was traveling at the time.

 Sproul — whose detective novels included Death and the Professors — lamented to Holt that “certain influential people” considered Carol to be an undesirable sort of student. 

“Colleges for many years have done their best to strangle the creative mind and to set up taboos about the individual who can’t help being different from the run of society,” she wrote. “That difference is precious! Rollins, which can be a very great college, ought to try to conserve the greatness of her students.”

Replied Holt: “Don’t worry about Carol Hemingway. It is good that we have clashes of opinion at Rollins provided it does not lead to factional animosities. I like the girl, and if you find that some people are trying to depress her, do your share to express her, or get her to express herself, which is better.”

What prompted Sproul’s adamant defense is unknown. But Carol would soon give the campus plenty to have clashes of opinion about.

In 1931 she wrote “The Girls” for The Flamingo, a student literary magazine. The 600-word short story — deftly told using the terse but multilayered language popularized by her brother — seemed to imply a same-sex romantic relationship between two androgynously named friends, Lou and Glen.

However, it was Carol’s torrid relationship with John “Jack” Fentress Gardner, who had transferred to Rollins from Princeton, that rankled college officials and caused her famous older brother — no shrinking violet — to become uncharacteristically prudish. 

Complicating matters, Carol and Jack appear to have cohabitated in Lakeside Cottage, a campus dormitory. When this transgression became known in late 1932, Carol left Winter Park for Vienna, Austria, where Jack joined her in early 1933.

PRUDISH PAPA

Ernest despised Jack — though he may well have despised any suitor — and sent his sister scathing and hurtful letters, one of which accused her, without evidence, of saving money for an abortion. 

That Hemingway behaved like a jackass isn’t shocking — he was often cruel to those closest to him — but the depth of his vitriol toward his cherished youngest sister remains jarring today. The siblings never again communicated.

Jack and Carol were married in 1933 and tried to re-enroll at Rollins as a couple. But Holt — who positioned himself as a progressive but often behaved as a patriarch — was having none of it. In a memo to Dean Winslow Anderson he wrote:

“I don’t think we should let Jack Gardner and Carol come back even if they pay the full tuition. … I think the thing to do is write Carol and her husband why we cannot take them back, namely, that we had direct evidence that they were living together in Lakeside [a college dormatory] before they left.”

Nevertheless, despite Holt and Hemingway, love prevailed over long odds.

Jack became an author and educator who wrote about spiritualism, transcendentalism and anthroposophy (a philosophy based upon Austrian esotericist Rudolf Steiner’s belief that an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world exists.) 

He was the longtime headmaster of the Waldorf School of Garden City on New York’s Long Island. Waldorf schools — which use curricula based upon Steiner’s theories of child development — seek to develop intellectual, artistic and practical skills while cultivating imagination and creativity.

John “Jack” Fentress Gardner died in 1998. He and Carol Hemingway Gardner — who didn’t attend her brother’s funeral and, sadly given her obvious aptitude, never wrote for publication again — were married for 65 years.

Quite a story, all right. It might have been written as a work of fiction by Hemingway or perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald, another Lost Generation icon about whom Sinclair has academic expertise. She serves on the board of directors of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society.

John and Gail Sinclair are a power couple in the cultural community. John is chair of the department of music at Rollins and artistic director of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park. Gail is executive director of the college’s Winter Park Institute and runs its popular speaker series. Photo by Rafael Tongol

SCHOLARLY SLEUTH

Hemingway and Fitzgerald make rarified company for a girl born in rural Wisconsin to parents who didn’t graduate from high school. But Sinclair, always a voracious learner, earned an undergraduate degree in education and a master’s degree in English from the University of Missouri Kansas City.

In 1977 she married her high-school sweetheart, an ambitious young conductor named John Sinclair. “My first date with John was a blind date,” she recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘This guy is going to go places, and I want to go, too.’”

Luckily, they didn’t have to go too many places before putting down roots in Winter Park. In 1985, after a stop at East Texas Baptist University, John was named chair of the department of music at Rollins. In 1990 he also became artistic director of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park.

The Sinclairs share a fierce Midwestern work ethic. While John became one of the region’s most high-profile arts personalities, Gail taught American literature at Boone High School and earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of South Florida in Tampa. 

She commuted to classes — a 180-mile round trip. “That was before cellphones,” she says. “I considered that drive to be my night off.”

In 2007, after years as an adjunct and a visiting assistant professor, she was named executive director of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College, which runs a popular speaker series. She also teaches in the college’s Master of Liberal Studies program.

Sinclair — whose favorite books are To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby — has a professorial demeanor but is also self-deprecating and wryly funny. She’s proud of her Ph.D. but recognizes that great literature and classical music are thought by some to be superfluous — and even a bit snooty.

The couple’s young niece, for example, once told her teacher that her aunt and uncle were doctors and might be able talk about their work with the class during Career Day.

Recalls Sinclair: “The teacher asked what kind of doctors we were, and after thinking about it for a moment, our niece replied, ‘I don’t know, but I don’t think they’re the kind that help anybody.’”

It’s true, Sinclair says, that reading a good book isn’t likely to cure cancer. But that doesn’t mean literature — and, of course, music — isn’t crucial to societal health.

Adds Sinclair: “John and I comfort ourselves by educating young men and women, many of whom will be significant in concrete ways — the change makers and helpers, as Fred Rogers would say.” (The Sinclairs were close to the beloved Rogers, a 1953 Rollins graduate known worldwide for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.)

“But we also know that the arts are a necessary influence in history’s great civilizations — and music and literature are key elements in that realm,” she adds. “This may be an exalted way of justifying what we do for a living. But like medicine’s creed, we at least do no harm, and hopefully we provide some benefit.” 


 

TWO GIRLS 

BY CAROL HEMINGWAY

They sat on the third-floor fire escape of the dormitory and let their legs hang over the edge. Lou, slim-shouldered, hunched over her cigarette, and Glen leaned on one elbow and swung first one leg then the other with a slow rhythm. With large shallow eyes she watched Lou.

“The way you smoke is killing,” she said. You’re pretending to inhale. Don’t just hold the smoke in your mouth; draw some in and then let it out slowly,”

Lou still stared at the lake, puffed with a violent intake of breath, and started coughing. Glen didn’t laugh.

“I don’t care if I do look silly. Inhaling is bad for you anyway.”

“Listen. How do you ever expect to enjoy smoking if you don’t do it properly? You’re always talking about enjoying life. You’re a funny one. I’m not trying to kill you.”

Lou obediently tried again.

“I do want to enjoy things,” she said. “I want to enjoy everything in the whole world. I’ve been enjoying the lake.” She looked out over the water. “This morning there was a faint mist on it like the delicate film left by breath on a mirror. This afternoon I loved it. The steady sun made it look warm as a silent friendly companion. Last night it was —”

“Gosh, don’t start raving about the lake last night. I was out canoeing with that beast. There was just too damn much of your lake last night. I didn’t think I’d ever get home.” Glen lay back, pulled her knees up, and braced her heels against the edge of the platform.

“But Glen, didn’t you notice last night how the lake seemed to leer. It was repulsive as a cesspool. The stars were cool and disinterested, and there was a languid, insulting-sort-of breeze. I guess I just imagined a lot of things, sitting here by myself. I felt so very much alone.”

“You sweet kid. But for hell sake don’t get pensive. I’m not in the mood for pensiveness. Lighting another cigarette, she said “I wish I had a horse down here. I’d like to take him out in a gallop down all the long straight roads I could find.”

She stood up, looked down at Lou, and then far past her. There was a silence.

“Listen,” she stated with decision. “I’ve heard people say there’s something funny between us. It’s not good to have stories like that going around.” She looked down at Lou. “Because there isn’t anything, is there?”

Lou looked up at her cigarette and then continued to gaze at the water. She flicked her cigarette away.

“I wish I could see where the falling stars land,” she said, looking at the bright tip glowing on the ground. “I’m so tired. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep. I’m going to stay here. You can go in if you want to,” She was still watching the ground. She quivered slightly.

“It’s funny the way you can’t get away from yourself in the dark,” she went on. “It’s much easier to hide in the light. In the dark real fears take advantage.”

“Look out. You’ll be quoting in a minute.”

There was a violent convulsion of Lou’s body. Glen grabbed her around the waist.

“Say, you came near falling off,” Glen said.

“I’m a little dizzy, I guess.” She relaxed a little in Glen’s strong circle of arms.

“Poor little kid,” said Glen. “I’ll carry you in to bed.”

Cynthia Edmonds, who lives in the Winter Park house where she grew up, says that plein-air painting “inspires me in a profound way, and observing nature helps me to understand the shape, form and infinite colors of my subjects.”

IT’S A PAINTERLY PASSION

Cynthia Edmonds, who lives in the Winter Park house where she grew up, says that plein-air painting “inspires me in a profound way, and observing nature helps me to understand the shape, form and infinite colors of my subjects.”

Award-winning plein-air painter Cynthia Edmonds discovered her passion for art while taking classes at Rollins College as a child growing up in Winter Park. 

Her love of art led her to high-school art camp at Florida State University, where she returned to earn a bachelor’s degree in fashion illustration. Edmonds worked for many years as an advertising illustrator for local fashion retailers, including Ivey’s, Jordan Marsh and Hattie Frederick. 

She later earned a master’s degree in fine art from the University of Florida and moved to Washington, D.C., and later Seattle. There she worked as a photo art director and catalogue designer for Nordstrom while simultaneously discovering the wonder of oil painting. 

“Each day painting en plein air was an exciting challenge to capture the ever-changing light and shadow,” she says. “Working on location inspires me in a profound way, and observing nature helps me to understand the shape, form and infinite colors of my subjects.”

Edmonds, who returned to Florida in 2001 to devote her time to painting its colorful landscapes, now lives in the Winter Park house where she was raised.

A signature member of the American Impressionist Society and Plein Air Florida, she participates in plein-air exhibitions throughout the U.S. — including the annual Paint Out Winter Park, sponsored by the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. 

The cover image on this issue of Winter Park Magazine, “Lake Berry Bananas,” was painted during the Polasek’s invitation-only event, when artists fan out across the city looking for intriguing subjects. Edmonds found this tranquil setting along Lake Berry, near the Windsong neighborhood. 

Edmonds’ paintings can be found in collections at the University of Central Florida and the Maitland Art Center. Her paintings are also included in the St. Joe Company’s Forgotten Coast Collection and the Shands Arts in Medicine Collection at the Venice (Florida) Regional Medical Center. 

Aficionados of Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival memorabilia will recall that Edmonds’ image of Greeneda Court on Park Avenue adorned the official festival poster back in 2007.

Edmonds loves to paint in her certified wildlife habitat garden, but also finds inspiration in France, Italy and Maine. More of Edmonds’ work can be seen at www.cynthiaedmonds.com. 

— Randy Noles

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