Steve Goldman has spent the past two years recruiting a board of teachers, writers, civic leaders and environmentalists to form the Winter Park Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Keeping the ‘Park’ in Winter Park.”

A LAND TRUST, NATURALLY

Steve Goldman has spent the past two years recruiting a board of teachers, writers, civic leaders and environmentalists to form the Winter Park Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Keeping the ‘Park’ in Winter Park.” Photo by Rafael Tongol

As a writer I’m usually the one asking the questions, which is my excuse for being so flat-footed when local philanthropist Steve Goldman flipped the tables last time I saw him, wondering: “If you wanted to have a picnic in Winter Park, where would you go?”

My half-hearted answer — “Maybe find a spot at Rollins College?” — only served to make his point: Winter Park, aside from Mead Garden, doesn’t have enough natural places for a picnic basket, a couple of folding chairs, and a measure of peace and quiet for thee and me.  

It’s a vacuum Goldman means to address. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t successful. 

I’ve written so many stories about Goldman’s philanthropic efforts on behalf of arts, science and education that we’ve become friends. An inventor at heart, he made his fortune designing technology that accelerates disc drives. In 2000 he sold his company and began devoting his time to addressing worthy causes.

The annual National Young Composers Challenge he created brings teenaged prodigies from all over the country to Orlando to glean feedback about their creative efforts and hear their compositions played by a professional orchestra.

The more than 100 free “Why U” animated on-line tutorials he scripted help students around the world develop a deeper understanding of math and science.

Now he’s turning his attention to wide-open spaces — or, rather, their dearth. 

Goldman has spent the past two years recruiting a board — to which I belong — of teachers, writers, civic leaders and environmentalists to form the Winter Park Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “Keeping the ‘Park’ in Winter Park.”

A kickoff party for both members and anyone who’s interested in the effort will be held at the Winter Park Farmers’ Market on February 28 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

Public land trusts help to identify, acquire and preserve land for the common good. The notion of forming one in Winter Park has been germinating in Goldman’s mind for quite some time now. 

Blame San Francisco. 

Goldman lived there for years and developed a love affair with the city’s sprawling Golden Gate Park — which, at roughly three miles long and a half-mile wide, is even bigger than New York City’s Central Park. The peace and quiet the park offered — the enrichment of the area’s quality of life — made an indelible impression on him.

I need to recalibrate my own mental disc drive pretty much every time I have a conversation with Goldman, as I did when this land trust idea first started coming up and he was suddenly talking about how great it would be if Orlando Executive Airport could be turned into a park.

I’m thinking like that will ever happen while he’s calmly explaining that as the city continues to grow there may well be a time when three miles east of downtown Orlando is no longer an optimum location for an airport. Combined with other city-owned properties in the area it could give way to a 1,200-acre park — larger than either Golden Gate or Central Park.

Imagine it.

“That’s one of the reasons you need a land trust,” says Goldman. “It’s to get people thinking long-term. If you have a long enough horizon, you can accomplish a lot.”

He continues: “There aren’t a lot of land trusts in Florida. There are a lot of conservation efforts in the state based on scientific arguments about protecting the environment. You can make those arguments pretty easily. But no one ever seems to focus on quality of life. That’s something you can’t put a number on.”

It is, however, something you can start talking about. And there’s some land in Winter Park that Goldman would like to bring into the conversation right away. 

It’s a rambling swath surrounding Howell Creek just north of Howell Branch Road, where the city is in the process of buying sections of wetlands, clearing debris and rehabilitating the ecosystem. Goldman sees potential for linking adjacent stretches to expand 10.4-acre Howell Branch Preserve. 

Apart from providing a forum to discuss possibilities such as that, he says a land trust can provide peace of mind to private citizens who would like to bequeath property for park space to the community:  

“Sometimes people are hesitant to leave their property to the city because priorities can change. That’s where a land trust comes in. That’s what that word means — trust.’’

Something else you can’t put a number on. 

Plan to come to the kickoff event and check out winterparklandtrust.org for more information. 


Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

Illustration by Dana Summers

THE MILLION-DOLLAR MILE

Illustration by Dana Summers

My family’s first night in Winter Park, 52 years ago this summer, was at a Holiday Inn at the corner of Lee Road and U.S. 17-92. The furniture for our house in Dommerich Estates hadn’t arrive yet, so we checked in and dined at Lum’s, a hot dog chain across the street, where Boston Market now stands. 

The three-year-old Winter Park Mall — only the fourth air-conditioned indoor mall in Florida, anchored by J.C. Penny’s and Ivey’s — was across the street. Even more than a half-century ago, I don’t recall that stretch of U.S. 17-92 being called the Million-Dollar Mile very often.

But in the 1930s and 1940s, middle-class families were flocking to more modest accommodations — including dozens of tourist cottages — along the stretch of highway that now boasts Trader Joe’s and dozens of other upscale shopping centers, some of which back up to a well-hidden Lake Killarney.

And by the 1950s, Winter Park was home to the swank and swinging Langford Resort Hotel, where the Empire Room supper club epitomized Rat Pack culture.

So it was a stroll down Memory Lane, if not the Million-Dollar Mile, when I visited the Winter Park History Museum to conduct interviews for an in-depth story on its current exhibition, Wish You Were Here: The Hotels & Motels of Winter Park. It runs through March of 2020, and the story runs in the next issue of Winter Park Magazine.

The cozy museum space, tucked into the old depot where the Farmers’ Market is now held — is packed with sometimes-kitschy ephemera from the city’s classic motels — including a re-created 1950s-style 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.

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 meticulously 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 motels once located along the Million-Dollar Mile. 

“There was a lively cultural and arts scene that seemed to attract people here,” says Kulmann when asked why visitors would choose a small inland city instead of heading to the beach. “But also, families from up north built long-term relationships with the motel owners and just kept coming back. Some of it was probably familiarity.”

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 must 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.” 

Kudos all around. The exhibition is wonderful and reinforces my impression that the Winter Park History Museum does more with fewer resources — the considerable talents of Skolfield and the museum’s legion of volunteers notwithstanding — than just about any organization in town.

Individually owned motels became cookie-cutter corporate properties designed to resemble downtown hotels. Holiday Inn, where we stayed decades ago, 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. 

The Langford, located at the corner of New England and Interlachen avenues, was closed in 2000 and demolished in 2003. The upscale Alfond Inn, developed by Rollins College, now occupies this choice 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 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.

Today, the seven-figure moniker is more appropriate, although the dollar amount would need to increase by orders of magnitude to remain accurate. But Wish You Were Here does what the museum does best — it picks important but often-overlooked aspects of the city’s history and tells it like it was.

For a place that bills itself as the City of Culture and Heritage, the City of Winter Park’s support of the “heritage” part of the equation is minimal. Luckily, we have visionary people — we’ve always had people like that — who make certain we remember that Winter Park has always been special.

Although growth and change are inevitable, reminders of days gone by, like Wish You Were Here, are reminders that it’s up to us to keep it that way. 

Randy Noles,
CEO/Editor/Publisher
randyn@winterparkpublishing.com

Illustration by Dana Summers

A Stylish Biography

A lifelong fashionista and a legendary philanthropist, Harriett Lake died at age 96, just a few weeks before the Florida Historical Society published Kristina Tollefson and Jodi Ozimek’s lively account of a life well lived.

Eleven years ago, Kristina Tollefson set out to investigate an urban legend. Nothing like, say, a Yeti being sighted in Mead Botanical Garden. Tollefson’s specialty is costuming, not creepiness, and she was intrigued by stories she’d heard of a wealthy fashionista in her 80s who had hoarded every article of clothing she’d ever owned — all of it stashed away in a fabled, oversized closet in her Longwood mansion.  

Tollefson is an associate professor and resident costume and makeup designer at the University of Central Florida’s School of Performing Arts. The fashionista was Harriett Lake, a flamboyant matriarch beloved for her brassy, larger-than life personality, renowned for her generosity to charities, and envied for both her gaudy, extensive wardrobe and her oversized closet — make that “closets” — including one so jampacked that it was equipped with a dry-cleaner conveyor-belt system.

What Tollefson had in mind was the chance to meet Lake and study her collection for costuming ideas. What happened instead was that she became a regular visitor to the fabled closets — and a friend, biographer and ad hoc wardrobe assistant to their proprietor. 

“I’d get voicemails from her — I actually have a couple of them saved — that said, ‘Call Harriett! I need your help!’ When I called her back, she’d say, ‘Oh, thank God! Do you know where that black satin skirt with the wide waistband and the crinoline underneath is?’ Or, ‘I can’t find that black fabric flower. That one I usually wear with the Ferragamo cape.’ Or, ‘You know that blouse and skirt I wear under the peach Adrienne Landau? I can’t find them anywhere!’” 

And so it went until June, when Lake died at the age of 96, just a few weeks before the Florida Historical Society published Too Much Is Not Enough: The History in Harriett’s Closet. 

It’s a lavishly illustrated, 550-page tribute by Tollefson and co-author Jodi Ozimek that encompasses both the evolution of Lake’s sense of style and the roots of her passion for humanitarian causes, which she shared with her husband, Orlando developer and entrepreneur Hymen Lake, who died in 2010. 

Sections of the book, which carries a cover price of $95, are devoted to full-page photos of signature designer ensembles from the ’60s through the ’90s, mined from the closets, styled under their owner’s watchful eye and accompanied by a typically laconic Lake quote. (One tart example, printed alongside a photo of a delicately ruffled white satin dress: “Harriett’s Fashion Week in Winter Park. How did that start? They needed money. Isn’t that how everything starts?”)

But the best part of the book is the biography. Tollefson had indeed stumbled onto a legend — and found herself caught up in the enterprise of separating myth from reality, fiction from fact. A few examples:

No, Lake did not hoard every stitch of clothing she ever owned. She did, however, have more than 5,000 hanging items, 1,600 hats and 450 pairs of shoes — nearly all of which she donated to be sold off for charities before she died.

No, although he did wear an inexpensive Kmart-purchased watch instead of a bejeweled Rolex, as his wife would have preferred, Hymen Lake wasn’t a cheapskate, as many had whispered. When it came to social causes, his spirit of generosity paralleled hers.  

He had grown up in poverty. Many of his neighbors in the Chicago tenement where his family lived were black. After building the residential development in south Orlando that would make him a fortune in the ’60s, he became one of the first to sell a home to an African-American family at a time when few of his cohorts had the moral courage to risk “white flight” from their subdivisions.

No, Harriett wasn’t just a showoff. Quite the contrary, she was afraid of attracting too much attention. That’s why so many things she funded — playgrounds, boutiques for woman recovering from breast surgery, the new home for the Orlando Ballet, the lavish ladies’ bathroom at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts  — are simply known by her first name, at her request. 

No, she did not track down Coco Chanel and cut backroom deals for first dibs on prime ensembles (I’d heard that rumor myself).  She did, however, once approach a total stranger who was carrying an Anne-Marie Champagne Bucket handbag and offer to buy it from her on the spot. Its owner declined — at first. 

“I’ll give you a thousand dollars for it,” said Lake.

Replied the woman: “Let’s find a shopping bag I can dump all my stuff into.”


Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

Illustration by Dana Summers

The Quality Revolutionary

From his home base in Winter Park, Philip B. Crosby impacted businesses all over the world. Each week, hundreds of corporate bigwigs traveled here to learn about his approach to quality improvement, which he described in 1979’s Quality is Free.

When Winter Park Publishing Company LLC moved its offices last year, we found ourselves occupying a building in which I had worked 35 years before — for perhaps the most interesting and impactful small business that ever hung out a shingle in this town.

If memory serves, although the interior of 201 West Canton Avenue has been reconfigured, I’m now sitting in the former office of my erstwhile boss — a man whom I count as a personal hero, and whose philosophy has for decades guided how I approach work.

The business was Philip Crosby Associates (PCA). In the company’s heyday, when major American manufacturers were fighting to overcome the perception — the reality, in fact — that their products were inferior to those made overseas, it was Crosby, an internationally known business philosopher, whose guidance was sought by beleaguered executives.

Each week, hundreds of corporate bigwigs from around the country — and around the world — traveled to Winter Park to attend Crosby’s “Quality College” for five days of lectures from and discussions with the man who had written the 1979 business bestseller Quality is Free and had invented the concept of “zero defects” in manufacturing.

Crosby was entertaining and inspirational — although he despised comparisons to motivational speakers. One trade publication described him as “the fun uncle of the quality revolution,” which was a clever if incomplete descriptor. This fun uncle had been worldwide vice president for quality at ITT.

 As PCA grew, and bright young acolytes were trained to teach his concepts, Crosby began holding impromptu confabs with Quality College attendees, for whom he was something of a rock star. “Quality can’t be controlled,” Crosby would proclaim. “It has to be caused, starting at the top.”  

This was important stuff for American industry. But it was also important for Winter Park. First, it showcased the city to countless influencers, many of whom undoubtedly returned for more leisurely visits with their families. 

Every day, Quality College attendees lunched en masse at Park Avenue restaurants. Rooms at the Mount Vernon Inn were booked solid for months in advance. Crosby — who looked like Teddy Roosevelt in a power suit — lavished patronage on hundreds of local vendors, all of whom were proud to be selected by a company synonymous with the best of everything.

Of course, the word “quality” meant something different to Crosby than it did to most of us. To him, quality meant simply conformance to requirements — whatever those requirements might be. A Chevette that met all the requirements of a Chevette was every bit as much a quality car as a Cadillac that met all the requirements of a Cadillac.

Further, he preached, it was always cheaper to “do it right the first time” than to assume, as most American companies did, that errors would invariably occur. The expense of implementing a zero-defects policy would always be recouped, he contended, by eliminating waste and do-overs.

PCA eventually came to employ some 300 people, all of them well paid and even pampered. Top executives drove company Cadillacs (General Motors was a major client) and everyone from the custodian to the COO believed that they were performing both a job and a patriotic service.

But, when I joined, PCA hadn’t yet reached those heights. I had written a story about Crosby for a local newspaper, and he seemed impressed that I appeared to understand his message. Would I be interested in coming to work for him and starting a company newspaper?

Not a newsletter, he emphasized. A real weekly newspaper, like a small city would have, with stories about the company and its people. I thought about it — for about 10 seconds. A few weeks later, I was editor of This Week at PCA — a tabloid with an initial press run of about 45 copies. The boss even gave me a nickname: “Scoop.”

PCA had a remarkable run, surviving economic downturns and flavor-of-the-month management trends. But it couldn’t survive Alexander Proudfoot PLC, a U.K.-based consultancy that bought the company in 1989 and ran it into the ground. 

Crosby rescued the company’s remnants in 1997. But he died at age 75 in 2001, before he could complete his reclamation project.

There’s still a Philip Crosby Associates in Boston, but the latest iteration seemingly has no website and several calls succeeded only in reaching an automated voicemail service.

I like to think Phil would enjoy Winter Park Magazine. I expect he would appreciate the fact we strive (not always successfully) to eliminate defects and do it right the first time.

Randy Noles
CEO/Editor/Publisher
randyn@winterparkpublishing.com

A Wordsmith’s Silent Goodbye

Philip Deaver was a selfless champion of great writing, and wholeheartedly celebrated his students’ successes. Frontotemporal dementia robbed him of his unique voice and, ultimately, his life.

Philip Deaver came from a small town. When he left, he took it with him, as good writers often do. 

He grew up in the 1950s and ’60s in Tuscola, Illinois, population 3,000. His mother had been a Navy nurse whose patients included Pearl Harbor survivors. His father, the town’s multitasking doctor, had delivered many of Phil’s classmates, then continued to treat them into adulthood. Occasionally, Phil would meet farmers who, having run afoul of their machinery, bore the spidery tracks of his father’s surgical handiwork.

Phil was 18 when he came home one day and knew from the look on his younger sister’s face that something terrible had happened. He guessed, correctly, that his grandfather had died. But so, too, had his father, both men killed when a careless driver plowed into their car at an unmarked country intersection.

Some people will tell you the town never really got over it. Others say neither did Phil. 

He’d always been fascinated with writing, and, after a few years as a businessman, began building a career crafting sinewy poems and earthy short stories inspired by the people and places of his Southern Illinois childhood.

My favorite story of his is called “Arcola Girls”Arcola being a real-life town near Tuscola, and the girls being more intriguing than those back home, at least in the eyes of the story’s young narrator, who lands a tenuous first date that involves recruiting a mobile-home clairvoyant to oversee a woodland séance. 

That tale, redolent of the fitful mysteries of small-town adolescence, won the annual O. Henry Award in 1986. Silent Retreats, the collection in which the story appeared, won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. 

Partly on the strength of those awards, Rollins hired Phil to teach fiction writing in its English Department. I say partly because in Phil, authenticity overshadowed acclaim. He took himself lightly and his trade seriously. 

He was a selfless champion of great writing, worshipping bestselling writers of his generation such as Ann Beattie — an admiration she returned — while equally and wholeheartedly celebrating his students’ successes.

Over the years, he would marry a Rollins adjunct professor, Susan Lilley, now poet laureate of the City of Orlando and a teacher at Trinity Preparatory School. They became a literary power couple, attracting a community of Central Florida writers into their orbit. 

Then, just as he was on the brink of publishing an ambitious book of interlocking short stories, Phil began to change. 

He’d always been a faithful correspondent. Now friends and family stopped hearing from him. He’d always been enthusiastic and outgoing with colleagues and students. Now there was a certain vacancy in his greeting. And his classes, once inspiring, became listless and disorganized.

Finally came a diagnosis: Phil suffered from a form of frontotemporal dementia — a fatal disease that disrupts the part of the brain that engenders language and social skills. It develops earlier in life and progresses much more rapidly than Alzheimer’s.  

By the time he died on April 29 at the age of 71, Phil could no longer speak.

There were two mid-May memorial services. One was in Tuscola, where he was buried next to his parents. The other, at Knowles Memorial Chapel on the Rollins campus, was as unassumingly eloquent as the man it honored.

Retired Rollins English Professor Lezlie Laws, an advocate for Phil on the search committee that hired him, spoke of becoming so enthused upon reading his stories for the first time that she threw the book aside and, much to her husband’s amazement, started jumping up and down on the bed.

Poet Billy Collins, senior distinguished fellow at the college’s Winter Park Institute, read a poem Phil had written called “Flying.” It describes a recurring childhood dream of magically soaring over his home, looking down at his town and his family on a Midwestern summer’s day.

Phil’s son, Michael, a recruiting specialist with Orange County, described his father’s final days. He spoke of how he and his sister, Laura, a Rollins graduate with a degree in counseling, had sat on either side of their father’s bed, holding his hands, as the renowned wordsmith — wearing his favorite St. Louis Cardinals jersey — made a final, silent retreat. 

A few days before, father and son had sat quietly, face to face in a hospice facility, simply looking into each other’s eyes. Michael had said “I love you.” Long moments later came a last, miraculous reply: 

“I love you too, boy.” 


Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

Use Our Heads and Hearts

One of my favorite movies is Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House (1948) with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. In it, hapless New Yorkers Jim and Muriel Blandings decide to have a custom home designed and built in rural Connecticut. The project, of course, quickly goes awry.

Nothing is completed when promised. Everything costs more than anticipated. Naysayers taunt Jim and Muriel for their naiveté, while financial ruin looms and a variety of lawsuits are threatened. Did I mention that Mr. Blandings is a comedy? 

In social media circles, a handful of Winter Parkers seem to think that the city’s experience thus far with the soon-to-be-built library and events center — known heretofore as the Canopy — is worthy of a modern-day remake. Only this time, tax dollars, not Jim Blandings’ life savings, are at stake. 

Most of the complaints, however, have been from people who opposed the project in the first place. Some fringe theories even suggest vast conspiracies in which shadowy cabals of academic and commercial interests have somehow secretly joined forces to grab land and enrich developers.

So it goes, sometimes, in Winter Park. After all, the original $30 million bond issue was approved by only the narrowest of margins — and has subsequently been challenged in court by dogged opponents who refuse to accept the result. The city, then, must work even more diligently to get it right — and to deliver essentially what was promised.

Having said that, I’m more excited than ever about the state-of-the-art campus to be built in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Its centerpiece will be an aspirational, inspirational library for the 21st century.

Yes, it appears likely that the library will be closer to 36,000 square feet than the 50,000 square feet originally touted (the events center will be a separate structure). That’s not an insignificant alteration. And the proposed parking structure appears to have vanished — or at least been put aside.

But 36,000 smartly designed square feet will provide plenty of customer-friendly space to house robust print and digital book collections, a technology classroom, an audio recording room, tutoring and meeting rooms, a climate-controlled historical archive, expanded youth spaces and a “genius lab” (comparable to a maker space, complete with high-tech tools).

Adding a stepped auditorium, an outdoor amphitheater, a porte-cochere and a rooftop venue to the events center will take another $6 million or $7 million, much of which must come from private fundraising. 

Yes, the city could have saved money by hiring a local architect —there are excellent ones — instead of Sir David Adjaye, the much-honored celebrity architect who designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. 

But with Adjaye, you get someone who not only has experience with libraries and high-profile public buildings. You also get one of the greatest architects in the world — a figure whose involvement ensures that the Canopy will instantly be regarded as an internationally important project.

And it’ll be right here, where it belongs, in a small city known the world over for the unrivaled excellence of its educational and cultural amenities.

A project of this significance and complexity will evolve during the design process. And it should, as new realities present themselves and are dealt with — or as great ideas emerge and are incorporated.

I’m not relitigating the bond issue vote here; it’s a done deal. I’m saying that it’s time for everyone — friend and foe — to pull together and make certain that the Canopy will, in fact, be the community treasure that it ought to be. 

With this project comes an extraordinary opportunity that ought not to be hindered by erroneous assumptions, hurt feelings, sheer stubbornness or conspiracy theories. Ask questions? Sure. Demand explanations? Absolutely. Offer input? Of course. Community involvement is a key to success.

At the conclusion of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, the crotchety Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas) finally relents when he sees what Jim and Muriel have achieved: “When I look at what you two have got here,” he says, wistfully, “well, I don’t know. Maybe there are some things you should buy with your heart, not your head.” 

Let me be clear. By no means am I saying that decisions regarding civic projects should be made based upon emotion, not logic. For the Canopy, though, the logic is already firmly established and in place. It’s time to bring our hearts — and our ideas — to the table.

Randy Noles
CEO/Editor/Publisher
randyn@winterparkpublishing.com

The Convergence Of Art And Story

Tomás Saraceno’s Cloud Cities — Nebulous Thresholds (above left) and Julie Heffernan’s Camp Bedlam (above right) are ideal examples of art that has a backstory.

My girlfriend — OK, she’s not really my girlfriend. She’s my consort. That’s the term we chose for each other as being suitably upscale, vaguely romantic, and — let’s face it —more age-appropriate.

Anyway, my consort is fluent about the visual arts. When we’re at galleries and exhibits, she speaks eloquently of brushstrokes and color schemes. I respond with submissive posturing and soft-pallet vocalizations akin to footage you might encounter in a Jane Goodall documentary.

I like art. I just don’t know how to talk about it. If I sit down at my desk and mull for a bit, I can come up with something. Otherwise all I’ve got is a drop-down menu with a choice of three boxes: nice, meh and um.

I’m in my element, on the other hand, when I encounter an interesting backstory, such as the inspiration for the artwork or the evolution of the artist.

Take the recent installation of web-like tendrils encased in translucent, multicolored forms, which hovers overhead in the glass-domed atrium of Winter Park’s Alfond Inn, owned by Rollins College. It’s called Cloud Cities – Nebulous Thresholds.

Nice.

Better still, the piece has a tale to tell.

Its Argentinian-born, German-based creator, Tomás Saraceno, is a blue-sky thinker, literally and figuratively. He’s obsessed with spider webs, astrophysics and ecology — suggesting a link among them in his art.

Elsewhere, he has devised filmy, gravity-defying sculptures, suspended by infrared radiation and the heat of the sun — creations that bespeak his dream that someday, people will live harmoniously in international communities floating high above the earth.

It’s a testament to the turmoil of our times that much of contemporary art is preoccupied, as Saraceno’s is, with social, environmental and humanitarian causes.

That trend is reflected, for example, by the artist whose work graces the cover of this magazine. Likewise, it’s reflected throughout the Alfond’s hotel-wide collection, which is culled from the college’s Cornell Fine Arts Museum and its Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art.

You’ll see that same socially conscious sensibility in exhibits that have sprung up with increasing regularity at most Central Florida art museums and galleries over the past several years.

Julie Heffernan’s cautionary dreamscapes, on display at the Mennello Museum of American Art through June 10, are among the most arresting.

Heffernan, who grew up in California and now lives in New York City, visually imagines a future in which people struggle to escape a detritus-strewn flood by inhabiting luminously rendered trees — the final refuge of a natural world too long abused.

In some ways, Heffernan is a throwback: Her cautionary and overtly symbolic tableaus are often compared to the creations of Hieronymous Bosch, the 16th century fire-and-brimstone Dutch moralist whose paintings spill over with half-naked figures in the midst of either having way too much fun or being posthumously punished for it.

Heffernan calls her works “self-portraits,” painting herself into the middle of the post-apocalyptic scrum, crediting “all of the stuff that hit my eyeballs” over the course of her life as inspiration.

That includes the vividly painted holy cards of martyred saints she remembers from her Catholic grade school days — she remembers staring at them and imagining them coming to life — as well as a spooky, rambling, unfinished Victorian mansion that left indelible ripples on her imagination.

As a kid growing up in Marin County, Heffernan’s parents would take her and her siblings to a tourist attraction called Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

“It was built by the widow of the man who invented the Winchester rifle,” she told me. “When he died, a medium advised her to build a home and never stop building it — otherwise the ghosts of all the people who were killed by her husband’s invention would haunt her. So she did. She never finished. There are stairways and passages that lead to nowhere.”

Many years later, while studying art on a Fulbright scholarship, Heffernan found herself in a haunted maze of another sort: Berlin in the 1980s.

The wall between the east and west sectors still stood. Spies and former Nazis were everywhere. When the landlord of the cold-water hinterhof flat she shared with her boyfriend found out he was Jewish, he came close to evicting them.

“West Berlin was an amazing place then,” she said. “It wore its subconscious on its sleeve. There were bomb craters and shrapnel everywhere, and memorial cobblestones in front of the houses of Jews who had been taken away to the concentration camps.”

It was in Berlin where Heffernan developed the labyrinthian oeuvre that she now uses to address climate change. Like Saraceno’s, her creations suggest we can rise above it all — both artists having invented visual cues that can be deciphered and understood, assuming we take the time.

You can see what I mean about backstories.


Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

Selecting the Influentials

For the past three years, Winter Park Magazine has published compilations of the city’s Most Influential People. Surely by now we’ve recognized everyone deserving of attention, right?

Not even close. In a city filled with achievers — many of whom are passionately involved in civic affairs — there remains no shortage of worthy contenders.

So, this very special — and much-discussed — feature is coming again in our summer issue. As usual, we’re asking past selectees for nominations. In addition, we’re asking our readers for their opinions and putting out a call on social media.

I enjoy the Most Influential People project because it always results in a mixture of mover-and-shaker types with people you may not yet know — but who quietly make a difference.

The list has included businesspeople, clergypeople, professors, politicians, philanthropists, city employees, arts administrators, volunteers, community activists and Winter Parkers from all walks of life.

Even if they’ve agreed on little else, the selectees have shared a love for Winter Park. Indeed, one reason that 32789 is the most interesting zip code in Central Florida is because of its people. There’s a story worth telling at just about every address.

So, who in Winter Park is exceptional in your opinion? Who has done — and continues to do — things that make the city a better place? Who impacts the lives of our residents? I’d like to hear from you.

Past selectees have included (in alphabetical order): Jim Barnes, Dan Bellows, Rita Bornstein, Jeffrey Blydenburgh, Daniel Butts, Grant and Peg Cornwell, Julian Chambliss, Patrick Chapin, Carolyn Cooper, Linda Costa, Mary Daniels, Jeff Eisenbarth, Sue Foreman, Scot French and Christine Madrid French, Betsy Gardner Eckbert, Shawn Garvey, Hal George, John Gill, Steve Goldman and Sarah Grafton.

Also: Jane Hames, Jill Hamilton Buss, Ena Heller, Debra Hendrickson, Catherine Hinman, Herb Holm, Jon and Betsy Hughes, Phil Kean, Allan Keen, Linda Keen, Randy Knight, Debbie Komanski, Linda Kulmann, Cindy Bowman Lafronz, Steve Leary, Lambrine Macejewski, Andrea Massey-Farrell, Brandon McGlamery, Anne Mooney, Ronnie Moore, Patty Maddox, Micki Meyer and Johnny Miller.

And, rounding out the roster: David Odahowski, Betsy Rogers Owens, Jana Ricci, Randy Robertson, John Rife, Peter Schreyer, Polly Seymour, Thad Seymour, Shawn Shaffer, John and Gail Sinclair, Susan Skolfield, Sarah Sprinkel, Sam Stark, Chuck Steinmetz and Margery Pabst Steinmetz, Dori Stone, Fr. Richard Walsh, Jennifer Wandersleben, Harold Ward, Bill Weir, Pete Weldon, Chip Weston and Becky Wilson.

Those folks, of course, aren’t eligible again — but everyone else in this city of 30,000 is. Also eligible are people who don’t live in Winter Park, but whose activities impact the city and its residents in a notable way.

Please send me a brief email sharing who you believe belongs on this year’s list — maybe consider an “unsung hero” who doesn’t get the kudos that he or she deserves. In the email, please explain briefly why that person (or persons) ought to be recognized.

We’ll have a big blowout in July — as we have for the past three years — celebrating the selectees and the city that they help to make such a special place. Please let me hear from you. My email is: randyn@winterparkpublishing.com.

Randy Noles
CEO/Editor/Publisher
randyn@winterparkpublishing.com

‘Mom, Child Die For Their Puppy’

In “Cemetery Ride,” Billy Collins writes about bicycling through Winter Park’s Palm Cemetery, offering howdy-dos to the permanent residents. It’s a delightful poem, and celebrates a local site of historic significance. Naturally, I couldn’t resist running it in this issue, which includes a major feature story on the former two-time U.S. poet laureate.

In fact, Billy’s poem inspired me to visit the tranquil expanse of markers and mausoleums, where just about everybody who was anybody in our fair city lies resting beneath the oaks. Their slumber is disturbed only by golfers from the adjacent municipal course, who sometimes hit errant shots onto their plots.

Loring Chase — who co-founded the Winter Park Company with Oliver Chapman — deeded the lush, 17-acre tract to the city in 1906. That happened to be the same year he died and was buried there. Chapman had moved to Massachusetts decades earlier — for his health, he said — and lived until 1936.

But I digress. I was hunting the grave of Ann Derflinger, the no-nonsense Winter Park High drama teacher for whom the school’s auditorium is named. She died in 1983, just 44 years old, of breast cancer.

Derf’s name had come up during an interview with actor Tom Nowicki, who’s also featured in this issue. Tom and I — both members of the WPHS Class of ’73 — were simultaneously terrorized and inspired by this 5-foot-tall force of nature.

Of course, I couldn’t find her. Yes, I know this is 2017. I know the cemetery has an app that enables visitors to easily locate graves. But I was baffled trying to use it, and the administrative office was locked. I’d have to catch Derf later.

On the way back to my car, though, I stopped abruptly and looked down. There was a marker indicating that an older woman and a younger girl — a mother (or a grandmother) and a daughter, perhaps — had died on the same day in 1950.

Stunningly vivid, hand-colored cameos of their faces — smiling, rosy faces — beckoned from sleek and shiny black marble.

What could possibly have happened? A car accident? I had a hunch — more precisely, an inexplicable spell of foreboding — that it was something far more bizarre.

I jotted down the names and decided to find out what sort of misfortune had befallen Edna Yorton, 52, and Isabelle Yorton, 6. Here’s what I could piece together from newspaper accounts.

On Wednesday, March 22, 1950, a truck struck an electrical pole, downing a 4,800-volt high-tension power line. The line, fully charged, snaked across a dirt road in Leonard’s Corner — a neighborhood I had never heard of, but later learned was in the Clarcona area. (Note to self: Find out whatever happened to Leonard’s Corner.)

The live wire lay just 36 yards from the trailer home of William Yorton and his family. The Yortons, who hailed from Fairport, New York, had wintered in Florida for the past decade, and were planning to build a permanent home somewhere nearby. It was reported that they made and sold paper flowers for a living.

Hearing her puppy howl after stepping on the wire, 6-year-old Isabelle ran to its aid and was electrocuted. Edna, her mother, met the same fate when she tried to pull Isabelle to safety. Their severely burned bodies were found near that of the puppy.

That much wasn’t hard to find. The tragic tale, not unexpectedly, was picked up by the Associated Press and made the front pages in major dailies across the U.S. One newspaper headline blared: “Florida Mom, Child Die for Their Puppy.”

Well, that was accurate enough, I suppose. But there was more to the story. Some of it I gleaned from newspaper accounts; some of it remains a mystery.

With burial scheduled for Monday, William Yorton, the bereaved husband and father, was scrambling to cover expenses. A story in the Saturday edition of the Orlando Evening Star detailed the family’s plight. (It’s unclear from news accounts who the other survivors were, but I gather that there were siblings.)

In the Sunday edition, though, I could find nothing about the Yortons. In fact, they aren’t mentioned at all in the coming days. Their deaths had been front-page, above-the-fold fodder just days before. What happened?

Somehow, this extraordinarily ill-fated mother and daughter, who lived in a trailer in rural Leonard’s Corner and made paper flowers, ended up in Palm Cemetery, resting beneath a lovely — and undoubtedly expensive — tombstone.

There’s no apparent connection between the Yortons and Winter Park. My guess is, some generous locals read about Edna and Isabelle, and quietly took care of matters. If so, they sought no publicity for this act of compassion.

So, here they are: Edna and Isabelle, victims of a horrific freak accident. A mother and daughter who died trying to save a puppy, and whose family appeared unable to afford a decent burial — much less a prime plot with a black marble marker in Palm Cemetery.

There are about 1,100 stories in Palm Cemetery. I’ll bet none of them are this strange.

Randy Noles
CEO/Editor/Publisher
randyn@winterparkpublishing.com


PLEASE STOP BY

Winter Park Publishing Company has moved to the heart of Winter Park, at 201 West Canton Avenue, Suite 125B. It’s the corner of Canton and New York Avenue, near the post office. If you’re in the neighborhood, drop by and say hello — and relax in the lovely zen garden outside our front door.

Tacky is as Tacky Does

Rollins College professor Ben Hudson challenges his students’ perceptions of bad taste. Little Richard and Lawrence Welk, for example, both had their detractors — for very different reasons, of course. Photo by Rafael Tongol (Ben Hudson)

Ben Hudson is a newly-hired Rollins College English professor. His  class is in bad taste. Not bad taste as in socks with sandals, gardens with gnomes and prison tattoos. Bad taste as a theme in his writing classes.

It’s a strategy he has used since his days at the University of Georgia, where he taught undergraduates while earning his Ph.D.

He starts by assigning the works of notable arbiters of taste, from ’60’s counterculture firebrand Susan Sontag to Immanel Kant, an influential 18th-century philosopher who argued that our perception of good taste is utterly illogical.

In Kant’s view, when something strikes us as beautiful — a person, a painting, a gorgeous view — our response is purely emotional, so don’t bother arguing with us about it. De gustibus non est disputandum, said the Romans. Or, to quote the aphorism of another era: There’s no accounting for taste.

But Hudson is a southern-boy contrarian at heart. What he really wants his students to understand is that Kant assumed that he and his homies — namely upper-class European males — considered themselves to be the sole judges of taste, good or bad.

Yet, something that’s perceived as distasteful by the powers that be can, in fact, be a good thing — maybe even a revolutionary thing — and certainly something a good writer should investigate. So, Hudson asks students to write about something they dislike — a fad, a movie, a singer.

For inspiration, he has them read essays that celebrate outliers. One example is a rave review of a kitschy Times Square eatery called “Senor Frog” by ordinarily snooty New York Times critic Pete Wells, who applauded the eatery’s artful tackiness in decking out diners in balloon-animal head gear and offering up drinks in suggestively-shaped cups.

On the day I visited Hudson’s classroom, at the end of an Olin Library hallway decorated with posters offering chipper grammatical warnings (“How to Use a Semicolon: The Most Feared Punctuation on Earth!”), he was discussing one of the patron saints of bad taste: John Waters, the puckish filmmaker with a pencil-thin moustache who made underground movies celebrating bizarre behavior and outlandish characters in the early ’70s.

Hudson had assigned his students to watch a somewhat tamer film Waters made later in his career: the 1988 version of Hairspray, starring Ricki Lake, Sonny Bono and Divine.

The story, set in Baltimore in 1962 against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, revolves around a televised dance competition and the backlash it generates against two teenaged contestants. One is overweight, and the other is black, as are the musicians playing the songs to which all the kids — regardless of skin tone — want to dance.

It’s easy enough for anybody who came up in the ’60s to relate to the attitudes evidenced in Hairspray. But in a classroom filled with 19-year-olds who hadn’t yet been born when the movie was released — and for whom the ’60s is ancient history — Hudson’s leading questions engendered long silences and puzzled faces.

So, he provided historical perspective via a black-and-white YouTube video from 1958. A familiar figure — well, familiar to me, anyway — appeared on the screen, his eyes wild, his hair in a towering Pomade pompadour. He stood at a piano, pounding a hotwire beat into its keys and howling:

LUCILLLLEEEE! Please come back where you belong!

I been good to ya baby, please don’t leave me alone!

The flamboyant figure was, of course, Little Richard, of whom John Lennon once said: “If you don’t like rock ’n roll, blame him.”

Lucillllleeee!

I could hardly keep my feet still. After all these years, listening to music that once gave grownups headaches still felt like a guilty pleasure. Surely the classroom door was about to swing open and we were all going to get hauled off to detention.

But then Hudson switched to another video. Same era. Way different music. It was Lawrence Welk, a wunnerful, wunnerful big-band leader with a heavy German accent whose weekly television show featured such catchy songs as “The Beer-Barrel Polka.” The maestro’s music was a Saturday-night staple in my family’s living room — and every bit as exciting as its floral wallpaper.

For just a second there, during Little Richard’s romp, I had felt young again. The sensation was fleeting, thanks to one of Hudson’s students, who squinted at Welk’s image on the screen and had a flash of recognition.

“I know who that is,” she said. “My grandmother still watches him.”


Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

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