Archive for February, 2012

Explore Gullah culture on paper, land, and water

February 26, 2012

A fascinating book just crossed my desk — “Gullah Culture in America,” by Wilbur Cross. Just out from John F. Blair Publisher, the book delves into the past and present of the Gullah people, descendants of African ethnic groups who were brought to America as early as the late 17th century and were forced to work on plantations in South Carolina and later Georgia.

I’ve written about the Gullahs before. Lina and I visited several Gullah spots in coastal South Carolina in 2007. The two most fascinating were the Penn Center in Beaufort, which works to preserve and document the Gullah and Geechee cultures, and Sandy Island,  inhabited by Gullah people and reached only by boat. We kayaked in, and the story I wrote for the Boston Globe about that little adventure is below.

The National Park Service is working on a Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. The website isn’t updated, but I know there has been slow progress on this project. Some day the important Gullah stops between coastal southern North Carolina, where the corridor begins, and northern Florida, will be well marked and open for business. I can’t wait!

According to author Cross, today, more than 300,000 Gullah people live in the remote areas of the SC and GA sea islands of St. Helena, Edisto, Coosaw, Ossabaw, Sapelo, Daufuske, and Cumberland, their way of life endangered by overdevelopment in an increasingly popular tourist destination.

Here’s my Globe story, which ran July 22, 2007.

PRECIOUS AND PRESERVED: A Gullah community, undeveloped land, freshwater wildlife – all just miles from busy Myrtle Beach, SC

SANDY ISLAND – After a day of cavorting around this beautiful, undeveloped freshwater island, we wondered if our final stop would bring a happy ending or a hostile one. It was hard to imagine the latter, but we had been forewarned.

Water plants in shallow waters of the Waccamaw River near Sandy Island

We had rented kayaks to reach Sandy Island because there is no bridge or ferry service to this 12,000-acre swath of land between the Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee rivers 15 miles south of Myrtle Beach. The day so far had been blissful. With the occasional flying fish keeping us company, we had paddled past wetlands sprouting dancing grasses and the knobby knees of cypress and tupelo trees. On land, in the Nature Conservancy preserve, trails of white sand canopied by stately oaks and Spanish moss took us through stands of longleaf pines. Now, for our final stop, we steered our bright blue and red kayaks back up the Waccamaw on the island’s east side and over to the Sandy Island public boat landing.

To the right of where we landed was a dock holding a few small boats, as well as the Tours de Sandy Island pontoon boat, and the Prince Washington, the “school boat” that ferries local children across the river, where a bus waits to transport them to mainland schools. Many islanders shuttle to work, using jon boats to reach their cars parked at the mainland launch, some 10 minutes away along a canal that is lined with street lights for nighttime boating. Our destination, just a few feet up from the shore on the left, was the island’s only business, Pyatt’s General Store, housed in a small yellow frame building with a front porch.



Mid-century modern in Sarasota, Fla.

February 12, 2012

Umbrella House (1953)

Modern-day Sarasota is known for its thriving arts scene and contemporary homes and offices, but what many people don’t know is that sprinkled among the new buildings are world famous examples of another modern movement, which I wrote about last month for a Florida website after Lina and I visited there in December. The Sarasota School of Architecture came of age in the early 1940s and continued through the mid 1960s, and many examples remain.

“Unlike many historical buildings, their beauty isn’t encompassed in rich ornamental details, but in integrating post-war design with how to live in the tropics,” said Lorrie Muldowney, Sarasota County’s historic preservation specialist.

Making these older homes even more relevant today are the properties they share with current “green” or sustainable design — natural air flow, passive design, connecting the inside to the outside, and native-plant landscaping.

Joe Barth Insurance Office (1957)

Leading the Sarasota School were architects and designers Philip Hiss, Paul Rudolph and his one-time partner Ralph Twitchell, Victor Lundy, and Jack West. Hiss first developed the neighborhood of Lido Shores (just off busy St. Armands Circle), which still contains the highest concentration of Sarasota School homes.

To start your study in Sarasota School architecture, here are some of the most interesting and accessible stops from the guidebook “Tour Sarasota Architecture,” available free of charge at the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Umbrella House (1953), 1300 Westway Drive

This Lido Shores home designed by Paul Rudolph is arguably Sarasota’s most notable. In 2005, it was purchased and restored by museum exhibit designers Vincent and Julie Ciulla. The simple, stately cube home is shaded with a trellis-like “umbrella” installed by the couple after the original one was destroyed in a storm. “It gets all of its fame from the outside, but the inside is really the beauty of it,” said Vincent Ciulla, who offers tours for a fee. “It’s a bunch of planes and surfaces and lots of movement in the space. Rudolph played with the space in a very beautiful, balanced way.”

Hiss Studio (1953), 1310 Westway Drive

Next door to the Umbrella House is Hiss’s original studio, a glass rectangle raised on steel columns that was one of the first air-conditioned spaces in Sarasota. While you’re in Lido Shores, use the “Tour Sarasota Architecture” guide to walk or drive by more than a dozen other Sarasota School homes.

Sarasota City Hall (1966), 1565 1st St.

Situated downtown on a lush lawn, the white, low building is filled with angles and planes. Architect Jack West allowed for natural light, but added overhangs to keep out the direct sun.

Joe Barth Insurance Office (1957), 25 S. Osprey Ave.

Many businesses have come and gone in this angular structure featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and steel columns, designed by Victor Lundy. Its current occupant, Genevieve Tomlinson, owner of Zen Body-Zen Health and Asian Tea Bar, says customers appreciate the integration of exterior and interior. “It’s like being outside when you’re inside.”

St. Paul Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall (1959) and Sanctuary (1968), 2256 Bahia Vista St.

St. Paul Lutheran Church Sanctuary (1968)

Parish administrator Arleen Austin is accustomed to receiving visitors. “We get tourists from all over the world familiar with Victory Lundy and wanting to see his architecture.” Admirers are drawn to the simple, soaring lines of both buildings and to the altar wall, dramatically lit by window slits along the tall sloping roof.

Sarasota High School Addition (1960), 1000 School Ave.

Sarasota High School Addition (1960)

Architect Paul Rudolph designed many public buildings. Sarasota and the former Riverview high schools were among the best known. After much outcry, Riverview, beset with maintenance issues, was demolished in 2009. Meanwhile, the addition Rudolph designed here is not only intact but getting a needed renovation in 2012, said administrative assistant Lyn Campbell. The minimalist all-white structure includes large openings for ventilation, raised floor levels, and shaded areas on the stairs.

South Gate Community Center (1956), 3145 Southgate Circle

Walk to the back to this serenely sited neighborhood center to see Victor Lundy’s large, sleek glass room with newly restored terrazzo floors, used as a social hall. “This is a well loved building,” said manager Dan Beswick. Next on his wish list is to remove the acoustical tile ceiling and restore the original pine. The center, set on five acres along Phillippi Creek, is also a perfect picnic spot.

With your tour complete, you may be in the mood for some mid-century modern merchandise. If so, Jack Vinales Antiques, 500 S. Pineapple Ave., is the place to shop. Vinales, in business since 1992, stocks furniture, dinnerware, jewelry, and art from the 1930s through the 1960s, with a specialty in mid-century furnishings and lighting.

If your interests extend to bigger-ticket items, such as a mid-century home, Sarasota realtor Martie Lieberman of  Modern Sarasota specializes in them and lives in one herself. Lieberman is a founder of the Sarasota Architecture Foundation, which occasionally hosts Sarasota School lectures and building tours.

Salvaging a cruise ship? We can only imagine

February 2, 2012

I’m not surprised it will take months to salvage the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that sunk off the coast of Giglio, Italy. Even moving small boats is a major ordeal.

Stranded sailboat Aurora on Shell Key

Lina and I saw this firsthand in late December when we happened upon a sailboat that had washed ashore on Shell Key in St. Petersburg, Fla. We’d kayaked from Fort De Soto State Park over to the island, and for the longest time we’d seen in the distance what looked like a large pavilion, which made no sense. Then Lina realized it was a boat that had washed ashore.

A four-man crew was doing the salvage work

We pulled up onto the island for a picnic and a stroll, and passed by the work area. The head of the four-man crew doing the salvage work told us the owner hadn’t had the money to rescue the boat right away, so it sank deeper and deeper in the sand. The men had been there all day digging and pulling and using all sorts of winch contraptions to get it out. Then they were going to take a chain saw and cut it up and haul it away. Of course they’d had to bring over all their equipment in their boats, which were anchored nearby. I don’t know if they finished the job that day, but it was quite the project.

After we got home, Lina did a little digging of her own and discovered others had photographed and written about the boat, named The Aurora, and that it had been there maybe six months. No wonder it was so buried! (It was registered in Laurel, Fla., just north of Venice.) Some other photos had been posted online here and here in August, and then a photographer, Ron Masters, wrote about it and posted many more photos. As you can see between earlier photos and our recent ones, the boat had been stripped of all its equipment, accessories, and more. It was nothing but a shell when we encountered it.  Avoiding such scenarios is one of the many reasons that Lina and I are happy to stick with kayaks!