Thursday, April 15, 2010

Florida Landscapes

Situated atop one of Florida’s highest points, the 25-acre Bok Tower Gardens was designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm during the 1920s to fulfill philanthropist Edward Bok’s vision of “the most beautiful spot in America.” Along with a 250-foot Gothic Revival-Art Deco carillon tower as a centerpiece, Bok built woodland pools, planted 8,000 azaleas, installed 50 bird baths and imported nightingales from England.
by Augustus Mayhew

From Henry Flagler to Walt Disney, developers transformed the Florida peninsula into a tangled gridlock of seasonal resorts, subdivisions, malls, office buildings and theme parks. The Sunshine State’s coastline is walled with concrete canyons aswim in asphalt, its Everglades now a destination for casino gambling and CSI film crews, while Central Florida affords far more contrasting environments — among them, the pre-Pleistocene 100-mile long Lake Wales Ridge, the Edenic vision at the Bok Tower Gardens and Disney’s Utopia abloom at the Town of Celebration.

These diverse scenic perspectives only add to the appreciation for the Palm Beach area’s latest faux naturale, artificial reconstructed wetlands. So, take a break and enjoy NYSD’s red carpet ride through some uncommon Florida landscapes, vanishing, vivid and virtual, as much settings for one of J.G. Ballard’s science fictions as wish you were here postcards.

Vanishing Wilderness:
Archbold Biological Station, Lake Placid
Situated at the southern end of the 100-mile long Lake Wales Ridge, the state’s highest terrain and most ancient island habitat, this 1992 aerial shows the Archbold Biological Station’s research and administrative facilities amidst its more than 5,000-acre refuge south of Lake Placid. Photo courtesy of the Archbold Biological Station.
A downtown Lake Placid mural illustrates the history of the nearby Archbold Biological Station, created by two of New York’s most prominent families, the Roeblings and the Archbolds
With the onset of World War II curtailing scientist and philanthropist Richard Archbold’s trail blazing accomplishments during the golden age of flying-boat exploration, his friend and Stuyvesant School classmate, Donald Roebling, thought the vast preserve surrounding his parents unbuilt Central Florida estate would be the perfect location for Archbold to stage his expeditions, conduct his research and provide Archbold a place to foster the work of other scientists and students. And thus, because of the shared interests of two old friends, Roebling, the great-grandson of John Augustus Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, and Archbold, the grandson of John Dustin Archbold, the president of Standard Oil, the Archbold Biological Station has today become one of the world’s most respected scientific research laboratories and a National Natural Landmark.
After becoming a world-renown aviator, explorer and scientist, Standard Oil heir Richard Archbold (1907-1976) settled in Central Florida.
Formerly associated with NYC’s American Museum of Natural History, where many of his Madagascar and South Pacific discoveries remain part of the museum’s collections, Richard Archbold devoted his life to preserving and expanding his refuge for Florida’s endangered species and plant life until his death in 1976. Since then, his sister, Frances Archbold Hufty, now 97 and a longtime Palm Beach resident, along with her family members have headed up Archbold Expeditions, the foundation set up to oversee the Lake Placid property and facility. Seventy years later, what began as a 1000-acre mosquito and ant sanctuary has evolved into a more than 5,000-acre internationally-recognized research facility focused on ecological research, conservation and educational programs.
Established as a refuge for endangered plants and rare species at the south end of the prehistoric Lake Wales Ridge, the Archbold’s valuable eco-system was once submerged for millions of years.
Among its many endeavors, Archbold Biological Station scientists converge on Highland County to study its insects, believed to be the largest collection of ants in North America.
Moss-covered oaks and sand pines line the entrance to the facility’s main grounds, eight miles south of Lake Placid.
“My mother, Frances Archbold Hufty, is now 97 and has not missed a board meeting in nearly forty years. Her brother’s work inspires her everyday. My mother carried the torch forward for him with the support of my Dad, many friends and students, my brothers and sisters, and now our children,” wrote Mary Page Hufty, a family physician and president of the Archbold Expeditions board of trustees. The 2009 Archbold Expeditions foundation trustees photographed at the Lake Placid facility.

Front row, l. to r.: Lela Love, Dylan Archbold Hufty Alegria, Donna Hufty Lloyd George, Carter Randolph Leidy, and Sebastian de Atucha. Standing, l. to r.: Robert Lloyd George, F. Ward Paine, Loren Daniel Hufty Alegria, Frances Archbold Hufty, Mary Page Hufty, Daniel Alegria, and Harry Greene. The two youngsters are Sophia and David Lloyd George. Not pictured, a 2010 trustee, Alexander Hufty Griswold. Photo courtesy of Archbold Expeditions.
Originally built in 1930-1931 by John Augustus Roebling II as a warehouse to store building materials to construct his Red Hills estate, the Archbold Biological Station later converted the buildings into research laboratories, chemistry lab, library and administrative offices. The ABS is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Cottages were built to allow research scientists to live onsite.
The half-mile Nature Trail was formed around the existing facilities. “My family and I grew up in the sand and scrub of Central Florida. I learned to love the outdoors tripping over palmetto roots and falling off a horse onto soft piles of pine needles beneath the slash pines,” writes Mary Page Hufty in her president’s message on the Archbold Expeditions web site.
The Nature Trail always has a view of the water tower.
The research lab’s walls are covered with detailed drawings of the tiniest creatures.
A former ABS executive director, John W. Fitzpatrick is a senior research biologist, director of Cornell University’s Ornithology Laboratory. Birding is one of the center’s research interests.
Seen having lunch, researcher Nancy Deyrup, a former member of the facility’s education program, and her husband, Mark Deyrup, a senior research biologist, whose interest is bugs.
The ABS affords college researchers from the US and the UK an invaluable intern program. Seen above, tomorrow’s entomologists and biologists, left to right, Carolyn Robbins, Esther Cline, Kimberly Kellett and Dan Albrecht-Hayllinger taking a lunch break from their microscopes and laptops.
The library provides the latest scientific journals.
As an explorer and aviator, Richard Archbold was the Indiana Jones of his time. His 1938 expedition to New Guinea’s Balim Valley uncovered a Stone Age culture unknown to the outside world as well as tree-climbing kangaroos, spiny anteaters and three-foot rats. A lake in central New Guinea, Lake Archbold, was named in his honor. This photograph of Richard Archbold hangs in the research center’s library. Frances May Archbold Hufty, chairman of Archbold Expeditions. A Palm Beach resident for more than 70 years, Mrs. Hufty carries on her brother’s work.
Photo courtesy of the Palm Beach Daily News.
Inspired Vision:
Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales
Having settled in Central Florida’s private Mountain Lake community, planned in 1915 by the Olmsted Brothers firm, The Ladies Home Journal magazine editor Edward Bok (1863-1930) acquired a 100-acre parcel and built his architectural and cultural legacy, Bok Tower Gardens with a carillon tower which today hosts an annual international festival for carillonneurs.
Sixty miles north of the Archbold Biological Station along US-27 is the Bok Tower Gardens, situated atop the state’s highest point where the Lake Wales Ridge reaches nearly 300 feet above sea level. It was here Edward Bok brought together the Olmsted Brothers firm, architect Milton B. Medary Jr., sculptor Lee Lawrie, and the Enfield Pottery & Tile Works to craft Florida’s Taj Mahal.
While South Florida’s Fairchild Botanical Garden is of note, the Olmsted-designed garden in Lake Wales remains among the state’s most memorable landscapes.
Designed by architect Milton B. Medary Jr. (1874-1929), the tower was built from pink Etowah and gray Creole marble from a Georgia quarry with structural steel reinforcement and trimmed with coquina. Notable sculptor Lee Lawrie, known for his Atlas figure at Rockefeller Center, engaged 14 stone carvers to complete the detailed work.
Carved stone panels depicting herons and flamingos were installed to enhance the “singing tower’s” acoustics.
The top of the tower is finished with polychrome work from Enfield Pottery & Tile Works.
Virtual Reality:
Day and Night in Celebration
Master-planned and programmed by Robert A. M. Stern and today’s Cooper Robertson & Partners for the Disney Development Company, the Town of Celebration was formulated from pattern books modeled from “1940’s American small towns.” And, as much as the Neotraditional look of the town was strictly controlled by Disney, how the look was manufactured by outside construction companies was never part of Team Disney’s plan. This paradox results in structures that upon close inspection show signs of pre-fabricated synthetic building materials that belie the town’s 1940’s inspiration. For example, according to the most recent issue of Celebration magazine, the town’s Prince Charmings should be warned that there may be a “time bomb” ready to go off, as many Celebration homeowners are experiencing sudden and unexpected water leaks. Because the town’s water pressure levels exceed the area’s plumbing code requirements and because Celebration’s builders omitted pressure relief valves, some owners are facing thousands of dollars worth of damage. The book, “Celebration USA: Living in Disney’s Brave New Town,” delves into more detail on the trials and tribulations of actually living in Celebration.
With the Celebration Hotel designed by Graham Gund in the background across the lake, kids have a great time playing in the town’s central fountain. However dismayed by the post-Orwellian aura and synthetic pre-fab construction materials, I found the townspeople friendly during my brief overnight stay. Although when I commented that none of the street signage was properly lit, a resident responded, “Yes, but who would ever come to Celebration at night and not know where they were going?”
Cesar Pelli’s design for Celebration’s multi-plex cinema is magical at night.
In the early morning light, Pelli’s aerodynamic design seems more mundane.
Located across from the Philip Johnson-designed Town Hall, the Celebration Preview Center is now a Bank of America branch, designed by Texas architects Moore/Andersson Associates. Celebration’s private courtyards are noted by private gates, no less.
Phillip Johnson’s Town Hall overwhelms the Celebration Post Office designed by Michael Graves. While conceptual drawings probably looked apropos, the actual street scale of the buildings appears to be out of balance.
Town Hall is yet another building that takes on a more dramatic significant presence at night than in daylight.
Nightlife in Celebration. Amidst the strollers and ice cream cones, I felt like the only single, only non-neotraditional person, around. I did not stumble on any two-Mommy or two-Daddy families, or a three-Mommy family, as I had the immense pleasure of sitting next to in a Provincetown café several summers ago that had all the makings of a Monty Python-meets-Jerry Springer episode. However much that aspect seemed more retro-traditional, kids played while their parents wined and dined, and it all did seem like the now lost mythical Main Street life was alive and well in Celebration. For a moment, I was envious.
The Corpus Christi Catholic Church opened on Christmas Eve, designed by the Tampa architectural firm, Cooper Johnson Smith Architects Inc., Donald S. Cooper as supervising architect.
An east elevation view of the Corpus Christi Catholic Church, as dimensional as the façade and as pleasing in the morning’s bright light.
The Market Café is on Market Street, where else. In 2004 Disney sold Celebration’s downtown commercial buildings.
Inside the Market Café, described as the Celebration Modern style.
These GEM (Global Electric Motors) model battery-electric cars, “the green transportation alternative,” are the town’s most popular vehicles.
A 1948 Cadillac sits parked in front of the Celebration Hotel, adding a touch of authenticity.
An idyllic old Florida landscape hangs between two flat screens perched on the back wall of the lobby bar at the Celebration Hotel.
Colorfully-costumed Seminoles provide yet another romantic vision of Old Florida at the Celebration Hotel. Of course, having been driven into the uninhabitable Everglades during the mid-19th century, the descendants of these same Native Americans have emerged today, traveling by helicopter and SUVs between their casinos.
Outside of the Celebration Hotel overlooking the lake, a super-sized metal statue offers another artful tribute to Florida’s Indians.
Along Celebration Boulevard, office buildings are programmed in the Celebration Modern style, an adaptive Moderne that reminds me of aquarium architecture. Celebration’s World Drive links residents directly with the Magic Kingdom.
The Mansions at Celebration
I never thought I would find anything comparable to the curb appeal of Palm Beach’s spec houses but the mansions at Celebration are in a class by themselves. Where better for Cinderella to park her pumpkin. I took this photo in 2005 when this East Lawn mansion was first built. The featherweight decorative columns and brick veneer give the façade a pop-up look.
Here is how the same house looked last week priced at $2.8 million. According to this East Lawn mansion has been on the market for more than 780 days.
An impressive, however decorative, façade.
Decorative synthetic materials are often advertised as “low maintenance.”
An East Lawn mansion under construction in 2005.
The same house in April 2010. The front entry appears a bit of a dollhouse squeeze.
If you are in the house, there is a scenic view of the pond. But, if you are looking at the back of the house, the lack of details creates a generic scene.
Celebration Row Houses
Hardiboard siding distracts from the house’s design aesthetic, described as “stately Victorian.” While Celebration’s planners tout the town’s mix of styles, it appears to be entirely segregated by price. The current asking price is $799,000 for this six bedroom house built in 2002. On a previous visit years ago, several homeowners kept silk plants hanging on the porch; something I did not see on this trip.
The backs of the houses do not measure up to the more imposing streetscape.
A close-up of the manufactured “low maintenance” building materials, widely-found among Celebration’s houses.
Team Disney’s Imagineers
Here is a look at where Team Disney creates the magic, a short hop down World Drive over to Lake Buena Vista Drive. Once considered an architectural marvel, architect Isozaki Arata’s Team Disney building appears to be undergoing some roof work. According to the Orlando Sentinel, a new $705,000 roof is being installed. “Show me a roof and I’ll show you a leak,” said Frank Lloyd Wright.
When I stepped inside to take a peek at Arata’s famous courtyard sun dial, I was told that no interior photography was permitted.
So, when I stepped back outside, security had been alerted that someone, me, was taking photos of the building. The Team Disney security guard leaves her command desk, and in the most draconian tone, “No pictures, I said, no photos were allowed.” Quite surprised, I responded, “You said no photos of the sundial inside, you mean I can not take a photo of the Disney building?” More loudly, “No photos, did you hear me?” Astonished that a public company in the picture biz would not allow me to take a photo of its building, and before being arrested or escorted off the property by an armed guard, I thought I would wander over to Disney World Casting and take a look at where this security guard might have come from.
Inspired by “the Doge’s Palace in Venice,” according to several published reports, architect Robert A. M. Stern designed this interpretation of “entertainment architecture.”
In the Casting Building, Fingerprinting appears prominently on a vestibule sign. Aspiring Goofys and Daffy Ducks take note!
The vestibule takes on a Great Hall ambience with Disney’s pantheon of cartoon characters immortalized by the smallest of gold-painted statuettes, Dumbo and Bugs Bunny, among them.
Virtual Wilderness:
Reconstructed Habitats at Green Cay & Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Palm Beach County
The scene at one of Palm Beach County’s artificial wetlands reconstructions, as viewed from the boardwalk, rapidly becoming popular alternatives to mall walks.
Amidst Palm Beach County’s planned unit developments, engineers have recreated several hundred acres of the Everglades ecosystem with elevated boardwalks winding through marsh habitats, tree islands and cypress hammocks. Interpretive signage promises more than 100 species of water fowl, diving birds, redwinged blackbirds and least bitterns. Green Cay Wetlands is a showcase for “86 different species of trees, shrubs, grasses and aquatic vegetation” incorporated into artificial habitats. One nature center was named Wakohadatchee, meaning “created waters.”
The scene at one of Palm Beach County’s artificial wetlands reconstructions, as viewed from the boardwalk, rapidly becoming popular alternatives to mall walks.
Like much of today’s virtual world, the graphics are far more attractive than the actual landscape.
All eyes are on the purple gallinule. Every day the boardwalk is filled with birders looking through their lenses for that perfect image to take with them.
A mottled duck is ready for a close up.
Perched among the duckweeds, looking around for lunch.
A camera-shy couple takes a dunk.
Unlike nature, Palm Beach County engineers think of everything.
For further information on these Florida Landscapes:

Archbold Biological Station
PO Box 2057, Lake Placid, FL 33862

Bok Tower Gardens
1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales, FL 33853

Town of Celebration

Reconstructed Wetlands of Palm Beach County

Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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