US 19: The Highway That Time Forgot
Back in the days before most people had even heard of something called a “theme park” and high end tourist attractions usually included gardens and boat rides, the road sides of Floridawere littered with all manner of eye catching ephemera. Then Disney invaded Orlandoin the early 70’s and public taste began to evolve past art deco kitsch. The asphalt advertising icons began to slowly become extinct. Several months ago, I was traveling up US Highway 19 on my way back to Jacksonvillewhen I stumbled across a stretch of road that made me think I had passed through a warp and gone back in time. Heading North between State Roads 52 and 50 is a patch of highway history that still casts a shadow of the golden age of tourist travel.
The very first item that caught my attention on my photojournalism journey was the delightfully tacky Jimbo’s Sideshow Museum and Gallery. Looking like something
straight out of Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (where’s Captain Spaulding when you need him?), the exterior of this haunted house is adorned with all manner of creepy creatures like bats, cats, and ghosts. According to one of the employees at the 7-11 across the street, Jimbo’s is only open around Halloween even though the structure is permanent. I ventured close enough to peek in the dusty windows and admire the advertising signs in the back but I dared go no further for fear of becoming one of the exhibits. I am definitely coming back here in October!
As I was taking photos of Jimbo’s, a sight across the road caught my eye. At first I wasn’t sure if I was looking at a sign for a swimming pool or hot tub outlet but on closer examination I realized it was a good old fashioned nudist club! The Paradise Spa and Sun Club is located directly opposite Jimbo’s in Hudson, Fl in a small, unassuming building, just off the road. I got close enough to take a few photos and noticed there were no cars in the parking lot, even though it was clearly designated as open. I momentarily considered walking inside to ask exactly what kind of clientele they catered to and if the hobby of nudism still had its supporters. Then I saw a sign on the front door cautioning that if nudity offended you it was best not to enter and I decided to err on the side of conservatism. While your dedicated reporter is not the least bit offended by nudity in general, the thought of finding someone like Dom Deluise or Earnest Borgnine in the buff inside sent me packing!
A slightly more traditional and less titillating landmark is located a little further north. In front of a small strip mall, advertising a used furniture store, sits a giant green lawn chair. This colossal Adirondack antiquity is about twelve feet high and could easily provide Paul Bunyan with a place to take a load off. While once commonplace along Florida’s highways, eye catchers even as simple as this one are few and far between these days.
Looking like an escapee from a putt putt golf course, a lone pink dinosaur stands vigil outside a barber shop in Spring Hill. This Stone Age statue appears similar in design to the early animated dinosaurs like Gertie from the 1914 cartoon by Windsor McCay. Rumor has it that the retail space to the rear was once a tourist trap back in the fifties that featured animal oddities and tacky souvenirs. This concrete creature now stands as a tombstone for another lost piece of road side history.
The small town of Spring Hill is actually home to two monstrous monuments. Just a few miles away from our pink pal is an even larger dinosaur the size of a building! Actually, this dinosaur is a building. Harold’s Auto Garage started life as a Sinclair Service Station and their trademark was, you guessed it, a dinosaur. Apparently this station took the company logo to extremes and made the garage in the shape of a brontosaurus with the mechanic bays in its belly. They certainly don’t make buildings like this any more but thankfully this one is still standing.
Our final marker on our time travelogue is just a stone’s throw from Harold’s on the opposite side of the highway. Standing as a marker for both the attraction and the city itself is the sign for Weeki Wachee. The huge rock structure for the 60+ year old attraction and the tiny town that sprang up around it blends in surprisingly well with rest of the area and doesn’t really jump out at unwary motorists until they are almost upon it. Fortunately the park is right across the street from the sign so it would be difficult to miss both, even at night. One interesting piece of history on the sign is the raised female swimmers. When the park was first opened, it featured underwater ballet shows but there wasn’t a mermaid in sight. While almost everything else associated with the attraction has been updated to feature the more recognizable sirens of the sea, this sign still represents the original vision.
Coming Next Week: Fishy Tales from Weeki Wachee!