Ruskin, FL Tuesday March 3
A day of contrasts. An American genius, Frank Lloyd Wright, and then low brow entertainment with pig racing.
Traffic was tied up on the Interstate this AM so we took back roads to Lakeland, FL, Population 100,000. The roads passed through citrus groves, cattle farms and phosphate mines. Florida is the leading U.S. source for phosphate, a primary ingredient in agricultural fertilizer. On one road, an abandoned phosphate mine has been recycled into a state park with highly rated off-road biking trails.
Why Lakeland FL? Well, Frank Loyd Wright of course. When thinking of Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, Taliesin East and West, Spring Green WI, or Chicago’s collection of Wright houses might come to mind. But in Lakeland FL is the largest single concentration of Wright designed structures, his only planetarium, his only built village, his only domed water feature, only theater in the round, and his last stained glass window.
How did this happen? In 1938, Wright was at the peak of his notoriety. He had just completed Fallingwater and the Johnson Wax headquarters. He was on the cover of Time magazine. He was 70 years old and Dr. Ludd Spivey, President of Florida Southern College contacted him. FSC was a small, religious based college and Spivey was looking for a way to differentiate his school. He challenged Wright to design and build a truly unique American educational institution, not one that copied European institutions with red brick and ivy. Spivey had no money but Wright accepted the challenge after visiting the site in Florida. (At this time in Florida history, central Florida was still pretty much Hicksville.) Over the next 20 years, Wright and the college collaborated on building 12 of the 18 structures Wright designed.
We took a fantastic 2.5 hour guided tour of the Wright portion of the campus; the residential portion is not Wright designed and there were a few traditional college buildings present when Wright started his work. His first thought was that the buildings in existence would have to be demolished to give his work a clean slate; but relented saying the comparison would better show off his buildings.
I do not know how much you know of Frank Lloyd Wright and we are certainly not experts. He is a colorful character and his biography would make for interesting reading, if you are so inclined. The American Institute of Architects declared him the greatest American architect of all time. He designed buildings and their interior furnishings. He expected to have complete control over the design and building. He originated several design theories and was famous for making the building suit the land on which it was sited, rather than the reverse. He also was autocratic and his buildings are known for leaky roofs.
During the tour we saw such buildings as the Theater in the Round with great acoustics; the original library which was built by female students during WWII (the college instituted a program in 1939 for free tuition in exchange for student labor to construct buildings, 3 days of class and 3 days of work, in WWII all the male students were gone so the women continued the building); the mile long series of esplanades that connect buildings in which the supports resemble orange trees and are trimmed in copper to provide a green tone; and finished at the Usonian House, a recently constructed example of modern American living that should have been faculty housing in 1939 but it was unable to be completed until now.
I could go on and on about the design and building process. If you are interested in reading further, the website http://www.franklloydwrightatfsc.com has detailed information.
After lunch, we drove to Plant City FL. Plant City is the home of the Florida Strawberry Festival. The Plant City area is known as the capital of the winter strawberry crop in the U.S. The Florida Strawberry Festival draws 500,000 people during its 11 day run. Numerous people had recommended to us that we attend this festival. Now, coming from Minnesota with an 11 day state fair that draws over 2,000,000 people, we were initially hesitant. Plant City is almost directly in the path we would take back to Ruskin, so we gave it a shot.
The Festival was a pleasant experience. It is a large county fair in our opinion. Lots of kiddie rides, the horticulture exhibit pales in comparison to other fairs, it has the standard vendors selling food, jewelry, trinkets, home nutrition aids, etc. We encountered a vendor who also attends the MN State Fair; they sell electric switchplates that are made in West Virginia. There are several tents with free entertainment and one large stage with bigger name entertainment. Strawberry shortcake and milkshakes are for sale at numerous stands.
There were two unusual forms of entertainment that we tried to see; lamb jumping and pig racing. Our time at Florida Southern meant we missed the lamb jumping so I can not tell you if the lambs jump fences or if people jump over lambs. We did make it to one of the pig racing exhibitions.
Four young porkers are lined up and enticed with Oreo cookies to run around a small track. The winner gets a whole Oreo cookie; the other three have to share a second Oreo. There is the usual audience cheering for their favorite pig. For an encore, four other pigs come out, jump into a pool of water, swim to the other end and then race back to the starting point. We can attest that while pigs may not fly, they can swim.
A long day but one filled with interesting contrasts.
Ed and Chris March 3 9:30 PM