Old Seminole Heights is a tree-shaded gem nestled in the heart of Tampa, providing tranquil relief from the heavily-trafficked thoroughfares that border it. This neighborhood is filled with stately old bungalows dating back to the early 1900s. Some of these homes are included in the United States National Register and the local Tampa Historic District ensuring their preservation for generations to come.
As a boy in Pasadena, CA, I remember my mother reading Huckleberry Finn. Huck is an archetypal innocent, able to discover the “right” thing to do despite the prevailing theology and prejudiced mentality of the South of that era. We were renting a Bungalow in 1949, so that’s when my association of Bungalows and Mark Twain began.
For historic homeowners, the decision is often more complex than taking a quick trip to the paint store. It’s often important to know what the original exterior and interior colors coated the wall. Architectural historians routinely research and document this type of information. This can provide owners with a greater understanding of the design tastes of particular periods. For me, it was looking for an appropriate color after completing the interior restoration of Erehwon. Prior to moving to Minneapolis in 1982, I used Valspar’s clear Varnish on the restoration of a 1923 Wianno Senior Knockabout Sloop. My experience over three years in restoration came to a head while standing on a high promitory overlooking Lake Minnetonka. I was attending a cocktail party hosted by George and Sally Pillsbury. When former State Senator Pillsbury introduced me to C Angus Wurtele (Chairman of Valspar) and his wife Margaret. Can you imagine Wurtel’s face when I said “may I introduce you to “Corsair” pointing to out to a nearby mooring buoy—all the Varnish is Valspar.”
Valspar was the first ever clear varnish; developed by L. Valentine Pulsifer. Pulsifer had joined the company in 1903 after earning a degree in chemistry from Harvard University. After three years of experimentation, he created the clear varnish, which went into production by 1905. The Valspar varnish was the company’s main product for more than 30 years. The advertising tagline, “The varnish that won’t turn white” made Valspar a household name.
Famous users of Valspar included Robert Peary in his 1909 expedition, the U.S. military during World War I, Bungalow home owners in the 1920’s and Charles Lindbergh during his 1927 solo intercontinental flight.
Twenty six years after meeting the Wurtele’s, I was deep into the restoration of Erehwon Retreat when I read that Valspar had teamed up with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to create more than 250 historically accurate colors for historic homes.
I was interested in green. Green is the color of life, renewal, nature, and energy. I think green has a healing power and is understood to be the most restful and relaxing color for the human eye to view. With the color green’s association with renewal, growth and hope, what a great color for a Retreat. New growth and rebirth, common each spring season the world over when all of the plants are coming back to life with fresh growth.
I selected Valspar’s Olive Green (#6001-2A). And Pittsburgh Paint’s Cherokee Red Taliessan created by Frank Lloyd Wright.
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus – Mark Twain
A guest recently said, ” the Bungalow’s front porch is the perfect cure all to all the digital screens we look at daily. How we’ve become used to the increasing hum and fans of electronics in our lives. We so enjoyed the renewal that came with this holiday home’s Front Porch along with the ease of a chat face to face with passing neighbors. Oh that Southern Hospitality! ”
The image of the front porch remains “as one of the few semi-public outdoor spaces associated with community and neighborliness,” says Victor Deupi of the Institute of Classical Architecture. Porches link us to an idealized past—one before e-mail (or even the telephone), when face-to-face interaction formed the core of communities. Then there are the practical considerations that have long kept the porch in favor: “Porches add beauty to a streetscape,” Depui says, “and they also offer environmental advantages by providing shade and breeze in the summer, and, if oriented south, allowing low winter light to enter the house.”
In contrast to many other American architectural traditions, however, the roots of our porches don’t appear to be found in Europe, but rather in the architectural heritage of colonial trading partners. Traders en route from the Caribbean to the British, French and Spanish colonies were influenced by island architecture, rich with large open porches to accommodate the humid climate.
Bungalows, were the last major historic architectural style in the United States to incorporate the porch. Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes made great use of porches, which reach out from under his signature cantilevered roofs. Wright, however, had a tendency to reorient the porch from the front of the house to the side or back, wishing to maintain the privacy desired by the modern family while also preserving his belief in the importance of a connection to the outdoors.
This Old House writes, “Soon, streets filled with Model T’s and the twin indoor delights of television and air-conditioning, and a middle class focused more on work than leisure conspired to dethrone the porch from its prominent place in American culture. But the underlying love for porches and their associations with the American identity never waned, and recent decades have seen a revival of porch-building. The classic image of a front porch filled with family and friends on a hot summer evening has long been a symbol of traditional American values, and it’s one that still holds true today.”
Sophie Tucker’s record ‘Fifty-million Frenchmen can’t be wrong’ alludes to the free-and-easy attitude to drinking in France seven years into Prohibition in the U.S.A. A historian friend mentioned Tucker’s hit, after Erehwon Retreat’s 1000th guest checked out. 1000 guests are right because 2020 marks our tenth season. We’ve enjoyed a decade of:
practicing the skills of hospitality,
offering a relaxing, inspirational home base from which to explore Tampa and the wider central Florida region.
A thousand vacations … what makes Erehwon Retreat so special?
It’s been a decade of hard work to make Erehwon Retreat unique. Florida is full of places to vacation, so it’s been our mission to combine the t charm of a vacation home rental with superb features. We offer more space, safety, security plus white glove cleaning /disinfection, alongside a personal welcome and on-site concierge.
Wilcox Nursery and I planned to build a Florida native plant garden, to show visitors native plants and wildlife. Now they can spot them on local hikes. I hope that those in Executive Transfer while looking for a Florida home learn to help the environment and support wildlife. My dream has become a reality, delivering dozens of different native birds and butterflies to Erehwon Retreat’s doorstep.
Awards for Erehwon Retreat
This year the garden was designated a Wildlife Habitat by the National and Florida Wildlife Federation. It’s a huge honor, but more importantly, vacationers who stay with us experience the best of Florida on their doorstep. My Grandmother said, “planting a garden is to believe in tomorrows.” Our garden is the tomorrow of our vacation rental.
The universal language of hospitality
I’ve always worked in the performing arts – so I have know music and dance are ways to communicate across boundaries. Since developing Erehwon Retreat, I’ve learned that hospitality is a universal language too. When Erehwon opened, it was aimed at Americans; today 12% of our guests are from overseas. Their expectations are different. Whether they come from America or Asia, it’s important to know their particular likes and dislikes – it makes for fascinating new discoveries.
Online hospitality for 1000 guests
Offering an experience of the 1920s to people from around the world is a joy. As part of our 10th anniversary, I developed a stronger guest experience, which is why, since December 8 we’ve made Erehwon Retreat available in 25 different languages. I chose them through having hosted at least one guest from each language. For example, Erehwon Retreat hosted two guests from Argentina, and one each from Spain, Paraguay, Mexico and the Dominican Republic – hence our Spanish language site is very popular! Looking back it’s hard to believe we’ve welcomed guests from so many countries.
The Erehwon Retreat perspective
From period decorative details to wildlife-watching opportunities over breakfast on the deck, I’ve designed my holiday house to be truly special and unique. Luxury one meant three-piece-suits and starched shirts, but that’s changing and our guests want a genuine approach to service rather than formalities. Many people agree that I’ve achieved my aim.
This year, Erehwon Retreat won the Tampa Award for Vacation Rental Agency. What makes my vacation home unique is my commitment to service. Just as AirBnB is moving to AirBnB Plus to offer guests a more valuable, unique rental experience, I know every future visitor will discover just what makes 1000 guests right. Erehwon Retreat is special, and whatever language you speak, we’ll share the language of hospitality.
Rebuilding a 1920’s treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida
Many boats meet undignified ends, scuttled, wrecked or just abandoned. Some though, are restored to life. In the summer of 1979 I was wandering through the storage field of Essex Isle Marina in Connecticut when I came across a long-abandoned gaff rigged Wianno Senior Knockabout Sloop named Simba. Built in 1923, at some point she’d been left to rot in storage, but immediately her lines appealed to me. It was the beginning of a long relationship, and the foretaste of how much her launch year of 1923 would influence my life and restoration of my vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Erehwon Retreat.
Wianno Seniors – a brief pedigree
Since 1914, Wianno’s have had a reputation for rounding the mark and slicing past in a flash of brightwork, canvas and speed. Their ease of handling and seaworthiness made them popular both as racers and coastal voyagers. Fantasy #11 can be seen at Mystic Seaport Museum and Victura #94 – the boat purchased by Joseph P. Kennedy and sailed by his children and grandchildren – is on show at the John F Kennedy Memorial Library.
I found Simba to be able, safe and challenging – as did the many friends who sailed her – and for me, learning to get about without the fallback of auxiliary power allowed me to develop patience and a sensitivity to wind and tide that served me superbly when I moved, a decade later, to a Rhodes Offshore 40.
By 1986, the Wianno Association members were considering a fiberglass version. A few years earlier, Sparkman Stevens had hauled in five wooden Seniors at mid-season, weighing and electronically measuring each one. Using that study to determine the ideal characteristics of a Senior, the vessel was re-created as a three-piece fiberglass hull, deck and interior. The fiberglass Seniors look great and sail well, but as a veteran of the wooden sloop, I notice that the sound of the boat has changed.
Wooden sailboat restoration – love affair and learning curve
Simba, originally Hull 51*, was a leaking bucket when I bought her; years of hard racing on Nantucket Sound had put enough leaks in the bottom that just keeping her bailed would have exhausted a strong man and the cabin seemed only to filter out leaves. She was valued at no more than her unpaid yard bills – $500, so when I’d paid off her dues, I had her carefully loaded onto an overland boat carrier and moved from Essex to East Haddam, CT.
Her new home was the back yard of the wood boat repair shop run by Robert K. Wilmes whom I hired to serve as consultant for her restoration. Included in his consulting fee were storage rights on his property and the use of his tools, so, in season, we would meet every Friday evening for dinner before, on Saturday morning, list in hand, he would indicate exactly what I would need to accomplish in the next two day’s labor. I would leave NY City center with sufficient time to make the 15:30 Amtrak Boston train arriving at Old Saybrook station at 18:04 and then would come 48 hours of patience, practice and learning because, at least for the first few months, it was less accomplish than re-do. Getting the cut right was a literally painstaking process – winching in the curve to the right fit caused a beam to break and the wood flew back to within three inches of my head – a fraction further and I’d have been dead.
Wianno Seniors were constructed from native white oak which was used for framing the stem, keel, deadwood, sternpost, knee and horn. Simba, whom I renamed Corsair, was carvel planked using 13/16-inch cypress. This was standard until 1932, but Wiannos from that date onward had planks of Honduras mahogany. They all had 600 lbs. iron on the keel as external ballast.
Bob Wilmes directed me to start with the deck, deck beams, demo the cockpit, cockpit staving, so that I could inspect, repair or sister her frames, which were 1 1/2 inches square, spaced 9 inches on centers. The original frames were dovetailed and wedged in the keel.
Then, under his tutelage, I moved onto deck beams – oak spaced 10 inches on centers – and added a watertight cockpit floor made of fir plywood 5/8-inch-thick, before fiberglassing the surface. The cabin trunk was the steam bent white oak that had nearly cost me my life.
The new cabin deck was 3/8-inch marine plywood, canvas covered, glued and ironed, the same for the process of fixing the deck canvas, covered with white oak rub rails I had fashioned. The hull itself was wooded – removing all paint and exposing the bungs. Following their removal, I drew out as many of the galvanized fasteners as I could, replacing each with a new stainless steel one.
The hull above the waterline received a coat of Penetrol followed by a primer and then Interlux French Gray with white intrusion line. The decks, received three coats of buff. The outside bright work was given two sealers and eight coats of spar varnish. Below the waterline, after the garboard and shudder planks had been replaced by Bob himself, she received one prime coat followed by two coats of antifouling green.
By the time she was ready to launch in June 1982, I was ready to move from the NY City Centre Joffrey Ballet and accepted a position at the Guthrie Theater. It was, as people say today, a no-brainer; a new wood Wianno Senior would cost me $40,000 and anyway, I had thousands of hours literally grained into the wood of the boat, so I negotiated her transport to Minnesota as part of my relocation costs.
In Minnesota, I changed Corsair to Kirby paint, after consulting with the restoration team at Mystic Seaport. They advised me to move away from paints that contained modern acrylics as these would harden the wood. Acrylic-free surfaces definitely made prepping the topsides much easier each spring. Another advantage of moving to Minnesota was that some of the many talented craftsmen in the Guthrie scene shop were available to hire for boat work on the side. The Wianno’s new tiller, fashioned as a copy of the original, was the result of one such collaboration.
Boat restoration – a bug you can catch
There was another unexpected outcome to the Minnesota move. Boats are one of those places that great friendships spontaneously and naturally develop, and it gives me great pleasure to recall teaching my boss, Ed Martenson, to sail. He caught the bug, has restored two boats of his own, and we’ve crewed on each other’s boats for over a quarter of a century.
The history of Hull 51
I sold Corsair following the 75th Anniversary of the Fleet at Osterville in 1989, where she won Best Prize for Restoration. But she wasn’t done with me. One evening I found myself wondering how many fiberglass Seniors had actually been built? Going through the Wianno Senior Class Association‘s members list by hull number and comparing that information with a page from the 75th Anniversary book revealed who had owned a Senior in 1935. I discovered that, Hull 51 was named King Tut and owned by Lawarson Riggs Jr of Woods Hole. A Google search later I had turned up a letter from his law office written, as Treasurer of the Woods Hole Institute, to the Rockefeller Foundation.
Riggs was born in St. Louis, where I went to college at Washington University. He attended Columbia Law School and lived at 70 W 11th. When I was a similar age, I lived at 20 E 8th. His law focus was Estate and Tax, an area I follow intently as a career fund raiser. The parallels intrigued me.
In 1989, Victor M Tyler purchased Corsair through my boat broker and renamed her Hilda. Several months later I received a registered mail package containing her name board and brass letters along with a note asking if Corsair had ever been moored off of Bracketts Point? I called Vic to confirm – George and Sally Pillsbury had indeed been gracious enough to invite me to place a mushroom anchor off their property. His response was a deep sigh; he had visited his cousin Ella Pillsbury who lived next door and Corsair was part of a boat class he had long known.
1923 – a year that has come to dominate my life
With Corsair gone, my awareness of 1923 slipped from sight, but it was simply waiting under the surface. When I retired to Tampa, Florida, I purchased a bungalow and cottage built in … 1923. It took me a year of restoration to achieve the 1920s ambience I wanted for the properties and when I’d finished, I named them Erehwon Retreat – vacation rental properties in Tampa that are lovingly crafted reminders of the glories of the Roaring Twenties.
For those who love the genealogy of boats as well as people, Hull #51’s name history is: