Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tampa Theatre - Part 2

A long time crowd pleaser is the Wurlitzer, and the talented organist known as “the Queen of the Soaps”. Rosa Rio provided accompaniments for soap operas prior to entertaining the people of Tampa. After studying piano at Oberlin College and organ at the Eastman School of Music, she began a career as a silent movie accompanist. After “talkies” began, her career turned to radio dramas, including “The Shadow” with Orson Welles. In addition to numerous soap operas, she played piano for Mary Martin while auditioning in Cole Porter’s apartment in the Waldorf Astoria.

Her love of music and the Tampa Theatre was evident in the fact that she continued to play the Mighty Wurlitzer, and at the age of 105 years old, provided accompaniment to Buster Keaton’s silent film “One Wurlitzer, and at the age of 105 years old, provided accompaniment to Buster Keaton’s silent film “One Week”. Rosa Rio passed away at the age of 107, but her music will live on. For a sample of her talent, watch this video from 2005, She was 102 at the time.

The Tampa Theatre was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, is a Tampa City Landmark, and is a member of the League of Historic American Theatres. Managed by the non-profit Tampa Theatre Foundation, it is used for a variety of events including weddings, business meetings, classic movies, first run films, film festivals, concerts, field trips, summer camp programs, tours and fundraising galas.

Tampa Theatre offers a summer camp program, in collaboration with The Florida Center for Instructional Technology at the USF College of Education. Students from 3rd to 12th grade are invited to participate in the one-week camp program. They will learn about scriptwriting, lighting, sound, filming and editing the work. Each group will create a 3-5 minute live action or stop motion animation film that will be shown to students and their parents at the end of the week. The filmmakers can go on stage to take their bows and pose for pictures. It’s a fun-filled learning experience. Information on the 2013 summer camp program will be posted on the website in February.

One of the more popular events is Oscar Night America. The event will be held Sunday, February 24, 2013. Visitors ride in a limousine (that is parked around the corner) and get to walk the red carpet while the paparazzi line the entrance. The Live Telecast of the Academy Awards begins at 8:00. 

A free preview screening of the season premiere of “Downton Abbey,” the popular PBS series, will be held on January 3 and an acoustic evening with Matisyahu on February 23, 2013. The Tampa Theatre is located at 711 N. Franklin Street, in Tampa. For more information about upcoming events, call 813-274-8981 or 813-274-8286 or go to

There have been so many events that have taken place over the years at the Tampa Theatre, from first dates to marriage proposals. Take the time to read some of the stories shared on the website, under Tampa Theatre Stories Project. We need to keep this piece of history alive, so that it can stay in the hearts and minds of future generations, too. When you are looking for something fun to do with your friends, get your glad rags on and head to the Tampa Theatre. It’s the bees knees!

(Part 2 of 2)

*Previously published in LOLANews

Friday, May 31, 2013

Tampa Theatre - Part 1

The 1920’s was a time when cars had cool names like the Ajax Nash, Flint and Rickenbacker. Styles were changing. Dresses became a little shorter and more fun with lighter, pastel shades. Bobbed hairstyles and chic hats completed the look. Men suits were less tailored with baggy pants and oxford saddle shoes. This new, fun-loving era produced a population of movie goers. Tampa was a growing community and needed a place for people to go when they felt like putting on the Ritz and getting dolled up.  

In 1926, the place for both young and old, the Tampa Theatre, was built. John Eberson, a well-known theatre architect, envisioned an opulent Mediterranean style courtyard. Visitors could sit on red velvet seats in anticipation of the night to come. The pipes would bellow as the Wurlitzer organ rose from below the stage. Movie goers were entertained from the moment they walked through the door.

On October 15, 1926, movie goers anxiously waited in line to be one of the first to enter to the new building. The silent film shown at the Tampa Theatre on Opening Night was “The Ace of Cads”, starring Adolphe Menjou, the well-dressed lead actor with a waxed black moustache. His co-star was Alice Joyce. The cost was a mere 10 cents to be transported to another time and place.

As you enter the building, there is such a sense of elegance. Flowers and gargoyles surround you, Colorful tile covers the floors and twinkling stars blanket the ceiling. The earlier movie goers must have felt like royalty as they were escorted by the uniformed ushers. If people had to leave before the movie ended, the ushers would communicate with other ushers by using the brass intercom to summon the next group. The group would then stay through the beginning of the movie to the point where they entered. It was a continuous revolving door.

Over the next several decades, numerous popular movies premiered including 42nd Street (1933) with Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers; Shirley Temple’s “The Littlest Rebel” (1936); Holiday Inn (1942) with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, Jerry Lewis in “Rock-a-Bye Baby” (1958) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. More recently, the theatre was the Tampa premiere for both “The King’s Speech” (2010) and The Artist” (2011), and opened the Tampa exclusive for “Anna Karenina” this past November.

In addition to movies, the theatre has hosted a variety of entertainment. Annie Lennox, Harry Connick, Jr. Ray Charles, and Joan Baez are some of the performers to grace the stage. Political leaders (George Bush, Bob Dole, Jessie Jackson) and comedians (Roseanne Barr, Sinbad, Carrot Top) have all drawn crowds to the Tampa Theatre.

(Part 1 of 2)
*Previously published in LOLANews

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Giraffe Ranch - Dade City - Part 3

Camels are domesticated, which means they have been bred in captivity for over 500 years.  Long ago, it was thought that the hump stored water, but in fact it stores fat.  Camels have cushpads on their chest, like a step stool.  So when they lay down, it keeps them slightly elevated so they get airflow to cool off.

“There are 30 different species of hoof stock that may be extinct in our lifetime,”  said Sheppa.
 “When animals are put in the right environment and raised properly, they are brought into the future more substantially.”  As members of Zoological Association of America (ZAA), they get their animals from other members, through trade or purchase.
Visitors can tour the ranch in safari-type vehicles with stadium seating.  The jeep like trucks with covered awnings hold 20 people and allow for up close and personal encounters with the animals.  For the more authentic safari feel, guests can tour the ranch on camel back.  The 60-90 minute tour is led by two experienced guides and the cost is $150 per person, for this (possibly) once in a lifetime adventure.  The camel tour is offered for children 3 years and older, and 3-5 year olds must ride with an adult.

For an additional $20 per person, visitors get the opportunity to feed Ring-tailed lemurs.  The gentle creatures don’t like to be pet, but they will hold your hand while you feed them grapes to munch on. Salisbury relayed the first time he held a guerilla’s hand, in 1981.  “The experience is burned into my brain.  It is such an emotional experience to holds hands with a primate,” said Salisbury.

As you take the tour, you will be educated and entertained by the stories the knowledgeable tour guides will share.  We have always heard that elephants never forget, well neither do warthogs.  Fred and Ethel have a nice shady area they share with their baby.  While the new pen was being built, they were staying in a barn.  A dog named Pip liked to bark at Ethel, to get her to play, but she wanted no part of it.  One night it was getting a little cool, so they added more hay to Ethel’s bed to keep her warm.  The ingenious wart hog piled up the hay high enough so that she could escape.  With her newly found freedom, she went up to the house and checked each door until she found one she could nudge open.  Salisbury heard a tussle in the kitchen and rushed in to find Ethel giving the dog a piece of her mind!  So, the lesson of the day – don’t ever get a warthog mad at you, they will remember, and they will find you!

A good sign of a successful ranch are the number of babies born.  The ranch has had many babies over the years.  A baby zebra was born in August.  When the baby was born the zebras forced the older sibling out of the herd.  “It’s like sending them off to college,” said Alex, Salisbury’s son and a tour guide on the ranch.  Zebras run in the large open grassy area and enjoy cooling off in the shade of the many oak trees.

Axis deeer, blackbuck antelope, pygmy hippopotamus, Indian rhinoceros, and many more animals call Giraffe Ranch their home.  Exotic animals are not the only species, on this working ranch.  Geese, hens, and other domestic fowl have their place on the ranch.  The hens produce free range eggs, up to six dozen per day.  They sell the eggs to help support the ranch.

Nature lovers and horticulturists will enjoy seeing the 450 year old live oak tree that lives on the ranch.  A 100 year old Orchid is growing high in a tree, but it is protected by a cage to ensure it isn’t dessert for the wandering Giraffes.  Our tour guide informed us that a wilted Resurrection Fern will come to life when sprayed with water. 

The wetlands serve as a native wildlife preserve, where 200 birds come to roost at night in the shallow water.  This is a way to protect themselves from predators.  If a bobcat tries to attack, the splash of the water will awaken the sleeping birds and give them the opportunity to escape.

Reservations are required, with tours at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.  The cost to enjoy a day on the ranch is $59.99 for adults (12 & up); $49.99 for children (ages 2-11), $54.99 for seniors (65 & up) with discounts available for groups.  Be sure to wear close toed shoes, and a hat, sunscreen and long pants are recommended. The cost is comparable to what you pay at other animal parks in the area, but you don’t have to endure long lines and crowds.
It is amazing to discover how we are connected with the animals on the ranch.  From the Giraffe that shares the same number of vertebrae that humans do, and the horns of the rhinocerous that are made of keratin (like our skin and nails) to the gentle way Lemurs and monkeys like to hold your hand.  We are put on this earth to take care of it and other living creatures, and places like Giraffe Ranch are a great reminder of this important purpose.

(Part 3 of 3)

*Previously published in LOLANews

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Giraffe Ranch - Dade City - Part 2

It is such an unusual sight to see these stunning, graceful creatures walking around on the serene ranch.  Giraffes range in height from 14-19 feet.  Giraffes have seven vertebrae, just like humans.  They can fully extend their heads to reach the leaves on the tallest trees.  One way to differentiate males from females in the wild is by the ossicones (horns) on top of their head.  Females will have tufts of fur on the ossicones, while males do not, because they keep it worn off while fighting for dominance with other male giraffes.  Their beautiful markings are like finger prints and no two are alike.  However, researchers have found that giraffes in the same area will have similar markings.  Giraffes don’t like to be pet, but they do like to be fed.  Hold onto the branch tightly or they will pull it right out of your hands. 

Mothers give birth while standing up and visitors of the ranch were witnesses to this miraculous event on June 16, 2011. The baby was born while the mother was being fed by the visitors on a safari vehicle.  “That’s how comfortable the animals are here”, said Elena Sheppa, Salisbury’s wife.   The keepers generally do not interfere with birth.  They let nature take its course.  It is important for the baby to nurse shortly after birth. The male giraffe lifted up the baby with his ossicones (horns) to encourage the baby to nurse.     “We had never seen it before, and it was amazing to see and get it on video.”

The ranch is home to several species of camels, including Dromedary (1 hump), Bactrian (2 hump) and Tuli, which is a hybrid (a cross between a Bactrian and a Dromedary).  The camels were the greatest surprise.  When you think of camels, you may think of biting, spitting creatures with an attitude.  Camels don’t spit at all, but they may regurgitate on you if they are angry (kind of good news, bad news bit of information.)  The camels at Giraffe Ranch are so friendly, more dog-like than camel-like as they run up to greet you.  They enjoy a good back scratching.  Guests can pay an additional fee to ride the camels.  Dufus is one of the largest camels, so he usually gets picked last by hesitant riders.  We had the opportunity to meet another camel named Forest Hump.  He spotted the safari vehicle and ran up to greet us.  I had been distracted looking at the ostriches, when he gently nudged my back, as if to say “hey, pet me!”  We each took a turn petting the gentle giant. 
(Part 2 of 3)

*Previously published in LOLANews

Friday, May 24, 2013

Giraffe Ranch - Dade City - Part 1

Giraffe Ranch was years in the making before it opened to the public in 2008.  The ranch is not only home to giraffes, but a variety of exotic and domestic animals including rhinoceros, zebras, ostriches, tortoises and so much more.  When you arrive at the ranch, a feeling of peace, happiness and harmony with nature surround you on the 47 acre ranch.  The rolling hills and grass lands of Dade City are the perfect environment for the animals.  Large oak trees provide the much needed shade for the animals and visitors on the ranch. 
Lex Salisbury and his wife Elena Sheppa own Giraffe Ranch.  Salisbury has devoted his life to the care of animals.  His love of creatures big and small has led him to create a ranch where the animals have ample room to roam.  In addition to getting his Master degree in Environmental Science, he worked at zoos in Australia, the United Kingdom, spent 21 years at the Lowry Park Zoo, and went on many safaris in Africa, which increased his knowledge and led him to his own ranch.
Education is an important part of Giraffe Ranch.  If we want to continue to enjoy these beautiful creatures, we need to know how to live in harmony with them and help them thrive to avoid extinction.  As you embark on the tour, you will learn interesting information about the animals on the ranch,  Each area is gated to keep the animals safe.  In the small animals section you will see a variety of animals including  monkeys, lemurs, porcupines, tortoises, and even guinea pigs.  As you hear little known facts about these creatures, you may catch a glimpse of the long legged giraffe peering above the trees in the adjacent gated area.

(Part 1 of 3)
*Previously published in LOLANews

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sunset Beach - Tarpon Springs

From the causeway at Howard Park you can see Sunset Beach.   Whether you want to sit under a shady palm tree and read a good book or wade in the shallow warm gulf, Sunset Beach is the place for you.  Photographers will love the unobstructed view of the sunset as it melts into the horizon.  Picnic tables, bicycle racks, boat ramps and facilities are available.  Concerts are held on the first Thursday of each month at 7 pm. 

*Excerpt from article published in LOLANews

Friday, May 10, 2013

Howard Park - Tarpon Springs

Just North of Honeymoon Island is Fred Howard Park, named for the former mayor of Tarpon Springs who was elected into office in 1945.  Howard was a successful real estate businessman with a passion for the community.  He was Commissioner and Vice Chairman of the Pinellas County Park Board for more than 30 years.  The 155-acre park first opened in 1966.    Howard worked to secure the property for Tarpon Springs residents and people from the surrounding area, to enjoy.  A bronze plaque has been placed at the bottom of the flagpole in his honor.

The park has playgrounds and picnic tables in well shaded areas.  Along the open causeway you will find people fishing and jet skiing.  The causeway then leads to the sandy beach area.  Palm trees provide some much needed shade and the gradual slope of the sand into the water make this an ideal place for families with young children.  From March through September, lifeguards are on duty from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Automated pay stations have been installed with a fee of $5 per day.  Annual parking passes can be purchased for $75 ($55 for people 65 or older).

Monday, May 6, 2013

May Upcoming Events

Art Lecture: George Wilson’s Photography

May 9, 2013 @ 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Carrollwood Cultural Center (Meeting Room 2)
4537 Lowell Road
Tampa,FL 33618
For more information:

A Mother's Day Treat (with the Sounds of Swing)

May 12, 2013 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Carrollwood Cultural Center
4537 Lowell Road
Tampa,FL 33618

Florida Orchestra Pops in the Park Concert

May 12 7:30p
River Tower Park
Tampa, FL
Join The Florida Orchestra for a free Pops in the Park concert Sunday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. at River Tower Park in Tampa.

Florida Writers Association - Tampa - Monthly Meeting

May 18, 2013 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Guest Speaker Julie Ann Howell of Peppertree Publishing.  She will discuss publishing in her talk entitled "From Manuscript to Masterpiece".

Barnes & Noble, Wiregrass Mall - Local Author event

May 18, 2013 - 2:00pm - 4:00pm
28211 Paseo Dr, Wesley Chapel, FL


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Honeymoon Island - Dunedin

Honeymoon Island has gone through many names over the years since it was first visited by the Tocobaga tribe, who lived in the Tampa Bay area from the 900s into the 1500s.  The Indians were known to eat large amounts of shell fish, and this may be one of the reasons they traveled to the island.  Spanish explorers, pirates and traders also visited the barrier island.  Over the next few centuries the island 's name changed from Sand Island to Hog Island in 1880.  In 1921, a hurricane split the island creating Caladesi Island and Hurricane Pass. 

A New York developer, Clinton Washburn, had a vision for the pristine beach area and named it Honeymoon Island.  In 1939, he built 50 palm-thatched bungalows for honeymooners.  The beautiful Florida weather and white sandy beaches made it a perfect destination point for the brides and grooms.  When the war started and factories were producing goods around the clock, it became a place to relax and unwind for tired workers.   In the 1950s, Honeymoon Island was sold to Arthur Vining Davis, then Hyman Green, and eventually the state bought it in the 1970s.

Honeymoon Island is still enjoyed by visitors today.  Whether you want to stay on dry land or enjoy the crystal clear water, you can rent bikes, kayaks, umbrellas and even beach chairs at Café Honeymoon.  Dog lovers can bring their four legged friends to the dog park, so they can play in the warm Gulf waters.

A ferry from Honeymoon Island can take you to Caladesi Island, a 600-acre oasis that is only accessible by boat.  Three miles of beaches and a meandering nature trail make this a nature lovers paradise.  Bring a picnic lunch or enjoy eating at Café Caladesi.  Restrooms and showers are available for beach goers.
As you walk along the nature trail, you may see a gopher tortoise, osprey, eagles, egrets or maybe even an armadillo.  Walk along the shell laden beach or sit on one of the many commemorative benches and enjoy all that nature has to offer. 

For more information, go to