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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
   Now in our fifth calendar year
    PCR #229  (Vol. 5, No. 33)  This edition is for the week of August 9--15, 2004.

Book Review: “Florida's Miracle Strip: From Redneck Riviera to Emerald Coast” by Tim Hollis
 by Will Moriaty
 by Mike Smith
Headline '89: "Grindhouse Cinema Fans Storm Tampa Theater"
 by Andy Lalino
Happy Birthday, Nolan!....Doom 3, It Was Worth The Wait
  by Vinnie Blesi
Tampa Comic & Toy Convention
 by Brandon Jones
In Honor of the Nol-Meister....Bush Speak
 by Matt Drinnenberg
Happy Birthday....Movie Lines....Movie News....Next, Please....Passing On....Meet The Beatles, Part 29
 by Mike Smith
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Florida's Miracle Strip by Tim Hollis Book Review:
“Florida's Miracle Strip: From Redneck Riviera to Emerald Coast”
by Tim Hollis
2004, 217 pp., University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS.

My stepbrother, Preston Patton Pender II, was a pilot for National Airlines before he died at the tender age of thirty-three of Melanoma Cancer. From 1969 to 1973 he piloted Boeing 727-200's for that airline and was based in Miami.

As he was a product of the 1950's South (for that matter his paternal great grandfather helped fire volleys at Union gunboats docked at Fort Sumter which in essence started the War Between the States), he found the multi-cultural character of the late '60s and early '70s Miami to not be to his liking. He longed to relocate to either Panama City or Pensacola, Florida, in the state's northwest panhandle as the area was (and in large part still is) more characteristic of the Deep South. He first fell in love with the area when he was stationed at Eglin Air Force base during the mid-1960s where he used to be an F-4 jockey running sorties to 'Nam.

I remember he constantly referred to that region of Florida as "L.A." which for those of y'all not from these parts stands for "Lower Alabama."

In November 1974 my sister's boyfriend (and not long after that, to be her husband) Tommy Winnett, and I took a trip to Fort Morgan, Alabama, a Gulf Coast town that his family would vacation to each year from their home in Birmingham, Alabama. Although I had originally visited the Destin area in the summer of 1966 to see my stepbrother at Eglin Air Force, my 1974 trip with Tommy took me the entire length of U.S. Highway 98 running along the Gulf Coast of Florida.

This was a whole different Florida than I had known in my more familiar haunts in the central and southern parts of the State. It was much cooler in the fall, more forested and a lot less developed. Little did I know that I was in the midst of one of Florida's largest summer playgrounds, an area that was the Sunshine State's answer to Coney Island or the Palisades Amusement Park.

Tim Hollis does an absolutely outstanding job chronicling the history of this very special part of Florida's history and real estate. He even features photos of himself as a young child frolicking in this incredible wonderland of yesteryear.

Fully loaded with photos, Hollis takes the reader on a journey of the many unique attractions that comprised the Miracle Strip Amusement park and other adjacent amusement parks and roadside attractions from the Pensacola area to Panama City.

This book is a nostalgic journey into a pre-Disney World of mom and pop roadside attractions like the Snake-A-Torium, Castle Dracula, Goofy Golf, Tombstone Territory, Petticoat Junction/Ghost Town and the Haunted Castle. It is a world of "futuristic" space needles (as featured on the book's cover); of roller coasters and sky rides; of scantily clad young nubile maidens in loin cloths holding spears and guiding you through the Jungle Land; and of dolphin shows at the Gulfarium.

Hollis even lovingly gives painstaking backgrounds on the colorful hotels, motels and restaurants that were interconnected with this incredible tourist Mecca of the 1930s through the 1980s.

This book is a fascinating read for any fan of the roadside attractions of long ago, before Disney almost overnight rendered these wonderfully quirky and highly individualistic, albeit somewhat tacky operations passé. In addition to this book, Hollis has authored two other books of similar interest; "Dixie Before Disney: 100 years of Roadside Fun" and "Hi There Boys and Girls! America's Local Children's TV Shows"

Sadly, almost all of the wonderful attractions that Hollis endears us to have either been reclaimed by the same woodlands that they were originally carved out of, or they fell prey to the wrecker's ball in order that antiseptic and generic condominiums, time shares, townhouses and Wal-Marts take their place - - yet more evidence of a nation that has lost much of its innocence, character, creativity and sense of regional identity.

This is a book the Florida history buff can not afford to be without.

Breaking News:
I uncovered a bit of real bad news when going through the Florida's Lost Tourist Attractions web site. According to an AP report in the April 14, 2004 edition of the Miami Herald, after 41 years in business, the Miracle Strip in Panama City Beach, Florida, the primary subject of this book, will close it doors on Labor Day [of 2004]. The owner of the amusement believes that the eight-acre tract will be bulldozed and replaced with either shopping centers or condominiums (surprise, huh?). This news makes Tim Hollis's book even more timely and valuable.

"Florida's Miracle Strip: From Redneck Riviera to Emerald Coast" is available through Amazon.com

"La Floridiana" is ©2004 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.