A Day at Daytona Beach

You don’t hear much about Daytona Beach these days. I mean, it’s there, but not in the way you might recall hearing about during its halcyon days as a spring break destination; in 1985, Florida was forced to enact strong minimum-age drinking laws in order to quell damages caused by drunken college partiers– they allegedly were throwing an alarming number of beach chairs into hotel pools. Most college students traveling south  for respite from all the snow and ice tend to stop in Panhandle Florida or even the Alabama and Mississippi coasts, where there are apparently virgin populations of beach chairs available for pool tossing.

And so of course I drove to Daytona Beach this past Monday morning, just because. I’d heard all sorts of adjectives linked to its charms– seedy, rundown, passé, over– that naturally I needed to spend some time there.

It’s an easy run along Interstate 4 to the International Speedway exit 129, which takes you directly along U.S. Highway 92 toward the beaches. I love U.S. highways, and take them whenever I can; they’re much more picturesque than the barren interstates. While picturesque can mean anything from fleabag to palatial, you definitely get to see some interesting sights.

Here’s that entry way you pass at the intersection of 92 and White Street. In the vague recesses behind my brain, I always thought this was part of the Sugar Mill ruins, but those are up in New Smyrna Beach. WRONG. This is known as the Tarragona Tower and was built in 1926; click on the link to read about it. It’s the entrance to a neighborhood of stucco and coquina Spanish-style houses that form the Daytona Highlands neighborhood.

I headed down an interesting-looking street and came across this street sign in a down-at-its-heels neighborhood behind some sort of facilities. As soon as I stepped out of the car into the stillness, sirens wailed, lights flashed, and a man eyed me shiftily; there was a commotion taking place a block away, and there I was with my little camera. I mean, you can’t take pictures of the police and firemen doing what they do, so I wove past them all and headed further east.

This blue dot is one of many adorning a building on Main Street. It occurred to me that the circles should be painted in a tromp l’oeil simulacrum of sky, but then birds might try to fly at them. Not good.

I parked right by this BREAKFAST place, which presumably has its entry on the opposite side of the building, but should there be any doubt, rest assured that BREAKFAST is served here, somehow. I parked behind a car which was unloading its occupants– an older surfer dude and three young ladies who looked like Dolly Parton at various stages of her life. They were either his daughters or a singing group making their debut on the World’s Most Famous Beach…

That’s the Main Street Pier above, sheathed in construction garb– closed to the public! I’m glad Daytona Beach is only an hour away, rather than ten hours away. I was tempted to ask the construction workers if they would loan me a hardhat and let me roam freely– that sort of thing always comes to me easily– but I decided against it; various British couples leisurely approached the fences, which were plastered with large signs letting us all know that the pier was closed for repairs, and they were politely turned away by the Man In Charge of the Gates.

Here’s a view of the hard-packed sand (cars drive on it) stretching north along the Atlantic Ocean.

And here is a row of eateries just north of the pier. I love places like this– French fries never taste better than on the beach, and I was reminded of Coney Island: knishes, corn on the cob, the wax museum, the fun houses…

I stopped at the Cruisin’ bar to have a drink, and I was the only one in here– it was well before noon. The bartender and I had a pretty good discussion about sports, touching on the Super Bowl, the Mets, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. I have stories– being on the packed bus coming from high school in Fall of 1969 when the Mets won the world series, and  the time I asked my mother why Brooklynites picketed the  Dodgers for their last few games before they moved to California. Duh. And cheers.

The multi-level cemetery on Main Street houses many of the area’s first families. It’s nice and quiet, and you can look into the windows of some nearby houses from its heights.

On Ridgewood Avenue back across the river is St. Paul’s Basilica, built in the 1920s. At the rear of this imposing building is a ministry that is open a lot, where people in need can walk up to a window and secure services dispensing job placement, food, furniture and shelter. I tell you, it’s very busy. There’s a lot of need in Daytona Beach. Especially downtown, I saw a lot of men and women with no apparent means of support, carrying all their belongings with them in shopping carts.

Heading back home on Interstate 4, I detoured to Lake Helen, but that’s for another day and another blog posting. And here’s that odd structure  in the Altamonte Springs area, apparently in a state of suspended construction. It is part of the proposed SuperChannel Centre, but construction appears nil. I think the religious organization that initiated construction ran out of funds. In any event, it’s a monolith seated next to the highway, looking sort of forlorn and abandoned. Maybe they can turn it into housing for the homeless.

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8 responses

    • Thanks, I’m enjoying your site now! Seems we do similar things. You aren’t Rick Kilby… ? A gentleman by that name published little calendars with local landmarks featured each month; we used to carry them at Urban Think! Bookstore when I managed that store.

  1. That’s one strange building. For one thing, nothing about it makes sense. Sometimes you see a building that you just know was born on the architect’s worktable, as a drawing. This building is more like stream of conscious construction. Does anyone know if the interior has been finished out, or is just an exterior scotch taped to a sheet of skyline?

    • Good point! The site is clear– no trucks or materials. i’d LOVE to go exploring inside. Also– I’d love to explore the abandoned cadet dorm over there in Baldwin park– the building with the ivy climbing up the exterior…..

  2. Beautiful photos, Jimmy—St. Paul’s in particular, as well as the beach. I think I could be happy hanging out at that old pier. And by the way, you looked pretty striking at that bar—I think black is definitely your color, with the shades rounding it out. Didn’t Daytona used to be the site of some cheerleader competitions?

  3. Another Excellent blog Jim. I first visited Daytona Beach in the mid 1960’s and have been coming back my whole life. I remember when there was no fee to drive on the beach. It was free. Imagine. Plus people would park overnight and sleep. Now look at it. Those were truly the good old days. I think it all changed in the 1990’s. Maybe earlier. All the best.

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